If you’re American like me, the idea of a two-week vacation more than once per year is unthinkable. Perhaps after working for 10+ years at the same company, you might have enough to take a few weeks off of work.
But Europeans? They’re quite used to their 28+ days of paid vacation per year thankyouverymuch.. which means they have nearly six weeks to travel. Lucky blokes. Score: one for living in Europe, zero for living in America.
Here’s the real kicker that STILL boggles my American mind after three years here… Bosses don’t gripe when vacation time is requested. It’s expected that those with families will be absent from work for weeks at a time, several times per year. Even in their absence, the work gets done, or customers and colleagues simply wait until the employee returns.
(Another piece of evidence that supports the “customer comes last” mentality here – but that’s another post for another day.)
Though we’ve taken a few vacations in the 2-3 week range (to the US, Korea), these were not trips without an agenda. Usually, one or more of us has had meetings to attend, friends to visit, errands to run, etc. I’m not claiming for a single second that these obligations weren’t welcome or for good reason. But just once, I wanted to try out the European habit of lounging around the villa pool all day.
Honestly, don’t we all?
I’m happy to report that we did, indeed, do our best to practice deliberate laziness at two separate villas. We spent the first week at a property outside Lucignano (Casal Gheriglio) and the second near Pistoia (Alice del Lago Country House).
If you’d like to read in-depth reviews of both properties, you can find them on TripAdvisor here and here. Just look for the shoes! I’ll try to post my reviews on TA going forward, but I’ll always add a link for you here as well.
Of the two, we loved Casal Gheriglio the most. Perhaps it will always have a special place in our memories because Big Foot celebrated his first birthday there, and T-Rex and I learned to make delicious, authentic Tuscan fare in the large villa kitchen.
Contrary to my picture-perfect vision, even our relaxing moments ended up characterized by doing rather than simply being. I wouldn’t necessarily consider this negative, especially since reality with little boys means that we parents are (almost) always on the move. But we definitely have a ways to go in learning how to holiday like a proper European (more on that below).
At the villa, Doc Sci and I gobbled up several books in the shade while the boys amused themselves in the outdoor shower. T-Rex honed his cannonball skills in the pool, and Screech conquered his water anxiety. We savored as many meals al fresco as our mosquito-pecked legs could handle. We napped, we tanned, we nibbled cookies and sipped coffee.
But try as we might, our efforts to waste away the day poolside paled in comparison to the Belgian family next door. Each morning, we noticed that they moved only from the apartment to the pool, sometimes stopping to eat a bite at the outdoor table. The rest of the time, the parents remained on their laurels with a beer and a book open. all. day. long. The girls (aged 9 and 11) occasionally went for a dip in the water before returning to their own books or beds for a nap.
Perhaps I’m just not cut out for this full-on European “holiday” thing. After forty eight hours, I couldn’t contain the urge to get out and explore. Not that these lazy days are bad… In fact, I think building rest time into any vacation is a key component to keeping kids happy during the more itinerary-intensive periods (and giving parents a break).
After all, that’s our family travel style – balanced.
Before I wrap up, here are two more tidbits I’d like to talk about briefly just in case you fancy your own Italian villa vacation…
First, price. I’m all about having the best experience for the least amount of cash. I search high and low for affordable quality vacation rentals. I’ll be frank. These villas were NOT cheap. They exceeded my target price per night by more than I care to think about. But, in comparison to the other properties available (and there are MANY as a simple Google search will reveal), we did quite well for two-bedroom units at the height of summer travel season.
If you want to visit Tuscany on a budget, don’t do it in August. May and September are more reasonably priced (and not as hot). If you have a car, look for properties that are outside the main attractions (Siena, Firenze, San Gimignano). You won’t want to drive in the cities themselves anyway, and the countryside is quieter and more scenic.
Second, ask yourself… Is a villa is the right type of Italian accommodation for my situation? Only you can answer that, but one primary issue to consider is transportation.
If you’re hoping to stay within walking distance of a certain city or attraction, know that most villas are located in the country. If you don’t have a car, getting to and from the property could be problematic. Buses in Italy rarely abide by a schedule (and may not even have one). Roads often do not have sidewalks and can give you a real work out with their steep inclines.
Also, if you don’t plan on cooking many meals or doing laundry, you may not need all the facilities that a villa offers (full kitchen and washing machine). In this case, try a bed and breakfast or budget hotel instead.
Many thanks to Claudia at Casal Gheriglio and Roberta at Alice del Lago for making our first real European holiday one that we will treasure for years to come.
This post is part of Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in Italy series. Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!