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Accommodations Italy - What to Expect in Vacation Rentals

Italy is a popular travel destination with North Americans and people from Northern Europe. Brits, Scandinavians, Dutch and Germans flock to Italy for milder weather and sunshine. There are many vacation rentals in Italy - apartments in cities and towns, houses and villas in the countryside, apartments/houses on farms.

The Italian word Agriturismo (Agritourism in English) refers to rentals in the countryside (it is an official government program to promote vacation rentals on farms). American and English terms are also used - villa rentals, vacation rentals, holiday cottages, self catering.

Popular Vacation Destinations
Italy has 20 regions and each region is divided into provinces. Most websites group their vacation rentals by region.
Most parts of Italy are popular with travelers, but these areas are the most popular and have many vacation rentals.

Rome, Florence and Venice: These art cities are popular travel destinations and can be very crowded with tourists.

Tuscany: Tuscany is a large and varied region. Chianti, a wine-producing area, is between Florence and Siena. Many regions are declared to be the "new Tuscany" but the original Tuscany remains the premier destination for many reasons - beautiful hill towns, countryside that ranges from mountains to gentle hills covered with vines, olive trees or forests to the wide open fields of the Crete south of Siena and beautiful coastal areas on the Mediterranean.

Umbria: The "green heart of Italy" borders on Tuscany and is a good place to stay or to visit from Tuscany. The towns of Assisi, Spello, Spoleto and Todi are beautiful and popular areas to visit.

Amalfi Coast: This somewhat "jet-set" area south of Rome and Naples (in the Campania region) is a dramatic coastline on the Mediterranean that is a great summer destination. It is a good area for hiking.

Liguria: The Italian Riviera is another good summer destination. Walk the trails between the Cinque Terre villages or stay in seaside resorts like Lérici, Portovénere, Levanto, Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, San Remo.

Types of Places You Can Rent
There are many apartments to rent in the larger cities. It is not as easy to find apartment in the smaller hill towns, but there are some. There are many countryside houses (villas) or apartments/houses on farms and estates.

The government sponsored Agriturismo program encourages farmers to rent out houses and apartments on working farms and estates. This has produced a lot of very good vacation rentals, especially in Tuscany and Umbria, where you rent a place on a farm. Stay on a farm in the famous Chianti wine-producing area, or on a farm with acres of beautiful olive trees.

Finding and Booking Vacation Rentals
There are many very good local agencies with websites, English-speaking staff and a great selection of rentals in their area. You will also find many listings for Italy on Rent-from-Owner Directory sites. There are many US and Canadian vacation rentals agencies that specialize in Italy. Do not bother going to the Tourist Offices for vacation rental information. This is a good option in many European countries, but not in Italy.

Booking Procedures
Weekly Bookings: Many vacation rentals are from Saturday to Saturday. Rentals in the larger cities are more flexible.

Payment: Credit cards are not as popular in Italy as in other European countries. Some agencies may use them, but you may be expected to do a wire transfer for the deposit and balance, or even a cash payment for the balance. Yes, you read correctly, you have to arrive with the payment in Euro.

What to Expect in Italian Vacation Homes
We describe the basics of what to expect in the About Vacation Rentals - European Houses section. Below we list a few things unique to vacation rentals in Italy.

The quality of vacation rentals in Italy varies. In our years of renting in Italy, we had "bad" rentals several times. Some houses/apartments on farms were set up as rentals over 30 years ago and seem like they have never been updated. But things are improving and most vacation rentals in Italy have been modernized and are in good shape. Towels and bedding are provided. Kitchens are fully equipped with all the pots and pans, dishes, cutlery, etc. that you need for cooking meals.

Older Buildings
Many vacation rentals are in historic buildings or barns that have been renovated, so the layouts may be odd. We have stayed in places where you walk through one bedroom to get to the other one - not the best arrangement for two couples traveling together but fine for a family. Many of these older buildings have a lot of stairs so if you have mobility problems ask about this. Houses/apartments in coastal areas may have many steps just to get to the entrance.

For me, half of the fun of vacations in Italy is staying in historic buildings, so I try to be forgiving about small rooms and odd layouts.

Many Italian vacation rentals have all the modern conveniences but always check to see what is in the cottage you are thinking of renting.
  • You won't find air conditioning but the thick stone walls and the window shutters help keep a place cool. If traveling in the height of summer, you may want a place with a pool so you can cool off in the hot afternoons.
  • There may be a clothes washer but you will not have a dryer. There will be a rack or an outside line to hang clothes on.
  • Refrigerators tend to be a smaller size and some places may have under-the-counter fridges with no freezer.
  • Many kitchens do not have an oven.
  • Some places have "mini kitchens" or a kitchen corner with a small stovetop (sometimes 2 burners) and small work area. These are usually fine since you probably do not plan to cook all your meals there.
  • Italian kitchens are made for Italian cooking. You will not find a tea kettle but there will be a stovetop coffee maker (read more about the Moka Pot on Wikipedia). There will be a large pot and a strainer for making pasta. You won't find a small pot with a tight fitting lid for making Chinese-style rice and the stovetop burners do not turn down as low as needed for simmering rice. (For rice dishes, Italians make risotto, which is cooked at a higher heat.)
  • You won't find a toaster. Italians go out to the local cafe for coffee and sweet rolls for breakfast.
We like to eat brown rice so I travel with a small stainless steel pot, a tight fitting lid and a flame tamer. I also bring a good vegetable knife since the ones provided may not be as good as I like.

Lights: Because electricity is so expensive, some vacation rentals do not have many lamps and may use low wattage bulbs. You do not always find bedside lamps for reading in bed.

Beds: Most vacation rentals in Italy have "double" or "single" beds. An Italian double bed is a bit larger than in the US/Canada. Their King is the same size as our Queen. See About Vacation Rentals - European Houses for more information about bed sizes.

Windows: Even though there are lots of bugs in Italy, you rarely find screen windows. Close those window shutters before turning on the lights at night in the summer to keep the bugs out. Most Italians do not sleep with windows open to the night air but instead close all the window shutters. Some people like to burn mosquito coils in the house at night, but I am hesitant to use them, or bug sprays, because of the chemicals in them. Mosquitoes can be bad in the hot summer months.

Shopping for Groceries
Most villages have a good assortment of shops for all your grocery needs - small grocery store with a deli (alimentari), fruit and vegetable shop (frutta e verdure), butcher (macelleria), bakery (forno, pasticceria). There are large, American-style, supermarkets in some areas. These are usually open during the afternoon siesta and even on Sunday.

Afternoon Siesta: In the countryside, shops close for a long afternoon siesta, usually from noon or 1pm to 5pm. The larger supermarkets on the outskirts of towns may be open, but the village shops, and the village itself, will be locked up tight. When the shops reopen at 5pm, the village springs back to life. Shops typically close at 7:30pm or 8pm.

Closed on Sunday: Most countryside rentals in Italy are from Saturday to Saturday, with arrival between 4pm and 7pm. In most towns, shops are closed on Sunday, so this means you arrive, check in, see if the vacation rental owner provides any staples (most do not), then head out to the local shop to get some groceries. The good news is that most shops are open until 7:30pm or 8pm on Saturday.
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