Villa rentals in Italy

Everything you need to know to rent a villa in Italy

Introduction
What to expect
Resources
Tips
A villa for rent in Tuscany
This villa in the Val d'Elsa region of Tuscany, between the Chianti and San Gimignano, sleeps four and costs just €108 per night with Belvilla.com. I'm not joking.
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.

Resources for finding the villa of your dreams

There are two basic ways to find a rental villa: use an agency or find one yourself direct from the owners.

Each has its pros and cons, but in brief: vacation houses are far easier to arrange through a villa rental consortium, but you'll sometimes find better deals by contacting people privately.

Here are the main considerations.

Villa rental agencies

Villa rental agencies are a simple enough concept. These are companies with stables of vacation rental homes in a catalog and act as middlemen between the villa owners and all potential renters.

  • Renting via an agency will cost a bit more that going private.
  • Angencies offer the convenience of dealing in English (though that's also fairly likely when going direct).
  • You will be selecting from a more closely vetted catalog(fewer choices, but also fewer bad ones).
  • Prices are often listed in U.S. dollars.
  • You (likely) won't have to place any phone calls to Italy.
  • You can pay by credit card (direct rentals often require a down payment via a pricey international bank wire transfer).
  • Most international agencies are based in the U.S. or have representatives there, which means they'll have proven track records and Better Business Bureau ratings.
  • You have the comfort of greater consumer safeguards should anything go wrong.

Many properties are represented by multiple agencies, but pricing should be consistent as only one dealer holds the original contract.

Renting direct

Renting direct—via local papers and English-language magazines, local tourist boards, or virtual classifieds (more on that in a moment)—offers a greater variety and somewhat lower prices. (Skipping the middleman is an age-old formula for finding deals.)

The problem is that renting direct can be tedious and difficult. It may take more digging—and more know-how—than going with a villa rental agency, but it can cost a heck of a lot less.

  • Sifting through properties eats up time. Many owners haven't set up flashy websites, and you're left with little more than an address and a phone number. Even with the apartments sporting websites and e-mail addresses, the rental procedure is rarely easy.
  • Few owners accept credit cards; you'll usually have to wire a deposit via bank transfer and pay the balance in cash on arrival (though PayPal is becoming popular).
  • You might need to call Italy several times to confirm rental and payment details, and the language issue may get in the way.
  • Keep in mind that since these are all pretty much unvetted resources, they are a buyer-beware environment.

However, if you keep your wits about you and do your homework well (and are a do-it-yourselfer to begin with), going direct can be the single best resources to find that perfect Italian villa.


Shop around with several villa rental companies until you find one you feel comfortable with and whose prices are in your ballpark.

Work with agencies that specialize in that region or city, and be sure the company will work with you to match you to your ideal rental, not just try to foist off on you a property they want to move.

The best villa rental agencies

These are my picks for the best places to search for a rental property in Italy.

  • PartnerHomeAway (www.homeaway.com) - Probably the biggest (at least when it comes to Italy), with more than 545,000 rentals around the world, including around 8,500 in Italy alone (of which more than 2,385 are in Tuscany, another 311 in Rome and Lazio, 393 in Umbria, and 741 in Sicily).
  • PartnerVRBO.com (www.VRBO.comvrbo) - That stands for "Vacation Rentals By Owner," a worldwide virtual classifieds section with more than 30,000 Italian villas, apartments, cottages, houses, and other places to lay your head—from $145 per night in Tuscany. Though designed to allow villa and vacation home owners to rent to the public directly—ostensibly cutting out the extra costs involved in working through a middle-man rental agency—in my experience plenty of small-fry local rental agencies use it as well (not that there's anything wrong with renting through those folks; just wanted to let you know that not every property listed is truly direct from the owner).
  • PartnerBooking.com (www.booking.com) - Known as a hotel-booking service, this excellent search engine also features more than 4,100 villas in Italy. Among the offerings: you can stay in a genuine trullo in Alberobello from $90 (one of 179 rental villas in Apulia), rent a split-level with a pool in the coutryside by the famous walled hamlet of Monteriggioni that sleeps four from $236 (one of 1,610 in Tuscany), or book a gorgeous country villa in the hills above the resort town of Cefalù that sleeps eight and costs from $2,183 per week (one of 484 in Sicily).
  • PartnerBelvilla (www.belvilla.com) - A vast catalog—more than 14,000 properties in 17 countries across Europe, including 2,413 in Italy—with excellent prices on quality rental homes
  • PartnerRentalo (www.rentalo.com) - Simply massive: more than 200,000 rental properties in 15,000 locations around the world. That said, its search engine is slow and sometimes buggy. Still: worth the (download) wait. They also handle some B&Bs and agriturismi (farm stays).
  • AirBnB.com (www.airbnb.comvrbo) - Familiar to most as a way to find a cheap room, the AirBnB network also lists thousands of villas, houses, and apartments in Italy (just specify "Entire home" under "Room type"). It is less regulated than most online resources, so it is definitely a "buyer-beware" environment, but the deals can be astounding. I recently searched for one with very specific parameters (for eight people, with a pool and A/C, in Tuscany, on odd dates) and airbnb.com came up with two-dozen tantalizing results, all of which still were available for the required high season dates—including a gorgeous farmhouse in the Chianti just eight miles from Siena... for $283 a night.
Other villa rental agencies

