Villa rentals & cottages in Italy ★★

Villa Greve in the heart of Tuscany's Chianti wine region sleeps 12, Villa rentals, Italy, Italy (Photo courtesy of the property)
Villa Greve in the heart of Tuscany's Chianti wine region sleeps 12

An Italian villa to call your own for the night or the week—renting a villa, house, or cottage in Italy

Whenever I hear the word "villa," I picture something grand, surrounded by cypress sentinels above terraces of grapvines—a place where an Italian viscount might spend his weekends.

Of course, self-catering villas in Italy come in all shapes and sizes, from modern semi-detached homes in the 'burbs to veritable mansions in the country—and plenty of modest little farmhouses in the countryside—and there are well more than 30,000 of them across Italy.

Why rent a villa in Italy?

Whether it's a month by the lake or a summer spent under the Tuscan sun, chances are you're a-hankerin' to get in some of that sweet, sweet villa life we all read about in that ever popular sub-genre of travel writing, the "I bought a house in Italy and had all sorts of quirky adventures fixing it up and getting to know the locals, and aren't you jealous?"

Well, not all of us can afford to buy, for cash, some delightful fixer-upper farmhouse in the rural heart of Tuscany, Sicily, or the Veneto. Ah. but we can pretend we did so, if only for a few weeks or so. That's where those magic words come in: "villa rental."

The phrase to make you heart go pitter-patter, to turn some pedestrian vacation into an act of "summering in Europe," to make your friends and neighbors extremely jealous.

And I'm here to tell you, it's so darn easy (and, often, cheap), it's almost criminal.

What do you get with a vacation rental in Italy?

Villas are almost always self-catering, a fancy way of saying no one comes by to change the sheets each day and make you breakfast as would happen in a hotel—though some rentals do come with regular (usually weekly) maid service.

Most villas and vacation homes are rented by the week, some by the month, but plenty are also available in smaller increments down to about a three-night minimum.

In any event, villas afford a great way to get out and live the local life for a spell and adapt to the rhythms of rural life in Europe.

You can use your temporary home as a base for bombing around country lanes seeing the local sights, getting to know the local shopkeeps and becoming a regular at the village bar, or simply to sit around, relaxing with your view over the kitchen garden to those terraces of grapevines (a man can dream, can't he?).

Should I rent a villa in Italy? Is a villa rental right for me?

  • House rentals do not generally make good quickie overnight options. Villa rentals are intended for stays of a week or longer—though in some cases you can find three-night options during slow periods, or that, when not booked as a rental, operate as an agriturismo or B&B and allow shorter stays.
  • Villa rentals make more financial sense for small groups of six or more people—extended families or circles of friends—rather than couples. For shorter visits and smaller guest lists, consider renting an apartment instead, either in town or as a unit in a larger country villa (most resources below handle both types).

How much does a villa rental in Italy cost?

  • Costs are wildly variable, depending on size, location, fanciness, and how many people are splitting the bill. It tends to be cheaper for four or more people to rent a villa together than for a couple.
  • Per-person, per-day rates can start as low as $15 to $25 (especially for larger rental homes sleeping more people), but are more often around $40 to $100.
  • Determine before booking what fees are included: Taxes and basic utilities (gas, electric, water) should be; items like heating and telephone charges are often based on usage.
  • Expect to pay a security deposit of 10%–30%, and a "final cleaning" fee than can range anywhere from $35 to $150 (sometimes this is broken out per person, so read the fine print).

What should I be thinking of and what questions should I ask when looking for a villa?

  • Peruse as many photos as you can: of the exteriors, interiors, and (if they have them) views out the window so you have a true sense of what living there will be like.
  • Ask to see a floor plan and layout of the property to give you a sense of the size of the place, plus to be sure you don't all have to troop through one person's bedroom to use the bathroom.
  • Ask if it's purely a rental property or perhaps a private home where the owners are away part of the year (rentals that are lived-in like that tend to be better, as it's more likely all the plumbing, electrical, etc. will be working properly).
  • For particularly long stays—especially for a larger group (say a family reunion)—it pays for one member of the party to make a short reconnaissance trip over there to check out the top options before you settle on one.

A villa by any other name...

The difference between a villa a house or a cottage is largely one of semantics.

Some might call it a holiday home or self-catering rental.

 
 
Villas links

Tips

BOOKING: Getting what you pay for
  • Week-long rentals are typical, though some homes are available for two or three nights at a time, especially in the off-season (winter).
  • Peak season is roughly Easter through October, plus Christmas season (Dec 15–Jan 6).
  • Advanced reservations are essential. For summer high season, it's best to book several months, or even a full year, ahead.
  • Every owner bends the rules sometimes, so even if a website states that a cottage only rents by the week or longer, or that rates are completely nonnegotiable, it never hurts to inquire about flexibility. Small agencies and owners who rent one or two properties are particularly likely to bargain during slower periods.
  • Bait and switch is pervasive when booking through an agency (as opposed to direct from the owner)—whether intentional or because online databases aren't updated to reflect actual availability. Double-check that the villa you want is the villa you're getting. If the agency offers an alternative, make sure it's up to snuff and reasonably priced.
PAYING: Deposits and cancellations
  • A deposit may be necessary to hold your reservation. The amount varies: It might be the equivalent of one night's stay; it might be 30 to 50 percent of the total; it might be something totally different. The balance is usually due 6 to 20 days prior to arrival.
  • Bank wire transfers are required to rent some homes, particularly direct-from-owner (agencies will usually let you use a credit card). If you're renting abroad, note that banks in the U.S. charge $30–$50 for an international transfer, and it'll take three to five business days to process.
  • Taxes, utilities, and an initial and final cleaning fee are frequently included in the quoted price, but that's not always the case, so ask. If the apartment has a phone, inquire whether local calls cost extra.
  • Expect to pay a deposit against potential damages, either through a hold on your credit card or in cash to the person who gives you the keys. The money will be refunded when you check out.
  • Cancellation policies vary, with refunds given on a sliding scale, meaning less money is returned the later that you cancel. The deposit is rarely refundable, though you may be able to get some of the money back if you cancel far in advance.
ARRIVING: Who will give you the key?
  • A representative will usually meet you at the rental—though sometimes at a major landmark, train station, their own downtown office, or the local bus stop nearest the house at a prearranged time. He or she will lead you to the rental, show you the ropes (which keys fit which locks, location of the fuse box), point out nearby markets and cafés, and provide a local number to call if you have questions.
  • Most kitchens come fully equipped, but double-check that this is the case if you plan on cooking. Before heading to the market, look in the cabinets. There are often some cooking staples (salt, sugar, pasta, tea, oil) left by former guests.
  • Towels and linens are typically provided, but bring your own soap, shampoo, and toiletries; this is not a hotel.
  • Cleaning service is rare, though a few rentals offer cleaning every three days or so. Remember: You're living like a local, which includes taking out the trash and recycling. Your host will provide a schedule. 
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 ReidsItaly.com 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 ReidsItaly.com 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
...an 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.).