Now that the cold has set in and the holidays are approaching, your thoughts are no doubt far from your travel plans for next summer, but savvy travelers know that this is exactly when you need to set up your villa vacation rentals for next summer.

I’ve recently returned from a trip scouting even more villa options for clients in Italy’s most desirable vacation areas, because villas increasingly provide an ideal price-quality ratio for discerning travelers.

Italy consistently ranks as the most expensive place in Europe for hotels. The Trivago Hotel Price Index name Venice, at 281 euros per night on average, more costly than famously pricy London, Stockholm and Geneva.

But, thankfully for families and groups planning an Italian summer, villa rentals all around the boot are primed to accommodate travelers disenchanted with astronomical hotel rates. Thanks for the recession, more rental properties are available than every before, as Italians open their previously private second homes to rentals, and owners are in the mood to negotiate.

As you narrow your choices for next summer’s accommodation now, to secure the best properties at the best prices, keep in mind these three key villa rental booking tips:

1. Solidify Your Group’s Priorities First


Take an informal poll of the one or two things each person wants to get out of the trip and the things they can’t live without.

The answers may surprise you—even from your own spouse!

Some normally tight-laced individuals will want to taste all the wine they can in one week, while otherwise easy-going friends may have very specific needs in regard to their bedroom and bathroom requirements.

2. Italian Villa Rentals Run Saturday to Saturday


Most properties book at weekly rates, but the structure of that week is not up to the guest.

It is customary throughout the country for villa stays to run Saturday to Saturday with packed roads each Saturday as visitors move from one property to the next.

Try to structure your travel dates accordingly, with one night on each end in a hotel in the city you are flying in and out of.

3. Tuscany is a Big Place: Where Do You Want to Go Exactly?


Even if you know that you want to rent a villa, the biggest question is where, and it’s more complicated than you think.

Tuscany, maybe? Well, it’s a big region. And there may be other areas that have the same attractions or features you’re interested in at a better price point or in greater quantities.

We can help you find the right area to match your interests and budget, whatever the region.
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Travel Leisure September 2014 CoverAs part of the A-List announcement, Travel & Leisure will feature us in the upcoming September issue of the magazine. Here’s a preview:

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How much should you tip in Italy? What is a “normal” percentage to tip in Rome? These Italian tipping custom questions t some point in your trip to Italy, these questions

If you leave a “normal” American tip, depending on where you are, the recipient may try to give it back to you, saying you paid too much. The waiter may even run out of the restaurant after you!

But this typically happens more in smaller towns, the kind of places where the proprietor is much more likely to give you an after-dinner amaro for free or take dessert off your bill for no reason than stiff you on extra service charges.

What to Tip in Restaurants in Italy


Rome, famously, has outlawed several types of service fees and charges added to the bill in light of confused visitors who don’t understand why they are being charged for bread even when they didn’t ask for or eat the bread.

Still there are many places where various fees, including for service, are added to your check automatically. You’ll usually see one fee called the coperto or pane, which is not for bread but actually more of a per person basic charge for dining in a restaurant.

“Servizio,” or service, is also often charged automatically on restaurant bills, in part because waiters in Italy are paid very differently than in the U.S. (i.e. better), but also because you will often be helped by multiple people throughout your meal.

You don’t really have to leave anything in addition to this, but it is customary to round the bill and leave some extra “spiccioli” or loose change with the rest of the bill.

Tipping for Taxis and Other Services in Italy


Outside restaurants, the tipping situation is much easier to navigate. In taxis, tipping is not necessary and you can tell them to keep the change.

For porters or maids at the hotel, follow the standard one euro per bag or room night formula

For guides, translators, drivers and other special, personalized services, tip as you feel appropriate, but 10-20 euros for a full-day is customary.

Italian Tipping Vocabulary



  • conto: the bill

  • coperto: the base per person cost of dining in a restaurant. Though it is often thought of as a fee for bread and water, you must pay it even if you don’t partake in those “complimentary” offerings

  • servizio: fixed service charge—usually an amount though sometimes a percentage—that appears on restaurant bills

  • incluso: included

  • spiccioli: small change or loose change. Often referrers to very small denominations, but it typically used just to mean whatever random change you have in your pocket.

