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Florence, Tuscany, and Umbria have a varied and abundant number of hotels, B&Bs, agriturismi (farm stays), and rental properties. In both the cities and the country you can find very sophisticated, luxurious palaces and villas as well as rustic farmhouses and small hotels.
Throughout the region you'll find historic properties, such as 600-year-old palazzi and former monasteries, which have been restored as luxurious hotels while retaining their original mystique. On the other hand, modern Italian design has swept the world, and many boutique hotels in historic buildings have favored chic modern interior design. Increasingly, the famed Tuscan and Umbrian wineries are creating rooms and apartments for three-day to weeklong stays. Tuscan and Umbrian establishments are generally run with pride and are very clean. Although Italy has a star system for rating hotels, it is based on amenities provided and is not a definitive indication of an establishment's quality.
Most hotels and other lodgings require credit-card details before they will confirm your reservation. If you don't feel comfortable e-mailing this information, ask if you can fax it (some places even prefer faxes). However you book, get confirmation in writing and have a copy of it handy when you check in.
Be sure you understand the hotel's cancellation policy. Some places allow you to cancel without any kind of penalty—even if you prepaid to secure a discounted rate—if you cancel at least 24 hours in advance. Others require you to cancel a week in advance or penalize you the cost of one night. Small inns and B&Bs are most likely to require you to cancel far in advance.
Some hotels allow children under a certain age to stay in their parents' room at no extra charge, but others charge for them as extra adults; find out the cutoff age for discounts.
Assume that hotels operate on the European Plan (EP, no meals) unless we specify that they use the Breakfast Plan (BP, with full breakfast), Full American Plan (FAP, all meals), or Modified American Plan (MAP, breakfast and dinner).
Apartment and House Rentals
Italy gave birth to the Slow Food movement, and it appears to be at the start of the Slow Travel phenomenon also. More and more, travelers are turning away from the three-countries-in-two-weeks style of touring and choosing to spend a week in one city or a month in the countryside.
Often the most economical way to spend time in one place is to rent an apartment, a farmhouse, or a villa, even if you're traveling alone or with one other person.
These are readily available in Tuscany and Umbria. Most are owned by individuals and managed by rental agents who advertise available properties on the Internet. Many properties are represented by more than one rental agent and thus the same property is frequently renamed ("Chianti Bella Vista" and "Tuscan Sun Home" and "Casa Toscana Sole," are all names of the same farmhouse) on various online rental sites. The rental agent may meet you at the property for the initial check-in, or the owner may be present, with the rental agent only handling the online reservation and financial arrangements.
Things to inquire about when renting an apartment in a city or town include: the type of neighborhood (ask about street noise, safety, and general ambience), the availability of an elevator or the number of stairs you'll have to climb, the available furnishings (including pots and pans and linens), and the cost of utilities (included in the rental cost or not?). Inquiries about countryside properties should include all of that information plus an idea of how isolated the property is—do you have to drive for 45 minutes to reach the nearest town?
You can find cozy B&Bs in Florence, Perugia, Assisi, and Siena as well as in more rural areas. In towns and villages B&Bs tend to be personal, homey, simple, and clean. In the Tuscan countryside you can find private villas that offer B&B accommodations; many are very upscale.
Bed & Breakfast.com (512/322-2710 or 800/462-2632. www.bedandbreakfast.com.)
BnB Finder.com (888/469-6663. www.bnbfinder.com.)
Convents and Monasteries
Throughout Tuscany and Umbria tourists looking for lodging at a reasonable price seek out convents, monasteries, and religious houses. Religious orders usually charge €30-€60 per person per night for rooms that are clean, comfortable, and convenient. Most have private bathrooms; spacious lounge areas and secluded gardens or terraces are standard features. A continental breakfast ordinarily comes with the room. Sometimes, for an extra fee, family-style lunches and dinners are available.
Be aware of three issues when considering a convent or monastery stay: most have a curfew of 11 pm or midnight; you need to book in advance, because they fill up quickly; and your best means of booking is usually e-mail or fax—the person answering the phone may not speak English. For a list of convents in most cities in Tuscany and Umbria, go to www.hospites.it.
Religious Guest Houses in Florence
Casa Santo Nome di Gesù (Piazza del Carmine 21, Florence, 50124. 055/213856 or 055/281835. www.fmmfirenze.it.)