Italy specialists

  • The Parker Company (www.theparkercompany.com) - The top Italy rental specialist, a family-run outfit with just 101 properties, but immaculately chosen ones with loads of info on each property on the site. They prefer, however, to conduct business over the phone because their goal is to get to know you and then match you with the perfect villa. The goal is quality over quantity, and they have eminently respectable rates of satisfied customers and repeat business. As a bonus, the company is set up to help you plan and book things to do during your stay (cooking classes, bike rides and such) through its Actividayz branch.
  • Marjorie Shaw’s Insider’s Italy (www.insidersitaly.com) - Another boutique agency with intimate knowledge of each property, but you do pay extra for this breed of service. Not so much a villa rental agent as an Italy trip-planning service that can hook you up with a villa or apartment as part of your vacation. Their web site merely tells you how great they are, sort of an online brochure—no nitty gritty details on the properties they represent or on their other services. However, I've only ever heard raves from people who have traveled with Marjorie Shaw's service.
  • Home Base Abroad (www.homebase-abroad.com) - Super-select (and super-expensive) collection of private villas in Tuscany, Umbria, the Amalfi Coast, and Lake Como. The pictures alone will make your jaw drop.
  • Italian Vacation Villas (www.villasitalia.com) - About 214 rentals, mostly in Tuscany & Umbria plus a handful in the Veneto.
  • Home in Italy (www.homeinitaly.com) - More than 150 upscale villas in Tuscany, Umbria, Sicily, Apulia, Lazio, Le Marche, Campania, and Sardegna.

High-end specialists

  • Barclay International (www.barclayweb.com) - One of the world’s premier villa rental services since 1963. (And yes, “premier” does mean “a bit pricey”). Excellent properties and service, though. It's not the largest selection out there, but a very select one: Among the Italy offerings: 148 villas in Tuscany, 43 in Sicily, 7 in Liguria and Piemonte, 18 in the Veneto and Italian Lakes region, 10 in Umbria, and 9 apartments in Rome.
  • Special Places to Stay (www.sawdays.co.uk) - Alastair Sawday’s series of accommodations guidebooks is now available on-line, covering the Britain, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain (plus India and Morocco). Many are run more as proper hotels—though in the countryside—though some are self-catering. Only 171 villas (plenty more agriturismi), but wow, what a selection.
  • Villas & Apartments Abroad (www.vaanyc.com) - Primo places—palaces castles, and the like—in Italy, France, and a bit in Ireland, Scotland, Greece, and Austria, but the listings are quite coy (rarely tell you precisely where they are, nor in most cases the prices, which is a Cardinal Sin in my book). Plus, only a handful (201) in Italy. If the properties weren’t so spectacular, I wouldn’t even bother listing the site.

