Cell Phones and WiFi in Italy

When it comes to staying connected while in Italy, we've got you covered!

When it comes to staying connected while in Italy, we’ve got you covered!

Staying in touch with family and work is important when we travel. For travelers to Italy, there are a number of options available.

First, the cell phone basics:

  • Approximately half of American cell phones will work in Italy. Check with your carrier or search the specs for your phone online to make sure your phone has the correct 900/1800 bands to be used internationally.
  • If your cell phone will work in Italy, you can either choose to pay roaming charges with your current provider (which can be expensive), or you can rent or purchase an Italy SIM card and put it into your UNLOCKED cell phone.
  • To unlock your cell phone, contact your provider. In virtually all cases, US carriers will provide you with the unlock code as long as you have been a customer for at least 60 days. For more on unlocking your AT&T iPhone, click here.
Purchase an Italian SIM card to stay connected during your villa rental experience.

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Italian SIM Cards

There are two Italian SIM cards currently being sold in the US and Canadian markets – TIM and Uno Mobile (Vodafone). Here are the main differences between the two:

  • The Uno Mobile SIM card is already registered (no passport information required), has English prompts and customer service. The rates are as follows; free incoming, $0.12  per minute for calls within Italy and for calls to the US and Canada.
  • The TIM service offers free incoming calls, 0.55 to call to North America and local calls vary depending on the “profile” you get. Furthermore, you need to scan your passport in order to activate your SIM card.

As the Uno Mobile SIM card was created for the English-speaking traveler to Italy, it much more convenient than other services and less expensive to use. It is available online through CellularAbroad.

Renting/Buying an Italian Cell Phone

If you travel to Italy frequently or if you plan to be in Italy for more than 30 days, purchasing an Italian cell phone from CellularAbroad bundled with a prepaid SIM card is an economical option for staying in touch locally and internationally.

  • Cell phone instructions, prompts, and live customer service are all in English.
  • Incoming calls and voicemail are free.
  • Minutes can be added to the phone four different ways: prior to departure from the U.S.; by contacting CellularAbroad from Italy; by texting a code on the phone; or at various storefront locations in Italy.

Renting an Italian cell phone, including iPhones and Smartphones, also available through CellularAbroad, is a smart alternative, especially if you plan to be in Italy no longer than 14 days.

Whether you decide to purchase or rent a phone, you can receive it via UPS prior to departure and it will be ready for immediate use upon arrival in Italy; the cost of the purchase/rental includes one initial call credit voucher worth 28 international minutes or 112 local minutes.

NEW Services and Add-Ons for 2014

The following new services and add-ons for SIM/phone package purchases, phone renters, and SIM-card-only purchases are available through CellularAbroad:

  • Get a US number (or keep your own by forwarding it): $19 gives you 6 hours of incoming calls.
  • “Call Italy” add-on gives you 240 minutes of calls within Italy.
  • Add on 1 GB for $49.

Note on 2014 rates: As of April, it’s $0.12/minute to call the US/Canada or to place calls within Italy.

NEW Data SIM cards: As of summer 2014, CellularAbroad now offers a 1 GB SIM card for travelers to Europe. The SIM card is plug and play: Simply insert it into your device (usually a tablet or a mobile WiFi hotspot like the MiFi (see below for more information), and you’re ready to go. At the end of your trip, simply throw the card away. The data SIM is $109 for Europe. You can also rent a mobile hotspot (MiFi) to use together with the data SIM, thereby giving you access to multiple devices.

mifi_demoMobile Hotspot

Another great new option for staying connected while traveling is renting an Italy MiFi device through CellularAbroad. This device provides mobile WiFi access nearly everywhere you go in Italy and unlimited data. If you’re an iPhone user and wish to use your phone in Italy, Italy MiFi will save you money in excess data charges! The device can be used with up to five devices–ideal if you’re renting a villa with friends and family. The MiFi is slightly smaller than a cell phone and has a rechargeable battery life of approximately 4 hours.

  • The MiFi allows you to use your iPhone for surfing, roaming, and posting unlimited photos.
  • Avoid paying for wireless anywhere you’re staying, or having to coordinate with the hotel front desk to set up access.

 

Best Markets in Europe

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

Italy’s Blue Flag Beaches

The Blue Flag is an eco-label awarded to the cleanest, safest beaches with good environmental track records. Owned and run by the non-profit organization Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), the Blue Flag campaign supports sustainable development at beaches and marinas, monitoring standards in water quality, education, environmental management, and public safety in 41 countries across Europe.

Here are some of our favorite Italian award-winning beaches and marinas in Tuscany (Forte dei Marmi, Pietrasanta, and Viareggio) and Campania (Positano)…plus villa picks nearby:

Tuscany – Blue Flag Beaches in Forte dei Marmi, Pietrasanta, and Viareggio

About the area: If you avoid the August crowds, Forte dei Marmi (or simply “Forte”) is a fashionable, low-profile beach town with a beautiful Blue Flag beach and enticing shops located approximately 1.5 hours NW of Florence. It’s chic, but understated. The beach is accessible via bathing clubs; Alaide and Capri are family-run. Bike rentals are available at Cicli Maggi, a bike shop founded in 1916. It’s a pleasurable spin to nearby Pietrasanta (the medieval town; 3 km inland) and Marina di Pietrasanta (the port), where you can sample renowned biscotti at Fortini and visit marble sculptors’ studios. Viareggio, also a Blue Flag award-winner in 2010, is the main center on the northern Italian riviera. Although very crowded in August (like all beaches in Italy!), it has a beautiful port and historic center, as well as convenient train service to all of Italy’s major cities. Here, sample one of our favorite Versilian specialities: cecina, a chickpea pancake.

