It's a romantic idea, isn't it? Living like Frances Mayes (Under The Tuscan Sun) in a dreamy villa with sweeping views of vineyards and olive trees while noshing on Tuscan feasts and imbibing on red wine is an incredibly romantic picture.
Nevertheless, that romantic bubble can be quickly burst without careful evalution of the villa and the services its owner provides. A few important things to know are:
- Is their a local name of the villa? Imagine driving into the countryside after a long flight and you have difficulty finding the villa. You stop to ask a local for directions, but they only shrug their shoulders because they don't recognize the name of the villa. Many villas have been given 'new' names by their current owners, while long-time locals know it only by its original name. Ask the owner you are renting from for previous names the villa is know by.
- Are there clear and precise directions? Obtaining an address is great, but GPS systems rarely identify specific addresses in rural Italy. It is better to have specific directions of getting to your destination.
- How do you get the keys upon arrival? Most villas are rented by management companies. Again, imagine pulling up to your vacation rental after an exhausting flight and a long drive in a foreign land only to find a note on the door that you need to pick up the keys in the nearby village. Finding out this information in advance will save you time and frustration.
- What is included in the price? Can you imagine your surprise when you check out and find the use of electricity was not included in your rental price? Oops! It's not that uncommon. Electricity is very expensive in Italy. And even though more and more rentals are including it in the rental price, some do not. It's always a good idea to find out upfront or risk being hit with a high electric bill at the end of a great vacation.
- Will electricity be turned on upon arrival? I speak from personal experience on this one (and this is why hubs now travels with a flashlight)! As I mentioned in #4, electricity is expensive in Italy, so the electricity is typically turned off when a property is vacant. When we arrived at our rental property (in the dark), we found hand-written instructions on how to turn the electricity on. Even though it was written in English, it may as well have been written in Italian because it was all Greek to us! We called the management company and had to wait an hour with only the light from our car's headlights before someone arrived to help us out.
- Is the property staffed? Some rentals are completely independent and others have a manager nearby on the property. It is greatly convenient to have someone nearby should something in the rental break or not work properly. If the property is independent, make sure instructions will be left behind for operating appliances and phone numbers to call when there are problems.
- What exactly does child-friendly mean? Child-friendly to an Italian villa owner means they allow children to stay in their property. Child-friendly to you may mean there is an electric cover on the pool, cabinets and toilets sport child locks and stairways are blocked with child gates. If this is important to you and the safety of your children, ask.
- What personal amenities are provided? A friend of mine rented a beautiful villa in Tuscany. After 15 hours of flying and 3 hours of driving, they arrived late in the evening tired and in dire need of a restroom. They bee-lined to the villa's restroom only to find no toilet paper. They quickly jumped back into the car and sped to the nearest village. Everything was closed. And sadly for them, everything was closed the next day for a national holiday. Their story is now recited with humor, but they didn't find it so funny at the time. Only in high-end luxury villas will you possibly find the kinds of amenities you will find in a hotel: toilet paper, bath soap, shampoo. For obvious reasons, you will want to find out before you leave home.
- Is a workable washer/dryer provided? Washing and drying clothes in Italy is another story! Water is a commodity in the countryside, so using a washing machine is discouraged. Dryers are rare, and finding one that actually dries is even rarer. Drying clothes on a line outside is prefered--not a problem unless it rains. If your packing will be determined on whether you will be able to do laundry or not, find out the washer/dryer situation beforehand. Oh yea, and pack your own detergent!
- Is cleaning service provided? In most rentals, only a final cleaning is provided in your rental cost. There are a few that offer a mid-week linen change, and even fewer that offer a daily cleaning. If you don't mind spending your vacation picking up after yourself and your family, then it's not a problem. Otherwise, ask if there is a cleaning person you can hire during your stay.
- Is a cook provided? OK, there are several things to think about here. If you plan to cook meals for you and your family, you will want to make sure a market is nearby. You will make several trips to the market during your stay because refrigerators are very small and hold very little. Also, be prepared to do your own clean-up (unless you've hired a cleaning person as suggested in #10). While some properties offer the services of a professional chef, you may also ask about the availability of a local cook--someone's nonna (grandmother), perhaps.
- Who do I call in the event of an emergency? At home, you have your doctor, the fire department, the police department and other important contacts programmed into your phone or written down in a phone book. It is just as important--or maybe more so--to do the same in your vacation home.
- How is payment made? Here's another horror story from a newbie renter: A couple picked up their keys to their rental property and were asked for the full week's rental in cash. A whopping €8,500. They were directed to the nearest ATM (the only one in town) to find they could only withdraw €250 per day. Fortunately for them, the owner allowed them into the property with the agreement they would go directly to the bank the next morning for the cash. If it is not clearly stated on the property's website, ask how payment is to be made when you confirm your rental.
- Bring all copies of correspondence with you. It's a vacation and you'd like to think you can trust everyone, but that's not the world we live in. Make copies of all of your correspondence with the owner or management company and pack it with your other travel documents. That way, you have a leg to stand on should an issue arise that strays from your original agreement.
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