by Italy experts, The Telegraph, January 22, 2018
Italy summer booking guide
How to book the best Italian villa or self-catering holiday, including advice on trips to Tuscany, Umbria, the Marche, Puglia, Sicily, and Sardinia; plus our favourite villas, farmhouses and apartments, and the best tour operators. By Telegraph Travel's Italy experts.
Occasionally an Italian “villa” may be just that: a luxurious country retreat fit for a Medici. More usually, it is a converted farmhouse, a modern coastal property, an apartment in a larger rural complex (often with a shared pool), or an agriturismo (an apartment or small house on a farm or estate).
You’ll pay a premium for such accommodation in much of Tuscany and Umbria (see below), because these are the regions with the idyllic, and often larger, properties, the historic towns, the pretty villages, the restaurants, and the glorious countryside that most villa holiday makers seek.
In Tuscany, Chianti might seem the obvious choice (see “The Regions”), but if you are going to pay a Tuscan premium, head to the area around Montalcino or Pienza, which has finer landscapes, is easier to get around and has more charming small towns.
Prices in Le Marche, a central Italian alternative, might be up to 25 per cent lower for similar properties, but the region has fewer historic towns and often less captivating scenery than its rivals.
Where are other options? Even better value can be found in the south, in Puglia, Calabria and Basilicata, but beware the hype, because the countryside here can be lacklustre, the coast overbuilt, and the towns modern and workaday. The heat can be overwhelming, too: summer temperatures have been known to touch 113F (45C).
In the north, there are the Piedmont hills, cheaper than the Lakes to the east. South-east of Naples, the Cilento region is less expensive than the nearby Amalfi Coast. There are also the Sabine Hills near Rome, which have something of Umbria’s pastoral landscapes but none of its townscapes.
Sicily is becoming more popular, but again, beware debilitating summer heat and avoid the rising prices around Taormina by looking at Cefalù, the Egadi and Aeolian Islands and the scenic Monti Iblei in the southeast around Noto and Ragusa.
Alternatively, look to the Mugello region and Pratomagno, north and east of Florence, both similar to Chianti, but cheaper; ditto the Garfagnana, north of Lucca, and the coastal Maremma region in the south (though prices here are creeping up). The Lunigiana in the extreme north and around Monte Amiata in the south are cheapest of all, but lack towns and countryside of real charm.
When it comes to booking a property, the big question is whether to go directly with the owner or through an agent. Using a reputable operator avoids the possibility of online scams and often means you have support before and during your trip, and redress after it if anything goes wrong. In any case, agents will have snapped up most of the best properties in all prices ranges, especially in Tuscany.
Pricing across the country is sensitive to season, especially between June and August, when moving your holiday even a week can make a huge difference. Off-season flights and car hire should also cost less.
Yet weather and the Italian countryside can be at their best in May and June – actually better than August, which can be sultry and thundery. Average maximum temperatures in Siena, for example, are 73F (23C) and 80F (27C) in May and June, and (88F) 31C in July and August. (Tim Jepson)
Villa rentals, booking agents and tour operators
Housetrip (housetrip.com) is an online resource for direct villa rentals with booking safeguards.
Ilios Travel (01444 225633; iliostravel.com) has offered luxury and other villas on the islands and central Italy for over 30 years.
Real Holidays (020 7359 3938; realholidays.co.uk) sources traditional and chic contemporary villas and apartments (and hotels) across central and southern Italy.
Wimco (0870 850 1144; wimco.com) specialises in Tuscany, Umbria and the Amalfi Coast, and offers villas in many other Italian regions.
Tuscany & Umbria
Bridgewater’s Italy (0161 787 8587; bridgewatertravel.co.uk) is a family-run specialist for villas across Tuscany; it also has some options in Umbria, the Amalfi Coast, the islands and Lakes.
Dominique's Villas (020 3265 1052; dominiquesvillas.co.uk) has a small selection of desirable Tuscan villas with private pools.
Invitation to Tuscany (020 8444 9500; invitationtotuscany.com) has over 200 villas, vetted and finessed over 30 years.
Sun-Hat (01522 889450; sun-hat-villas.com) offers a small selection of mid- and top-end villas in Chianti, the Maremma and close to Florence.
To Tuscany (0121 286 7782; to-tuscany.com) stands out by virtue of an excellent website, with floor plans, detailed information and images across a wide range of villas.
Traditional Tuscany (01945 430055; traditionaltuscany.co.uk) is run by a husband-and-wife team who inspect every property. The focus is on Tuscany, but there are also properties in Umbria, Lazio and Le Marche.
Other regional specialists
Long Travel (01694 722193; long-travel.co.uk) has specialised in southern Italy for over 25 years; it offers a wide range of villas and other self-catering options.
The Thinking Traveller (020 7377 8518; thethinkingtraveller.com/thinksicily) has many quality villas across Sicily; also lots of enticing properties in Puglia.
Other island specialists include:
Freelance Holidays (01789 297705; freelance-holidays.co.uk)
Just Sardinia (01202 484858; justsardinia.co.uk)
Sardinian Places (0845 330 2049; sardinianplaces.co.uk)
Solo Sicily (020 7097 1413; solosicily.com)
Venice Prestige (020 3356 9667; veniceprestige.com) has everything from studios to palazzo and Grand Canal properties.
CV Villas (020 7563 7999; cvvillas.com) focuses primarily on Tuscany and Umbria, but also has properties in Campania and the Amalfi Coast, Lazio, Puglia and the islands.
Other luxury specialists include:
Abercrombie & Kent (0845 618 2205; akvillas.com )
Red Savannah (01242 787800; redsavannah.com )
Simpson Exclusive (020 3582 3596; simpsonexclusive.com )
SJ Villas (020 7351 3596; sjvillas.co.uk )
Tuscany Now & More (020 7684 8884; tuscanynowandmore.com )