Villa picks in Tuscany:

Casa Pietrasanta offers a lush countryside setting with easy access to Pietrasanta (3 km), Forte dei Marmi (10 km), and Viareggio (12 km). It sleeps 6-7, has a swimming pool, and is furnished in an elegant, rustic style.

Tuscany villa with views of Versilian coastline.

Villa Maria is a spacious villa for 6-8 people with pool 3 km from the beach in Viareggio, 13 km to Forte Marmi, and 9 km to Pietrasanta. It’s also 1 km from the village of Piano di Mommio, which offers a good selection of services, and is only 20 km from the beautiful walled city of Lucca.

Campania – Blue Flag Beaches in Positano

About the area: Positano is one of the jewels of the Amalfi Coast. It’s an unbelievably picturesque fishing village and has a Blue Flag beach (Spiaggia Grande; pebbled) and port. There are many charming outdoor cafés and narrow, cobbled alleys and endless staircases to meander. Typical fare highlights all types of seafood and local produce such as lemons, peppers, and tomatoes. Don’t miss the anchovies with mint and garlic! Other popular beaches include Fornilla, La Porta, and Arienzo. There’s also an incredible trail that starts in the mountains above Positano called Il Sentiero degli Dei (Trail of the Gods). It follows a high ridge and ends in Vietri sul Mare, east of Positano.

Villa Picks in Campania:

Brezza di Mare is a charming one-bedroom villa in the village of Montepertuso—a 10-minute shuttle bus ride to Positano. It has a large, private terrace with views of the sea.

Positano villa with views of the sea.

Casa Luna is a 2-bedroom apartment within walking distance of Positano. It has a garden terrace, fragrant with jasmine, that overlooks the sea and village.

Finding the right flight: Part 2

When it comes to searching online for airfare to Europe, it’s tough to know where to begin in an ever-expanding sea of travel sites. Here, in part 2 of our 2-part guide to finding the right flight online, we cover the best resources:

First stop: Matrix. This is ITA Software’s public airfare search engine, and it also happens to power many popular travel sites and airlines’ reservation systems. What you can’t do with Matrix: Purchase tickets directly. What you can do: Download a mobile airfare shopping app for iPhone or Android called OnTheFly. Use an interactive calendar to explore date ranges. Refer to color-coded time bars to compare flights at a glance.

Like Matrix, Fly.com, Kayak.com, and Bing.com are so-called metasearch engines. This means you can enter your search criteria in one place and simultaneously get results indexed from multiple engines. These sites are highly efficient, but again, you can’t book tickets directly. Here’s how the three sites are different:

Fly.com indexes just flights: its data comes from airlines and major travel sites (including discount and international flights, online travel agencies, and airfare consolidators).
Kayak.com also indexes flights—plus hotels, car rentals, and vacation packages.
Bing.com is slightly different in that it’s an actual search engine, or “decision engine”, in Microsoft’s words. Its travel search tool, Bing Travel, includes the cool bonus of offering price predictions for each fare (Is the fare likely to go up or down?)

Cheapoair.com functions similarly to the other metasearch travel engines in that results are culled from multiple data resources and reservation systems, but it’s a one-stop shop: Tickets can be booked directly though Cheapoair.com, either online or by phone, 24/7. Its also a full-service travel agency, with deals on hotels, vacation packages, car rentals, and airport parking.

Momondo.com is a great bet for finding cheap airfare to and within Europe. This Denmark-based aggregator indexes more than 450 travel sites—including major booking engines, airlines, and discount European airlines (an inexpensive choice if you don’t mind making a connection and possibly paying additional baggage fees). It also features city guides and a traveler blog.

Yapta.com will actually help you to pinpoint the best time to book by tracking fluctuating prices, and even better, enable you to take advantage of many U.S. airlines’ “guaranteed airfare policies”. According to this policy, if the price of flight you’ve already booked goes down, you may be eligible for a refund. Yapta will track the price of a flight you’ve booked, and alert you if it drops below the purchase price. Word to the wise: Refunds apply only if you book directly through the airline!

Along similar lines there’s Airfarewatchdog.com. What makes this site unique is its staff of dedicated “Dealhounds” (yes, real people!) who are literally sniffing out the fare sales for you. You pick your home airport, and then Airfarewatchdog.com will email you when prices go up or down.

Also worth a mention is InsideTrip.com. It’s an airfare search engine, but it’s unique because each itinerary is awarded a TripQuality score based on 12 criteria: security wait time; legroom; aircraft type; aircraft age; historical load factor; connect time; routing quality; lost bags rank; and gate location. In addition, it provide a FinalAirfare calculation—an estimate of bag and drink fees prior to departure.

Finally, if all of this just sounds like way too much work, consider Tripology.com. This is a free service that puts you in touch with certified Travel Specialists: By submitting a Trip Request online you’ll receive up to 3 Customized Trip Itineraries; you then select the one you want and book your trip.

Photo courtesy AMagill @ Flickr

Finding the right flight: Part 1

Find the right flight!

Securing the perfect villa for your desired dates is just one piece of the travel puzzle: Now you need to find a flight. Here’s part one of a two-part guide to help you book the right flight online:

Let’s start with basics. Is your priority cost or convenience? Here’s a scenario to consider: I’m renting a villa in the Chianti in June for two weeks with two small children. To minimize parental headaches, I’m flying direct. I’ve booked a Delta flight serviced by AlItalia from LAX to Rome’s Fiumicino. From there, I’ll rent a car and drive to Tuscany (3.5 hours).