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While Italian pre-dinner drinks, aperitivos, have been popular for many years, particularly the ubiquitous Aperol Spritz that has become a mainstay around the world as the ideal summer drink, the post-dinner selection has been limited.

Sambuca and dessert wine, primarily moscato, where the main Italian exports in this category for many years until a new crop of chefs, dedicated to bringing an authentic Italian experience abroad, started highlighting some of Italy’s most intriguing alcohol-based treasures: its amaros (bitters).

What is an Italian Amaro?




Usually when you thing of an alcoholic bitter, it’s those uber concentrated concoctions like Angostura bartenders add to drinks with pipettes looking a bit like a mad scientist playing in the kitchen.

Italy’s “bitters” are very different though. Rather than used for only a few drops as flavoring to other drinks, amaros are typically drunk on their own, often on the rocks, after dinner as a digestive because of their medicinal properties.

Amaro originated in monasteries and pharmacies as a medicinal drink, composed of a variety of (always secret to protect the long-researched recipe) herbs, roots, barks, and citrus peels soaked in alcohol or wine and aged.

Even today, many amaros trace their origins back to the 1800s, and have often been made continuously by the same family for hundreds of years.

The Most Popular Italian Amaros



Fernet:


Available in both Fernet Branca and Fernet Menta, Ferbet is commonly referred to as an acquired taste. One of the most strong, almost into the realm of pungent, amaros, Fernet is interestingly easy to find in the U.S., even though it can be hard to find people who appreciate it.

Amaro Nonino:


Made by the producers of the equally divine Grappa Nonino, Amaro Nonino is one of the smoothest amaros, flavored less with herbs than and more simply with the incredibly high quality of the grapes that make the base liquor. Though it is imported to the U.S., many places that stock it have a hard time keeping it on the shelves, as afficianados usually stock up whenever they see it.

Amaro Lucano & Amaro Montenegro:


Occasionally confused because of their similar labels—both a creamy yellow with old-fashioned drawings—Amaro Montenegro in its short, squat fiasco-like bottle and Amaro Lucano in its tall, elegant bottle are also similar tasting in that they are easy drinking amaros ideal for new amaro drinkers.
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If you’ve been to Italy, you’re no doubt already acquainted with the simultaneously charming and confusing fact that greetings in Italy vary so widely by time of day and relationship that you might find yourself hearing over a dozen variations in one day!

Italians do not expect foreigners to have these down perfectly, of course, but they will be highly impressed if you get them spot on. It’s a great way to start a relationship, whether with your tour guide, a shop keeper, or hotel concierge, even if the conversation continues in English.

Formality First: Formal Italian Greetings


Italian has an entirely separate pronoun for the second person (you) when you want to be formal (Lei) than when you want to be casual (tu). So it makes sense that one of the biggest dividing lines between Italian greetings is the level of formality.

When you are meeting for the first time, the person is in a position of authority, or it is a one-off conversation like you may have trying to buy a train ticket, you should always stick a formal greeting.

The easiest formal greeting, which you can use at any time of day or in any situation is “salve,” which translates roughly as something akin to “salutations,” even though that is very old-fashioned and out of use in English today.

“Salve” can be a tad to formal for many situations, so the best thing to do is learn the different “good day”-style greetings for each time of day:

  • “buongiorno” can be used from morning until after lunch

  • “buona sera,” which literally means “good evening,” can be used all afternoon and evening, though in some areas, it is more correct to say “buon pomeriggio” (literally good afternoon) until dinner time


”How’s it going?” And Other Casual Greetings


The ubiquitous “ciao,” which has now extended past Italian boarders not only to occasional appearances in the U.S., but also a common role in German, Spanish, and other European conversations, is best reserved for friends and closer aquaintances.

Even in those cases, however, it’s usually followed with some variety of how are you:

  • “come sta?” (formal)

  • “come stai?” (informal)

  • “come va?” (very informal)

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