For our recent trip to Italy, Gareth and I decided to make use of the popular accommodation site, Airbnb, for the first time. We wanted to live like the locals and experience another side of Italy, one where we bought our groceries at the nearby market, made use of public transportation and generally pretended to be Italians. Well, we found out that living like locals is pretty much like staying at home – you get to cook and clean just like you would as if you hadn’t travelled halfway around the globe. Personally, I’d rather be waited on hand and foot while on holiday, but I do think our accommodation was great value for money. We had fantastic hosts and no trouble at all with booking or staying at the homes we had picked and I would recommend anyone on a budget to consider the site as an option.
Our base for exploring the Umbrian countryside was a beautiful apartment within a picture-perfect farmhouse near the tiny town of Montegabbione. A winding dirt road led to the old stone house. The only sounds we heard were crickets chirping and the church bells of the nearby hilltop town pealing at dawn and at dusk. Pink roses, wild grass swaying in the breeze and a cuddle of curious kittens completed the idyllic scene. This was the Italy that I had been looking for.
Our hosts didn’t speak much English, but with a mixture of broken Italian, university French and a few Afrikaans words peppered in to spice things up, we managed to get along quite well. Because we didn’t have the chance to stop for groceries on the way from the airport, our landlady provided us with linguine, tomato sauce, a clove of garlic and a bottle of red wine to see us through the first evening. The resulting meal turned out to be one of the best we’d have during our three-week trip.
Our holiday apartment in Lucca was not quite as romantic. It was well-situated just a few minutes’ walk from the historic city centre and close to a large supermarket, but the three-storey building was uninspiring and could have been located anywhere in the world without looking out of place. The apartment itself was pretty modern, but unfortunately the owners’ taste in decor seemed to be stuck in the ’70s and although everything was comfortable and perfectly functionable, it just didn’t appeal to my idea of Italy. Combined with the extreme heat and the neighbours’ noisy children, we were glad to get out early everyday to go sightseeing, only returning much later at night.
Castion Veronese near Lake Garda
The moment we stepped into our weekend abode near Lake Garda, we fell in love. This was a house that we could easily see ourselves living in permanently. A beautiful kitchen and dining area, complete with fireplace, led onto an inviting yellow lounge – perfect for entertaining lots of friends. Upstairs, our large bedroom came with a walk-in closet and a pristine white bathroom. The house was situated on a church square. The clock tower bells rang the hour every 30 minutes, a sound I find incredibly soothing, even throughout the night and up until midnight. Our view was of the little town’s main street on the one side, and the countryside leading down to the lake on the other. It was perfect.
Again, our host was incredibly generous and made us the most delicious traditional breakfast every morning and when it was time to leave, drew a map of Verona that guided us to that extraordinary city’s most interesting sights within the limited time we had available.
Mestre near Venice
I would have loved to stay within Venice itself, but that was not to be. Instead, we stayed in Mestre, a mainland suburb of that iconic city, in a beautiful apartment only 20 minutes’ walk from the train station. This apartment was nicer than some hotels I’ve been in. We had a large balcony to ourselves, an elegant bathroom and someone came in every two days to change the towels and sheets! Our host left a welcome pack that included detailed maps of Venice (on foot and by boat) and lots of handy hints and tips on how to save money and see the best sights. Our favourite tip however, was of the pizzeria not 5 minutes’ walk away that served a wide variety of pizzas, including one topped with french fries to my delight.
Trastevere in Rome
The flat we stayed in in Rome was arguably our least favourite. It was a studio apartment, and although there was nothing wrong with its size or the amenities, it was just not quite as nice as the other places we stayed at. It had the perfect location for what we wanted to do in Rome – all the major sights were only 20 minute’s walk away and there was a supermarket close by. However its most redeeming feature, the location, was also its most condemning. Trastevere is known for its nightlife, and there was a restaurant and a bar right underneath our bedroom window. Suffice it to say we didn’t sleep much while in Rome, even with earplugs in the noise kept us up till the small hours of the morning. Only on the night that Italy fell out of the football world cup did we have any peace and quiet.
What do you think of our accommodation in Italy? Would you prefer to live like locals, or are hotels still the way to go for you?
For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.