Now let’s say the kids are staying home with grandma. In that case I might find a more competitive rate by flying a carrier such as Lufthansa into Munich, a large, user friendly international airport with complete services, and then booking a connecting flight to Rome on a local discount airline such as Meridiana, Air Italy, EasyJet, or Blu-Express. One note of caution here: Baggage restrictions on smaller airlines are often tighter than those on major carriers; be sure to check weight limits and/or baggage charges on individual carriers’ sites before you purchase! You may even want to think about traveling with just a carry on, if possible. For alternative transportation there’s the train—a convenient, relaxing, and certainly less expensive option. According to RailEurope I could take the City Night Line, for example: The train leaves Munich at 9:00 PM…and arrives in Rome at 9:00 AM the next morning. Not too shabby!

Before you get down to searching, here’s a few more helpful tips:

Should you pounce on tickets in February if, say, you’re not traveling until September? Depends. It might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s important to consider that the cheapest seats sell out first. Waiting until the last minute isn’t necessarily going to save money, especially in those last 2 weeks prior to your departure (when prices tend to be inflated). On the other hand, by buying far in advance you may miss eventual price drops. A good rule of thumb is to book 1-5 months in advance of your departure date for best price and selection. You’ll also find the best fares during business hours—when most people are online.

Is there a cheaper day of the week to fly? Yes. According to Rick Seaney, CEO of farecompare.com, traveling on weekdays to Europe is cheaper than weekends (FYI: Wednesday is your day to save if you’re flying domestic).

Consider the high and low European tourist seasons. Peak periods, such as summer (late May – late August) are generally more expensive. Late October to mid-March is considered the winter season and is typically more affordable; same goes for late March to mid-May (though Easter week may see some spikes). Fall (mid-September to late October) is also low season.

Flexibility is key! If you’ve got wiggle room on your dates or arrival/departure airport, you can find the best deals.

Photo courtesy of xlibber @ Flickr

Private Tours in Tuscany

See Tuscany with a native guide!

Explore Siena with a native guide!

Get to know the real Tuscany! Put yourself in the hands of a native professional guide for a day.

Here are 8 half- and full-day tour options to enhance your Tuscan villa rental experience:

Your Florentine guide will introduce you the city's most beautiful and interesting sights.

There is so much to see and do in Florence. Discover it on foot, or in the comfort of a private car.

1. Florence by Car – Half-Day Driving Tour (MB)

Overview: Appreciate the sights of Renaissance Florence from the comfort of your own private car.

  • Your professional guide will meet you in Florence (or pick you up at your villa for an extra charge)  and will then introduce you to the city on a personal level, sharing his favorite secret sights and local knowledge.
  • He’ll take you to Piazzale Michelangelo for a panoramic view of the city alongside the bronze copy of David, then drive you through the streets of Florence. You’ll visit the Oltrarno, home to the city’s artisans, the magnificent Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens, and all of the major sites across the river: the Ponte Vecchio, Uffizi, Piazza della Signoria, Piazza della Repubblica, and Piazza Santa Croce. During the tour, you will be free to get out and walk around.
  • The tour is available in the morning and the afternoon.
  • The tour does not include meals, museum entrance fees, or gratuities. The order of the tour stops may change depending on local conditions.
  • Cost:  225 Euros for a 3-hour minimum (1-8 pax); additional hours can be added pending availability for 60 Euros/hour.
Your half-day walking tour will capture the best of Florence!

Your half-day walking tour will capture the best of Florence!

2. Florence On Foot – Half-Day Walking Tour (MB)

Overview: Join a Florentine for a three-hour walking tour of his native city.

  • Your professional guide loves Florence with a passion and will enchant you with anecdotes and fascinating information about his favorite historic places.
  • Your tour will begin in Florence in Piazza dell Repubblica and you’ll then visit the Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza Santa Croce, as well as Renaissance palaces and private residences. If you’d like to visit a museum or two after the tour, your guide will be happy to book tickets for your group.
  • The morning tour begins at 10:00 am, and the afternoon tour begins at 3:00 pm. The tour does not include meals, museum entrance fees, or gratuities. The order of the tour stops may change depending on local conditions.
  • Cost: 225 Euros for three hours (1-8 pax).
    • If more time desired, cost is 60 Euros for each additional hour (payable on site).
San Gimignano has a fascinating history!

San Gimignano has a fascinating history!

3. Siena and San Gimignano – Full-Day Driving Tour (MB)

Overview: Spend a full day touring two of Tuscany’s gems.

  • Start from Florence (or at your villa for an extra cost) and enjoy the scenery as you’re driven through the beautiful Chianti region, known for its vineyards, olives, and charming towns.
  • Then you’ll drive up the hill to the walled, medieval town of San Gimignano, with its 14 towers and Collegiata, a Romanesque church filled with fascinating (and sometimes frightening!) frescoes (admission is extra).
  • Your guide will help you decide on the perfect spot to enjoy lunch (extra cost, paid locally); perhaps in Monteriggioni or another nearby town.
  • In the afternoon, you’ll travel on to Siena—a magical, breathtaking, and thoroughly Italian city. Wander through the streets as your guide introduces the 17 different contrade, the distinct neighborhoods of Siena, which square off against each other every summer for the Palio horse race.
  • The tour does not include meals, museum entrance fees, or gratuities. The order of the tour stops may change depending on local conditions.
  • Cost: 450 Euros (1-4 pax); 500 Euros (1-8 pax). Driving guides are not permitted to guide in museums, but he/she can guide you as you walk throughout the towns. You will have some free time to shop and explore in each town.

4. Siena or San Gimignano Plus a Half-Day in the Chianti – Full Day Driving Tour (MB) 

Overview: Combine a half-day in Siena or San Gimignano with a half-day in the Chianti.

