Five Favorites: Reasons to Rent a Villa in Italy

Rent a Villa in Italy
Have you ever wanted to rent a villa in Italy but didn’t know where to start? Or, are you having trouble being convinced of the value and/or utility of renting a villa over booking a hotel? This excellent guest post, from Linda Dini Jenkins, author of Up At the Villa: Travels With My Husband, provides five great reasons how renting a villa can work with your travel lifestyle and budget. And, if Linda’s five reasons don’t spur you to action, her fun photography, featured throughout this post, should have you wanting to research Italian villas right away.

Are you ready to start planning your Italy villa vacation? Let’s get started!

Five Favorites: Reasons to Rent a Villa in Italy
Door Knocker - Rent a Villa in ItalyThere’s nothing I like better than gathering up six of my friends and my husband and heading off to Italy for a villa vacation. The first time I did this, I was a villa newbie and didn’t know what to expect. But since that first world-changing trip in June of 2000, I’ve gone almost every year and the experience just gets richer and richer.

Most villa rentals are offered for a week at a time, with a Saturday afternoon arrival and a departure the following Saturday morning. But check around — I know some offer more flexibility, with shorter stay options; it’s up to the owner and/or rental company. But why, with all the affordable hostels (if you’re young) and wide range of hotels (if you’re older, like me) would I opt to stay in a stranger’s home for a week or two? Let me count the ways . . .

Hand Doorknocker1. Unpack once. Maybe twice.
Packing and unpacking are not the highlights of anyone’s holiday. So even if you’re visiting two regions over a two-week period (one year, for instance, we stayed one week on the Italian Riviera in Pieve Ligure and one week outside of Rome, in Frascati) you can stay put for a week at a time and only have to re-pack once. That means you can focus your attention on the village or city you’re staying in, and not whether your underwear is dry enough to put into the bag today.

2. Live like a native.
You start to feel like this is your home. You relax a little, maybe get to know some townspeople or at least the keyholder or caretaker. You can practice your Italian. Frequent the local trattorias and caffés. Haggle with the natives over the gorgonzola or a colorful scarf at the weekly mercato. Take a rest in the afternoon. Stroll through the piazza, arm-in-arm, after dinner with the villagers. You can even do laundry in most villas (washing machine are common; dryers are a luxury, but your clothes will smell amazingly fresh from drying outside in the sun all day). Renting a villa lets you enjoy an authentic Italian experience away from the touristy fast lane that hotel living usually implies.

3. Eat like a local.
If you’re like me, trying out different restaurants on holiday is half the fun. I love exploring the side streets and finding out where the Italians eat with their families. And I also love going all-out once or twice during my stay and eating in a place that I’ve read or heard about. But during the course of a week or two, this can get expensive. What I really like is meandering down to my very own kitchen in my bathrobe in the morning and putting on a pot of espresso, then opening the bag of cornetti and letting the aromas wake everybody up. A little Italian yogurt (it’s so creamy over there!) and some fruit is all you need at the table to help everybody wake up and plan the day. No “I’ve got to get out of the room so they can clean” or “Where can we all go to get a cup of coffee this morning? (and will we all have to stand up?)”. It’s your house. Get started when you want to. And be sure to buy some food at the local supermercato and try cooking dinner once in a while. And eat it al fresco on the patio that no doubt comes with the villa. Watch the scenery go by as you sip a glass of local wine that’s still so cheap you can’t believe it, and mamma mia — you’ll wonder why you waited so long to do this!

Dining Room - Rent a Villa in Italy4. Gather together.
This one’s easy: you’re traveling in a group and you want some quality time together in addition to seeing the sites. Where the heck do you do that in a hotel? The lobby? Usually, too small or impersonal. The bar? Only for so long and only at certain times of the day. In a villa, you’re home. There are living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, sitting rooms, bedrooms . . . you can hang out anywhere. Take a walk through the piazza. Lounge in the garden or poolside, if there’s a pool. The kind of stress you sometimes feel in a hotel vacation just isn’t here. A villa is your home away from home. Relax and talk to one another. Tell stories. Write in your journal. Take photos. Plan for tomorrow. Somehow, it’s different in a villa. You’re in control of your time and itinerary.

