Amalfi Coast: A Travel Guide

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Rent a villa in Positano!

Rent a villa in Positano!

An hour south of Naples, this 30-mile stretch of coastline is best known for its picturesque villages, such as Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello, perched on vertical slopes ter­raced with lemon trees. The area has been renowned for its beauty since antiquity: it was along this coast that Homer’s Ulysses strapped himself to his ship to avoid being lured into the sea by the Sirens’ song. Feeling the pull of the Amalfi Coast but you don’t know where to begin? Here are some travel ideas and general tips to jump start your itinerary planning:

Festivals

The view from Ravello

The view from Ravello

There are regional celebrations throughout the year, so be sure to find out in advance what local events are happening during your visit. The Wagner Music Festival runs from June to Septem­ber in Ravello at Villa Rufolo, featuring symphonies, chamber concerts, operas, ballets, and plays. On the first Sunday in June, Amalfi celebrates its history as one of the four Ancient Maritime Republic cities (including Genova, Pisa, and Venice) with a historic regatta; every four years the event is held in Amalfi. Galleons sail on the water crewed by locals in period costume. Sant’Andrea, Amalfi’s patron saint, is celebrated both on his birthday (November 30) and on the day a miracle saved the city from pirates (June 27). A statue of the saint is carried in procession, accompa­nied by fireworks, music, and food. On July 27th, Ravello takes their turn celebrating in honor of their patron saint, San Pantaleone, with a beautiful procession following by fireworks after dark. The view overlooking the coastline is not to be missed!

Wines

The slopes of Mount Vesuvius (near Naples) are some of the oldest wine-producing areas in Italy. The most famous wine is Lachryma Christi – literally, “Tears of Christ.” Other regional wines include Taurasi, a full-bodied red from Avellino, and Fiano d’Avellino, one of the best whites in Italy.

The Emerald Grotto

Looking towards Positano from Praiano, a charming fishing village where many of our properties are located. Photo credit: David_Ooms

Looking towards Positano from Praiano, a charming fishing village where many of our properties are located. Photo credit: David_Ooms

Accessible only by boat, the Grotto dello Smeraldo is breathtaking in its beauty. Once a dry-land cave, changes in the landscape allowed the brilliant blue-green water inside. Now glistening stalagmites jut out of the water; overhead, light dances over stalactites. The grotto is located in Conca dei Marini, about five kilometers west of Amalfi.

Cuisine

Amalfi Coast cuisine is seafood-based, incorporating locally grown produce such as tomatoes, lemons, and red peppers. Insalata caprese is a simple salad composed of sliced toma­toes, fresh mozzarella, basil, and olive oil. The coast’s other specialty is limoncello, a delicate, lemon-infused digestivo served ice cold.

Day Trip: Pompeii

The Circumvesuviana rail line skirts the base of Mount Vesuvius, connecting Naples and Sor­rento. Midway along the route, the Pompeii Scavi stop is just a few minutes on foot from the ruins. Tickets to the ruins at Pompeii now include entrance to Herculaneum, a sister city also destroyed by the volcanic eruption.

The Amalfi Coast is known for its citrus, which figures prominently in local cuisine.

The Amalfi Coast is known for its citrus, which figures prominently in local cuisine.

Hiking

Perched on precarious vertical slopes, everything on the Amalfi Coast is either up or down, so almost all visitors will get a workout! Serious hikers, however, may want to try some of the stupendous mountain trails. Tracing the crest of the coastline, the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods) is one of the most grueling – but everyone who tackles it swears the views are worth every step.

Authentic Italy

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In this third installment, guest editor and RentVillas Founder Suzanne Pidduck follows up on part 1 and part 2 from her September 2013 travels on the border of Lazio, Tuscany, and Umbria:

Antica Rocca (sleeps 10) is located in a medieval hamlet.

Antica Rocca (sleeps 10) is located in a medieval hamlet.

This week I’ve got more to share about the area called the Alta Tuscia—situated on the borders of Lazio, Tuscany, and Umbria. In my opinion, this area really offers the best of all three regions. Although located at a cultural crossroads, it has somehow remained unspoiled, with authentic towns, un-inflated prices, rural peace and quiet, and abundant traffic-free hiking, road and mountain biking opportunities in striking natural surroundings.

