I was first alerted to the existence of Merrion Charles when I saw one of the properties she has on her books reviewed in a travel magazine. Upon exploring Merrion's website it was immediately clear that all of the exclusive selection of properties with which she deals looked enchanting. From the moment I contacted Merrion to make an initial enquiry she was the epitome of helpfulness. During the relatively lengthy period of choosing and booking she was professional and conscientious in equal measure. She patiently and promply answered the myriad questions I emailed her with in coming to a decision, and she gave the impression that no query was too trivial to be treated respectfully. More striking than the efficiency, however, was the very personal touch that Merrion brought to bear. She is extremely well acquainted with all of the properties and conveyed that she very much cares about helping you find the villa that best suits your needs. It is this professional yet personal quality that really marks her out from the crowd. As a one woman operation she is able to offer a kind of intimacy in her relationship with her clients that is a rare commodity. I got the impression she was almost as concerned that we had a succesful holiday as we were! For anyone jaded by the experience of dealing with larger scale travel companies, this is a breath of fresh air. Merrion runs a truly service orientated outfit and, from my perpective, that pays dividends.
We stayed in two quite different properties during our holiday. The first was in Tuscany-near Sienna- and the second in Umbria close to the delightful medieval town of Montone.
The first property had a personality quite distinct from that of the second. Set in the Tuscan hills it afforded a sublime panorama of the surrounding hills and valley. Many a coffee or glass of wine was consumed just contemplating the view from the terrace as the hues of the sky and landscape change throughout the day. Needless to say early morning and sunset were gorgeous and one just had to sit, sip and sigh. The first villa had a very cosy lived in vibe. I pick out two rooms for special mention. The kitchen-the hub of the household as it should be-was only what I can describe as dischevelled chic. Wonderfully idiosyncratic, you felt that this was a kitchen in which real people had done real cooking and in all its quirkiness you felt completely comfortable and welcome. There was nothing "precious" about it. The other room in which I think I could of spent the entire week was the master bathroom. The size of it, the character, the luxury-if I could of brought it home with me I would of. I should also mention the lovely Italian lady who cleaned and cooked for us on request. Delightful and unobtrusive, she exuded that easy Italian charm that is so reverred.
The second villa was something else again. A little further south in Umbria, it too stood in an elevated position quite isolated from any other building. One had the view of the wood clad valley to oneself. A kind of scaled down castle, it had a huge open plan living room with enormous glass doors opening onto the valley. The whole villa exuded a simple elegance and charm; every decorative item chosen with an educated eye. Nothing offended the senses or conflicted with the natual environment. The master bedroom and bathroom were enormous, and once again decorated with such finesse and lightness of touch. Many hours were spend eating and chatting on the lovely terraces at the front and side of the house and enjoying the poolside area. The other thing to mention was the silence. Apart from the natural sound of birds, bees and the occasional scream of a wild hog, there was no man made noise. If you wish to escape the irritating noise pollution by which so many of us who live in cities are beseiged, this is the place. Such tranquility is rare in my experience and nurtures the soul.
True to form Merrion called us twice to see how our holiday was going, and was obviously delighted when she heard it was so much to our liking.
We had a very special holiday: partly due to the lovely Italian landscape, remakably free of tourists; partly because the villas themselves-in their different ways-were a real experience to stay in; and partly because the whole process of choosing anad booking was made so much more stress free and pleasurable due to Merrion's personal touch. I have recommended Merrion Charles' company to many of my friends since we returned, without hesitation, because we had the unprecendented experience in dealing with her of everything going flawlessly. This kind of holiday is not for everybody, and the villas are not cheap, but we were left with the overwhelming and rare feeling that we were getting good value for money.