Rental rooms (affittacamere) in Italy ☆☆

Affittacamere Dune Blu in the Cinque Terre rents a super-cheap pair of rooms right at the beach end of Riomaggiore's main drag, Rental rooms, Italy, Italy (Photo courtesy of the property)
Affittacamere Dune Blu in the Cinque Terre rents a super-cheap pair of rooms right at the beach end of Riomaggiore's main drag

Rental rooms in Italy are called affittacamere (singular: affittacamera), and they can be had for as little as $30 a night

Traditionally, affittacamere (rental rooms) in Italy consist of just a spare bedroom or two in a private apartment or house. Occasionally, however, you will find five or more rooms that essentially operate as a B&B or small hotel yet are officially registered as an "affittacamera."

As one of Italy's least regulated lodging categories—the law only stipulates no more than six rooms in no more than two apartments in one building—affittacamere can run the gamut from efficiency apartments to plush accommodations serving hearty breakfasts to a bare room with an old cot and gruff owners.

That said, the simple rooms can be some of the best: insanely cheap, with sea views and homey furnishings overseen by a kindly widow who delights in sharing her stovetop espresso and packaged biscuits while telling tales of Italy as it once was. If she asks you to pretend, should anyone ask, that you're a friend of her nephew's in town for a visit, just go with it; she's merely engaging in the millennia-old Italian art of avoiding taxes.

The cultural adventure of feeling like you've been adopted by a Italian family for a few days isn't the only reason to rent a room in a private home. It also costs about half what you would pay at the impersonal hotel down the street.

Rates for two generally range from €20 ($22) to €200 ($221), but most often fall between €40 ($44) and €100 ($110). Just don't expect to pay these mom-and-pop operations with your credit card; for the most part, these transactions are cash-only.

The Rental Room Hunt

Rarely do affittacamere show up on booking engines. Local tourist offices always maintain a list, which increasingly is available on their Web sites. Perhaps a quarter of rental rooms have Web sites of their own; most are booked the old-fashioned way: over the phone, or after seeing a sign in a window and ringing the doorbell.

I've found memorable ones simply by stopping at a local bar, asking to borrow the pagine gialle (yellow pages), and flipping to the "affittacamere" section (also ask to borrow the TuttoCittà, the intensely detailed map booklet that all Italians get with their phone books, so you can cross-reference addresses to find a prime location)

The three most effective ways to find a private room in Italy are:

  • The Web. Some, but not all, local tourist office Web sites list rental rooms. Rarely, however, are these lists more than a string of addresses and phone numbers—Web links if you're very lucky. There are also plenty of private booking sites and B&B agencies that include rental rooms, including those listed under "Links" below and in the sidebar: 
  • Touts. These annoying guys descend on bag-laden tourists at train stations and ferry docks hawking their "Verry boo-tee-ful room! Very central! You come see, yes?" I find touts in cities to be a crapshoot at best, scams at worst, and I avoid them unless I'm truly desperate. On Mediterranean islands, though, the ferry dock touts are generally honest, and their rooms are as good as you'd find on your own. Ask to see photographs first, and get them to write the price down on a piece of paper—proof against sudden "inflation" at check-out time.
  • Shoe leather. The old-fashioned way often works best: Start pounding the cobblestones, looking for polyglot signs in the windows that read "Chambres, Zimmer, Rooms." Like cheap hotels, rental rooms tend to congregate near the train stations. Even better, grab the printed list of private rooms and B&Bs from the local tourist office and use it as a guide. In small towns especially, head for the busiest pub or café and simply ask if they know of any rooms; that's how I found my view of the Italian Riviera coastline in the Cinque Terre village of Vernazza for $30. If the barkeep doesn't know, ask to borrow the yellow pages and look under the local term for "rental room," a trick that once landed me a frescoed apartment in the Apulian town of Trani for $40.

Becoming part of the family

There's no guarantee you'll be staying in that prototypical B&B: a huge Victorian mansion full of chintz and doilies. These days, just as many rental rooms are in modern city apartments or isolated farmhouses, but a friendly, homey atmosphere tends to prevail.

Sometimes they'll ask, "Why don't you join us for dinner?" Other times, they'll just hand you the keys and ask you to try to be home by midnight. Still, in most cases you'll have more interaction with the owner and her family than with the desk clerk at a hotel.

During a visit to Sicily's Egadi Islands, where the tuna industry is such an integral and ancient part of the culture that there are 10,000-year-old cave paintings of men hunting tuna, I rented a room from the widow of the man who had once managed the processing plant.

My hostess regaled me with surprisingly interesting tuna-related facts that turned out to be relevant to the current state of affairs on the island, the ecology of the surrounding seas, and the future of Italy's economy.

I also got a lesson in practical Italian economics: I was instructed to tell anyone I met that I was a friend of hers, just visiting, not a guest. Guests, you see, pay money while friends stay for free—at least as far as the tax man knows.

I stayed two nights with my new friend. I never paid a bill, but to thank her for her "hospitality," I gave her a gift—which happened to be the local equivalent of about $25.

She gave me a tin of tuna.



Why I love alternative accommodations

First of all, I have nothing against hotels. They are reliable, widespread throughout Italy, and you know what you're going to get (or at least you will once you read all about how typical Italian hotels operate, and how they differ from American ones).

