Summer in Italy, vacation rentals in Italy
This month we profile Summer in Italy, an Italian-owned vacation rental agency that serves a mostly English-speaking clientele. They are best known for their wide selection of rentals in southern Italy, along the popular Amalfi Coast and the lesser-known Cilento Coast further south, making them the ideal agency for a seaside vacation. By popular demand they expanded into other areas of Italy - Rome, Tuscany, Umbria, Lake Como, and Venice.
Summer in Italy really cares about their clients and providing a wide range of beautiful vacation rentals, from budget to luxury. I have known the General Manager, Luca Trotta, since they started the agency and I highly recommend them.
Summer in Italy – and Spring, Autumn, and Winter, too!
The famous Amalfi Coast needs no introduction. Its stunning views, cliff-clutching pastel towns, azure sea, and hair-raising roads are legendary. What is less known about the area is that one doesn't have to spend a fortune to enjoy it, according to Luca Trotta, whose agency offers a wide variety of vacation rentals in all the towns on the celebrated coastline.
But if Amalfi is the glamour girl, then Summer in Italy's other top destination, the Cilento Coast, is her pretty little sister. Further south along the Mediterranean, the cliffs become more subdued, the towns more traditional, and the beaches less crowded. The Cilento is a large swath of seaside and inland hills that has been designated as a National Park as well as a UNESCO Heritage Site. Despite that, it remains rather unknown, except to Italians and intrepid travelers.
"There are excellent beaches, great restaurants, friendly people, and lower prices than other coastal areas," said Luca Trotta, Summer In Italy's General Manager. "There are also some very nice sightseeing options," he added.
In southern Campania you will find castles, caverns and quiet coves, along with the most famous and best preserved Greek ruins outside of Greece, at Paestum. This is also the area that produces one of Italy's most prized foods, mozzarella di bufala.
Summer In Italy's success has helped raise the profile of this beautiful area, and it all started with one house.
A Family Affair
The agency started almost by accident. Luca's mother, Gioconda, started renting the family's summer home to colleagues and acquaintances for their vacations. The century-old stone house was formerly an olive mill belonging to Gioconda's father-in-law, Pietro. Word started to spread; as more people contacted her about Villa Trotta, Gioconda asked friends and neighbors if they would rent their summer homes to the increasing number of travelers. After several years of informally brokering a growing number of homes, the Trotta family took the next logical step and became a vacation rental agency.
They put up a website in 2001 and things took off from there. They now represent 650 properties all over Italy, have offices in Salerno and on Lake Como, and a staff of ten.
Despite the growth, Summer In Italy is still a family affair. Led by Gioconda, it grew and became a business that has involved the whole family. Luca jumped in with his programming skills to develop the website and an online booking feature. He acts as General Manager and oversees all aspects of the business. Luca is fluent in English, thanks in part to a study-abroad year he spent in the US. "It was an incredible experience, and English is just a fraction of what I learned during that year." He understands "American ways" and expectations.
Luca's wife, Mara, maintains the property listings on the website, writing the very detailed descriptions and acting as liaison with the owners to make sure everything is accurately represented. Luca's sister, Valentina, covers the phones, fielding rental inquiries, talking to property owners, and answering clients' questions. She is on-call at all times with an emergency number in case guests have any problems.
Valentina's brother-in-law Andrea answers emails in an almost obsessive manner, earning him the nickname "Crazy Horse". He likes to work long hours and goes online in the middle of the night to answer requests. "If you get a response in the late afternoon US time, when everyone in Italy is asleep, it's Andrea!" Luca said. Andrea also publishes a weekly booklet, Things To Do On The Amalfi Coast, that is distributed at tourist information offices and hotels in the area.
Everyone at Summer In Italy speaks English, and while they can boast clients from 77 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe, the majority come from English-speaking countries: Americans, Brits, Australians, Canadians and Irish comprise roughly 70% of their business.