  • The Chianti portion of this tour will include the Valle del Greve (Chianti Classico), with a stop in Greve as well as some wine cellars.
  • Cost: 450 Euros (1-4 pax); 500 Euros (1-8 pax) . Driving guides are not permitted to guide in museums, but he/she can guide you as you walk throughout the towns. You will have some free time to shop and explore in each town.
Whether you're visiting the Cinque Terre for the first time, or are returning, a guided tour is a wonderful way to see this beautiful area!

Whether you’re visiting the Cinque Terre for the first time, or are returning, a guided tour is a wonderful way to see this beautiful area!

5. Cinque Terre Adventure – Full-Day Tour (MB)

Overview: Enjoy a guided drive from Tuscany to the Cinque Terre. Then, take a guided walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola, followed by a ferry to Vernazza.

  • You won’t have to worry about finding parking or making connections when you’re transported to the Cinque Terre by an expert guide. He’ll pick you up at your villa (for an extra cost), or a central meeting point (for an extra cost) and drive you to Riomaggiore, the southern-most village of the five towns perched on cliffs and spilling into the sea.
  • You’ll walk the newly restored Via dell’ Amore, which connects Riomaggiore to the town of Manarola. Afterward, your guide will usher you onto a ferry for a different perspective of the villages and the sea. (If weather is an issue, you’ll take the train.) You’ll get off at Vernazza, the most picturesque of the five villages—a perfect place for lunch (extra cost, paid locally).
  • The tour does not include meals, museum entrance fees, or gratuities. The order of the tour stops may change depending on local conditions.
  • Cost: 575 Euros (1-4 pax); 625 Euros (1-8 pax) .
There is so much to see and do in Siena! Our expert guide will show you the city's best.

Let our native guide show you her favorite sights in Siena.

6. Siena – Full-Day Walking Tour with San Gimignano Option (TIC)

Overview: Explore the beautiful university center of Siena with a local guide. After lunch, a driver will take you to San Gimignano where you can explore independently. At the day’s end (5:30 PM), your driver will take you back to the Cortona train station. Or, if you prefer, you can stay in Siena the entire day!

  • Your driver will meet you at the Cortona train station at 9:00 AM and then take you to Siena. Your local guide will greet you in Piazzale della Fortezza; together you’ll explore the historic center and discover the ancient duomo and surrounding sights. The tour will then meander along small side streets as you make your way to Piazza del Campo, where the legendary Palio is held each July.
  • Enjoy lunch at a typical restaurant in the center.
  • After lunch, your driver will take you to San Gimignano, where you can explore independently until the end of the tour day (when you will return to the Cortona train station). If you wish to remain longer in San Gimignano (after 5:30), a 25 Euro/hour charge applies.
  • Included in the price is round trip transportation to Siena and/or San Gimignano from the Cortona train station, a guided tour, lunch in Siena (wine excluded), and entrance to the duomo in Siena.
  • This full-day tour is offered Monday-Friday (9:00 AM-5:30 PM).
  • Cost per person: 418.75 Euros (for 2-3 pax); 250 Euros (for 4-5 pax); 198.75 Euros (for 6-7 pax); 162.50 Euros (for 8 pax); 8 to 16 pax Price on Request; Children 0-6 are free. Children ages 6-10 pay 50% of the adult per person cost. 25 Euros for every hour after 5:30 PM. Gratuity is not included in the price.

7. Assisi and Ceramics in Deruta (full-day with lunch) (TIC)

Overview: Tour a family-run workshop in the small town of Deruta, the center of Italy’s famous ceramics. Followed by lunch and a guided tour of Assisi.

  • Meet your guide at the Cortona train station; you’ll travel to Deruta by car.
  • You will learn about the history and process of creating beautiful hand-painted ceramics, and have time to purchase pieces from their showroom.
  • You’ll want to work up an appetite, because lunch is at a nearby organic farm that produces wine, olive oil, and grains. The repast includes farm produce and typical delicacies such as bruschetta, salami, and cheese.
  • After lunch you will drive to Assisi for a guided tour of the Basilica (famous frescoes by Giotto) and the center of the ancient town.
  • Included in the price is transportation from the Cortona train station, a tour of the ceramics workshop in Deruta, lunch with wine, and a guided tour of Assisi.
  • This tour is offered Monday-Friday (9:00 AM-4:00 PM).
  • Cost per person: 400 Euros (for 2-3 pax); 231.25 Euros (for 4-5 pax); 168.75 Euros (for 6-7 pax); 143.75 Euros (for 8 pax); Children 0-6 are free. Children ages 6-10 pay 50% of the adult per person cost. Gratuity is not included in the price.
Following a visit to Deruta, enjoy a guided tour of Assisi.

Following a visit to Deruta, enjoy a guided tour of Assisi.

FOR RESERVATIONS:

Please contact RentVillas at (800) 726-6702.To confirm a reservation, a 20% non-refundable deposit is required. Upon receipt of the deposit, you will be put in direct contact with the Tour Guide, who will be able to answer your specific questions regarding the details of the tour, including balance payment, extra costs, and the meeting time and place. We recommend that reservations be made at least two months prior to your departure.

Please Note: Unless otherwise stated, prices for Tuscan Tours do not include meals, museum entrance fees, or gratuities.

For selected tours, pick-up and drop-off at villa locations other than Florence and Cortona can be arranged for an extra fee (payable locally) which will be determined by the tour provider and supplied to you; Price is calculated according to distance from the center of Florence (Tours 1-8) and Cortona (Tours 10-12).

The order of the tour stops may change depending on local conditions.

Request Your Tuscan Tours

Cooking Classes in Tuscany

Booking a cooking class during your villa stay is the perfect way to truly savor life in Tuscany!

Learn to cook like an Italian!

Learn to cook like an Italian!