La Cappella dell'Alfina is a charming farmhouse near Acquapendente.

La Cappella dell’Alfina is a charming farmhouse near Acquapendente.

I visited two exceptional properties near Torre Alfina (our home base for the week), La Cappella dell’Alfina and Antica Rocca, and did some additional exploring throughout the area. Here are the highlights!

Must-sees!

  • Perugia is about 1 ½ hours away, and is worth the trip. With a rainstorm brewing we had lunch on the piazza facing the Duomo and the Fontana Maggiore. Carpaccio with arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano has never tasted so good!
  • Civita’ di Bagnoregio is a tiny, Etruscan village perched atop a plateau of volcanic tuff. It’s right out of a fairy tale! The village was made famous, quite literally, by Rick Steves! He put it on the map (and has done the same thing with the Cinque Terre) and thereby has helped to save it from disintegration. His photo is everywhere in town! We walked against howling wind along the pedestrian bridge that leads into town and wandered around the hamlet and found a great trattoria. It was a fun adventure!
  • The spectacular duomo in Orvieto.

    The spectacular duomo in Orvieto.

    Orvieto is only 20 minutes away from Torre Alfina and Villa del Castello. We headed there for a stroll, a little shopping, and to gaze at the extraordinary Duomo. We were thrilled to find the town almost empty. What a treat to have it to ourselves! Todi is also wonderful for a passegiata.

  • For a full day trip, I highly recommend Pienza and Montepulciano. Pienza is known for its pecorino, and Montepulciano has outstanding shopping. It’s also fun to do a wine tasting at the Col D’Orcia estate in Montalcino (book in advance), and then stop in either San Filippo Terme or Bagno Vignoni to soak in the thermal baths (just remember to bring swimsuits!).
  • I’d also encourage you to see the “tufo towns” of Sorano, Pitigliano, and Sovana—three towns in the Maremma (southwestern coastal area of Tuscany) carved into or built out of volcanic rock (tufo). If you leave early enough in the morning, it is possible to do all three. But if not, don’t miss Sorano. It’s a gorgeous little artists’ village in an area known for its “fjords”. If you are in Sovana at lunch time, stop at Taverna Etrusca for a light lunch.

Adventures in Italy, Part II

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In this post guest editor and RentVillas Founder Suzanne Pidduck shares part two of a two-part excerpt from her September 2013 Tuscany travel journal:

Villa del Castello (sleeps 6) is located on the border of Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio.

Villa del Castello (sleeps 6) is located on the border of Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio.

This week I’m writing from Villa del Castello on the border of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. We’re loving the location—in the medieval village of Torre Alfina—and the fact that it’s off the tourist track, yet convenient for day trips and walking/hiking adventures. The week’s highlights include a hike in the forest of Il Sassetto and a walk along Lago di Bolsena. The weather has changed from hot and humid to cool and wet—but we won’t be deterred by a little rain! Here’s a little more about my adventures in this wonderful undiscovered part of Italy:

Living like a Local

If you’re looking for an authentic Italian village experience, Villa del Castello is your property! It’s located in the center of the medieval village of Torre Alfina, a rustic, rural spot populated by locals—not tourists. We also have three other villas in this area, each wonderful and unique and close by:  La Cappella dell’Alfina, Antica Rocca, and Casale Giardino (more on these villas, as well as the region in general, in next week’s newsletter! Stay tuned!)  Honestly, I almost hesitate to say too much about the area and the villas—lest it become a tourist destination! I can’t emphasize enough how peaceful and crowd-free it is relative to Tuscany.

A perfect spot for al fresco meals at Villa del Castello!

A perfect spot for al fresco meals at Villa del Castello!

Villa del Castello is more spectacular than the photos! The garden area is large and impeccably groomed. The furnishings are Old World and high quality. We felt as though we had stepped into a gracious, well-appointed home. There is good WiFi (in the dining room), adaptor plugs (and a power strip to accommodate all of our chargers!), a Tom Tom to borrow, two cell phones, and even a vegetable garden and chickens (guests are welcome to the bounty!) A few steps away there is a hotel with pool (open to guests of the villa) and restaurant. The village, which includes a world-class gelateria, is also close by.  The caretakers live nearby and are always available.

