Ah, la dolce vita! When my family went to Florence recently, we enjoyed the sweet life in our home away from home—an apartment in a 16th century palazzo just steps from the Arno River that runs through the heart of the city. Unlike most travelers to Europe, we seldom stay in hotels. Instead, we look for the accommodation best suited to our needs and the way we like to travel.
With the euro currently so strong against the dollar, finding a clean, safe place to stay in Europe that doesn’t require a second mortgage is more challenging these days. This is particularly true in major cities where everyone wants to stay near the major attractions. Fortunately, vacationers have thousands of affordable accommodations to choose from if they look beyond traditional hotel rooms and consider renting an apartment.
This was our third apartment stay while in Europe, and by far it was the most grand. Furnished apartments and houses are available through companies and from private individuals. All are readily available on the Internet. Photos are posted to help with the selection process. Some companies, such as www.TheParkerCompany.com, specialize in one country—Italy, for instance. Others have listings in many countries, such as www.RentVillas.com,the company we used for the apartment rental in Florence.
Our apartment in Florence was even lovelier in reality than the pictures on the web site led us to expect. Each room of the original palazzo had been converted into an entire apartment with a main floor and loft. An enormous living and dining room and compact kitchen comprised the main floor. The living room sofa converted into a comfortable bed for our teenage daughter.
Seating for six surrounded the dining room table. While streamlined, the kitchen certainly provided all that we needed and boasted a marble countertop for a touch of luxury. Upstairs, we found the loft bedroom, a large walk-in closet and elegant bathroom, graced with yet more marble. We enjoyed all this space and grandeur for the same price as a moderate hotel room.
European hotel rooms are typically small, and the bathrooms are even smaller by North American standards. After living in cramped quarters for several days, even the most amiable family can begin to fray around the edges, especially if there are any bad weather days. Apartments are much roomier, providing vital personal space for everyone. Some apartments even have washers and dryers so we can bring less clothing with us and launder as needed. With more stringent baggage restrictions on flights, this is a real plus.
Whenever we are staying in an area for a week or more, we definitely prefer to rent an apartment rather than staying in a hotel. By staying in an apartment, we can shop in local markets and buy what is unique to the region. I enjoy going out in the morning to the neighborhood bakery to buy hot, fresh rolls or pastries. Add some cheese from the shop next door and some fruit from the tiny stall on the corner, and we greet the day in European style. Now that’s a Continental breakfast!
Are there any disadvantages to staying in rentals? The length of stay and the timing of check in and check out will be less flexible. Apartments are only suitable for stays in one-week increments. Some even require a minimum stay of two weeks. Many require the week to begin and end on a specific day and arrival and departure to take place during a narrow window of time. Private individuals renting a property tend to have less red tape, but there is no quality control. A renter also has less accountability if the apartment does not live up to its description than someone staying in a hotel.
If the apartment is not clean or the hot water doesn’t work, no desk clerk is on call 24 hours a day to fix things. The local contact for an apartment rental may well have a full time job and not be available to help if problems arise. If a hotel room is unsatisfactory, there is generally no obligation to remain—simply check out. If a rental doesn’t measure up, there may be no recourse and no refund.
One of the chief benefits of travel is seeing life through the eyes of those who live in other cities and countries. Staying in a hotel gets in the way of that goal. Living among local people in an apartment building allows my family to see and meet the people as well as the sights. Our travel experience is richer, even though we spend less money for accommodations. It’s a win-win proposition. Life is truly sweet when you slip into the rhythm of your adopted city, even if only for a few days.