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A few years ago my wife and I pulled a daredevil stunt: We rented a 1,100 year old villa in Tuscany and invited both sides of our families to join us for a week-long vacation.
Now, before you ask “what were you thinking?” or say “that doesn’t sound particularly Cheapo, Pete,” let me explain further.
Yes, the villa we rented was admittedly off-the-charts decadent. It had seven large bedrooms, five bathrooms, a kitchen nearly as large as my current apartment, a billiard room, a dining room, a massive living room area, an in-ground pool whose gorgeousness was eclipsed only by its vineyard view, and—somewhat inexplicably—a separate, small chapel on the grounds. And just to round it off, there were also large stone lion statues adjacent to the front doors, greeting us upon our return from schlepping around the countryside.
But did we mention the entire week-long stay cost each person roughly $70 per night? Sure, you can beat the pants off that price at a number of our Editor’s Picks in Florence (while actually being in Florence rather than a 45-minute drive outside) but for everything that the villa had to offer, we felt the price was reasonable. And for the sheer experience of the endeavor we were willing to shell out a few extra euros.
But looking back on our trip, there are a number of tips and recommendations that would have been helpful to know when we were planning our stay. Here are some things to consider when renting a villa in Tuscany:
1. Prepare to “hub” it.
If you’re planning to explore a particular region – rather than just one specific city – renting a villa makes sense. Our villa was located near the village of Traversa, making it easy to “hub it” and visit Florence, Pisa, Siena, Cinque Terre, Bologna, and even Venice during our trip. Which brings us to our next tip…
2. Get ready to drive.
Rent a car and plan on driving it a lot. This might seem obvious to most, but prior to our trip we didn’t really consider how frequently we’d be driving around the region. Fortunately we had several eager drivers among us who were particularly adept with manual transmissions. Otherwise, we likely wouldn’t have strayed too far from our residence. Which, again, brings us to our next tip…
3. Get cooking.
While most villa rental agencies offer decadent, home-cooked meals on the premises at an extra cost, part of what made our experience so special was handling all meals ourselves (plus it saved a whole lot of money). There was never any shortage of ingredients at local markets for our nightly dinners and we found that a large part of our daily routine revolved around dinner planning. And we loved it.
4. Get ready for some family time.
For our group, part of what made renting a villa so special was traveling as a big family. Sure, we experienced our fair share of “I think it’s your turn to do the dishes” moments, but we still frequently reflect and laugh about our hysterical experience of sleeping in the Tuscan castle.
When renting a villa in Tuscany might not make sense
1. You don’t like your in-laws. Just kidding. Promise.
2. You don’t like driving through twisty, turny, slightly nerve-wracking roads. If this is the case, you might be better off staying in a city rather than in the winding hills.
3. When the math doesn’t work out. Budget wisely and consider all the incidental expenses of renting a villa. While the per person price of accommodation itself can be similar to that of 2 and 3-star hotels, you’ll also pay for food, car rentals, gas, electricity, a cleaning fee, and any other incidentals that spring up.
Websites that specialize in renting villas in Tuscany and elsewhere
There are many helpful websites that provide reservation services for villa rental throughout Europe. Most offer large format, high quality photos that should stir up your excitement. Here are a few that we recommend checking out:
Parker Villas – Specializes in villas through Italy. Parker Villas was one of the first villa rental agencies we discovered when we started our search.
Tuscany Now – Large listing of villas for rent in Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, Sicily, and other regions in Italy.
VRBO – While not technically a villa reservation agency, VRBO does feature many properties in Tuscany and beyond, plus the rates tend to be a bit more reasonable.
Cuendet – Offers villas in Croatia, Italy, France, and Spain (and was the website we used when booking ours).
Tell us: Have you ever rented a villa in Italy or elsewhere? Share your experience with other Cheapos by leaving a comment below.