Italy has a population of more than 60 million people, and the country is divided into 20 regions, such as Tuscany. Umbria. Veneto. etc. Each region has a number of provinces. Within the modern state of Italy are two independent states, Vatican City and San Marino. The country was not unified into a single political entity until 1870, which helps to explain the diversity that exists among the various regions. This diversity, together with the warmth of its people, its rich cultural heritage, and its wonderful scenery makes Italy the popular tourist destination that it is. As you begin to plan your vacation, you might find it useful to consult a map so that you have a clear understanding of the geographic features of the country and a sense of the distances between the cities and towns that you hope to visit. Consulting one or more good Italy guidebooks in advance of your travel should assist you greatly in planning your daily activities.
Arriving in Italy
Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci (Fiumicino) Airport and Milan’s Malpensa Airport are Italy’s major international airports, especially if the traveler is taking a non-stop flight from North America. If your destination is Tuscany. Leonardo Da Vinci Airport is probably a little more convenient in terms of driving time. Travelers to Tuscany might find it more convenient to fly into the airports in Pisa and Florence, which have service from and to some other European cities. Delta has seasonal non-stop service several times a week between New York and Pisa. US Airways and Delta have non-stop service to Venice respectively from Philadelphia and New York. Eurofly, a seasonal airline, has non-stop service between New York and Bologna and New York and Rome, with onward service to some other Italian cities, including Naples. As you decide on the airport to which you intend to fly, you might wish to take into consideration both convenience and ticket prices. Other major Italian cities with airports are Naples, Palermo, Genoa, Ancona, Bologna, Catania and Bari. For airline reservations and schedules, we suggest that you contact a travel agent or check individual airlines on the World Wide Web. Our partner, Auto Europe, also handles airline reservations, often at advantageous pricing. You can contact Auto Europe by going to the “Links” section of our website or by calling their toll free number, which is 1-800-730-8036. For the lowest price Auto Europe offers, you should also provide our code number 12-010602 . Auto Europe also rents cars, cell phones, and GPS devices. Auto Europe guarantees to meet or beat prices of competitors for car rentals, assuming similar rental conditions.
United States citizens do not require a visa to enter Italy for visits of less than three months. For visits of longer duration, travelers should contact an Italian consular establishment in the United States or Canada, or search on the World Wide Web at http://www.italyemb.org. Please remember, however, that a valid U.S. passport is required for travel to Italy and virtually all international destinations. U.S. citizens must possess a valid U.S. passport for reentry into the United States from Italy .
Travelers entering Italy are not required to pay duty on a reasonable amount of items for their personal use during their visit. The following duty-free allowances apply:
- No more than 750 ml of liquor and two liters of wine;
- 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco.
Any specific questions regarding Italian Customs regulations should be referred to an Italian consular establishment.
The Euro has been the official currency in Italy since January 1, 2002. The Euro is divided into 100 cents, and there are coins and paper currency of various denominations. The Euro paper currency is standard throughout all the EU countries utilizing the currency; one side of all coins is standard throughout the EU while the other side represents the country in which they are issued. National coins are, however, interchangeable throughout the EU.
At the beginning of 2010, a dollar was worth about $.70 in relation to one Euro. (In other words, it takes about $1.44 to purchase one Euro at the official rate of exchange.). Prior to departing from the United States, you might wish to check the current exchange rate, which is generally found in the financial section of many major American newspapers.
In Italy, the best exchange rate can usually be obtained by utilizing ATM cards. ATM machines are found throughout the country. Prior to leaving the United States or your country in which you reside, we recommend that you check with your bank to ascertain whether its ATM card can be utilized in Italy. Your bank will probably charge you a small fee for each ATM transaction. Increasingly, U.S. banks have also instituted fees for foreign exchange transactions executed via ATM’s. In most places, ATM machines are operational 24 hours a day.
Banks tend to give better exchange rates than store- front exchange bureaus, many of which are found in the larger tourist centers. Banks are generally open from 8:00 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. and 2: 45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. on weekdays. A few banks have business hours on Saturday. Major credit cards are generally accepted throughout Italy. (Travelers will find that merchants generally prefer to take Mastercard and Visa.) You will find that the credit card companies provide better exchange rates than you will receive from banks or exchange bureaus. However, many credit card issuers are now charging fees for foreign exchange transactions. Check with your card issuer if you have any questions about this. Some travelers have reported difficulty in negotiating travelers’ checks issued in U.S. dollars. Individuals wishing to take travelers checks along with them, might want to purchase some that are denominated in Euros, recognizing that they will pay a premium over the exchange rate when they purchase the Euro travelers’ checks.
Some individuals have found that they can cut their costs by paying cash for their purchases. Travelers can also control their banking/foreign exchange costs by withdrawing the largest amount permissible from ATM machines. Be careful to stow withdrawn funds (cash) in a money belt. Also, when using ATM machines, exercise care when entering your personal identification number so that you do not fall prey to prying eyes intent on fraudulent activities.
