Things You Need To Know About Italian Lodgings
• A single room is for one person only. A double room for single use is a room that is big enough for two people, but since only one person is using it there is a lower price.
• A double room of any kind is for two people. Double bedrooms often have two twin beds, which can be made up as two beds or, using king-sized bedclothes, as a surprisingly comfortable king. If a room has one double bed, it is queen-sized, except in a few deluxe lodgings. Rooms never have two double beds as is common in the USA. Junior suites, suites, and apartments vary. A triple room may have three single beds or a double and a sleep sofa. For a quadruple room: ask us.
• Generally speaking, for hotel rooms we use the term "suite" to refer to a set of two rooms, one a bedroom and one a sitting room with sofa bed, plus a bathroom. "Junior suite," "deluxe double," or "superior double" rooms are normally one room with a sleeping area and a sitting area.
• Towels in Italy range from miniscule and paper-thin to fairly large terry cloth. If you have a thing about large thick towels, we suggest you stay in four-star hotels.
• Almost all lodgings have television; just remember that only satellite TV receives anything but local programming in Italian. Satellite TV receives foreign-language channels such as CNN and BBC, but be aware that these channels broadcast mainly news, never children's programming. If your lodgings have a VCR or DVD, check the standard: the vast majority of these machines in Italy will not play your tapes and DVDs from home.
• Buffet breakfasts also range widely. Even the skimpiest ones serve juice, some kind of mixed fruit (which may be canned), breads, pastries, the classic cereals, coffee, and tea. More substantial spreads, which we call "buffet breakfast," also include local cheeses and cold cuts, homemade cakes and pastries, scrambled eggs, and (at 4- or 5-star hotels) bacon.
• If your lodgings have a swimming pool, it will most likely be open from mid-May to mid-October. In the fall, the general rule of thumb is: "If the guests are still swimming, the pool is still open." The exact day the pool opens in the spring is regulated by one thing only: the weather!
• If you plan to use your telephone calling card a lot, look for lodgings offering "direct-dial phone." Otherwise, you'll have to call through a switchboard and your card is not set up for that.
• We refer to floors in the Italian way. That means the bottom floor is called "ground floor," the next one up is the "first floor" (2nd American), and so on.
• If a building has an elevator, it is always mentioned in our description. In your own interest, please tell us if anyone in your party has trouble walking or climbing stairs.
• In apartments and villas, the + sign indicates a sleep sofa. For instance, 2 + 2 means the apartment has a bedroom for two plus a double sleep sofa in the living room.
• As of 2005, all public places in Italy are supposed to be non-smoking. This may or may not be what you actually encounter, but almost all hotels now offer non-smoking rooms. The exception to this rule is hotels with a very limited number of rooms, and apartments or villas. However, we choose our lodgings carefully, and a basic requirement is cleanliness, hence it is rare to find a room smelling of smoke. Should that happen, ask to be moved or have an on-the-spot supplemental cleaning.
• If you rent an apartment or a villa, you will be given one or two sets of keys. If you need more than that, please let us know in advance and we will ask the owner to make them. The fee for this is paid directly to the owner. If the keys are special ones, it may not be possible to make extra sets, and we apologize for that in advance.
• "Independent heating" means that there is a thermostat you can regulate for your own room or apartment. Italy, like many other European countries, has nationally-regulated heating, which means that all lodgings, from 5-star deluxe hotels to modest farmhouses, are subject to strict federal energy restrictions and can switch their air systems from hot to cold only when the government tells them to. So if you suffer in cold weather, we advise you to bring sweaters in spring and fall, in case there is a short cold spell and the owners cannot turn the heating on for you. Likewise, air conditioning is never available in May or October, so since there can be hot spells in those months, please be prepared for this. If your apartment owner requires that heating and air conditioning be paid separately, upon check-out, we always state this on the property's web page, and a meter is used to calculate how much heating or air conditioning you have actually used.
• If you are used to falling asleep by reading in bed, we urge you to pack one of those clip-on reading lights. Bedside lighting is notoriously bad in Italy, even at five-star hotels and especially in historic or countryside lodgings.
• It is customary to leave a tip in the hotel room for the maids: 2-5 Euro/day shows you appreciate their hard work. Farm owners do not expect tips, but many countryside properties rely on a cleaning staff that does appreciate tips.