Rentals With a Concierge
Before clients leave for their trips, they receive a packet of information with detailed directions, and particulars about what to expect –and maybe more importantly, what not to expect – so they arrive fully informed and prepared. "There are a lot of differences. We speak Italian, our plumbing is quirky, our showers are small, our energy is sometimes limited, and we often don't have screens on the windows. We don't have clothes dryers. If you see something that looks like a dryer in your kitchen, trust me, it's a dishwasher!" Luca quipped. They want clients to know the details up front so it won't hinder their enjoyment.
When we asked Luca if he thought English-speaking travelers needed to learn Italian to enjoy these destinations, he responded, "Not if they rent with us!" That's because they offer guests a 24/7 help line that they can call with questions or problems. The bi-lingual staff will even provide on-the-spot translation assistance over the phone if need be. "A phrase book will get you by in most situations, and often reading a single word from a dictionary will be enough," Luca pointed out. However, for more delicate issues like communicating medical requirements or dietary restrictions, he recommends getting the important sentences translated in writing. "We are happy to help with that," he said.
But they don't stop with translating assistance. They are a full-service rental agency and they will help with trip planning tips, restaurant recommendations, transportation questions, or dinner reservations. They will arrange for extra services, such as catering, babysitting, and in-villa cooks, and will even do pre-arrival grocery shopping for you so you will have a readily-stocked kitchen. They have negotiated discounts in some of the area shops, as well.
"The booking office has a toll-free number and keeps longer hours - it is open until 10:00 pm - to allow guests from North America to call." Despite that, Luca says that most of the communication is done by email.
Another important service is the fact that Summer In Italy puts high emphasis on value for money, ensuring that the price matches the amenities. If you are paying for luxury, you will get luxury, but they make sure they offer quality properties in all price ranges and amenity levels. "The most authentic and characteristic Italian homes are not always high-end," Luca says. "If you want a true Italian experience you don't have to spend a lot of money."
The Website Light is Always On
Luca and his team have toiled untold hours to put together a useful, informative website. It is one of the most user-friendly sites in the business, with very detailed descriptions, and plentiful photos. They designed full online booking capability that allows clients to view availability, receive a no-obligation price quote, make a confirmed reservation, and pay by credit card. They include step-by-step booking instructions to simplify the process.
Another unique feature is the inclusion of travel recommendations from past guests that are posted for each property. Reviews of the homes are also available on each property's page. They also have a special page highlighting the tourist points of interest and distances from each rental property, detailing the sights, towns, restaurants, and other services in proximity to the villa.
Luca reports that the site is so detailed that many people book straight from the website without ever calling or emailing questions, but adds, "We like to assist, so don't hesitate to call or email for help or with any questions."
While they will be redesigning the look and adding new features to the site, they also now provide a Travel Tips section, covering everything from public transportation to driving rules, from food specialties to festivals. They have been working on a What to Visit section to highlight the happenings and sights in all the areas of Italy that they cover.
Sempre Avanti (Ever Onward!)
As far as plans for the future, Luca reports that Summer In Italy has continued to grow. They have added three new staff members to assist with the concierge services, and continue to add new properties. "In ten years I see offices opening in other regions of Italy, and maybe around 1,500 to 2,000 carefully selected villas and apartments. Not a big fantasy, I know, but we don't have plans to conquer the world, just to keep offering the same reliable service to a growing base of guests, and keep it as personal as we can."
We asked Luca what advice he has for American traveling to Italy. "I'd like to tell them not to be afraid to travel independently. A lot of first time visitors are concerned about not being able to make it on their own and giving their families a miserable time. Don't be! Invest some time in planning and be sure to book with reliable companies."
"Also, don't overdo it! Take it easy; Italy deserves more than a pin on the map, and nobody will blame you for coming back again and again to discover different areas. Remember, Venice is not a day trip from Amalfi!"
Thank you to Luca and the Summer in Italy staff for taking the time to answer our endless questions for this article!