April 8, 2012, 06:11 PM
Long Term Recommendations for Tuscany
My wife, I, and 2 young children (4 yrs. and 1 yr) are in the initial stages of planning a long term (3 to 6 months) trip to Italy. We are really interested in learning and living the laid back Italian lifestyle and based on what I've read thus far, Tuscany seems like the best place to do it.
It's recommended to stay/rent away from the main touristy areas such as Florence so my main question is what are the recommended areas/cities where we should look to rent?
Overall, I think we're looking to find a cost effective place with easy/walking access to a city center where we can enjoy the social scene, markets, etc... really just be engrossed in the social Italian lifestyle.
We do plan on traveling around Italy throughout our stay so transportation is also important. I'm not sure about long term car rentals and whether it would be more cost effective than sticking with public transportation.
Any resources you can provide for long term rentals would be very much appreciated.
P.S. If you need more information to make recommendations, I'd be more than happy to provide it.
April 17, 2012, 03:50 PM
Smaller towns along train lines would be ideal for longer period in Tuscany
Wow, a long term trip to Italy sounds wonderful!! Italy is definitely pretty laid back although it requires a little bit of mental adjustment to how slow life can move here (depends, of course, on your own experience up to now ).
As far as location, a town outside of Florence will definitely offer longer term rentals at a better rental rate than what is available in the city where lots of tourists drive prices up. Your best bet would be to contact an agency that offers these types of longer term rentals for visitors (normal real estate works different for locals). I'd recommend you take a look at Pitcher and Flaccomio as well as Merry Go Round - both offer rentals for longer periods outside of Florence across Tuscany.
You should look at smaller towns that are along the train routes - either the one between Florence and Pisa or the line between Florence and Lucca. Some possibilities include Montecatini Terme, Pistoia, Lucca, Pisa, Empoli, Lastra a Signa, Montelupo Fiorentino.
Towns along the Empoli-Siena train line are also a good option and include: Castelfiorentino, Certaldo and Poggibonsi. While some of these are off the tourist path, they'll definitely provide a more local feel while providing the easy acces to the train system to move around.
Try to stay within the center of these towns so that you can do your grocery shopping there, being able to go out for some meals and to the local playground without the need for a car will really put you into the local way of life. You want to immerse yourself in the neighborhood, not be in the countryside isolated from others (unless you are in a condo with neighbors). Since you likely won't need a car on a day to day basis, you can just budget train travel for the family into the trips you plan to take around Italy. When buying train tickets, always ask at the local train station about ticket for your children - given their age, under 4 years of age children travel for free without a reserved seat so if one child is already 4 he/she might have to pay 50% of a normal ticket.
You can always budget in a car rental for a few days for a particular trip - depends on where you're off to. If you want to roam the Tuscan countryside for a day or two, a car will generally come in handy since many small medieval towns are not near train station stops. You can use a general search service like the one here: Car rentals in Tuscany - to search across various companies and see whether a 1 day rental might be ok for those days where the train can't get you there. Most of the major destinations in Italy - Rome, Venice, Milan, Cinque Terre - are definitely better to do with train travel since you'll arrive right into the center of town and you don't have to worry about driving in traffic or parking once you get there.
What time of the year are you planning to travel? June through August is generally high season, and do tend to be warmer. Make sure to check out our general weather in Tuscany article to give you an idea - if you can choose - of when would be the best time to visit. Many places in the low season can be pretty quiet while others are fine year-round.
Feel free to ask any other questions or post again if I forgot to answer something!! Hope you are having fun planning such a long, relaxing trip to Italy
April 18, 2012, 04:03 PM
Re: Smaller towns along train lines would be ideal for longer period in Tuscany
I really do appreciate your taking the time to respond and thank you for the resources.
Since I started this thread I've been looking at rental prices within Florence and it seems like we can find an apartment within our price range so we're still considering staying within the city.
Our time-frame for our move is between January to June of next year, 2013.
Maybe you can provide some insight into a few questions I have.
1. One hesitation I have with regards to living outside of a larger touristy city such as Florence is the language barrier. We are studying Italian and plan on knowing enough to hopefully get by with the basics. Could the lack of language be a problem in the smaller towns where I assume fewer locals understand or speak English?
2. If we do decide to stay within Florence, can you recommend any specific areas to look at? Some considerations for choosing a location are... proximity to train/transportation, play area(s) for kids, daily markets, restaurants, access to center of city.
Thank you again for your generosity.
April 19, 2012, 10:00 AM
Italian in smaller towns and neighborhoods in Florence
You're very welcome, Tom! Good to know you can also consider Florence, in Tuscany it is a great place to live - as well as Siena. Being the two biggest towns, they make it easiest to then use the public transportation system to get around.
About the language barrier - good for you for styudying Italian! Actually, I think the smaller towns might be better for learning the language and for being welcoming to you and helping you get along. Florence is also great, but as soon as anyone that knows some English understands you're not Italian, they will try to practice their English with you! So you'll have to insist you want to keep trying out your Italian to keep learning it.
If you decide for Florence, the city itself is not large and you'll definitely want to stay in the neighborhoods close to the center but not within (unless you want to live in the center). You'll want to search in areas around the stadium which is known as Campo di Marte, in what is called Le Cure, Coverciano, Novoli, Isolotto. All these are residential and have good bus connections to the SMN train station, all have local supermarkets and small markets nearby, restaurants and playgrounds. The two agencies I had mentioned above also have rentals in Florence, so do contact them to get general advice and recommendations for both Florence and Tuscany. They'll certainly be able to tell you for each specific rental how close everything is!