Here are cooking classes in Tuscany available through RentVillas:

1. Farm-to-Table Seasonal Cooking Class near Siena – (half-day, morning or evening) (NG)

Overview: Visit a local working farm estate 10 km from Siena and learn to prepare traditional dishes in an Italian family home with farm-raised products, such as fresh eggs, herbs, seasonal produce, cheese, olive oil, and wine.

  • Enjoy either lunch or dinner (including estate-produced wine)  following cooking instruction. Lunchtime course commences at 10:00-10:30 AM with lunch at 1:30; dinner course commences at 3:00-3:30 with dinner at 6:30 PM. Summer dinner courses begin at 4:00-4:30 with dinner at 7:30 PM.
  • In season, harvest farm products alongside your chef/instructor such as fresh herbs, vegetables, and eggs to be used in meal preparation.
  • During the class participants will be served a typical snack and a glass of Chianti.
  • The class will include preparation of a primo (first courses), such as tagliatelle (made by hand!) with seasonal homemade sauces, a secondo (main dish), such as chicken or rabbit, a contorno (side dish), such as caramelized peppers or tomatoes au gratin, and a dolce (dessert).
  • Dietary restrictions/preferences happily accommodated–please inquire in advance.
  • Cost per person: April-October – 137.50 Euros; minimum 6 people for private session. November-March – 125 Euros; minimum 2 people for private session. Year round cost for open class: 113 Euros. Pick-up service at your Siena-area villa is available; rate is calculated according to distance and number of passengers. 
Learn to prepare secret Tuscan family recipes with fresh, seasonal produce!

Learn to prepare secret Tuscan family recipes with fresh, seasonal produce!

  2. Cooking Class in the Chianti – (half-day, morning or evening) (RP)

Overview: Learn to cook in the Tuscan style at a historic villa near Greve-in-Chianti. 

  • Gain hands-on experience from local chefs in making homemade pasta, such as ravioli, tagliatelle, and gnocchi. Your chefs will also instruct you in crafting traditional seasonal sauces, such as fresh tomato, basil pesto, meat sauce with porcini mushrooms and sweet onions, and much more!
  • Morning classes are from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, including lunch. Evening classes are 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM, including dinner. Total lesson time (including menu planning, food preparation, and lunch or dinner on the villa terrace) is approximately 4 hours.
  • Lunch, served on the beautiful terrace, includes wine and coffee.
  • Sample menus include: gnocchi alla pomarola, saltimbocca alla romana, and biscottini di Prato; or homemade pasta (such as lasagne or tagliatelle) with ragú bolognese, and tiramisú.
  • Special menu requests are welcomed, season and time permitting.
  • Cost per person: 137 Euros. Children under 14: 80 Euros. Private parties (2-4 people): 200 Euros per person. Note: Class capacity is 6 people; unless your group has 6 people, you’ll join an open class of food enthusiasts. 
Making homemade pasta at Villa La Montagnola, our cooking school in the Chianti.

Making homemade pasta at Villa La Montagnola, our cooking school in the Chianti.

3. Cooking at Home with Chef Cinzia – (half-day, morning or evening)

Overview: When Chef Cinzia arrives at your villa door, you know you’re in for a treat! Our longtime culinary partner offers a fun at-home introduction to Tuscan cuisine–and you get to sit back and savor the results.

  • This 4-hour class will teach you how to prepare an 4-course traditional meal in your very own villa kitchen. Participants will then enjoy a sit-down meal (with wine!) following instruction.
  • Cost per person: 80 Euros (4-12) pax; 25 Euros per child (ages 6-12). Children under 6 are free. Includes travel up to 100 km round trip, groceries, table service, and clean-up; does not include beverages. 

4. Learn at Home with Chef Mattisse or Chef Elisa – (half-day, morning or evening)

Overview: Our very own private Tuscan chefs Mattisse and Elisa can turn a Tuscan meal prepared in the comfort of your villa into a cooking lesson!

  • Over the course of four hours, your private chef will teach you how to prepare an authentic  feast…and then you get to enjoy it!
  • Cost per person: 100 Euros (4-12 pax); 50 Euros per child (ages 6-11). Includes travel up to 100 km round trip, groceries, table service, and clean-up; does not include beverages. Please Note: Each chef offers slight variations in their service and costs, so be sure to contact RentVillas for exact details.

 

Learn by doing---in the comfort of your own Tuscan villa!

Learn by doing—in the comfort of your own Tuscan villa!

5. Cooking Classes at Your Tuscan Villa – (3 hours) (TIC)

Overview: Your chef will arrive at your villa in the afternoon around 4:00 PM and together you will prepare a typical Tuscan dinner, including an antipasto, a pasta, a meat dish with vegetables, and a delicious dessert.

  • There are seven menus available. Menu options are located HEREPer person prices include a superb glass of wine (from Villa Loggio), sparkling/still water, and service/clean up.
  1. Tuscan Tradition Cooking: 125 Euros (2-3 pax); 115 Euros (4-5 pax); 110 Euros (6-7 pax); 95 Euros (8+ pax)
  2. Cortona Tradition Cooking: 125 Euros (2-3 pax); 115 Euros (4-5 pax); 110 Euros (6-7 pax); 95 Euros (8+ pax)
  3. Italian Tradition Cooking: 125 Euros (2-3 pax); 115 Euros (4-5 pax); 110 Euros (6-7 pax); 90 Euros (8+ pax)
  4. Just Pasta: 145 Euros (2-3 pax); 120 Euros (4-5 pax); 120 Euros 6-7 pax); 115 Euros (8+ pax)
  5. Just Pizza: 145 Euros (2-3 pax); 120 Euros (4-5 pax); 120 Euros 6-7 pax); 115 Euros (8+ pax)
  6. Tuscan Pro: 145 Euros (2-3 pax); 120 Euros (4-5 pax); 120 Euros 6-7 pax); 115 Euros (8+ pax)
  7. Cooking and Bartending Lesson: 150 Euros (2-3 pax); 140 Euros (4-5 pax); 120 Euros (6-7 pax); 115 Euros (8+ pax)

