It’s question season here at Homebase Abroad. “Can we still find a house for this summer?” (Yes, except on the Amalfi Coast) “How do we get to Florence?” (We recommend by private car or train as parking a rental car is challenging), “How do we get on the water along the Amalfi Coast?” (Let us count the magical ways), “What about a cook?” (Definitely! Especially for the shopping and cleaning up). Responding to these questions through careful Italian villa travel planning is what transforms trips into successful villa vacations.
The key to successful villa vacations – in Italy or elsewhere –requires your time and attention. It also relies upon you having access to someone who knows the place you are going and is willing to spend their time and attention learning about your needs and preferences. This is what results in an exceptional, personally-tailored villa vacations.
Good planning and shared information is key. Families with teenagers want stimulation and social opportunities. Being marooned on a gorgeous hillside may not be for them, unless the experience is studded with opportunities to engage with other people their age in ways that are natural and easy. The energies of 70 year olds and 7 year olds are different yes but good Travel Planning will accommodate both graciously and result in a successful villa vacation for all.
Best for Everyone
Making sure you eat well is key to a satisfying luxury villa vacation. While it seems to be a no-brainer, especially when heading to Italy, there are places in Italy where tourism and economics are conspiring to deliver a mediocre meal. We hear consistently from our guests they cancelled restaurant meals in favor of a dinner at home, but part of Travel Planning is to determine the best mix of dining at home and at restaurants.
One guideline to trust is your instincts rather than on-line reviews from someone who may (or may not) share your dining priorities. Menus with photos and English translation on a signboard out front do not set the stage for a good meal. Keep walking to find the noisy and crowded establishment with people speaking fast. That’s your best bet.
That said, reservations are a must for groups of more than four especially during busy times of the year. And please, only make reservations you are going to keep. Otherwise it is, as the Italians say, ‘la bruta figura.’
Sometimes a quick meal is in order especially if you are doing the smart thing and dining off-hours to take advantage of slightly lighter crowds in popular places like the Vatican and Uffizi. This is where the rise in restaurants offering ‘orario continuato-‘ meaning they serve all day- is a great assist to visitors. These are most often found in larger tourist-savvy cities like Milan and Rome. The traditional small’trattorie-’ especially in countryside villages- will serve lunch from 12:30 until 2:30, then close and not reopen until 7:30. Without planning you can be left with a tired ‘panini’ at a local bar which might not be enough to maintain the mood of your group.
Best for Families with Older Children
Start or end your time with three or more nights right in a city. Milan, Florence or Rome will give them a good doses of buzz-y city life and style plus history, art and architecture, for instance. Then head out for some country time focused on fresh air and being active. This strategy also eases the logistics of managing flight schedules.
Best for Mixed Age Groups
Really enjoy that gorgeous luxury villa you have booked. Vary where you dine on the property – under the pergola, in the formal dining room- at a beautifully set table. Let the staff shop and cook for you – this is vacation after all. Encourage the discovery of tastes and textures that are new. Really make it a feast, with multiple ‘piatti’ or plates as they are called, rather than courses. Italian life and culture are centered around shared time at table. In Italy you eat dishes on their own and one at a time, not everything on one big plate all at once. Rushing is discouraged, we suggest you take time between the plates. You may be surprised and find that big sit-down lunch or dinner is a three-plus hour affair. And that is the point of successful villa travel.
Best for Younger Children
Take time for the culture. Culture laden destinations like Italy are opportunities to for children to be inspired. But they have to be able to discover according to their own instincts. Museums do not have to be dull if thought goes into planning your visits. Make sure your guide is following your interests not a script. Let your children ask questions, the more the better. Walk through and stop at what attracts their eye – whatever it is. Let it be a short visit and a smaller museum. And not only paintings or sculpture. The objective is to nurture curiosity and interest and have fun. Whatever that is.
We suggest walking around any town or city with a good guide with no more structure than a good conversation about whatever interests you. Many enjoyable hours can be spent with a guide answering questions and explaining as you go, including the time you take for a coffee or gelato break.
Transportation and Logistics
Walking across a city can be a delightful, immersing you in the everyday life of the place while affording you a taste of local culture. Balancing walks with appropriate moments relying on a taxi will ensure you make the most of each day. A long walk before an upcoming museum visit is not a good strategy.
Most all really fine Tuscan farmhouses are reached down a typically narrow dirt road, the cost, so to speak, for being rewarded with a billion dollar view and the exceptional peace and privacy that only a luxury villa can provide. For coming and going, the only option is to rent multiple vans and cars . Yes you will be split up but this is a also an opportunity; one group can stop for gelato or coffee while another group veers off in search of more wine and still another group returns to the villa for a few private moments of relaxation.
This is where the personal conversations with skilled and experienced Travel Planners are worth every penny. Make sure you spend time getting into the details and you will be well-rewarded.
La Dolce Vita
Italy is not a place for rushing—whether through your day, over a meal or while building your Travel Itinerary. Take Venice, for example. Head out with only your camera to get lost and you will find yourself discovering all that is new and vital in the modern art galleries and chic boutiques of the Venetians who are revisioning and repossessing this amazing place. Venice is a city best visited when you can take the time to give Venice some of yourself. In return, she will delight you with the undulating current of the tide and sea swell, vistas of the shallow lagoon reaching out to the edge of the wide sea. Get to know the lagoon itself, wander after dark and early in the morning through the peace of a nearly deserted ‘calle.’ Slow down. Take it all in. You will leave nourished.
One Final Planning Tip
Make sure to vary the schedule. Every day up and out on an agenda feels more like routine than vacation. Why not indulge with a long slow morning doing nothing but enjoying the view, talking with one another, taking a long walk? This is what it’s all about…