Other good generalist villa rental agencies

  • VillaNet (www.rentavilla.com) - Many agencies focus on the priciest properties (earns them bigger commissions, I guess), but not VillaNet. It features a refreshing range of villas in all price categories throughout Italy, France, and Portugal, with around 187 in Tuscany, 92 villas to rent on the Amalfi Coast, 53 rental villas on the Italian lakes (Lake Como, Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore).
  • Rent Villas (www.rentvillas.com) - Good track record for Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, the UK, Greece, and Turkey. The number of villas in Italy just tips the scales over 978 (with a real focus on Tuscany, where there are 615 villas to rent), but it is an excellent selection.
  • PartnerInterhome (www.interhomeusa.com) - This is one of the biggest and best-established in the business (est. in 1965 as "Swiss Chalet" in Zurich), with more than 30,000 holiday homes in Europe (plus Florida), with around 1,200 in Italy. They book 95% of their villas directly from the owners, and have 60 local service offices scattered around Europe (plus, like I said, Florida).
  • Villas International (www.villasintl.com) - Long-established agency, with 25,000 properties in perhaps more countries around the world than any other. Plenty of good Italy villas and apartments: 543 in Tuscany, 373 in and around Rome, 73 in Umbria, 67 in Sicily, etc.
  • Homeabroad (www.homeabroad.com) - Focused on Italy and France but with an ever-expanding list in the UK, Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal (plus some apartments in London). Don’t let the pathetic handful of listings on the website fool you; they rep over 1,000 properties.
The best virtual classifieds for renting a villa

Virtual classifieds are sites where owners can rent their home directly to you, the vacationer. They key here is that there's no middleman getting a piece of the action (translation: raising the price for you), or setting an artificially high rental rate. This is free market at its best, baby.

Of course, since these spaces are not really controlled, the majority of listings are, in fact, from villa agencies that sign up and advertise their services or properties here—same way that realtors will list a tempting apartment in the "For Rent" section of your local paper with the tag "...and dozens more!" I'm not saying you can't find a perfectly great place that way, but just as a word of warning that not all the listings are actually individual owners.

  • PartnerVRBO.com (www.VRBO.comvrbo) - That stands for "Vacation Rentals By Owner," a worldwide virtual classifieds section devoted to 110,000 villas, apartments, cottages, houses, and other places to lay your head—from $145 per night in Tuscany. Though designed to allow villa and vacation home owners to rent to the public directly—ostensibly cutting out the extra costs involved in working through a middle-man rental agency—in my experience plenty of small-fry local rental agencies use it as well (not that there's anything wrong with renting through those folks; just wanted to let you know that not every property listed is truly direct from the owner).
  • AirBnB.com (www.airbnb.comvrbo) - Familiar to most as a way to find a cheap room, the AirBnB network also lists thousands of villas, houses, and apartments in Italy (just specify "Entire home" under "Room type"). It is less regulated than most online resources, so it is definitely a "buyer-beware" environment, but the deals can be astounding. I recently searched for one with very specific parameters (for eight people, with a pool and A/C, in Tuscany, on odd dates) and airbnb.com came up with two-dozen tantalizing results, all of which still were available for the required high season dates—including a gorgeous farmhouse in the Chianti just eight miles from Siena... for $283 a night.
  • Craigslist (www.craigslist.org) - For those of you not lucky enough to live in one of the 60-odd cities served by craigslist, a word of explanation: Craigslist.org is a virtual classified section that has pretty much supplanted every other method of finding an apartment, job, bass guitarist, lonely single, used piece of furniture, pet, etc. (or disposing of any of the above). What most don't know is that it also lists vacation rentals (under the "housing" category). Many are agencies, not private owners (though if either leads you to the villa of your dreams, do you care?), and there are plenty of hotels and B&Bs tossed in there, but just a few minutes' sifting through the results can turn up some gems.

    The individual European craigslists are slowly becoming more in-depth. Under "case per vacanze" in each city/regional section, you can find such deals as a one-bedroom with a sofa bed in the living room by the Vatican in Rome for €75; a 2BR with terrace views over the Oltrarno in Florence for €110; and a farmhouse sleeping five in the the Tuscan hills near San Gimignano that starts at an incredible €179 for three nights (€329 per week).

