There is no better way to experience a destination than to “live” there and to share a lifestyle, instead of being simple visitors. However, there are many aspects of living here which our guests are often unprepared to face. Here is a list of the most common aspects to be aware of when renting a holiday home in Tuscany and, in most cases, Italy in general.
Which is the best period for a countryside holiday?
In Tuscany, the months of July and August are generally hot (with peaks over 35°C) and sultry. In rural areas, the heat is mitigated compared to the cities but, on the other hand, annoying insects are much more numerous here (unbearable for someone).
Mid-seasons are usually the ideal time to enjoy the countryside, but several rainy days may occur. Also, if you are not used to living in old stone houses, you may find them cold, and the heating systems insufficient for your standard and quite expensive.
Probably a fair compromise between climate, use of heating and presence of insects can be found from late April to mid-June, and from mid-September to late October.
From November to March the days are short, even if often sunny and the temperature rarely drops below zero. However, in the winter, country houses are cold and difficult to heat.
We think that the Tuscan countryside is a great place to live, however, if you are not used to country life, keep in mind that farming is the way of life here and it does run on a different clock. Roosters start crowing well before sunrise and, especially in the summer months, farmers are active with tractors and lawn mowers very early in the morning, since they want to avoid the mid-day heat.
Tuscany is a region rich in wildlife (wild boars, roe deer, hares, pheasants, foxes etc.) and hunting is widespread. The hunting season lasts about 4 months, generally from the end of September to the end of January: during this period hunting is allowed for 5 days a week, with the exception of Tuesday and Friday; therefore, hiking in the countryside and in the woods is recommended only during these "safe" days.
Not only mosquitoes...
Do you think that insect-free countryside would be an idyllic place? You couldn't be more wrong: it would be a lifeless, silent and dull environment, poisoned by pesticides.
Some insects, such as bees, are essential to our survival; others are beautiful, like butterflies and fireflies, while crickets and cicadas are the soundtrack of our summers. But there are also mosquitoes and horseflies, particularly annoying in the hottest summer periods; we have several ways to protect ourselves, however it is normal to suffer a few bites. Before choosing the Italian countryside as a destination for your summer holidays, think carefully if you are ready to live with insects, as well as with all the animals that are part of this environment.
Here is some useful information to get you prepared.
In recent summers we have been experiencing unusual heat waves which, in the countryside, may bring annoying horseflies with them: in these days, stifling heat and pesky insects can make it unpleasant to stay outdoors. If you are planning a countryside vacation during the summer, please be aware of this possible occurrence.
Here at Il Colombaio, all the windows are protected with screens and we have also placed screens in the pool area; however, when you stay outdoors, we recommend you use skin repellents, mosquito coils and clothes to cover yourself (long sleeved shirts, long pants, socks); wear white or light-colored clothes. If you are bitten by a horsefly or stung by a wasp, you should immediately apply ice and/or an ammonia-based roll-on (e.g. “After bite”) then, according to your level of sensitivity, you may need to use an antihistamine or cortisone cream, and also to take oral antihistamines.
In the warmer months, very small mites are also active and they may creep into your clothes (for example if you leave them outside, if you sit on the grass or under a tree) causing itchy wheals with their bites. Since these tiny bugs are hard to spot, a way to defend yourself is to pre-treat your clothes, including undergarments and pajamas, with permethrin (if you stay in Italy during the summer this precaution is definitely useful). However, if you have been affected by these mites, you should immediately change and wash your clothes, and resort to antihistamines to relieve itching.
Don't be surprised if you happen to see little miniature scorpions, sometimes inside home: they are fairly common in Italy and no more dangerous than a bee.
Italian wildlife also includes snakes and most of them are harmless. Italy’s only poisonous snake is the viper, but it is very unlikely to be bitten if you take some easy precautions: wear hiking shoes or boots, socks and long trousers when walking through undergrowth or tall grass, and don’t put your hands into holes and crevices.
As it happens in most of the Italian rural areas, here at Il Colombaio the Internet connection may be slower than expected and, especially in the event of thunderstorms, temporary interruptions may occur.
Our pool is shared by the guests of the property and is for private use only: visitors/outsiders are not allowed. It is salt-water and open from the beginning of May to the end of September.