However, hotels aren't the be-all and end-all of lodging options in Italy.They are usually among the more expensive options available, and yet are rarely the most fun or remarkable.

In fact, to ensure the most memorable trip, you might want to make them your fallback choice when it comes to looking for a place to stay for the night.

Put it this way:

  • I've parked my RV in a campground with a million-dollar view over Florence and camped in a tent by the beach in Venice.
  • I've rented an ancient damusso house on the island of Pantelleria where I made friends with the neighbors.
  • I've rented apartments in Venice around the corner from St. Mark's Cathedral where I was soon recognized as a local at the area shops.
  • I set up housekeeping in a rented prehistoric trullo in Apulia where I became the "local color" that the other tourists were taking pictures of.
  • At an agriturismo (farm stay) in Piemonte I sat on a patio overlooking moonlit grape vines, sipping wine that had came from them and chatting with the vintner about the life of an Italian winemaker.
  • At a B&B in Ferrara the owner lent me a free bike and told me about recently discovered frescoes in a nearby palazzo, a hidden garden I could bike to, and a convent where the nuns made delicious cookies—none of them mentioned in any guidebook or by the local tourist office.
  • At the medeival monastery in Tuscany built on the site where St. Francis received the stigmata, I shared a dinner table with pilgrims and transcendental spiritualists, attended vespers with the monks, and tossed back shots of their homemade herbal liqueur alongside one of the friars at the monastery bar (no, really).
  • Within an hour of meeting my Couchsurfing host in Rome, I was riding in his car to pick up a friend and take her to her surprise party at a Roman home (my arrival was an integral part of the ruse).
  • At a rental room on a Sicilian island I was regaled with stories of the tuna fishing industry by the widow of the former tuna factory foreman.
  • And at a residence hotel in Rome in 1993 I met my wife.

None of that ever happens at a hotel, no matter how friendly the staff.

And every single one of those experiences cost less than the local hotels.(Heck, the Couchsurfing was free).

Even if you follow my own standard advice and consider your lodging to be just the cheapest comfortable place you can find to lay your weary head for the night, if you could get a bed that's both cheaper and in a more interesting setting, why not go for it?

I'll leave that decision up to you. But to help you make it, on the pages in thsi section, you'll find more than two dozen of the most popular alternative accommodations in Italy, including resources on how to find them and book them.

About the lodging star ratings (☆☆☆ to ★★★)

You will notice that all hotels, B&Bs, and other lodgingds (as well as sights and restaurants) on this site have a star designation from ☆☆☆ to ★★★.

This merely indicates that I feel these accommodations offer a little something that makes them special (or extra-special, or extra-extra special, etc.).

These star ratings are entirely based on personal opinion, and have nothing to do with the official Italian hotel ratings—which have more to do with quantifiable amenities such as minibars, and not the intangibles that make a hotel truly stand out, like a combination of great location, friendly owners, nice style, and low prices.

In general, a pricier place to stay has to impress me that it is worth the added expense.

This is why I give ★★★ to some (official) "two-star" hotels or B&Bs that happen to provide amazing value for the money—and similarly have ranked a few (official) "four-star" properties just (★★☆).

About the lodging price brackets (€–€€€)

Accommodations rates vary wildly—even at the same hotel or B&B—depending on type of room, number of people in it, and the season.

That's why here at we simply provde a general price range indicating the rough rate you should expect to pay for a standard double room in mid-season.

There are three price ranges, giving you a sense of which lodgings are budget, which are moderate, and which are splurges:

under €100
€€ €100–€200
€€€ over €200
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for lodging

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a hotel un albergo oon al-BEAR-go
...a B&B un bed-and-breakfast oon bet hand BREK-fust
...a rental room un'affittacamera oon ah-feet-ah-CAH-mair-ra apartment for rent un appartamento oon ah-part-tah-MENT-toh
...a farm stay un agriturismo oon ah-gree-tour-EES-moh
...a hostel un ostello oon oh-STEHL-loh
How much is...? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
a single room una singola OO-nah SEEN-go-la
double room for single use [will often be offered if singles are unavailable] doppia uso singola DOPE-pee-ya OO-so SEEN-go-la
a double room with two beds una doppia con due letti OO-nah DOPE-pee-ya cone DOO-way LET-tee
a double room with one big bed una matrimoniale OO-nah mat-tree-moan-nee-YAAL-lay
triple room una tripla OO-nah TREE-plah
with private bathroom con bagno cone BAHN-yoh
without private bathroom senza bagno [they might say con bagno in comune—"with a communal bath"] SEN-zah BAHN-yoh
for one night per una notte pair OO-nah NOH-tay
for two nights per due notti pair DOO-way NOH-tee
for three nights per tre notti pair tray NOH-tee
Is breakfast included? É incluso la prima colazione? ay in-CLOO-soh lah PREE-mah coal-laht-zee-YOAN-nay
Is there WiFi? C'é WiFi? chay WHY-fy?
May I see the room? Posso vedere la camera? POH-soh veh-DAIR-eh lah CAH-mair-rah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Is there a cheaper one? C'é una più economica? chay OO-nah pew eh-ko-NO-mee-kah


Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).