    Be sure to rifle through the craigslists of major U.S. cities, too—doesn't matter if you live there or not—because that's where American folks with a summer villa post ads to recoup some of their investment by renting it out while they're not there. For example, recently on the New York site, just in a single day's postings, I saw a $600/week three-bedroom cottage in Ireland's terribly scenic Co. Kerry and a 17th century farmhouse in France with six bedrooms going for $885 a week (divide that price 12 ways and you and your friends/loved ones are looking at paying about $10.50 apiece per night), plus a one-bedroom in Cannes for $650/week.

Advice for renting a villa in Italy

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).
What should I expect from a rental villa?

Do not expect hotel services: there's no front desk or concierge; linens are usually changed only weekly, if at all (and not all have washer/dryers you can use; always check).

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.
Should I use an agency or do it myself?

There are two basic ways to find a rental villa: use an agency or find one yourself direct from the owners. Each has its pros and cons, but in brief: vacation houses are far easier to arrange through a travel agent or villa rental consortium, but you'll sometimes find the best deals by contacting people privately. Here are the main considerations.

  • Villa rental agenciesare a simple enough concept. These are companies with stables of vacation rental homes in a catalog and act as middlemen between the villa owners and all potential renters.

    Renting via an agency will cost a bit more that going private, but it also offers the convenience of dealing in English (though that's also fairly likely when going direct), the chance to select from a more closely vetted catalog, the ease of paying all by credit card (direct rentals often require a down payment via an international bank wire transfer), and the comfort of greater consumer safeguards should anything go wrong.

    Many properties are represented by multiple agencies, but pricing should be consistent as only one dealer holds the original contract.
  • Renting direct—via local papers and English-language magazines, local tourist boards, or virtual classifieds (more on that in a moment)—offers a greater variety and somewhat lower prices. Skipping the middleman is an age-old formula for finding deals. The problem is that renting direct can be tedious and difficult. It may take more digging—and more know-how—than going with a villa rental agency, but it can cost a heck of a lot less.

    Sifting through properties eats up time. Many owners haven't set up flashy websites, and you're left with little more than an address and a phone number. Even with the apartments sporting websites and e-mail addresses, the rental procedure is rarely easy. Few owners accept credit cards; you'll usually have to wire a deposit via bank transfer and pay the balance in cash on arrival (though PayPal is becoming popular). You might need to call Italy several times to confirm rental and payment details, and the language issue may get in the way.

    Keep in mind that since these are all pretty much unvetted resources, they are a buyer-beware environment. However, if you keep your wits about you and do your homework well (and are a do-it-yourselfer to begin with), they can be the single best resources to find that perfect Italian villa.

Shop around with several villa rental companies until you find one you feel comfortable with and whose prices are in your ballpark. Work with agencies that specialize in that region or city, and be sure the company will work with you to match you to your ideal rental, not just try to foist off on you a property they want to move.

 

Tips for renting that villa

Here are some tips to help during the booking, paying, and arrival process:

BOOKING: Getting what you pay for
  • Week-long rentals are typical, though some houses 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 (Dec 15-Jan 6).
  • Advanced reservations are essential. For 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 villa 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.
PAYING: Deposits and cancellations
  • A deposit (or caparra) will usually 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 due 6 to 20 days prior to arrival.
  • Bank wire transfers are required to rent some apartments, particularly direct-from-owner units (agencies will usually let you use a credit card). Banks in the U.S. charge $30–$50 for a transfer, and it'll take three to five business days to process.
  • Taxes, utilities, and a final cleaning fee may be included in the quoted price, but may not; always ask to be sure. If the house 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?
  • If you work through an agency, a representative will usually meet you at a prearranged time—though whether at the house itself, a nearby town or major landmark, the local train station, their own office, or the airport can vary wildly. He or she will lead you to the flat, 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, olive oil) left by former guests.
  • Towels and linens are typically provided, but bring your own soap, shampoo, and toiletries; this is not a hotel.
  • Maid service is rare, though a few rentals offer cleaning every three days or so (or perhaps once a week). Remember: You're living like a local, which includes taking out the trash and recycling. Your host will provide a schedule.

Tips & links

Villa rental links & resources
Other lodging links & resources
Useful Italian
Useful Italian phrases and terms for lodging

English (Inglese) Italian (Italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
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
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
     
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

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