Door Knocker - Rent a Villa in Italy5. Save money.
While this is the factor that gets most people to try villa vacations, experienced villa renters realize that, although price is very attractive vs. hotel stays, the other four “reasons why” are really much more important. That said, imagine if you wanted to go to Florence or Rome for a week with another couple, and each couple wants its own room. Reasonable hotels start at around $150 and go to more than $500 per night for two people (much more, of course, if money is no object). Say you found something for $200 per room . . . that’s $2800 for two rooms for one week. And all you’ve got is a room. You have to buy all your meals out (you might get a little breakfast, if you’re lucky). And every time you go in and out of your room, you’ve got to turn in your key, then get it back, etc. etc. It can be a pain. Now, if you were renting a villa, you and that couple plus one or two other couples could stay in a well-appointed country home or updated city apartment (maybe even historic) for that amount and divide it three of four ways. So instead of $1400 per week per couple, you could be down to $700. And you’ve got all the advantages laid out above.

Finding the right villa takes some time, admittedly. You need to figure out the number of bedrooms and bathrooms required, the location, whether you’ll be driving or relying on public transportation, how much you’ll cook, to pool or not to pool . . . but that’s part of the fun of planning. You can spend as little as a few hundred dollars a week for a cozy place for two or tens of thousands of dollars for a grand historic palazzo in the country for a wedding or family reunion. For me, it’s the only way to go! Buon viaggio!

Linda Dini Jenkins is a unabashed Italophile and the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband, which was named one of the “Ten Travel Books I’d Give My Girlfriends” in 2009 by Journeywoman.com. Linda is also strangely attracted to Italian doorknockers. She blogs about travel and travel writing at www.travelthewriteway.com.

All photos © Linda Dini Jenkins

Italian Villas and Their Gardens

Just in time for late spring and summer romps around Italy comes the reissue of Edith Wharton’s 1904 landscaping classic Italian Villas and Their Gardens.

According to curators with the New York Society Library’s Green Art collection, “Wharton visited some fifty villas around Rome, Florence, Siena, Genoa, in Lombardy, and the Veneto. Many were closed to the public.” We do know, however, that several estates that she visited are open to the public, including the Boboli Gardens in Florence (part of the Medici’s Pitti Palace estate) and the Este family villas at Tivoli (near Rome) and Lake Como (in Lombardy, click on “Hotel” then “History&Garden” for more info).

Wharton’s book, with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, provides a unique look into Italy’s famous gardens from over a century ago. Tourists and garden enthusiasts may want to pick up a copy of this book before embarking on an Italian villa tour. Another great source of Italian villa and garden information is available on the Grandi Giardini Italiani website.

Photo from Grandi Giardini Italiani

From Mafia Villa to Agriturismo

This one comes from the U.K.’s Italy Magazine, which tells us that the Corleone villa of former Mafia boss Salvatore Riina has been turned into farmstay housing, a.k.a., an agriturismo. The Pio La Torre Cooperative, named for a martyred anti-Mafia activist, belonged to Riina before it was seized by the State after his 1993 capture. No word on when the cooperative will open, so watch this space…

Seven Steps to Villa Rental Success

Have you ever rented a villa and arrived to find out that linens were not provided? Or, have you ever rented a rustic country cottage only to find out that it was impossible to childproof? Well, these and many other mistakes can befall first-time villa renters. Luckily, Travel + Leisure’s February issue features a User’s Guide to Renting Villas.

While the article focuses largely on villa rentals in the Caribbean, its general tips are helpful for every destination. T+L has also listed the “best” villa agency in Italy (called, appropriately, thebestinitaly.com). But, if you can’t afford $43,000 per week on your vacation, consider these other villa rental agencies:

Wimco.com, has properties in Tuscany, on the Amalfi Coast, and in Sicily (“weekly rates on the new villa inventory in Tuscany start at $3,490”)
Homebaseabroad.com, has private home rentals in Tuscany, Umbria, and Lake Como
Italian Vacation Villas, has rentals in Tuscany, Umbria, Venice and the Veneto, and “by the seaside”