IDEAS & TIPS FOR EASY TRAVEL
Why Renting a Villa in Italy May Be the Best Thing You'll Ever Do
There's nothing I like better than gathering up six of my friends and my husband and heading off to Italy for a villa vacation. The first time I did this, I was a villa newbie and didnt know what to expect. But since that first world-changing trip in June of 2000, I've gone almost every year and the experience just gets richer and richer.
Most villa rentals are offered for a week at a time, with a Saturday afternoon arrival and a departure the following Saturday morning. But check around — I know some offer more flexibility, with shorter stay options; it's up to the owner and/or rental company. But why, with all the affordable hostels (if you're young) and wide range of hotels (if you're older, like me) would I opt to stay in a stranger's home for a week or two? Let me count the ways . . .
- Unpack once. Maybe twice. Packing and unpacking are not the highlights of anyone's holiday. So even if you're visiting two regions over a two-week period (one year, for instance, we stayed one week on the Italian Riviera in Pieve Ligure and one week outside of Rome, in Frascati) you can stay put for a week at a time and only need to re-pack once. That means you can focus your attention on the village or city you're staying in, and not on whether your underwear is dry enough to put into the bag today.
- Live like a native. You start to feel like this is your home. You relax a little, maybe get to know some townspeople or at least the keyholder or caretaker. You can practice your Italian. Frequent the local trattorias and caffés. Haggle with the natives over the gorgonzola or a colorful scarf at the weekly mercato. Take a rest in the afternoon without worrying that room service will barge in. Stroll through the piazza, arm-in-arm, after dinner with the villagers. You can even do laundry in most villas (washing machine are common; dryers are a luxury, but your clothes will smell amazingly fresh from drying outside in the sun all day). Renting a villa lets you enjoy an authentic Italian experience away from the touristy fast lane that hotel living usually implies.
- Eat like a local. If you're like me, trying out different restaurants on holiday is half the fun. I love exploring the side streets and finding out where the Italians eat with their families. And I also love going all-out once or twice during my stay and eating in a place that I've read or heard about. But doing this for a week or two can get expensive. What I really like is meandering down to my very own kitchen in my bathrobe in the morning and putting on a pot of espresso, then opening a bag of cornetti and letting the aromas wake everybody up. A little Italian yogurt (it's so creamy over there!) and some fruit is all you need at the table to help everybody wake up and plan the day. No "I've got to get out of the room so they can clean" or "Where can we all go to get a cup of coffee this morning? (and will we all have to stand up?)". It's your house. Get started when you want to. And be sure to buy some food at the local supermercato and try cooking dinner once in a while. And eat it al fresco on the patio that often comes with the villa. Watch the scenery go by as you sip a glass of local wine that's still so cheap you can't believe it, and mamma mia — you'll wonder why you waited so long to do this!
- Gather together. This one's easy: you're traveling in a group and you want some quality time together in addition to seeing the sites. Where the heck do you do that in a hotel? The lobby? Usually, too small or impersonal. The bar? Only for so long and only at certain times of the day. In a villa, you're home. There are living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, sitting rooms, bedrooms . . . you can hang out anywhere. Take a walk through the piazza. Lounge in the garden or poolside, if there's a pool. The kind of stress you sometimes feel in a hotel vacation just isn't here. A villa is your home away from home. Relax and talk to one another. Tell stories. Write in your journal. Take photos. Plan for tomorrow. Somehow, it's different in a villa. You're in control of your time and itinerary.
- Save money. While this is the factor that gets most people to try villa vacations, experienced villa renters realize that, although price is very attractive vs. hotel stays, the other four "reasons why" are much more important. That said, imagine if you wanted to go to Florence or Rome for a week with another couple, and each couple wants its own room. Reasonable hotels start at around $150 and go to more than $500 per night for two people (much more, of course, if money is no object). Say you found something for $200 per room . . . that's $2800 for two rooms for one week. And all you've got is a room. You have to buy all your meals out (you might get a little breakfast, if you're lucky). And every time you go in and out of your room, you've got to turn in your key, then get it back, etc. etc. It can be a pain. Now, if you were renting a villa, you and that couple plus one or two other couples could stay in a well-appointed country home or updated city apartment (maybe even historic) for that amount and divide it three of four ways. So instead of $1400 per week per couple, you could be down to $700. And you've got all the advantages laid out above.
Finding the right villa takes some time, admittedly. You need to figure out the number of bedrooms and bathrooms required, the location, whether you'll be driving or relying on public transportation, how much you'll cook, to pool or not to pool . . . but that's part of the fun of planning. You can spend as little as a few hundred dollars a week for a cozy place for two or tens of thousands of dollars for a grand historic palazzo in the country for a wedding or family reunion. For me, villas are a wonderful way to go, and I'll be planning another villa-based trip very soon!
My Handy Pre-Trip Checklist
Probably the best piece of travel advice I’ve ever read is this:
Lay out everything you want to take on the bed. Then pack half the clothes
and twice the money…
Seriously, here are some of my pre-trip tips that people have told me they find very useful:
- Notify your bank(s) that you'll be out of the country. Tell them the dates and give them the number(s) of the credit/debit/ATM card(s) you're planning to use while abroad. The easiest way to get money abroad is to use ATMs/Bancomats and they usually give you the best rate, too. But if you feel more comfortable having a few Euros with you when you arrive, you can request them from your bank in advance of leaving. It usually takes 2 - 3 days.
- Bring copies of the front and back sides of all credit/debit cards you travel with and keep them in a separate location (i.e., not in your wallet or purse).
- Make copies of the key pages of your passport and keep them in a separate place, as well.
- Buy travel insurance. Here's a link to Travel Guard, which is the one I normally recommend. Remember to calculate the cost of the trip as PLUS your airfare to get full coverage. If you've used an American Express Gold or Platinum Card to purchase your tickets, you may already have sufficient coverage -- you might want to look into that.
- Phones in Italy: If you want to be connected on vacation and you have an unlocked phone, simply buying a SIM card when you arrive is the easiest thing. If you don't have an unlocked phone, check with your carrier before you leave to see what kind of international plan they offer. We use a phone/data/texting plan that isn't terribly egregious, but you MUST remember to tell your carrier when you've returned from Italy, or they tend to keep it on. But if you can, try to get your phone unlocked, either by your carrier or by a capable third party. Wi-Fi is common in Italian hotels as well as in the centro of most Italian cities in cafes and at the tourist office. You can also download WhatsApp for free messaging and phone calls while you're abroad.
- In these ugly times, it's a good idea to register your trip with the US State Department's STEP Program (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program).
Travel Tips Newsletter
Every once in a while, Linda posts useful gems about mustn’t-miss travel info. Group travel? Packing? Where to go? What happens when an emergency strikes?
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