Istituto Gould/Foresteria Valdese di Firenze (Via dei Serragli 49, Florence, 50124. 055/212576 or 055/280274. email@example.com. www.istitutogould.it/foresteria.)
Istituto Oblate Dell'Assunzione (Borgo Pitti 15, Florence, 50121. 055/2480582 or 055/2346291. www.sanctuarybbfirenze.com.)
Religious Guest Houses in Assisi
Albergo Ancajani (Via Ancajani 16, Florence, 06081. 075/815128 or 075/815129. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.albergoassisi.it.)
St. Anthony Guest House (Via Galeazzo Alessi 10, Florence, 06081. 075/812542 or 075/813723. email@example.com.)
Farm Holidays and Agritourism
Rural accommodations in the agriturismo (agricultural tourism) category are increasingly popular with both Italians and visitors—you stay on a working farm or vineyard.
Accommodations vary in size and range from luxury apartments, farmhouses, and villas to very basic facilities. Agriturist has compiled Agriturismo, which is available only in Italian but includes more than 1,600 farms in Italy; pictures and the use of international symbols to describe facilities make the guide a good tool. Local APT tourist offices also have information.
Italy Tourist: Farm Holiday (www.italytourist.it.)
With a direct home exchange you stay in someone else's home while they stay in yours. Some outfits also deal with vacation homes, so you're not actually staying in someone's full-time residence, just their vacant weekend place.
Home Exchange.com. This agency charges $99.95 for a 1-year online listing. 800/877-8723. www.homeexchange.com.
HomeLink International. Web-only membership costs $115 per year; $175 includes Web access and two catalogs. 800/638-3841. www.homelink.org.
Hostels in Florence, Tuscany, and Umbria run the gamut from low-end hotels to beautiful villas. In Florence the campground and hostel near Piazzale Michelangelo has a better view of the city than any luxury hotel in town. Hostels in these two regions are not just for student travelers; they are good budget accommodations for couples and families.
Hostels In Italy
Hostelling International—USA (301/495-1240 national office; check online for phone number of office in your state. www.hiusa.org.)
Hostel World. Hostel World www.hostelworld.com.
Italian hotels are awarded stars (one to five) based on their facilities and services. Keep in mind, however, that these are general indications and that a charming three-star might make for a better stay than a more expensive four-star. In major cities room rates are on a par with other European capitals: five- and four-star rates can be downright extravagant. In those categories, ask for one of the better rooms, because the less desirable rooms—and there usually are some—don't give you what you're paying for. Even in some five- and four-star hotels, rooms may be very small by U.S. standards, and equally small bathrooms usually have showers rather than bathtubs. Hotels with three or more stars always have bathrooms in all rooms.
In all hotels a rate card inside the door of your room or inside the closet door tells you the maximum rate that can be legally charged for that particular room (rates in the same hotel may vary according to the location and type of room). On this card, breakfast and any other options must be listed separately. Any discrepancy between the basic room rate and that charged on your bill is cause for complaint to the manager and to the police.
High season in Italy, when rooms are at a premium, generally runs from Easter through the beginning of November, and then for two weeks at Christmas time. During low season and whenever a hotel isn't full, it's often possible to negotiate a discounted rate. Major cities have no official off-season as far as hotel rates go, but some hotels do offer substantial discounts during the slower parts of the year and on weekends. Always inquire about special rates. Major cities have hotel-reservation service booths in train stations. It's always a good idea to confirm your reservation, dates, and rate by fax or e-mail.
Although by law breakfast is supposed to be optional, most hotels quote room rates including breakfast. When you book a room, specifically ask whether the rate includes breakfast (colazione). You are under no obligation to take breakfast at your hotel, but in practice most hotels expect you to do so. The trick is to "offer" guests "complimentary" breakfast and have its cost built into the rate. However, it's encouraging to note that many of the hotels we recommend provide generous buffet breakfasts instead of simple, even skimpy, "continental" breakfasts. Remember, if the latter is the case, you can eat for less at the nearest coffee bar.
Hotels in the $$ and $ categories may charge extra for air-conditioning. In older hotels the quality of the rooms may be very uneven; if you don't like the room you're given, request another. This applies to noise, too. Front rooms may be larger or have a view, but they also may have a lot of street noise. If you're a light sleeper, request a quiet room when making reservations. Rooms in lodgings listed in this guide have a shower and/or bath, unless noted otherwise. (All hotels listed have private bath unless otherwise noted.) Remember to specify whether you care to have a bath or shower—not all rooms have both.
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