• If you are a light sleeper, be aware that Italian towns and cities are noisy. Even the whispers of two people on the street can echo against the ancient stone walls and ricochet through your window. Countryside lodgings are preferable for you, and for your city stays: bring earplugs!
• As of 2011, almost all cities, provinces and towns in Italy have instituted a "tourism tax" which ranges from .50 to 5 Euro/person/day. Your host is required by law to collect this tax in cash in Italy. If you are staying in an apartment or villa this onus will probably be embarrassing to your host so we want you to be prepared in advance and not think it's a sneaky trick!
If you are planning to stay in a city:
Three-star hotels offer a good economical solution. These can be historical or modern dwellings. Especially in the cities, rooms tend to be smaller than the average American hotel room. Generally there is air conditioning but it may be milder than we are accustomed to. Towels are changed daily but bed linens may be changed only every 2-3 days. These hotels usually supply only basic amenities in the bathrooms. Read each hotel's description for the availability of elevators, hair dryers, parking, satellite TV, Internet access, direct-dial phones and other amenities you seek.
Four-star hotels always have an elevator and a restaurant. They generally have amenities such as courtesy sets in the bathrooms and daily bed linen change. They offer more optional services such as laundry, room service, fax, and Internet access. Rooms are usually, but not always, larger.
City Apartments are ideal for families, travelers with dietary restrictions or those who wish to have a more authentic experience. There is always a minimum required stay of at least two days, sometimes more. The advantages are more space, less expense, ability to cook some of your meals and perhaps enjoy a terrace or garden. The main disadvantage for some travelers is the total lack of hotel services, although there is always a local contact person. If you like to use lots of towels, we suggest you bring a few along from home. You will find one roll of toilet paper, little (or even no) hand soap and dish soap. We try to make sure all our apartments provide these basic amenities but we cannot guarantee they'll always be there. You may or may not find staples (sugar, salt, oil, coffee, tea) in the kitchen. You will find enough dishes and cookware to prepare and enjoy basic meals.
If you also wish to stay in the country or in a small town:
Historic Residences are all former homes of some sort now being managed as hotels. These are long on charm, and their owners are very proud of their unique character. However, because Italy's laws regulating renovations are some of the strictest in the world, these hotels almost never have uniform rooms. Some are huge, some are smaller, and we can't always guarantee which you'll get. Some have frescoes, wood-beamed cathedral ceilings, or ancient terra cotta floors. They may have what we consider to be small windows. This (and the very common absence of screens) is because it is virtually illegal to change a window in any way, especially in Tuscany. Please read the descriptions of each Historic Residence carefully, because each one is entirely unique. Some are restored farmhouses or homes in which a wing has been dedicated to guest lodgings. Others are bona fide four-star hotels. The amenities they offer vary widely. Some have restaurants, while others invite you to dine on home-cooked meals with your hosts at their table.
Apartments in farmhouses offer a great way to actually have a holiday while you're in Italy. Often you must stay a week, long enough to settle in, make local acquaintances and feel like a real resident. The same conditions apply here as for city apartments with one major difference: There is always an owner or manager on the property. Generally they try to leave you alone, but they are there at least part of each day to help you with any problems, offer suggestions for restaurants, services, and so on. At many of the properties there is a weekly gathering where guests can meet each other and sample the farm's produce.
Villas are the same type of structure, but they offer you a chance to be more or less on your own. Again, almost all villas are on a property inhabited by the owners or at least a caretaker, and you want it that way in case anything goes wrong and needs fixing. But your interaction with other vacationers will be at a minimum if you stay in a villa.
Car Rental: Should You or Shouldn't You?
All villas and farmhouses are in the country and though some of them may be within walking distance of a town, you will not want to be walking on a two-lane road with no shoulder, nor should that to be your main means of getting around. If you intend to tour the countryside or visit small towns, be prepared to rent a car. Trains and buses go everywhere, but they are most useful for city-to-city transportation or riding along the coast. In the countryside they exist mainly for commuters, so they run only in the morning and late afternoon, and they are usually overcrowded. Because of the hills, there are almost no direct train routes from anywhere to anywhere, forcing you to waste valuable time waiting for connections, and most of the stations are in the ugly modern part of town, which means you have to then take a bus up to the ancient hill town. Plus, small towns normally have a "fleet" of taxis numbering one or two! If you rent a car through In Italy Online, there is no drop-off fee when you return it to a different location. We strongly urge you to rent a car for your time in Tuscany. Details on the lowest prices for car rental in Italy and Europe.