Italy’s Green Heart

Villa del Castello has an amazing view of the castle!

Villa del Castello has an amazing view of the castle!

This part of Italy is an ideal destination for people who love the outdoors. There is an extensive trail network (for both hiking and mountain biking), as well as lakes (Bolsena and Bracciano).

  •  The owner of La Cappella dell’Alfina took us on a hike in a prehistoric volcanic forest which was only about 1-2 km away from our villa, just below the Castello di Torre Alfina. The forest was an  otherworldly place, with many varieties of old-growth trees and lichen-covered volcanic boulders. We were shown caves in the forest where the villagers hid during the Nazi occupation.
  • This part of Italy is an ideal destination for people who love the outdoors.

    This part of Italy is an ideal destination for people who love the outdoors.

    The Via Francigena is one of Europe’s principal pilgrimage routes (like the Camino de Santiago in Spain) and was established in 990 for pilgrims en route to Rome. It passes through the countryside near Torre Alfina, also called the Alta Tuscia. Locally, the trail criss-crosses the Via Cassia (the ancient road to Rome) gravel paths and rural roads. A number of the trail’s most scenic legs start within a short drive of the villa.

  • Lago di Bolsena is a beautiful volcanic lake that was formed by an eruption that occurred hundreds of thousands of years ago. All around the lake there are beaches, swimming holes, picnic grounds, and restaurants—not to mention clean, clear water! There are two islands in the middle of the lake, both with monasteries on them. In the summer there are regular boat cruises from Bolsena and Capodimonte. We hiked a beautiful trail, the historic Sentiero dei Briganti, which encompasses 100 km of trails along the Tuscany/Lazio border that were originally used as escape routes by local brigands. The trail is ideal for mountain biking, horseback riding, or hiking. Incidentally, Leg 37 of the Via Francigena, which originates in San Lorenzo Nuovo, follows the lakeshore to the beautiful town of Bolsena on a segment of the Sentiero dei Briganti.

Adventures in Tuscany, Part 1

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La Solaia (sleeps 6) is located near Certaldo, south of Florence.

La Solaia (sleeps 6) is located near Certaldo, south of Florence.

In this post guest editor and RentVillas Founder Suzanne Pidduck shares part 1 of a two-part excerpt from her September 2013  Tuscany travel journal:

Greetings from La Solaia!  We’ve spent a fun, busy week in Tuscany museum-hopping in Florence (free admission and no waiting in line, thanks to the Firenze Card), visiting the brand new Antinori Winery, and day tripping by train from Certaldo, our convenient home base 40 km southwest of Florence. While in the city we also took a special walking tour of the Uffizi and Vasari Corridor—plus enjoyed the special treat of three dinners prepared by Tuscan chefs who partner with RentVillas. Best of all, we’ve spent a couple of lovely days by the shared pool at La Solaia, simply relaxing, swimming, and preparing simple meals. Here are some highlights from my week, plus travel tips:

The Firenze Card offers a great way to visit the city's museums--and avoid the lines!

The Firenze Card offers a great way to visit the city’s museums–and avoid the lines!

Out and About in Florence

  • One week before we left, we purchased our Firenze Cards online. The cards are 72 Euros each and are good for a period of 72 hours.  With the card, we gained free access to most of the museums in the city, were guaranteed a spot at the front of the line, and received free passes for public transportation. This really makes a difference for places like the Accademia and the Uffizi! There is a Firenze Card office (one of many located throughout the city) across the street from the train station. We popped in as soon as we got into town on the train from Certaldo, and within minutes were equipped with our cards, maps, and WiFi information.
  • On our first day with the cards, we headed straight to the Accademia Gallery (home of Michelangelo’s David), and then to the Ferragamo Museum. Afterwards, we took a Viator walking tour of the Uffizi and the Vasari Corridor.  It was EXCELLENT! Our guide was engaging, personable, and educated.  It was impossible to let your mind drift, since he immediately learned everyone’s name, and would call upon each of us individually!  The tour took 3 hours.  Highly recommend!
  • On day two, we went to the Palazzo Davanzati, a palazzo that has been under restoration for the past several years.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried unsuccessfully to enter this building!  If you love peeking into the lives of people who lived in the 14th to 16th centuries, this 4-story palazzo is a must.  Bear in mind that it has restricted hours (10:00 AM – 1:30 PM), and that in order to visit the two top floors, you must ask the custodian on the first floor to be placed on the list.  The access is only available at 10:00am, 11:00am and noon.  I highly recommend doing this! Next we were on to the Museo Galileo, the Bargello Museum, Gucci Museo, and the Jewish Synagogue and Museum (a little out of the way, but worthwhile).
Wine tasting in Tuscany!