Please note: The prices for the menus are based on the whole group enjoying the same menu. If a substitution is required for some of the group, there may be an extra charge.  Children 0-6 are free. Children ages 6-10 pay 50% of the adult per person cost; a children’s menu is also available for 20 Euros per child. A gluten-free menu will be priced the same as the menu chosen by the rest of the group; any problem ingredients will be substituted accordingly. If homemade gluten-free pasta (which requires additional dough preparation) is requested, there will be an extra charge of 8 Euros per person. Driver transfer fee is not included. This fee will be calculated based on the location of your villa and will be paid directly to your chef. Gratuity is not included in the price.

A Tuscan truffle hunter and his trusty hounds on the scent.

A Tuscan truffle hunter and his trusty hounds on the scent.

6.  Cooking Fun with Truffles! (half day – afternoon/evening) (GB)

Overview: Learn how to clean, prep, and incorporate fresh truffles into a variety of Tuscan recipes.

  • Giulio and Cristina, professional chefs in Bagno a Ripoli (20 minutes from Florence), will share their passion for these unique “fruits of the soil” during an afternoon and evening of lively instruction and delicious flavors. Class participants will prepare (and enjoy!) an antipasto, primo, secondo, contorno, and dolce.
  • Available Monday-Friday, March-December (except May); 4:00 PM-8:00 PM. Cost per person: 120 Euros (2-5 pax); 110 Euros (over 5 pax). Price includes wine and water. Transportation not included.

FOR RESERVATIONS:

Please contact RentVillas at (800) 726-6702.To confirm a reservation, a 20% non-refundable deposit is required. Upon receipt of the deposit, you will be put in direct contact with the Chef, who will be able to answer your specific questions regarding the details of the meal, including balance payment, extra costs, and the meeting time. We recommend that reservations be made at least two months prior to your departure.

Request Your Cooking Class

Private Chefs in Tuscany, Umbria & Cinque Terre

You’ve rented a villa–now complete the fantasy with your own chef! He or she will appear at your door as scheduled and slip into the kitchen to prepare the most delicious Italian meal you’ve ever tasted. Meanwhile, you can sit back and relax with a glass of wine and plan tomorrow’s adventures with your friends and family. Clean-up? Included!

Read on to learn about our fabulous chefs and meal services in Tuscany, Umbria & new for 2016, Cinque Terre:

TUSCANY AND UMBRIA

Cinzia

“We hired a chef, Cinzia, and she was simply fantastic!”
-Lesley, September 2013

Cinzia’s Group of Chefs:

Professional, charming and talented are words to describe Cinzia’s group of chefs! They will serve up four delicious courses. Your appetizer includes the following: selection of regional cheese served with fig jam, honey, and balsamic vinegar; mixed crostini, aromatic bruschetta with tomatoes and basil topping, toasted bread with garlic and virgin oil, and Farmer’s soup. Your First Course is a fresh pasta with Cinzia’s secret recipe and risotto with seasonal vegetables and truffles. The Second Course is chicken with garden rocket and reduced balsamic vinegar, with a Side Dish of seasonal vegetables. For dessert, tiramisu, bread baked in a wood-burning oven, 1 bottle of Chianti per 2 people AND limoncello OR grappa. 2016 UPDATES: Chef Services now available at properties  in Liguria (Cinque Terre)! Wine School now available at your villa; see details below!

  • Cost per person (12 years old and over): 55 Euros (6-12 pax); Cost per child (Ages 6-11): 25 Euros; Children under 6 years old are free. Minimum charge per meal: 330 Euros. There is an additional 10 Euro charge per person for a fish or truffle menu. The rates include travel up to 200 km round trip groceries, wine (up to ½ bottle per person), service and clean-up. Deposit required: 20% of the total; minimum deposit: 66 Euros.

** Wine School… at Your Villa!**

  • Are you interested in purchasing wine and balsamic vinegar while in Tuscany! Wine School is for YOU!
  • Cinzia’s Group of Chefs now offers Wine School, in collaboration with Tenuta Torciano.
  • Pierluigi, the winemaker at Tenuta Torciano, will come to YOU… offering pairings, tastings, and wine education in the comfort of your villa.
  • The wine maker will select pairings for your chef-prepared meal in collaboration with Cinzia and her group of chefs.
  • Cost: There is no cost for the tastings, but the winemaker kindly requests a minimum wine purchase of 500 Euros.
Elisa

Vegetarian? Gluten-free? Vegan? Whatever your preference, Chef Elisa will prepare a meal to remember.

Elisa:

Warm and lovely, Elisa, has worked for years as a cook. She uses mainly organic, local, and seasonal products, paying close attention to the selection of fish and meat. In addition, she can prepare special meals, including gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and macrobiotic. Elisa will come to your villa to prepare four delicious courses: appetizer; first course (pasta or risotto); second course (meat, chicken, fish or vegetarian); side dish; and dessert. Your menu might include the following:  eggplant tartlet; risotto with zucchini flowers, saffron and roasted almonds; roast rabbit with cherry tomatoes au gratin; chocolate and ricotta tart. After you book your dinner or lunch with RentVillas, your chef will send you a list of amazing menu choices.

