We stay in ARBNBs for our Girls Trips so that we can each have a bedroom and a bath but can come together in common spaces to spend time together, at least the few times we are not out running around. We also like a kitchen, so we don’t have to eat out every meal. Our Florence ARBNB was in a villa in the Oltrarno neighborhood and owned by sisters, who rent out half of it (3 bedroom/2 bath) with a full kitchen and lovely outside space and then they live in the other half with their multi-generational families. What follows is my reflections on our Italian ARBNB journey!
Our villa oozed Italian charm but “cozy” it was not. Is that Italian living? While this post covers in detail what our ARBNB stay was like with lots of cautionary tales for future travelers, so they know what to expect, but please don’t think it was a bad stay. We will cherish being able to experience the Italian lifestyle, hard beds and all! That’s what I love about travel. It exposes you to the way other people live and makes you appreciate your own lifestyle when you get back home. Win-Win.
When I travel, I do love staying in apartments/houses in local neighborhoods to get a real feel for the country and culture. That being said, I am American and used to all things soft and convenient. I have multiple plush throws in our home, soft throw pillows, comfy chairs and large couches, etc. There was nothing soft in this ARBNB, but it was a very nice place so I’m thinking it’s probably the same all around Italy? The beds were very hard, the one couch we had was hard, the patio furniture was metal and hard. You get the theme. Hard. Perhaps that it is on purpose to encourage people to leave their homes and get out and be social? One cultural difference I appreciated was seeing families and friends congregating to eat at the local cafes vs. staying isolated in their homes watching endless TV shows. Everyone talking and enjoying life together-what a concept!
Spread out over three floors (with stone sloping steep stairs and a tiny elevator only to help with luggage), we did get quite the workout over the week. When renting an ARBNB in Europe, prepare for lots of stairs as elevators are a rare commodity. The tall original windows (4x longer than typical American windows) with indoor wooden shutters were utterly authenticate and charming. There were no window screens, though, which seems so dangerous to have around children if you are staying on an upper floor. I looked around other houses in Florence and the “no screens” seemed to be common. Also, the windows were wide enough when open to have an entire flock of birds (or bats) fly in while you are getting some breeze not to mention the insects (yes, they have mosquitos here) so, as picturesque as they were, we did try to keep the windows closed most of the time so as not to come home to a nest of birds in our space. I did make sure our ARBNB had a/c in the bedrooms. We each had a wall (not window) air conditioner to moderate the heat. If you are going any time it is hot, be sure to check the listing for a/c, which is not standard, and read the reviews to see if it works well. The thick stone walls did act as natural insulators as well as keeping out the heat.
I will say the bedroom sizes here were very large compared to the usual tiny dimensions of bedrooms in Europe. Don’t expect to sink into memory foam. The mattresses and pillows are thin and hard. The sheets vintage 1950 and the blankets were thin and rough. Sleeping like an Italian, you will probably walk 20,000 steps a day exploring beautiful Florence, so sleeping shouldn’t be a problem. You will be worn out!
Our place in Florence had a washer, which was terrific, and as is typical in Europe, there was no dryer. There was an outside clothesline you could hang items on to dry-just lean out the second story window and try not to fall as you place your items on display for the courtyard to see. I let my sister Becky do the hanging! We also used the drying rack (identical to the one I purchased in China for same use) and put it up in my bedroom to hang stuff on. Warning-these washers are so loud you would think a plane is taking off and landing. Do not run when you are trying to go to sleep!
Everything we needed for a happy week-long stay was provided. The function was there but it took a while to get used to the coarse towels. No need to get microdermabrasion now! Just give yourself a thorough rub down with these towels and you will say goodbye to that top layer of skin and feel years younger. None of this soft, fluffy towel stuff that pampered Americans are used to. If you use wash cloths, bring your own or buy some when you arrive. Wash cloths are not part of the towel assortment offered in most of Europe. I missed the warming towel racks like you find in Paris, which I love. Warning on the toilet paper: Charmin Ultra it is not. Ouch.
Our floor layout was not “open concept” and probably the result of chopping up the family villa into sections so they could rent out half and retain the original family living in the other half. You entered our ARBNB into the reception area on the ground level, where you check in and then enter your apartment. The only couch and 2 chairs are on this ground floor as well as a full bath. You then walk up 33 concrete stairs (luggage can go up in a service elevator). On the second floor, you have 2 bedrooms, a full bath and the kitchen/dining area. Up another flight of stairs is the attic bedroom, which thankfully Patti offered to take.
So, I would have loved to have had at least one comfortable couch on the main living level because going up and down the stairs to get to the main floor living room wasn’t practical and I can only sit on hard wood chairs for so long to eat dinner but not much after that. I’m just a soft American used to humongous soft sectionals, big screen TVs (no tv here) and even cushions on any hard chair or patio set. Here, it is wood or metal so get up and walk around the beautiful neighborhood instead of staying inside.
