Last Updated on February 26, 2021 by Jim Ferri
Renting a villa in Italy…the best vacation of our lives
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Some years ago, my wife and I, another couple, and our daughter and son-in-law rented a villa in Tuscany. It was about 30 minutes outside of Florence, one of top places to visit in Italy.
To this day my wife still says it was the best vacation we ever had. And I totally agree.
In fact, it was such a good experience that last year at Thanksgiving we did it again, this time renting a Renaissance palazzo in Florence for four days, before heading to a condo in Zermatt for a few days to catch the beginning of the European ski season.
Like many travelers, we’ve caught “villa fever.” If it’s just the two of us traveling, we’ll book a hotel or rent an apartment, but if family or a group is involved, we’ll consider a villa.
The Cost Factor of Renting a Villa in Italy
Although both of our villa stays were luxurious vacations, they didn’t cost a fortune. In fact, just the opposite was true – they saved us quite a bit of money over a luxury hotel.
If you do your homework and choose the right villa in Italy, you can enjoy a five-star experience at a three-star cost.
Yes, the price of a villa may seem high initially, but think of it in terms of cost-per-person, per day. Calculate the costs of staying at a hotel of similar quality, including not only the published rate but also all the daily ancillary costs including restaurant meals, resort charges, and taxes, tips to porters, parking fees, etc. (Traveling at any time but the high summer travel season also lowers villa costs).
You’ll often find that the price disparity is not that great. And renting a villa in Italy can provide a unique upscale experience that you won’t find in a hotel.
Unique Villa Benefits
Villa vacations offer a lot of benefits. First and foremost, you’re on your own schedule and don’t have to worry about restaurant reservations and opening and closing times.
You also get to live just as the locals do, since many villas are located away from the mass-market tourist areas, often located in a residential area of a city or out in the countryside. In our first villa we were surround by rolling hills covered with vineyards and olive groves with not a single tourist in sight. In our second we were in an old residential area of Florence near the river, only a 10-minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio.
If you rent a villa in Italy as a group, as we did, you’ll likely also find that there’s plenty of space for everyone whether you want to be together or go off alone. Want to take that bowl of pasta and a glass of wine and sit on the wall overlooking the valley as the sun sets? Go for it. Likewise, if you just want to bury your head in that novel you’re trying to finish, as did my son-in-law by the pool out back while enjoying a fantastic view of the countryside, go for it.
Remember that villas offer plenty of privacy since there aren’t a hundred other guests all about. And you’ll never step out of your room and find a housekeeping cart in the hallway.
One of the best aspects of villa living is that you get to eat whenever and whatever you want. Make a trip to the local market or supermarket and put together your feast without worrying about prohibitive hotel restaurant costs. We all had a memorable time in the Italian supermarkets in our first villa trip.
Last year, during our city experience, we did just the opposite and delighted in eating in as many restaurants as possible, including the well-known Trattoria Zà Zà. Another evening we did take-out from a crowded and popular pizzeria we noticed down the block, and then ate our pies in the Renaissance splendor of our palazzo dining room.
Look At the Add-Ons for Any Villa Rentals
Some villa owners or managers will at times offer various add-ons to enhance the value of a property.
In our country villa, for example, one suggested add-on was a dinner prepared by the owners. The cost was less than $60 per person for a delicious Tuscan steak dinner with excellent wines (the husband was a sommelier) with the steaks bought at the oldest butcher shop in Florence.
The icing on the cake, so to speak, was when his wife discovered the dinner was on my birthday. She then spent a good part of a day in the kitchen making a tiramisu birthday cake for me.
You don’t need to plan it all alone, however. Some companies such as Select Italy can put the entire package together for you and custom design your entire vacation. The benefit is that you have knowledgeable people on the ground in Italy doing all the legwork to help you fulfill your dream. As they say on their site, “all you have to do is show up.”
Day Trips From Your Villa
Although we were out in the countryside, there was no lack of things for us to do together, or in two groups. One day we toured the Chianti region, stopping in the ancient town of Greve in Chianti, once the center of the wine trade.
Another day we drove from our villa rental to beautiful Siena where we ambled about and then enjoyed a fantastic lunch outside on the magnificent Piazza del Campo. Another day we went to Rome by train. Another to tiny Vinci, the home of Leonardo. During our city trip to Florence last Thanksgiving, we took the train to Venice for the day.
We didn’t stick to a set schedule or take any organized tours; we decided on our daily adventures around the dinner table the previous evening. In fact, it was that aspect that we enjoyed the most – the ability to vacation without the pressures of a vacation.
We did have help though. In our villa, there were two thick books that had pages of comments from previous guests. They recommended where to go, gave suggestions on great restaurants peppered about the countryside, and good supermarkets to stock up on supplies, etc. It was a goldmine of information.
Renting a Villa in Italy: The Basics
If you’re considering renting a villa in Italy, be aware of a few things before you hand over your credit card.
First of all, do your homework and use some common sense. Some villas are former (or present) homes. Others were designed as grand rentals, with all of the luxe built in. Are you looking for a romantic place or just someplace to crash after touring all day? Pick your villa rental accordingly.
On both trips, we were looking for something that would help us experience the culture of Italy. Although our choices were not at the top end of rentals cost-wise, the two villas we rented were filled with antiques. That gave them a unique sense of beauty and luxury. They were more the types of places for those who appreciate art and antiques, not for stag or hen parties.
Look at the Photos of Your Villa Rental Carefully
If you’re booking a villa rental online, read all of the reviews and look at the photos of your potential villa rental carefully. That way you won’t, hopefully, wind up with any unexpected surprises. People who rent villas can be brutally honest in their reviews.
While that pool looks beautiful, for example, what good will it be if you’re traveling during the Christmas holidays? And although it may be described as a “waterfront” property, is it actually on the beach? The term “waterfront” can also mean a canal or a marina.
Are extras such as a welcome package (bottle of wine, food, etc.) included? Does the company offer any tours or reduced price admission to museums, etc.? And who is available locally should anything go awry? Only book a villa through a company, such as the previously mentioned Select Italy, that has an office and staff in-country.
And, finally, be aware that although checkout in many villa rentals is early, sometimes about 10:00 am, check-in may be late afternoon, perhaps around 4:00 pm. This is because it takes some time to totally clean a house.
Take this into consideration when you book your airline ticket; booking an early morning arrival could leave you wandering for hours.