In most areas of Italy, Italian is the principal language. German is spoken as a first language by many of the inhabitants of Trentino-Alto Adige, an area of northern Italy that was incorporated into Italy after the First World War. An increasing number of Italians, especially in the major cities and tourist areas, understand and speak at least a little English. Finding an English speaker away from tourist areas will be a little more difficult, and having some knowledge of Italian obviously can enhance the enjoyment of one’s vacation. Italians appreciate efforts of foreigners to speak their language, and most offer encouragement to those who make an effort to speak Italian. With a little patience on the part of the visitor, communication should not be a serious problem. The task will be simpler if you speak more slowly than normal and suggest to your Italian interlocutor that he/she speak more slowly. Be aware that there are also regional dialects that differ from standard Italian, which are spoken by some in the local population.
Italy is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard (Eastern Daylight Saving) Time
While there is significant variation in weather patterns from the north to the south of the country, Italy generally has four seasons. The spring and the fall are usually very pleasant for traveling. Winters and summers are generally neither as cold nor as hot as the extremes of weather generally found in the United States. In the months of July and August, hot weather can be expected, but in the evenings it is generally cooler with gentle breezes that make life comfortable. If travelers are contemplating a winter rental, it is important that they arrange to take a property that has adequate heating. Heating is quite expensive in Italy, and heating and fireplace wood are virtually always charged as extras based either on consumption or on a daily/weekly rate established by the owner. Information about weather in various areas of Italy can easily be found on the World Wide Web.
Very few rental properties permit pets. If a pet is permitted at a property and you decide to bring one along, you should consult an Italian consular establishment regarding entry requirements for bringing the animal into the country. The airline a traveler is using should be able to provide information on requirements regarding bringing the animal back into the United States (or another country).
Museums/Popular Tourist Sites
Italy is a popular tourist destination. To avoid lines, travelers might wish to avail themselves of pre-booking opportunities. For the Vatican Museum, tickets can be obtained online. There is a booking fee for this service. Tickets for the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia in Florence are also available online. There is also a fee for this service. Private guides - - we have a guide list - - can obtain these tickets for clients if they hire them for a day of sightseeing. Tickets to see Leonardo’s “The Last Supper” in Milan should be ordered at least a month in advance, also online.
ENJOYING YOUR VACATION HOME
Arriving at Your Property
We provide you with directions to the property. Here are a few tips to make the trip to your rental villa, farmhouse or apartment a little easier. Purchase a detailed map of Italy or a map of the region of Italy in which your rental is located either prior to your departure or immediately after your arrival in Italy. In the United States, these can be found at a large bookstore or at a store that specializes in travel books. (There is a link on our web site to a company in the United States that specializes in the sale of maps of foreign areas.) If you are traveling to Central Italy including Tuscany and Umbria. Michelin has an excellent map of the area. Istituto Geografico De Agostini publishes a number of useful maps including one entitled “Italia Nord-Centro” and
one entitled “Toscana”. In Italy, these maps can be found at bookstores or in the rest stops on the super highways (“autostrade ”). If you are renting a car, you will probably receive a map from the car rental agency. Although these are useful in a general sense, you will find that a more detailed map than the agencies usually provide will not only ease the task of arriving at your rental, but will also be useful for plotting your daily sightseeing itineraries.
Finding the property will be much easier if you plan to arrive there during daylight hours. Clients are strongly advised to follow the directions provided with your rental documents, at least for your first arrival at your rental property. Some clients have been using GPS devices to guide them to their rental. However, experience is showing that in some cases these devices are not helpful to clients in arriving at their property in rural areas.
Italian law requires that owners or caretakers of properties provide the local police with the names, country of origin and passport numbers of all (or at least some) of the individuals residing in the house during the rental. (The same is true of hotels.) So, at the time of your arrival, you should be prepared to present your passports to the key holder in order that he/she can obtain the necessary information. You might find it useful to make several copies of the data pages of your passport prior to leaving home and to take them with you to Italy. These should be kept separately from your passport, and are useful in the event of the loss of a passport or to give to owners for registration purposes.
Your rental property comes fully equipped with linens and towels. If you have a pool or intend to go to a beach, you should consider bringing beach towels or purchasing them in Italy. The majority of rental properties do not provide them. Also, washcloths are generally not common in Italy, so if you must have one, please plan to bring it along.
While kitchens are equipped for daily cooking, owners do not provide a stocked larder. Usually you will find items such as sugar, salt, pepper, etc. that are left behind by those who preceded you at the rental. Accordingly, it is useful to stock up on some basics either before you arrive at your rental or immediately after your arrival. Some of the items you want can be found at rest stops along the autostrade. Rentals have flatware, tableware and glasses sufficient for the number of people authorized to be at the rental.
If you are renting near Poggibonsi (between Siena and Florence ), there is a large COOP (the nearest thing to a supermarket in Italy) that will have everything you would want to take to your rental. There are smaller COOP’s in the Chianti towns of Greve and Castellina in Chianti. Alternately, ask the person that meets you at the property for directions to the nearest town with shopping facilities. Traditional, small grocery stores are found in most population centers. Please bear in mind that virtually all stores in Italy are closed on Sunday, and many remain closed on Monday mornings. We recommend that you do an initial shopping for basic items on Saturday before the evening closing hour.