Wine tasting in Tuscany!

Antinori Winery

  • On the 2nd day of our stay at La Solaia we drove to Bargino to visit the newly opened Antinori Winery, begun in 2005 and finished just this past March.  It was quite a WOW experience!  We made reservations online; click on “Book a Visit”.  The visit costs 20 Euros per person for an hour-long tour and tasting of 3 wines.  The building’s design and architecture are out-of-this-world! After the cellar tour and tasting, we had a memorable lunch in the restaurant.  Makes for a perfect day trip!

 

The kitchen at La Solaia is well-equipped for cooking and entertaining during your villa rental experience!

The kitchen at La Solaia is well-equipped for cooking and entertaining during your villa rental experience!

La Solaia and Certaldo

  • La Solaia is truly lovely. It was constructed out of an old wine cantina that was used before WWII by the family.  We love that the villa is all on one floor (so unusual for Italy) and the open-plan design that encompasses the living room, dining room and kitchen.  There is wonderful art on the walls as well as comfortable, tasteful décor. The owner, Elizabeth, is an American married to an Italian. As is the case with all her villas (Villa Certaldo and Villa Sella—also on the same estate) La Solaia is fully-equipped with every possible amenity and comfort. There’s a big PAM supermarket just 10 minutes away. The shared pool (16 m) is great for swimming and is the ultimate jet lag cure!  This place is perfect for a large family/families or group of couples, since the three villas (soon to be 4, when the house below La Solaia is furnished) are far enough away from each other for privacy, but close enough for visiting back and forth.  They all share the same parking area.
  •  We drove into Certaldo and took the funicular up to Certaldo Alto, the medieval historic center. It’s a great spot of a gelato and a stroll. I had the best limone gelato of my life—and I’ve tried it everywhere!
  •  Getting into Florence from La Solaia was a snap. We drove the 10 minutes from the villa to the Certaldo train station and parked our car in the lot right next to the station.  A quick ticket validation (we’d purchased tickets the night before at the automated machine, but this is not really necessary, as it is easy to do right before catching the train), and we were ready for the train, which runs, in general, about once an hour at 10 minutes after the hour, and takes 45 – 52 minutes. During “rush hours” there are more trains.  The train is Siena – Florence; Florence – Siena.

Three Dinners, Three Chefs

Three chefs came to La Solaia to prepare dinners. All of them can accommodate food allergies and preferences.  They can also provide in-home cooking classes.

  • Elisa

    Elisa

    Elisa Porciati has been a chef for 12 years, running a tavola calda with her mother, and working as a private villa chef for 4 years. She prepared an amazing, beautifully presented dinner, including eggplant timbale (my favorite!); saffron risotto with vegetables; roasted rabbit with a tomato, bread and herb gratin; and finally a pudding with herb-roasted peaches.

  • Cinzia

    Cinzia

    Cinzia Malgeri manages a group of 10 chefs who cook all over Tuscany.  From the time she and her assistant arrived at the villa, I was very impressed by her organization and the incredible aromas of garlic, onions, and truffles that wafted into the living room.  We dined on bruschette miste with tomatoes and pate’ (including gluten-free bread for me!);  carpaccio wrapped around goat cheese and capers topped with minced garlic and onions; a risotto with truffles, onions, garlic, and parsley;  and glazed citrus chicken with sautéed zucchini.  For dessert there were sliced peaches in wine and liqueur, as well as a gorgeous torta di cioccolato (none for me!)

  • Matisse, your private Tuscan chef

    Matisse, your private Tuscan chef

    Mattisse, a veteran chef and longtime RentVillas partner, prepared a beautiful meal of bruschetta with sautéed mushrooms; a risotto with fish, parsley, and onion; flambéed chicken breasts with lots of herbs, served with grilled zucchini; and panna cotta.  Wonderful! Mattisse has developed several types of new menus, including organic, health-wise options.