The bathrooms were bigger than most European ones with the usual handheld wand instead of an overhead showerhead with folding screen to keep water from escaping onto the floor. Of course, there was a bidet alongside the toilet. With ancient plumbing comes the lack of water pressure and flushing as loud as a freight train because water has to rise through all those ancient pipes from the lower depths on the villa. Whoosh! As is often the case in Europe, don’t expect lots of closets and hangers for your clothes. You may get an armoire but probably not. Pack less. Do laundry more.
I love coffee. A lot. I tend to drink about 3 mugs of coffee each morning. Here in Italy, they have these teeny tiny metal coffee pots that make a very small cup of coffee. My first attempt at making coffee at our ARBNB was a major fail. After doing some online research I can verify that you must put the water in the bottom, then the coffee goes in the middle, and you put it on the stove and the water shoots up as it is heated and somehow coffee is made. But only a tiny sip or two of coffee in one of the tiny cups provided. No mugs here. Nope. And forget just going out to get a Starbucks Grande Americano. No Starbucks in Florence proper-closest one is 20 miles out of the center of town, so I wasn’t able to get my usual Starbucks city mug to commemorate my trip this time. However, I’m going to Milan later this year and look forward to getting a mug at their new Starbucks roaster. Yes, Florence has lots of cafes, but they serve expresso in, yes, teeny tiny cups. They don’t seem to have “to go” capabilities. It is not part of the culture. Italians down an expresso at the bar, chat a little and quickly go about life. Unlike Americans who get their big, complicated coffee drinks from the drive-up window to take to work with them. So, when in Italy, adjust your expectations, embrace the local culture and enjoy the journey!
Accommodation questions to ask yourself before booking your vacation:
- For ARBNB, look for “super hosts” and flexible cancel policies that allow you to cancel up to a week before you travel and still get a 100% refund. As someone who has lost big $$’s due to medical stuff popping up at the last minute that caused us to cancel reservations, the cancel policy is so important.
- Read all the reviews. I don’t rent anything without multiple reviews. Comfy beds, a safe convenient neighborhood and cleanliness are important to us so I look for those features in the reviews.
- How many bedrooms and baths are required-does everyone need their own bath? Harder to find that in Europe where one bath for a three bedroom is normal, and that’s if you can get three bedrooms,which is huge for Europe standards.
- Do you need a kitchen-are you going to cook or go out to eat? For two weeks or more, I really need a full kitchen but can do without for less time.
- Outside space-garden or patio? This might be a safety concern but for others who like to enjoy their wine sitting on a balcony it may be a necessity.
- Wifi? We travel and I work remote so this is super important to me. While I can use my phone as a hotspot because I pay the international daily fees ($10/day), it’s not as stable for virtual calls.
- Is there cable with English-speaking channels or a Smart TV where you can sign into your own apps like Netflix (just remember to sign out before you leave)? I don’t watch a lot but you never know when you may need to check out the news. We were in the UK when the Queen died and we did watch the local coverage.
- Safety, safety, safety-ALWAYS check out the neighborhood where you would be staying before renting. Thom and I once stayed in a very local, somewhat sketchy neighborhood in Portugal where I didn’t feel so safe at night so we stayed in vs. going out after dark. Yes, it had a low nighly rate but for good reason. Check out the general neighborhood (you may not have an exact address on an ARBNB when booking) on Google maps. Are there restaurants, shopping, groceries, churches, etc. View the local area through street level cameras to get a feel for it.
HOTEL-if an ARBNB doesn’t work for you
- Let’s talk check in time and check out time. If you stay in a hotel and arrive on a red eye early in the morning and can’t check in until 3 pm, hotels will typically check your bags for you so you can start immediately exploring. An ARBNB is less likely to be able to do this for you but you can ask. So, depending on your flight details, you may want to decide on a hotel vs. an ARBNB.
- Want a pool or fitness center? I average walking 10,000-20,000 steps a day on vacation so I usually don’t need a fitness club.
- On-site status members’ club at a hotel important to you? As my business travel peak when I was making many trips all over the world, I had free access to the hotel clubs with free booze and food which was wonderful. I was very brand loyal in booking rooms just for this great perk. Marriott all the way!
- View necessary? I like a view, preferably water, and will pay extra for it. Hotels may be more likely to have great views.
- Accessibility to shops and cafes-is walking distance important? For longer terms stays, a grocery may be important to be close by. Remember, most groceries deliver now.
- Pet friendly? When we travel locally by car, we bring along the pooch.
- Kid friendly-I’ve rented places just for this feature if my grandkids will be with us so they are happily engaged playing while the adults relax.