Here is a list of things that you might find useful to purchase :
- Toilet paper – usually there is toilet paper at the house when you arrive, but it is unlikely that there will be a supply that will last the length of your rental.
- Paper towels and napkins
- Salt and pepper – you might wish to postpone this purchase until after your arrival in case others have left these behind.
- Bottled water
- Detergent both for clothes and washing dishes
- Basic foodstuffs such as milk, bread, jam cheeses, assorted fruits, fresh vegetables, salad ingredients, coffee and/or tea, sugar, pasta, olive oil, vinegar, and wine.
- See the shopping section below for additional tips.
Here are a few hints that will make your stay at your rental property more enjoyable. Remember, that air-conditioning continues to be rare in Italian homes, which generally have been built to keep out the heat in the summer and to retain warmth in the winter. If you are renting during the warmer summer period, you will immediately notice, as you look at nearby Italian homes, that windows are shut and shuttered from mid-morning until temperatures start to cool down in the latter part of the afternoon. It is suggested that you follow this pattern. Close your shutters before going out on your daily excursions. In the later part of the afternoon, open the shutters to ensure that you capture the cooling breezes that generally come in late afternoon and in the evening.
Italian homes generally do not have the same amount of electrical current coming into the house as we Americans are used to. Houses in Italy operate using 220 volts, so exercise care before trying to plug American electrical gadgets, i.e. hair dryers, computers, etc. that run at 120 volts, directly into the electrical socket. Individuals coming from the United States will find that they generally should bring along transformers and adapter plugs for their electrical equipment. (Most laptops have transformers that will solve this problem, but users might wish to bring along a surge protector if they are taking a computer to the rental.) Remember that using too many appliances in a house at one time might cause a circuit breaker to go off. For example, it is probably best not to use a dishwasher and a washing machine at the same time, especially if you are also using lights in most of the rooms of the property. It is also useful at the time of arrival to ask the person that greets you at the property to show you the location of the fuse box where the circuit breakers are located.
Water is a very precious commodity in Italy, especially during the dry summer period. Clients are urged to practice water conservation during their rental.
Houses in Italy generally do not have screens. To control mosquitoes or other insects that might appear, there are several methods to use. One is to buy anti-mosquito coils that are readily available in Italy. You light these in early evening particularly in the bedrooms, and they give off a smell that is offensive to those little pests. Italians also use a small plug-in device the size of night-lights that burn little pellets of insect repellent. Another is to purchase flying insect spray and to use it in bedroom areas prior to retiring for the evening. Finally, for those who are particularly sensitive and who will be lingering outside late into the evening, you might consider purchasing an insect repellent that contains DEET before leaving the United States. Keeping lights off in the bedrooms when not using them is also helpful.
We are frequently asked about clothes dryers. As with air-conditioning, these are relatively rare in Italy, in large measure because of the extremely high cost of utilities. In Italy almost all clothes drying is done on outside lines. You will find that virtually all rental properties have these outside lines.
Washing machines in Italy operate differently from those in the United States. If there is a washing machine at the property you have rented, please read carefully any operating instructions provided by the owner. If there are no instructions readily apparent, you are urged to ask the owner/key holder who greets you at the property to show you how the washing machine functions. Since most Italian washing machines heat their own hot water, the entire washing cycle is considerably longer than one experiences with washing machines here in the United States.
As indicated above, utility costs are very high in Italy. Clients are strongly urged to assist in energy conservation . This can be done by turning off lights when you leave the rental for the day, and ensuring that lights are off in unused rooms during the evening hours.
The quantity of available hot water at one time in Italian homes is not always as abundant as in American homes. In some instances, the hot water supply is not centralized but comes from individual water heaters in the bathrooms or in the kitchen. Limiting the length of showers is one method of enabling all to share in the available supply of hot water.
Finally, when leaving a rental, we strongly urge clients to make a final check to ensure that they are not leaving behind any personal belongings or valuables!
The official heating season in Italy is basically from October 15 to April 15. Given that Italy has four climatic seasons and that weather is unpredictable, clients sometimes wish to utilize heating either before October 15 or after April 15. They should consult immediately with the owner/key holder concerning this need, if it occurs, bearing in mind that heating is almost always charged as an extra either based on usage or on a price the owner has calculated based on past experience.
Heating is expensive in Italy, so travelers renting properties there in heating season should factor in the cost of heating as they think about the budget for their vacation.
EXPERIENCING ITALY - - Shopping/Market Days
Italy is a shopper’s paradise. One of the advantages of renting vacation accommodations with cooking facilities is the opportunity to experience the vast array of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as the wide assortment of specialty meats and cheeses. Each area of Italy has its own specialties, and vacationers are urged to try these. Shopkeepers tend to be very helpful, and frequently will offer the shopper an opportunity to sample a particular product before buying it. Small food stores are found in virtually all towns and villages. Supermarkets are becoming increasingly common in Italy, and generally prices are somewhat lower than in the smaller stores.
Since many of our rentals are in the area around Florence and Siena, here is a schedule of some of the larger outdoor markets :