Italy ceased to be the country of the cheap pensione a long time ago. In fact it takes some searching these days to find a hotel room with a shared bathroom.
Hotels are rated by regional boards on a system of one to five stars. Prices aren't directly tied to the star system, but for the most part, the more stars a hotel has, the more expensive it'll be -- but a four-star in a small town may be cheaper than a two-star in Florence. The number of stars awarded a hotel is based strictly on the amenities offered -- not how clean, comfortable, or friendly a place is.
A few of the four- and five-star hotels have their own private garages, but most city inns have an agreement with a local garage. In many small towns, a garage is unnecessary because public parking, both free and pay, is widely available and never too far from your hotel. Parking costs and procedures are indicated under each hotel, and the rates quoted are per day (overnight). The provision of smoke-free rooms is a legal requirement.
The high season throughout most of Tuscany and Umbria runs from Easter to early September or October -- peaking June through August -- and from December 24 to January 6. One major exception to this is Florence -- and to a lesser degree, Pisa -- where August is low season for hotels. You can almost always bargain for a cheaper rate if you're traveling in the shoulder season (early spring and late fall) or winter off-season (not including Christmas). In rural Tuscany, it's common to find a hotel closes for all or part of the off season (November through February or March). Even in cities, family-run hotels or guesthouses tend to close for a month. In hotel reviews, we usually quote a range of prices. If there is one figure only, that represents the maximum. Prices vary so wildly these days depending entirely on availability, that sometimes the only dependable figure is the highest the hotel is allowed to charge. The moral of the story: If it seems like availability is high, you should be getting a discount.
If your hotel quotes the price for breakfast separately from the room, be aware that you can almost certainly get the same breakfast, perhaps even better, for a few euros at the bar down the block. Most, however, quote an inclusive B&B price these days.
Hotel Price Categories: Florence, Tuscany & Umbria
Very Expensive 300€ and up
Inexpensive Under 100€
Agriturismo (Staying on a Farm)
Tuscany and Umbria are at the forefront of the agriturismo movement in Italy, whereby a working farm or agricultural estate makes available accommodations for visitors who want to stay out in the countryside. The supply of such places has exploded perhaps even more quickly than demand. The rural atmosphere is ensured by the fact that an operation can call itself "agriturismo" only if (a) it offers fewer than 30 beds total and (b) the agricultural component of the property brings in a larger economic share of profits than the hospitality part -- in other words, the property has to remain a farm and not become just a rural hotel. That's why you'll almost always be offered homemade sausages, home-pressed olive oil, home-produced wine, and so on.
Agriturismi can be a crapshoot. The types of accommodations can vary dramatically. Most, though, are mini-apartments, usually rented out with a minimum stay of 3 days, or even a week in high season. Sometimes you're invited to eat big country dinners at the table with the family; other times you cook for yourself. Rates can vary from 60€ for two per day to 250€ and beyond -- as much as a board-rated four-star hotel in town. We've reviewed a few really choice ones throughout this guide, but there are hundreds more.
Top 6 Agriturismi Websites
- Tuscany Tourism (www.turismo.intoscana.it) Probably the most comprehensive resource in English, with databases of hundreds of farmstays, searchable both by text or by clickable map down to the locality level, with info about each property, a photo or two, and a direct link to each agriturismo's own website.
- Agriturist (www.agriturist.it) Easiest site to navigate, since you click on a region (Tuscany or Umbria) on the map or text list, and the next page gives you the option of continuing in English.
- Italy Farm Holidays (www.italyfarmholidays.com) U.S.-based agency representing many of the more upscale agriturismo properties in Tuscany and Umbria.
- Terranostra (www.terranostra.it) Features handy maps and 400 choices in Tuscany and 69 in Umbria (in Italian, but understandable enough).
- Turismo Verde (www.turismoverde.it) Italian only -- click on "Scegli il tuo Agriturismo" for a high-quality selection.
- Untours (www.untours.com) For apartment, farmhouse, or cottage stays of 2 weeks or more, this site provides exceptional vacation rentals for a reasonable price.
Each summer, thousands of visitors become temporary Tuscans by renting an old farmhouse or "villa," a marketing term used to inspire romantic images of manicured gardens, a Renaissance mansion, and glasses of chianti, but in reality guaranteeing no more than four walls and most of a roof.
Actually, finding your countryside Eden isn't that simple, and if you want to ensure a romantic and memorable experience, brace yourself for a lot of research and legwork. Occasionally you can go through the property owners themselves, but the vast majority of villas are rented out via agencies.
Root around on travel forums (like the one at Frommers.com), search sites like Tripadvisor (though take the opinions posted there with a pinch of salt!), Google for reviews and photos, and find out exactly where the property is (check it out on Google Maps before you go).
Top 10 Rental Agencies
- Cottages to Castles (www.cottagestocastles.com): U.K.-based agency specializing in luxury rentals.
- Holidaylettings.co.uk (www.holidaylettings.co.uk): One of the best U.K.-based agencies for Tuscan rentals.
- Homeabroad.com (www.homeabroad.com): Handles hundreds of rather upscale properties.
- HomeAway Vacation Rentals (www.HomeAway.com): Global agency with an excellent Italian selection.
- Homelidays (www.homelidays.com): European specialist.
- Insider's Italy (www.insidersitaly.com): Small, upscale outfit run by a very personable agent who's thoroughly familiar with all of her properties and with Italy in general.
- Owners Direct (www.ownersdirect.co.uk): Huge worldwide selection and extensive coverage in Tuscany and Umbria.
- Rentvillas.com (www.rentvillas.com): California-based agency with loads of experiences tracking down the best villas.
- To Tuscany Villas (www.to-tuscany.com): Tuscany specialists.
- Tuscany Vacation Rentals (www.tuscanyholidayrent.com): Tuscan rentals for all budgets.
Sustainable and eco-friendly travel is possible in Tuscany and Umbria, with companies such as Responsiblevacation.com (www.responsiblevacation.com) offering a range of tour options (walking holidays, for example), and a list of organic farmstays in Umbria and Tuscany.
For a more adventurous type of vacation, Tourdust (www.tourdust.com) uses local businesses in Tuscany to combine accommodation and activities in one trip (from cooking to ballooning). If you crave peace and tranquility, Monastery Stays (www.monasterystays.com) specializes in accommodations in monasteries and convents all over Tuscany and Umbria, including Florence and Assisi.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.