Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Italian Vacation Rentals - What to Expect
This section focuses on considerations specific to vacation rentals in Italy. If you are not familiar with vacation rentals in Europe, read our What is Slow Travel? section first.
Vacation rentals range in quality from very simple 1 bedroom apartments on working farms that might rent for $500 or less per week to luxury villas that sleep 12 or more and rent for $5000 or more per week.
Expect hot summers and no air conditioning. You will be cooler in the countryside and closing the window shutters keeps the house cool. Read more in Italy: Instructions for Visitors - Keeping Cool in the Summer.
Bugs, bugs, bugs
Mosquitoes, flies, ants, wasps, scorpions, and more! Your vacation rental in the countryside will have many creatures. We once left a piece of raisin bread on the kitchen counter only to come home that evening to find the counter and nearby floor black with ants. There were thousands of them. Many vacation rentals are in the countryside, so you have to expect you will be dealing with bugs. Keep the kitchen clean and don't leave food lying around.
It can be cold and damp in the winter in Italy. In some regions of Italy, the months during which the heat can be turned on in a private house is regulated by the government. For example, no matter how low the temperature, the heat cannot be turned on before October 15 or after April 15.
The cost of heating is usually not included in your vacation rental rate. If you are going off season, inquire if heat is available and how much extra you will have to pay. At the apartment we rented in Spello in mid October, we needed heat and paid 40,000 lire (about $20) for heat for four days (well worth it).
Many of the best vacation rentals are historic houses, built hundreds of years ago. Italy has strict building codes that control the inside and the outside of a renovation. Because of this, some places can seem badly designed. The bathroom may be at the opposite end of the house from the bedroom. You may have to walk through one bedroom to get to the other. These are compromises that were made during renovation in order to preserve the historic nature of the house. Do not expect a perfectly laid out house - but do expect beautiful houses, full of charm.
Some vacation rentals are made from old farm outbuildings, like barns or chicken coops. They may be rough looking on the outside and the windows may be small. You will appreciate this in the hot summer, when the small windows keep out the sunshine, but in other seasons, the house may seem dark.
Because electricity in Italy is expensive, you usually find low-wattage bulbs and very few lights in most vacation rentals. This doesn't matter as much in the late spring and summer when the days are long and you are always outside, but if you are visiting when the days are short you may have a hard time reading at night. Many places do not have reading lamps beside the bed.
We once rented a lovely farmhouse apartment that had so few lights in the kitchen, that we had to do all our meal preparation before dark or we wouldn't have been able to see well enough to cook.
If you like to read in the evenings, you will need a well lighted place. Look at the photos in the listings to see if there are lights. Are there bedside lamps? Frequently there are none; the presence of bedside lamps may be a sign that the place is well lighted overall.
No Clothes Dryers
We have NEVER had a clothes dryer in a vacation rental in Italy. Because of the high cost of electricity, most Italian homes do not have clothes dryers. Italians hang their clothes to dry from lines in the yards, lines in front of their windows or from folding racks set out on the porch. See Italy: Instructions for Visitors - Doing Your Laundry for more information on doing your own laundry or finding a place where it is done for you.
Most vacation rentals have a small, European-style, washing machine and a place to hang your clothes to dry. On estates or farms with several vacation rentals, this may be in a laundry room and shared by all the apartments. Every vacation rental we have stayed in has provided an iron and ironing board.
Some vacation rentals are set up on the assumption that people will do very little cooking. These will have a small "kitchen corner" or "kitchenette." These are usually still quite adequate for cooking complete meals. We have stayed in many places with small kitchen areas and still managed to do a lot of cooking.
If you plan to do some cooking, ask how many burners the stove has. Places frequently do not have an oven. If you need one, inquire. The British term "hob" in the description means stovetop. Most vacation rentals have small bar-sized refrigerators - this is normal. Just buy your groceries every day, as the Italians do.
Do NOT expect the following in your Italian vacation rental kitchen: American style coffee maker (instead you will get an stovetop espresso maker - see our Italy: Instructions for Visitors - The Stovetop Espresso Maker for instructions), toaster, kettle, oven (many vacation rentals do not have ovens), microwave. If you need to have any of these, inquire before booking.
The kitchens are usually well equipped with enough pots and pans and utensils to make a meal and enough cutlery and plates to serve it. You will always find equipment for making pasta - a large pot and a strainer. Frequently in vacation rentals there are not many pots and they are not great quality. If you like to cook rice (as we do) you should bring a small pot with a tight fitting lid with you or buy one there.