  • Cost per person (12 years old and over): 55 Euros (6-12 pax); Cost per child (Ages 6-11): 27.50 Euros; Children under 6 years old are free. Minimum charge per meal: 330 Euros. The rates include travel up to 200 km round trip, groceries, service and clean-up. Wine is not included. Deposit required: 20% of the total; minimum deposit: 66 Euros.
Matisse, your private Tuscan chef

Mattisse, your private Tuscan chef

Mattisse:

Charming, funny, and trilingual, Mattisse will fill your house with delicious aromas, serve up one of his masterpiece meals, and leave your kitchen spic and span. Dinner or lunch is four courses: appetizer; first course (pasta or soup); second course (meat, chicken, fish or vegetarian); side dish; and dessert. When you schedule a meal through RentVillas, Mattisse will send you a list of menu choices. For example, you might select: panzanella (Tuscan bread salad); gnocchi with tomato, basil and cream; veal with Tuscan ham, sage and vinsanto; rosemary potatoes; and tiramisú.

**Buffet Service – New for 2017!** Mattisse now offers catering for small weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, seminars and any other special occassion for groups of up to 50 people. Please contact RentVillas for a quote.

  • Cost per person (12 years old and over): 55 Euros (6-20 pax); cost per child (Ages 6-11): 27.50 Euros; children under 5 years old are free. Minimum charge per meal: 330 Euros. The rates include travel up to 100 km round trip, groceries, service and clean-up; does not include beverages. Deposit required: 10 Euros per person (12 years and over); 5 Euros for children (6-11); If a substitution is required for some of the group, there may be an extra charge. Minimum deposit – 60 Euros.

Graziella:

Born in the quiet hills of Tuscany, Graziella will take you on a gastronomic journey that you will remember for a lifetime! Virgin olive oil, local wine, cheese, pasta and bread baked in wood-burning ovens are just some of products that will be used. Discover how these simple ingredients in the hands of Graziella will help you discover the flavors and tradition of authentic Tuscan cuisine. Your traditional Tuscan menu will include: appetizers (stuffed rolled bresaola with goat cheese and oregano, with two kinds of bruschette); first course (risotto with porcini mushrooms); second course (prime cut pork with vegetables, garden herbs, and milk reduction); side dish of cannelli beans with majoram and sage, with panna cotta for dessert. 2016 UPDATE: Services now available at properties  in Liguria (Cinque Terre)!

  • Cost per person (12 years old and over: 65 Euros (6-12 pax); Cost per child (Ages 6-11): 25 Euros. Children under 6 years old are free. Minimum charge per meal: 390 Euros. The rates include travel up to 200 km round trip groceries, wine (up to 1 bottle of red Chianti wine per every 2 people), service and clean-up. Deposit required: 20% of the total; minimum deposit: 78 Euros.

Doriana and Claudio:

Offering professional culinary services in both Tuscany and Umbria, Doriana and her husband, Claudio, a wine expert, have been collaborating in the kitchen for many years. They specialize in elegant, modern dishes in the Tuscan style. Your chefs will prepare four courses according to the menu of your choice, including antipasto, primo, secondo, contorno, and dolce. Vegetarian, traditional, and creative menu options are available, which your chef will provide to you when you book with RentVillas. Your typical Tuscan menu might include: tortino di ricotta di Pienza su misticianza (ricotta torte served on a bed of fresh mixed greens)followed by pappardelle al ragu’ d’anatra (fresh pappardelle with duck sauce). A main course of antico peposo di manzo (beef stew with black pepper), accompanied by pomodorini infornati all’origano (baked tomatoes with oregano) and rotoli di zucchine al timo (zucchini rolls with thyme) rounds out the meal, while a torta della nonna (Grandmother’s cake) offers a sweet counterpoint.

  • Cost per person (12 years and over): 55 Euros (6-12 pax); 65 Euros (4-5 pax); Cost per child (6-11): 35 Euros. Children under 6 years old are free. The rates include groceries, service, and clean-up. Please note that chef transfer, up to a 100 km round trip radius from Sarteano, is included. Chef transfer beyond that area will require an additional fee, to be calculated at the time of booking and paid directly to the chef. Deposit required: 20% of the total; minimum deposit: 66 Euros.
Relax and let someone else do the cooking!

Relax and let someone else do the cooking!

Cortona Chef

Imagine ending an adventure-filled day with a beautiful home cooked meal in the comfort of your villa—and you never have to lift a finger!  Thanks to your private chefs, this dream can be a reality. All you have to do is select a menu. Both vegetarian and gluten-free options are available; please indicate your special needs at the time of booking. Note that a gluten-free menu will be priced the same as the menu chosen by the rest of the group; any problem ingredients will be substituted accordingly. If homemade gluten-free pasta (which requires additional dough preparation) is requested, there will be an extra charge of 8 Euros per person.

  • There are seven menus available. Menus for Cortona Chef are located HERE. Per person prices include wine (Villa Loggio), sparkling/still water, and service/clean up.
  1. Tuscan Tradition: 70 Euros (4-5 pax); 65 Euros (6-7 pax); 60 Euros (8-9 pax); 50 Euros (10+ pax)
  2. Cortona Tradition: 70 Euros (4-5 pax); 65 Euros (6-7 pax); 60 Euros (8-9 pax); 50 Euros (10+ pax)
  3. Italian Tradition: 70 Euros (4-5 pax); 65 Euros (6-7 pax); 60 Euros (8-9 pax); 50 Euros (10+ pax)
  4. Menú Vegetariano: 70 Euros (4-5 pax); 65 Euros (6-7 pax); 60 Euros (8-9 pax); 50 Euros (10+ pax)
  5. Chianina Steak: 90 Euros (4-5 pax); 85 Euros (6-7 pax); 70 Euros (8-9 pax); 65 Euros (10+ pax)
  6. Tuscan Lux: 90 Euros (4-5 pax); 85 Euros (6-7 pax); 70 Euros (8-9 pax); 65 Euros (10+ pax)
  7. Tuscan Gourmet: 90 Euros (4-5 pax); 85 Euros (6-7 pax); 70 Euros (8-9 pax); 65 Euros (10+ pax)

Please note: The prices for the menus are based on the whole group enjoying the same menu. If a substitution is required for some of the group, there may be an extra charge.  Children 0-6 are free. Children ages 6-10 pay 50% of the adult per person cost; a children’s menu is also available for 20 Euros per child. Driver transfer fee is not included. This fee will be calculated based on the location of your villa and will be paid directly to your chef. Gratuity is not included in the price. Deposit required: 20% of the total; minimum deposit: 56 Euros.