Italians are very energy conscious. The conservation ethic is deeply ingrained and everyone is urged to assist; this can be done by turning off lights when you leave the house for the day, and ensuring that lights are off in unused rooms during the evening hours. All your efforts to avoid waste will be appreciated!
As a consequence of the attention to energy consumption, and in order to avoid misuse, it is common practice in Italian holiday homes to charge for some utilities separately, based on usage. Here at Il Colombaio, our energy policy concerns air conditioning and heating: as these services are just occasionally needed and their use varies with lifestyles and personal tastes, they are included in the rental price up to an average consumption of 2 units per day. Over this amount they are charged as extra, according to meter readings taken upon guest arrival and departure and based on the current energy cost per unit. The meters are located inside each apartment so our guests can check and manage their consumption at any time.
Please be also aware that water is a very precious commodity in Italy, especially during the dry summer season. We are all urged to practice water conservation.
Air conditioning is quite uncommon in Italian houses, especially in the old buildings, as the thickness of the stone walls, tile floors and wooden shutters to keep out the midday sun, helps to keep homes remarkably cool naturally. On summer nights, Italians keep their windows open and prefer to sleep with the natural freshness of the night breeze. If you plan your holiday for April, May, June or September consider that the weather is pretty mild in these months, and chances are you will use A/C just occasionally during July and August, and only in the hottest hours of the day.
Italian law regulates heating usage in order to control national energy consumption (e.g. in public buildings the temperature must not exceed 20°C) and in our area heating is scheduled between October 15 and April 15. Here at Il Colombaio, each apartment is provided with independent heating, this means you may use it when you want, however, consider that the pleasant coolness of the thick stone walls and terracotta floors is a blessing in the summer, but when the temperature drops ... our old houses are cold! And it is difficult (and expensive, given the cost of energy in Italy) to make them as warm as a modern or a well-insulated house. Italians who live in these old buildings are used to dealing with the cold months dressing warmly when at home, but we cannot expect guests to adapt to our habits: for this reason, at Il Colombaio we chose not to rent our cottages in the winter.
Cold spells may occur even during spring and autumn so, if you have planned your holiday in these seasons, we recommend you come prepared with warm clothes, to wear inside as well as outside, and don’t forget warm socks and slippers. This will also help you control any heating expenses.
Finally, always check the forecast before planning your activities - the weather is often changeable in spring and autumn.
Dryers are rare in Italian country houses, and rarely used: we take advantage of the sun and hang our laundry outside. For this reason we usually do the laundry in the sunny days and every house is provided with outside lines and/or collapsible drying racks.
Coin-operated laundromats have recently become very popular in Italy and can be found also in small towns and villages. They have both washers and dryers and are open every day, including Sundays. In Cavriglia there is a laundromat (“lavanderia self-service”) in the main square, the address is Piazza Berlinguer 8; it is open from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm and the cost is 4,50 Euro washing, including soap, and 4,00 Euro drying. Both washing and drying takes about 30 minutes.
As in many others parts of Italy, there is no direct house garbage collection in Cavriglia. Everyone brings their own garbage to the main containers that are located on all major streets. Usually there are four different kinds of containers: one for organic waste, one for paper, one for glass, plastic and metal, and one for non-recyclable garbage.
Shopping hours are usually 8:30 am to 12:30 pm and 4:30 pm until 7:30 pm, Monday through Saturday. Food shops are frequently closed on Wednesday afternoons. Department stores may stay open all day and until 9:00 pm.
Open-air markets are very popular in Italy, they are lots of fun and offer clothing, leather goods, and household items in addition to food products. These markets usually close by 1:00 pm. Here is a schedule of the largest outdoor markets in our area:
Tuesday: Figline Valdarno
Friday: Terranuova Bracciolini
Saturday: San Giovanni Valdarno
Whichever way you decide to spend your holiday here, keep an open mind. Of course not everything will work like it does at home, and you may have to make some adjustments. However, experiencing life in another culture is one of the most rewarding aspects of travel.
We want your holiday to be enjoyable and we encourage you to ask questions so that you know what to expect when you will arrive here, and can be ready for what life in Tuscany is really like.