Aperol spritzes at sunset, long walks on the beach, ancient ruins, museums full of Renaissance masterpieces, shopping at the open-air market, hot days spent in the sun and warm nights enjoying a leisurely dinner with friends and family—this is summer in Italy, and it’s never too early to start planning. If you’re traveling with a group or want privacy for a romantic trip, renting a villa is the way to go. But how?
Use a Villa Rental Agency
Airbnb may be the cheapest option, but not all hosts speak English or are willing and able to help with problems that might arise. To be sure that you’re getting what you see, and for service that goes the extra mile, we recommend using a villa rental company. The Thinking Traveller, Red Savannah, Italy Perfect, and Abercrombie & Kent Villas all specialize in luxury Italian villa rentals.
Villa rates can range from €1,500 per week for a one-bedroom country cottage to €50,000 per week for a palatial 10-bedroom mansion. The price tag may seem extravagant, but if you're going with a large group, it actually costs less than you'd spend at a hotel. Plus, you get the place all to yourself and can cook instead of eating out—or hire a private chef to cook for you.
When to Book
Most luxury villa rental companies recommend booking at least 9-12 months in advance, especially if you want to stay in high-demand areas like Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. However, it’s not impossible to plan an Italian getaway on short notice, especially if you’re flexible about location and price. According to Rossella and Huw Beaugié, founders of luxury villa rental site The Thinking Traveller, “Booking in autumn for the following spring/summer is ideal as you get more choice. However, we are launching new properties throughout the year, so we can always recommend good villas even with a short lead time.” They specialize in Sicily and Puglia but also have properties in Greece, Corsica, and Brazil.
Location, Location, Location
City or country? Mediterranean beach or rolling hills and vineyards? While staying in major cities has certain advantages, larger villas tend to be in the countryside or by the sea. “If you’re planning on being out and about regularly, check that your villa is not too remote, so that you don’t have to travel great distances on dirt tracks to reach the grocery store or local restaurant,” says Chiara Guidi, Italian villa expert at Red Savannah, which offers tailor-made holidays and luxury villa rentals. “That said, if privacy and seclusion is your thing, this can be an advantage!”
Keep in mind that while picturesque, Tuscany’s steep hills and dirt roads can be a bit treacherous, especially at night. Cities like Rome and Milan empty out in August, when locals head to Sardinia and other seaside destinations. In small towns, shops often close on Sundays and holidays and restaurants shut down between lunch and dinner, so it might be hard to find a place to eat a late lunch or buy groceries at certain hours.
What to Look Out For
“Make sure that the person you’re renting from has personally been to the property,” warns Lisa Byrne, founder of Italy Perfect, part of Perfect Experiences, a luxury villa rental and concierge service with properties in Italy, Paris, Provence, and London. “You need the review of an experienced third party because there is too much lost in translation between an owner’s idea or a local property manager’s description and what you really want to know. Often, the thing you most need to know about the property is omitted from the description.”
Check for air-conditioning because many homes don’t have central air, even in Sicily where temperatures spike in the summer. While many properties have washing machines, few have dryers—Italians typically hang their laundry. Window screens aren’t common either, so bring bug spray to ward off pesky mosquitoes. If Wi-Fi is important, ask about the signal strength. Old stone-walled homes in rural areas might not get much Wi-Fi or cell reception, and the more remote the location, the less likely your GPS will work.
Extras and Perks
On the upside, many villa rental companies go the extra mile to give guests the conveniences of a hotel with extra space and flexibility. Italy Perfect villas might come with a housekeeper, laundry service, grocery shopping service, or an on-site wine cellar. The Thinking Traveller employs a local manager who can answer questions and organize excursions, and some villas include a pizza oven or olive oil produced on site. A few of Red Savannah’s larger villas have a games room, tennis court, gym, or even a small spa.
“Villas come with freedom! There are house rules and one should use common sense, but you basically can do whatever you want at a villa whenever you want,” says Leigh Proctor of Abercrombie & Kent Villas. “You can decide when to have lunch or dinner and there are no mandatory activities—you can organize an impromptu dinner party or take a dip in the pool without a swimsuit. It’s your house and your well-deserved holiday! Do what you want.”