One Week in Tuscany

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Early morning light in Tuscany.

Early morning light in Tuscany.

A hilly, fertile region in central Italy, Tuscany was the home of the Etruscan civilization, and later the birthplace of the Renaissance. It’s known for its picturesque landscapes and charming, historic towns like Siena, Arezzo, Cortona, Lucca, San Gimignano, and Volterra. It’s also renowned for its bold red wines and fruity extra virgin olive oils. Tuscany’s capital, Florence, is a great art center whose well-preserved centro storico remains closely linked to its medieval past, in spite of year round tourist crowds. The region’s Tyrrhenian coast is famous for its white sand beaches and pine forests. Come August, Florentines depart en masse for spots such as Viareggio, Camaiore, Forte dei Marmi, and the island of Elba.

Ready to book your villa rental experience in Toscana? Here’s a one-week itinerary to inspire your travel planning:

The table is set for lunch at Villa del Cielo, near Siena.

The table is set for lunch at Villa del Cielo, near Siena.

Saturday – Arrival

Meet your local contact at the villa. Familiarize yourself with the property, ask for restaurant recommendations, the closest grocery store, and whether there are any special events happen­ing during your stay! Most stores will be closed on Sunday, so shop for any supplies you’ll need before Monday morning.

Sunday – Get Your Bearings

Sunday is a day of rest for most Italians, so relax at your villa. Head into town for a casual lunch at a trattoria; in the late afternoon, join the locals in la passeggiata, a leisurely stroll along the main street.

Explore the hill towns in Tuscany!

Explore the hill towns in Tuscany!

Monday – Hill Towns

Depending on your location in the region, visit a notable hill town such as San Gimignano, Volterra, Cortona, Montepulciano, or Mon­talcino. Spend all day in one spot or drive to another town after lunch. In the evening, return to your villa for a simple meal of pasta topped with chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Add a green salad and a bottle of local red.

Tuesday – Day Trip!

Spend the day in Florence, Siena, or Lucca. Visit museums, investigate churches, and shop for local crafts. Enjoy a leisurely lunch in the shade at an outdoor café or trattoria. Return home before dark so you can stop at a local rosticceria or tavola calda for delicious take-out.

Wednesday – Learn Something New

Shop for local salumi and cheeses--perfect for a simple supper at the villa!

Shop for local salumi and cheeses–perfect for a simple supper at the villa!

Sleep in; then eat breakfast Italian-style by visiting a bar and ordering un cappuccino e cornetto (a cappuccino and a croissant). Afterward, head to class! Cooking, painting, olive oil tasting, or perhaps a visit to a farmer’s market to practice your Italian – whatever your interest, take some time to learn something new. If you’re planning ahead, this is a great evening to have a chef come and prepare a gourmet Tuscan dinner for your entire group.

Tasting wine in Tuscany--a great day trip during your villa rental week!

Tasting wine in Tuscany–a great day trip during your villa rental week!

Thursday – More Hill Towns

Head out to a hill town you haven’t yet explored. Hand-painted ceramics, linens, and leather goods make great gifts and souvenirs. With dinner in mind, keep your eyes open for a salume­ria, where you will find cured meats such as salami, prosciutto, and bresaola. Don’t forget the marinated artichokes and roasted eggplant!

Friday – Pool and Relaxation

Enjoy the pool at your villa!

Enjoy the pool at your villa!

Spend your last full day sunning by the pool, catching up on your travel journal, and reliving the week’s adventures with your companions. In the late afternoon, pack your bags and treat yourselves to dinner in a local restaurant.

Discover Umbria and Le Marche!

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Umbria is Italy's Green Heart!

Umbria is Italy’s Green Heart!

