Folks who've driven around Tuscany often wonder what it'd be like to live amongst the vines and hill towns stuffed with Rennaisance art. It all ends with a whistful sigh.
It doesn't have to end like that. You can go one better than live in Italy. You can live in Italy temporarily. You won't have to deal with the sluggish bureaucracy or pay silly taxes. And you'll probably pay less than you would on a hotel
You can easily rent a vacation house or apartment in Italy. In Europe, especially in the UK, this is called self catering. You might be surprised that rentals can be significantly cheaper than hotels, especially if you're seeing Italy with a large family.
With a rental, you'll usually get more space to spread your stuff out, and you won't have to worry about anything getting stollen or sifted through by hotel staff. There will probably be a washing maching, allowing you to pack light on your vacation and still have clean clothing (do your self-catering in the middle of your vacation for this reason). You'll have a kitchen (sometimes a compact kitchen called a "corner kitchen" or angolo cucina) and place to eat (and probably another place to eat outside).
Arguments Against Self Catering
I don't want to cook on my vacation! Believe it or not, there are no Carabinieri della Cucina, or Kitchen Police in Italy. Nobody's saying you have to cook. But, with the smallest of kitchens, you can make some tea or store some Prosecco in in fridge. Plus, a kitchen allows you to taste all those find deli foods and breads Italian stores usually feature. Just open the package and enjoy! There will be dull knives available in a rental to cut things if you must. (Find out more about Italian Cuisine, including lessons on Buying Salami and Buying Chicken in Italy.)
But there's no one at the front desk to tell us where to go! Most self-catering homes and apartments come with a binder full of the owner's recommendations for things to do and restaurants to eat at. You might also be surprised at the number of rental properties where the owner is on the property. It's especially nice when the owner makes his own olive oil and you can actually taste the incredible difference between industrial crap oil and artisan oils made by folks who care.
HomeAway has an amazing variety of Self Catering vacation rentals available. Just enter the name of a city you'd like to explore in the box to the right.
How popular is self catering? You'll find over 7000 Tuscany Vacation Rentals on HomeAway!
What's Self Catering Like?
A variety of experiences are available with self-catering. There is the city experience and the country experience. The country experience is my favorite, because in Italy, the country is where food and wine is produced, and where much of the best Cucina Povera is still in existance.
So, let's say I want to stay in the wine country. I like wine country because wine and food and castles in Italy generally come together to provide a great life experience.
So, let me tell you of my experience at Le Torri vacation apartments in a nutshell.
Le Torri is in a wine region called the Colli Fiorentini, or the Florence hills. Chianti country. Le Torri is a huge building (for Italy), once a large family farm estate, now broken up into apartments. We arrived on Saturday (most weekly self-catering properties are rented Saturday to Saturday), the owner had spread out a buffet of local foods, cooked by his mom. Thus, the renters had a chance to meet each other and become a community. We found out the options of exploring without a car. Nice options:
- Walk down the road to the right and you come to the crossroads at the center of town. Continue on straight and there's a fine country restaurant. To the right is a large sign pointing out the hiking trails that will take you through the rolling hills of the Colli Fiorentini. Walk left and you're downtown. Well, downtown in a small village. But that village has restaurants, cafes, and food shops. One such shop with a bakery, labeled alimentari con forno, cranks out pizza at certain hours for take out.
- Instead, if you turned left out of Le Torri, you could walk down a very pleasant tree-lined street to Poppiano Castle. The castle produced top-notch wines and olive oils, as it has for centuries. And here's your bargain tip for the day--they sell wine from a pump. Yes, you can buy your everyday wine like the Italians do--vino sfuso--by bringing a bottle and filling it from a pump.
So there you have it. Spend the time exploring the wineries in your car, go hiking in the hills, do as the Italians do and forage for a meal you don't even have to heat up to enjoy in the garden or at the kitchen table in your apartment.
We did lots more, as related in the Wandering Italy Blog: Castello di Poppiano - Why Not Pretend You Live in Italy? and Poppiano Castle and the Colli Fiorentini. Also see a few pictures of the area. Martha has written a review of Le Torri.
If you'd like a list of places I've stayed and can recommend whole heartedly, read: Recommended Self Catering Properties in Italy.