Sleeping, eating & transport: Enjoying Italy to its fullest
Published in the May 2010 issue, page 55. This article is viewable for non-subscribers.
by Philip Wagenaar (Second of two parts)
Last month I discussed Italian repasts and where to eat. This month I continue with phone advice and accommodation details.
Phone pointers — Since many more people now take a telephone on their trips, I would like to suggest the following: if your cell phone doesn’t work in Italy, buy a new SIM card at a mobile phone shop, which will give you an Italian number. The major networks are Telecom Italia (TIM), Vodafone and Wind.
To call, you still have to purchase a carta telefonica prepagata internazionale (prepaid international telephone card) at a tabacchi (tobacco shop), newsstand, Internet café, etc. Tell the salesperson you will be phoning the US (“per Stati Uniti”), although the card will be good for local calls as well.
Since not all cards work well, (the pay phone or the hotel may block the toll-free access number or the hotel may charge extra to access toll-free numbers), start out with a low-denomination card. Rick Steves states that he has had good luck with the Europa card.
When dialing Italy from the US, use 011 39 (39 is Italy’s country code) followed by the complete phone number (including the first zero). When dialing the US from Italy, dial 001 + the phone number.
Cash — The least expensive way to settle your debts is with cash, obtainable from a Bancomat (ATM). For safety, use one inside a bank. Note that ATMs may be open only at certain hours, which is indicated by the signs “Aperto” (“Open”) or “Chiuso” (“Closed”) on the Bancomat.
Paying with cash at hotels upon checkout often entails a substantial discount (reduzzione). Therefore, my question, “C’è reduzzione si pago in contanti” (“Is there a discount when I pay in cash?”), usually is answered with a, “Si, Signore” (“Yes, sir”).
Driving in Italy — Before departing, obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your local branch of the American Automobile Association (AAA) or download an application.
Foreign newspapers — These are commonly available at train stations and newspaper kiosks in tourist cities.
Holidays — Note that Ascension Day and Pentecost Monday are no longer holidays in Italy.
WHERE TO SLEEP
When you make reservations for any accommodation online, make sure that your browser is secured. (A protected browser has all the information encrypted and is more difficult for hackers to access than unsecured mail. Encryption is shown in two ways: the URL shows “https” instead of “http,” and at the bottom of the document you usually — but not always — find a closed golden padlock.)
If you can’t carry all lodging confirmations with you, send them to yourself by secure e-mail (such as Gmail) from which you can print them out at your destination.
While, in the past, many different names, such as locanda, albergo, pensione, etc., denoted the quality of a hotel, nowadays they all are considered hotels and are rated from one-star to five-star deluxe.
The majority of accommodations in Italy quote all-inclusive rates, which comprise taxes, service and heating or air-conditioning. Breakfast usually costs extra.
For a complete list of hotels and non-hotel accommodation in Italy, go to the Italian Government Tourist Board webpage. This site also provides complete contact information for all tourist offices.
B&Bs and guest houses
For information on B&Bs, contact Bed & Breakfast Italia (Palazzo Sforza Cesarini, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 282, 00186 Roma, Italia; phone +39 06 6878618, fax 6878619) or contact the local tourist office and ask for “un elenco di affittacamere” (“a list of people renting rooms”).
Day hotels (alberghi diurni), commonly found in the central areas of cities and near railway stations, usually are open from 6 a.m. to midnight. They offer all kinds of conveniences, such as showers, barbershops, hairdressers, dry cleaning, telephones, baggage checking, etc. Many also have travel agencies.
Villa and farmhouse rentals and agricultural stays
Villa and farmhouse rentals and agricultural stays are especially widespread in Toscana (Tuscany) and Umbria and are most easily booked through British tour operators. If you like to do your own Web search, go to Italy Farmhouses Rental and/or type “farmhouses in Italy” into your favorite search engine.
For agriturismo (agricultural stays), you can go to www.holidayfarm.net/en/welcome.htm, click on a province and book through the company Agriitalia. All other agriturismo sites I checked are in Italian only.
You can get camping information from the following two organizations.
The Touring Club Italiano (Corso Italia, 10, 20122 Milano, Italy; phone 02 85261, fax 02 8526362 or 8526347), which, in addition to mountain itineraries and excursion information, publishes details about 1,700 official campsites in the booklet “Campeggi in Italia” (“Campsites in Italy”). You also can examine this publication on the website www.campeggi.com.
The Federazione Italiana del Campeggio e del Caravanning, or Federcampeggio (Via Vittorio Emanuele 11, 50041 Calenzano [Florence], Italy; phone  882391 or fax  8825918), will send you requested camping information, or go to www.federcampeggio.it and click on “Benvenuti nel sito ufficiale della Confedercampeggiatori” and then on the British flag.
Federcampeggio also publishes the “Guida Camping d’Italia” (“Italian Camping Guide”).
Youth hostels in Italy are run by the Italian Youth Hostels Association, or AIG (Associazione Italiana Alberghi per la Gioventù, Via Cavour, 44, 00184, Rome, Italy; phone +39 06 4871152 or fax 06 4880492), which is affiliated with Hostelling International (2nd Floor, Gate House, Fretherne Road, Welwyn Garden City, Herts. AL8 6RD, England; phone +44 1707 324170, fax 1707 323980).
A membership card is required, which you obtain from the national hosteling association of your home country. There is no upper age limit for members. You can find a list of all Italian youth hostels on the above website.
For the US, contact Hostelling International-USA (8401 Colesville Rd., Ste. 600, Silver Spring, MD 20910; phone 301/495 1240 [press the No. 3 prompt], fax 301/ 495 6697). You also can send your application to one of the councils, hostels or authorized selling agents.
For Canada, contact Hostelling International-Canada (205 Catherine St., Ste. 400, Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 1C3, Canada; phone 800/663-5777, fax 613/2377868).
For student accommodation (also available to students visiting the country), go to www.study-in-italy.it and www.italiantourism.com/accomod2.html. You also can obtain the “Guide for Foreign Students,” from the Italian Ministry of Education (Viale Trastevere, 00153 Rome, Italy).
For a listing of religious institutions offering accommodations, contact the arcivescovado (archdiocese) of the Italian city concerned. For Rome, for instance, the address is “Arcivescovado di Roma, Roma, Italia.”
Club Alpino Italiano (Via E. Fonseca Pimentel 7, 20127 Milano, Italy; phone 02 26141378, fax 26141395) owns nearly 600 huts in the mountain districts and publishes a yearly book with a map and information for each.
The Touring Club Italiano (see address under ”Camping”) publishes several volumes giving detailed mountain itineraries, which include the huts.
Italy is a wonderful country to visit, and I hope that I’ve provided answers to some of the questions involved in planning a splendid Italian vacation.