Umbria and Le Marche: A Travel Guide

Both refined and wild, Umbria is characterized by verdant rolling hills, fields of red poppies, the smoky flavor of truffles, and the tang of sheep’s milk cheese. It is a land of Etruscan and medieval origins, steeped in spirituality. East­ward, the mountainous natural parks of Le Marche descend into medieval seaside towns and popular beach resorts on the Adriatic frequented by Italians on holiday. Don’t expect everyone to speak English; do expect to be enchanted. Ready to plan your villa rental experience in Umbria and Le Marche? Here’s a brief travel guide for inspiration:

The beautiful town of Assisi. Photo: Roby Ferrari

The beautiful town of Assisi. Photo: Roby Ferrari

Food in Umbria

The pasta in this region is delectable, especially the umbricelli, a specialty of Northern Umbria. Perugia’s delicacies include bruschetta, zuppa di farro (an ancient form of wheat), pork dishes, wild pigeon, and squab. As for truffles, dogs or pigs sniff out these precious mushrooms in the area around Norcia and Spoleto. The cuisine of Southern Umbria highlights the subtle combination of truffles, olive oil, cheese, and homemade pasta. The white wine of Orvieto is the region’s best.

Perugia is a wonderful city to explore! Photo: Larry Ferrante

Perugia is a wonderful city to explore! Photo: Larry Ferrante

Day Trip: Orvieto

Midway between Florence and Rome, Orvieto is perched on a pedestal of volcanic tufa (compressed rock) 900 feet above the valley floor. The cathedral, one of the Italy’s greatest, is a must-see. The Pozzo di San Patrizio, or Well of Saint Patrick, has a beautiful double helix staircase that allows you to walk 200 feet down and back up again without retracing your steps. Nearby, the area around Rocca Ripensa is littered with Etruscan ruins and hiking trails. Local villages are inhabited by artists producing traditional handicrafts.

The beauty of the Umbrian countryside will astound you!

The beauty of the Umbrian countryside will astound you!

Food in Le Marche

In general, the cuisine of Le Marche is a mix of rustic Italian fare and seafood. The signature dish is porchetta: a roast suckling pig served whole or sliced into crispy rolls. Also try brodetto (fish broth) or zuppa di pesce, a fish soup flavored with saffron. The classic wine of Marche is verdicchio, a crisp white with a tinge of pale green, excellent when paired with seafood. Rosso Conero and Rosso Picenso are both excellent reds, based on the Montepulciano grape.

Day Trip: Urbino

Urbino should be your first destination in Marche. It is the jewel of the region, and one of Italy’s most beautiful walled hill towns. The Palazzo Ducale, completed in 1482, is particularly stun­ning. The town of Macerata is also not to be missed. It, too, is a lovely hill town that remains off the beaten tourist track. Rimini, both tourist resort and Renaissance town, is worth a mini detour (depending on the season!) to see Roman ruins and the Federico Fellini Museum.

Hop-on, Hop-off in Venice

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Explore the modern art treasures of Venice aboard Vaparetto dell’Arte.

Similar to the red hop-on, hop-off touristic buses in Rome and other cities, the new Vaparetto dell’Arte in Venice began service on June 1st, 2012 on the Grand Canal. It runs daily from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM and makes eight stops between Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia and San Giorgio. Two additional stops at Arsenale and Giardini will be added during the Architecture Biennale, August 29th to November 25th, 2012.

Vaparetto dell’Arte has 80 seats and space for 20 additional passengers to stand. The seats are equipped with multi-language audio visual systems. Each passenger receives a welcome kit which includes disposable earphones, a map and special offers from partners like Punta della Dogana and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

Hop-on, hop-off on the waterways of Venice!

A 24-hour pass costs 24 Euros for adults and 15 Euros for children. If you’re renting an apartment in Venice, it’s a better value to purchase the Vaporetto dell’Arte pass in conjuction with a time-limited ACTV (the public vaparetto) Moving in Venice tourist ticket, which come in 12, 24, 36, 48, 72-hour, 7-day, and 3-day youth card denominations; purchasing one of these tickets brings the Vaporetto dell’Arte ticket down to 10 Euros.

All of these tickets are available for advance purchase through Venice Connected up to a minimum of four days prior to use.

Best Markets in Europe

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If you want to truly live like a local in Europe, go shopping! Join the natives buying their daily produce, cheese, bread, fish, fowl, and meat and you’ll get an authentic glimpse of people living life well and enjoying a sense of community. Here are three of our favorite markets in Europe—plus villa picks nearby.

Barcelona – Mercat de la Boqueria

Live like a local in Barcelona!

