RENTING A VILLA IN TUSCANY
Are you thinking about renting a villa in Tuscany this summer? If so, get a move on, as great places are already getting fully booked for the months of July and August. I have just completed our villa booking for this year, and with ten years experience in booking independent accommodation in both Tuscany and Umbria, I think I know what to look for to make the summer vacation unforgettable.Tuscany villa rentals aren't just for young couples in love. More and more vacationers are taking their whole family to enjoy Tuscany—and it's a trip your kids will never forget. This year we are taking some of our older children and their partners, so careful thought has gone into what we need. But what should you look for to make sure your villa has everything the family will need? Here are a few of my top tips and thoughts:
1. WhereTuscany is the most popular Italian region for Brits, but adjacent Umbria is as beautiful and rentals are often a little cheaper. Think about how close you want to be to an airport - Pisa and Florence airports are the main gateways to Tuscany and Umbria, but I have flown into both of Rome's airports - Fiumicino and Ciampino and then driven the two hours or so on the A1 autostrade (motorway) into Tuscany. Very few budget airlines fly into Florence, so choice is limited.
Establish how close you want to be to one of Tuscany's famous cities or cultural centres. Do you want to be isolated or close to a town or village? How far is the nearest restaurant, supermarket or shops? In most cases you will need a hire car to get from the airport to your villa. You can use public transport but most Tuscan villas are situated in or near small villages or towns, many off-the-beaten-track, on hills or in valleys surrounded by hills. This year, our villa is between Sienna and Florence and 60km from Pisa airport. Seclusion is nice, but so is history, culture, and night life. Make sure your Tuscany villa rental is close to villages with shopping and cultural activities the whole family can enjoy.
Check that you can access your villa by car and that there is a designated parking spaces for your vehicle, close to your accommodation.
2. Enough bedroomsMany villas are designed to only accommodate one couple with a single bedroom. Others for four people, only have one double bedroom, with an additional sofa bed in the kitchen and living area. Some have two or three small bedrooms. While a family vacation should definitely include an element of adventure, you'll have a lot more peace during your stay if your kids don't have to share bedrooms. While less common, I've seen Tuscany villa rentals with four, five or six bedrooms—occasionally more, but they are very expensive. Most villas provide bed linen and towels at a small extra cost per person.
3. Plenty of bathroomsHand in hand with having enough beds, extra bathrooms go a long way toward keeping everyone happy. While you don't necessarily need a private bathroom for each individual bedroom, having at least two bathrooms cuts down on the amount of waiting and potential arguing. And Mom and Dad should definitely have their own private bathroom. This year, we have opted for a villa with two bathrooms, both with showers which is the norm in Italy. Baths are rare, except in hotels.
4. Equipped KitchenYou are probably not planning to spend much time cooking while on holiday, apart from rustling-up a little breakfast. If that's the case, check your accommodation has a fridge and a toaster, at the very least. However, with most villa rentals running from Saturday to Saturday, it is worth knowing that in Tuscan towns and villages, most restaurants close on a Sunday and some also close on a Monday. So you may well need to prepare food on these days. Added to this, supermarkets are closed on Sundays. Therefore, remember to shop for food on arrival to get you through the weekend. Some places provide guests with a 'starter pack' of essential food items, including a bottle of wine! Check how well your kitchen is equipped. Is there a microwave, for example? Most villas also have a four ring gas hob, but few have a separate oven. I always look for a villa with an oven, if only to cook our own pizzas from fresh local ingredients! You will need to take dish cloths and tea towels, as these are never provided.
5. A shared poolMany Tuscany villa rentals come with a swimming pool. Sometimes private and sometimes shared with other apartments. For a honeymoon I'd recommend a private pool but, for a family getaway, it can be nice to have a shared pool. You'll get a chance to mingle with other families, and so will the kids—and it often takes a fair amount off the rental price. Check the size and the type of pool (swimming or just plunge pool) and that the pool area is well equipped with enough sun loungers and parasols for the numbers of guests. Try to establish whether the villa owner lives on site and if so, whether they have access to the pool area, other than to maintain the pool. Privacy is an important factor on holiday. Rentals do not normally provide pool towels and owners dislike indoor towels being used around the pool.
6. Indoor and outdoor spacesSome villas offer relatively few communal spaces to gather in, at least indoors. The kitchen area normally doubles-up for indoor eating and relaxing. But with the family along it's nice to have separate gathering places, such as a lounge with a sofa and a TV, in case of rain. A living room, as well as a courtyard or veranda, are definite pluses. Check that your villa has its own equipped outdoor eating area that includes a table and enough chairs for your family to enjoy an outdoor breakfast or an evening meal under the stars. Some villas also provide an outdoor communal barbeque area, although guests have to purchase their own wood or charcoal bricks and must leave the area as clean as they find it.
7. Wi-FiNothing helps teenagers (and often parents) stay sane as much as having a line to life back home. Wi-Fi allows your kids to stay entertained on their devices, to stay in touch with friends, and to share photos and activities from the trip. It also means you can stay up-to-date on news and e-mail.
Apart from the weekly rental cost, you will be required to pay a returnable deposit to the owners on arrival at your villa, of at least 200 euros. In addition, the cost of any linen and towels you request and a cleaning fee of 15 euros per person, paid on departure. Most places as also charge a mandatory tourist tax of 1.50 euros per person per day. Check-in is normally between 4pm and 8pm and check-out is by 10am. Some rentals allow pets, but many do not.