You will always find a bread knife. Tuscan bread is a crusty, long, flat loaf. In our house in Celle sul Rigo we could not find a bread knife. Then I noticed this knife with a very short blade stuck into the cutting board. It took me awhile to figure out that it worked perfectly if you turned the bread on its side and cut it that way with the short blade.
You may wish to purchase a better cutting board than the one provided. When staying in Tuscany, I always plan an early trip to Montalcino, which has stores all over town selling handmade cutting boards made from olive wood. You can find these in other towns in Tuscany and other parts of Italy, but Montalcino seems to specialize in them. Buy a nice big cutting board to use while you are in Italy and then tuck it into your suitcase to bring home. I have several of them at home now - nice reminders of our trips.
Most bathrooms in Italy either have a shower or a tub with a hand shower. Shower stalls can be very small. Barely enough room to turn around. And worse is when there is no shower stall - just a showerhead in the corner of the room with no stall and no curtain. You can flood the whole bathroom and bedroom with one of these. Don't expect a great shower in your vacation rental, but you may be pleased with the bathtub. Consider it a nice bonus if your rental includes a European-style bathtub, long, narrow and deep - perfect for having a nice, soaking, bath (keep in mind, however, that a high proportion of Italian vacation rentals do not have tubs; find out before you book). Tubs may fill slowly, so allow some time if you plan to take a bath.
The bathroom towels will not be the thick American-style towels you are used to. Because electricity is very expensive, laundry dries on a line, not in a dryer. Thick towels take too long to dry, so thin towels are the norm.
All About Beds
Many vacation rentals do not have the equivalent of American queen and king size beds. Some have a small double bed, others have two single beds pushed together to make a "matrimonial" bed. A typical two-bedroom vacation rental will have one bedroom with a double bed or matrimonial and the other with two single beds.
Make sure the vacation rental has a living room! I have read reviews of places where the renter was surprised to find the apartment did not have a living room. Some places are set up so that you spend your "sitting" time in the kitchen, and there is no area with a couch and chairs.
Phones: Many vacation rentals do not have phones. In Italy you need a phone to check your voicemail back home and make local dinner reservations. For this you can use the public phones you will find in every village. Read Italy: Instructions for Visitors - Public Phones.
If you really need a phone, either pick a vacation rental with a phone or rent or buy a cell phone while you are there. Read Europe Trip Planning - European Cell Phones.
Television: Most vacation rentals have either no television set or one that gets only local channels. These are all in Italian, but can be fun to watch and will help you learn Italian. If the vacation rental has satellite TV, you will receive some English language stations: CNN and NBC (special version for Europe). Sometimes you can get BBC Europe, which has some good shows. You also get French, German, and Spanish programs. It's always fun to watch ER in German!
Radio: Some vacation rentals have a radio, but you will have access to English-language stations only if it is a shortwave radio.
Many of the old houses in Italy are on several levels and may have narrow and steep inner staircases. If you have mobility issues, ask about the number of stairs. Also consider the stairs to get into the house from the outside.
Stairs - Apartments in Cities
Apartment buildings in cities do not always have an elevator. If this is important, be sure to ask. You may end up several flights of stairs to get to your apartment.
We spend a lot of time outside our vacation rental when we are in Italy - eating most of the meals we have at home, reading in the shade on the hot afternoons, sitting with a glass of wine to admire the sunset and our view. Apartments on estates may each have a private outdoor terrace or balcony, but some may rely on shared garden areas. It is nice to have a private area near your door, so you can easily carry out your food for meals. Most houses will have outdoor eating and sitting areas.
Many vacation rentals in the countryside have difficult driveways. They may be rough dirt tracks that are narrow and steep. Many places we have rented had a less than ideal driveway. At one place we had to drive up a steep dirt road passing through a railway crossing equipped with big warning signs but no gate that lowered when a train whizzed by. That was exciting!
When booking, ask how far you have to drive on a dirt road to get to the place. Some places, even in the heart of Tuscany, are down a mile or two of rough road. Remember, in more rural areas it is not easy to maintain these roads.
Here is an example location: Lecchi in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti (SI), Italy. The town is "Lecchi in Chianti", referred to usually as just "Lecchi". It is in the commune of "Gaiole in Chianti". The commune is just named after the largest town in the area. It is in the province of "SI", which is Siena. The regions names that we are familiar with, Tuscany or Umbria, are not part of the official addresses.
Vacation rentals in Italy are great. We have rented many wonderful places (and a few far from wonderful ones - less of those in recent years). If you know what to expect, you are more prepared when you arrive. Have a great vacation!
Photos: Some of the vacation rentals we stayed in. Look through these photos of places we have stayed in to get an idea of what to expect.
Agriturismo, Country House and Bed and Breakfast (B&B): What are the differences in these types of accommodations?
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