The historic Mercat de San Josep de la Boqueria market is a large public market in the Ciutat Vella district. Truly a feast for the senses, la Boqueria offers all varieties of produce, from fruits and vegetables, to candy and pastries. It has an entrance from Las Ramblas, a long tree-lined pedestrian mall between the Barrio Gótico (Barcelona’s 14th century Gothic quarter) and El Raval. There are hundreds of vendors and a handful of unassuming (but delicious) food stalls for a quick bite. It’s open everyday, 8 AM – 8:30 PM.

Villa Pick – Pedrera

Live like a Local in Barcelona!

Located in the elegant Passieg de Gracia neighborhood, Pedrera is a 2-bedroom apartment within walking distance of the Gothic Quarter (Las Ramblas and La Boqueria). Access to bus and metro lines is 100 meters away. French doors open onto a small terrace—a perfect spot for breakfast or an aperitif.

Rome – Campo dei Fiori

The daily Campo dei Fiori market (held everyday except Sunday in the center of Piazza Campo dei Fiori) is Rome’s oldest. There has been a market in this location for centuries. It offers the best fish and bread in the city, as well as picturesque piles of fruits and vegetables, flowers, and fragrant ethnic spices. You can also find kitchen wares, linens, and toys. We suggest you visit early (the market opens at 6:00 AM), before most tourists are out and about and the majority of customers are Romans.

Villa PickCampo dei Fiori – Antonius

Live like a Local in Rome!

Piazza Campo dei Fiori is just a 2-minute walk away from Antonius, a 2-bedroom apartment (sleeps 4-6) in a restored 18th century building. Imagine taking a pre-breakfast stroll to the market for fresh fruit and bread! Also within convenient walking distance are the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.

Aix-en-Provence – Plâce Richelme

The daily market on Plâce Richelme overflows with the abundance of the Provençal countryside. For locals, shopping at the market is a daily ritual. As with all farmers’ markets, plan on visiting early when selection is at its best and your fellow shoppers are natives, not tourists. The Plâce Richelme offers beautiful, locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as cheese, bread, cured meats, and some of the best olives you will ever taste.

Villa Pick - Maison Perspicace

Live like a Local in Aix-en-Provence!

Maison Perspicace is just 5 km from Aix-en-Provence in the village of Les Milles. It has 4 bedrooms (sleeps 7-9) and a beautiful swimming pool—ideal after a full day trip to Marseille (30 km ) or Avignon (90 km).

Photo of la Boqueria courtesy of Klearchos Kapoutsis @ Flickr
Photo of Campo dei Fiori courtesy of diluvi @ Flickr
Photo of Plâce Richelme market courtesy of anjci @ Flickr

Renting a villa in Umbria? Eat here!

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Italy is wonderful for so many reasons, but let’s face it: nothing beats the food and wine! While there’s no such as thing as a bad meal in Italy (well, almost)…it’s nice to know which places are tried and true. Here, a RentVillas customer shares his experience at Villa del Castello and lists some of his favorite restaurants in Umbria (if you get as excited as we do about spaghetti al tartufo nero, you’ll want to take notes):

“We can’t really think of anything you would need to bring. The owners provide cell phones, a TomTom, spices, olive oil – if you plan to cook. We did do our big grocery shopping in Acquapendente which is very close. Great restaurant there. I believe one of our favorite experiences was in Montepulciano in a small restaurant called A Gambe di Gatto. We had a 3 1/2 hour lunch there and it was fabulous. We also enjoyed the town of Pitigliano and lunch at La Magica Torre. We had the Antipasto de la Casa and there was no end to it. Ristorante Cavour in Todi was really good. As you can tell, we ate a lot and we drank a lot of wonderful food and wine. One more place in Orvieto, actually two, La Palomba, which was recommended by many, and Bevipiano. The owner is from Sicily and he plays a mean piano. There is music there on Friday and Saturday. The chef is also from Sicily and the food was great.”

The Insider’s Guide to Living like a Local in Italy

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Every RentVillas customer receives a free copy of The Insider’s Guide to Living like a Local in Italy by Suzanne Pidduck. It offers essential tips for your villa or apartment rental experience, including everything from when to go and what to pack, to where to go and what to do. It also covers the nuts and bolts of renting a property in Italy, such as electricity and heating. You can read an online version of the book here.