As I am nearing the end (OK, it’s really near. Like, tomorrow.) of my first villa rental experience in Tuscany, I thought I would capture some thoughts/notes/ideas about the experience that I know might have been helpful to my friends and I when we were first considering embarking on this grand adventure.
First thing I would say, before getting into specifics is DO IT. As many people who have traveled know, to have space all to yourself (more than what a hotel would afford) is truly a blessing. And to be in a country so rich in bounty of meats, cheeses, vegetables, etc. and have access to a kitchen to do some cooking is just, quite simply, a blast! So- do it.
Agency or Independent: We went back and forth, and ended up going independent. (As it turns out, the place we rented was literally the very first one my friend found on the internet… after several months of looking, we ended up booking where we began!) The decision for us, really, was based on many of the agencies not really having what we were looking for. We wanted two bedrooms, one or two baths, kitchen, location near Lucca. Most of the villas agencies had were much larger, like 4-5 bedrooms for large families or multi-family/friend groups; or they were more like smaller apartments that were a part of a larger compound. As it turns out, everything was just fine and has worked out great. Getting the deposit to the owner was a bit of a challenge, as he does not take credit cards. But once we worked it out, it was fine. (And we were both very patient with the process.) So, the verdict? If the agency had what I wanted, I would give that a go for sure. But I wouldn’t be afraid to go independent again either.
Mobility: If anyone in your party has mobility issues, make sure and ask about stairs, showers, toilets, etc. We are in a great unit, but with a steep, somewhat awkward staircase and if my parents were with me, for example, it would be a challenge (although the older Italians seem to have no problem with stairs, etc. Guess they are just in better shape.)
Pool: Something to really consider. If you will be traveling with kids, rent a place with a pool. The days exploring the Italian countryside can be hot and dusty, and for kids knowing that there is a pool at the end of the parmesan and prosciutto crusted path would make them very happy, I’m sure. Hell- it would have made us happy! Again, this with another decision based on size… Because we wanted a smaller unit, and not to be a part of a larger property that would have shared a pool, we ended up going without. But it would have been nice. Really nice. Not that we would have spent a whole day by the pool, but man- a swim would have been nice. (Did I mention that a pool would have been nice?)
AC: Remember, it’s Europe. Almost nowhere is air conditioned. And we Americans loves our AC. So if this is something that’s really important to you, narrow your search. I can’t imagine you will ever find a villa that is totally air conditioned but there are probably ones that have ac in the bedrooms. We were here June 2-June 16, and the weather was actually perfect… some evenings, it was actually cool. But we always slept with the windows open and it felt great. (I’m not looking forward to the trip home to Florida and the humidity. But I do have a pool, so I have that going for me!) If you DO find a unit with AC, I bet you will have to pay for the electricity to run it- a fee above and beyond the unit rental price. This usually applies for the pool heater as well. We did not have to pay extra for electricity or gas, as we had no AC or pool. Although we did get reprimanded one day for leaving our outside light on all day.
Toilet Paper: Why toilet paper, you ask? To serve as an example of making sure you are clear of what is and, in the case of toilet paper, what isn’t included in the villa rental. We discovered that toilet paper is not included. The kitchen had basic supplies and is it is a rental, there were basic items (spices, salt, pepper, etc.) that others had purchased and left. This leads me to my next point…
Grocery vs. Supermarket: Yes, virginia, there is a difference between the two over here. Grocery will be a much smaller, more local stop for very basic supplies in small quantities. The hours are most likely very limited, it’s probably closed at least one day per week, etc. Supermarket is going to be a store more like we are accustomed to in the states. Don’t feel like you need to be ‘all local’ and shop just at a small market. The supermarket has everything you need, in larger quantities but still focusing on local produce and products. (Note, you get a shopping cart by inserting a 1 euro coin into the slot near the handle of the cart. This is then returned when you return the cart. Kind of genius.) All of the produce is clearly marked as to its origin, so you can still shop very local. We found that nearly all of the produce at our local Essalunga (Supermarket chain) was from Italy, except for those items such as pineapple and bananas. Call me a food nerd, but I love grocery shopping in different countries. I always end up bringing home a new spice or something that when I then use it reminds me of my trip. Note that the supermarkets also have somewhat strange hours, and are usually closed on Sunday, and don’t re-open until Monday afternoon.
Location: The last big question- where to rent. If you’ve never been to Tuscany before, then you really can’t go wrong. The whole place is beautiful, and each area has its own highlights. If you don’t have a specific location or city in mind, I would then recommend making a list of what you want to do and see, and then find a central location. For example, we chose Lucca area for several reasons. First of all, Lucca is amazing and I wanted that to be our homebase for shopping, exploring, etc. But it was also central for much of what we wanted to do: Florence (1 hour by train); Cinque Terre (about 1:30); Forte di Marmi and the coast (about 30 minutes); Siena and the surrounding area (about 1:45) and we were flying in and out of Pisa (about 30 minutes)… So it was just a great central location. If you were more interested in touring wineries, you might want to be in the Chianti area of Tuscany, for example.
I’m sure I will think of some more things, but all of this popped into my head on my morning walk today and I wanted to capture them!
My morning walk today- that will be my next post.