 

Chef Rosanna:

Chef Rosanna: “Food is an extraordinary tool for well being.”

Rosanna:

Ready to experience bliss at the Tuscan table? Then Rosanna is your chef! Offering personal chef service and cooking classes in the Chianti and surroundings, she brings extensive teaching experience, coupled with a passion for fresh, local ingredients. Her philosophy? Food is an extraordinary tool for well being. Rosanna’s menus are inspired by Tuscan and Mediterranean themes, and she also specializes in both vegetarian and vegan meals. Meals can be tailored to YOUR needs, so the options are endless, with Chef Rosanna. Dinners include a 5-course meal.

  • Cost per person: 56.25 Euros (6-12 pax). Beverages are not included. Children under 6 years are free. 12 and up are 1/2 price: 28 Euros. Rates include round trip travel of up to 60 km. Deposit required: 20% of the total; minimum deposit: 56 Euros.

Welcome Dinner Pack – Cortona Area Only (TIC)

After a long day of traveling, we’re weary and hungry by the time we arrive at our villa. Often the last thing on our minds is buying groceries or hunting down a restaurant! This is where the Welcome Dinner Pack comes in: On the afternoon of your arrival, a home cooked meal is delivered to your villa. All you have to do is heat it up and enjoy! The Pack includes a Tuscan antipasto, lasagna, a seasonal vegetable, and a traditional dessert. Special dietary requirements can be accommodated; please specify at the time of booking. Wine and sparkling/still water are also available upon request for an additional cost.

  • Cost per person: 22.50 Euros. Children 0-6 are free. Children ages 6-10 pay 50% of the adult per person cost. This is only available in the Cortona area (within 15 km from Cortona). Deposit required: 20% of the total.
Dinner on your first night is a snap with the Welcome Dinner Pack!

Dinner on your first night is a snap with the Welcome Dinner Pack!

 

FOR RESERVATIONS:

Please contact RentVillas at (800)726-6702. Upon receipt of the nonrefundable deposit (specified above), you will be put in direct contact with your chef, who will be able to answer your specific questions regarding the details of the meal,including balance payment, extra costs, and the meeting time and place. We recommend that reservations be made at least two months prior to your departure.

Request Your Private Chef

Renting in Paris? Four tips that will save you money

Let’s face it, Paris isn’t cheap. There’s the apartment rental, of course, plus daily trips to the fromagerie down the street and the patisserie next door. Not too mention museums, restaurants, and shopping trips to Printemps. It all adds up! With this in mind we’d like to recommend four often-missed sights in the 5th arrondissement that are free (or nearly!)

First, there’s the Arène de Lutèce (5éme), a public park in the Quartier Latin. Built in the 1st century AD, the arena is among the most important remains from the Gallo-Roman era in Paris and was originally used to present gladiatorial combats. Second, there’s the Musée Curie (5éme), a permanent exhibition in Madame Curie’s original laboratory that traces the history of radioactivity and its medical applications. Currently under restoration until summer 2011, the museum offers free admission. Third, there’s the Jardin des Plantes (5éme), which includes a botanical garden and four galleries. Four of the gardens, including the main botanical garden, offer free access; the Jardin alpin can be accessed for 1 Euro, and Les Grandes Serres (extraordinary original green houses), can be accessed for 5 Euros (children under 4 are free). Finally, there’s the Institut du Monde Arabe, located just off Boulevard Saint-Germain (5éme). This striking building (which also houses a museum) has a 9th floor terrace offering what some consider to be the best view of Paris. Access to the terrace is free; for 13 Euros you can enjoy mint tea and baklava at the roof top café. Sublime!

Internet access at your Italian villa rental

Stay connected!

Let’s say you’ve found the PERFECT villa rental in Italy…but it doesn’t have Internet access. Problem? Not anymore. As long as you have a computer with a USB port you can purchase a chiavetta (key) from any Telecom Italia (TIM) store. The “Internet Mobile” package gives you 40 online hours for 49 Euros. TIM stores are located in all major cities and many large towns.

Side note on Ireland: There are great mobile broadband options from Vodafone. What’s mobile broadband? It’s internet access without the need for a fixed land line. It’s convenient and portable, allowing you to connect wirelessly to the internet wherever you are on the Vodafone Ireland network.

 

Mobile Hotspot

Another great new option for staying connected while traveling is renting an Italy MiFi device through CellularAbroad. This device provides mobile WiFi access nearly everywhere you go in Italy and unlimited data. If you’re an iPhone user and wish to use your phone in Italy, Italy MiFi will save you money in excess data charges! The device can be used with up to five devices–ideal if you’re renting a villa with friends and family. The MiFi is slightly smaller than a cell phone and has a rechargeable battery life of approximately 4 hours.

  • The MiFi allows you to use your iPhone for surfing, roaming, and posting unlimited photos.
  • Avoid paying for wireless anywhere you’re staying, or having to coordinate with the hotel front desk to set up access.

Photo courtesy of ElvertBarnes @Flickr