There’s something very special about villa holidays in Italy. Partly it’s the lifestyle. Visit any town on a warm summer evening and you’ll get swept along by the bustling, stylish pavement life – couples walking and laughing, diners putting away the pasta at outdoor tables, children playing, others just chatting over a drink.
Then there’s the landscape. Tuscany and nearby Umbria are the best known, but almost anywhere in Italy you will find a hilly, sun-drenched landscape farmed much as it has been for generations with vines, olives, small fields and poplar trees. Towns and villages seem to grow out of this landscape, and many of the properties available to let are old, tastefully renovated rural buildings.
In most other holiday countries, the seaside is the key attraction: in Italy, for Britons at least, it’s usually the cities and culture, the countryside and the history. Tuscany is home to Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca and many other historic towns with beautiful piazzas and palaces, churches and museums full of paintings, frescos and other works of art. There’s a string of resorts down the nearby coast, too, so you can have the best of both worlds.
Further south, the sea is likely to be a stronger attraction. In the Naples area the best resort is probably Sorrento, and then there’s the fabled isle of Capri... Move to the Adriatic coast and Venice is of course incomparable, with plenty of famous resorts like Lido di Jésolo and Rimini. Not many British holidaymakers head for the south of Italy, but it’s a rewarding area with wonderful weather and dozens of historical sites. The mountainous Gargano peninsula – the ‘spur’ on the back of the Italian boot – has what are probably Italy’s best beaches.
The lakes and mountains of northern Italy offer a completely different experience. The famous Alpine ski resorts are great for a summer walking or sightseeing holiday, while in the foothills of the Alps are the famous Italian Lakes – Como, Garda, Maggiore and many more. Combining great scenic beauty with historic elegance and style, the lakes remain a great favourite with many visitors – and celebrities.
And then there are the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, the delightful central mountains... the list goes on and on!
Italy used to be thought of as pricey, but these days it’s much more affordable. Property can still be expensive in Tuscany, simply because it is so sought after, but many of the houses are wonderfully situated and very well equipped. Elsewhere prices are reasonable, especially outside the main holiday season.
It’s impossible to list all the things to see in Italy – there’s so much. But all the major cities have plenty to offer – so much so that there’s a lot to be said for forgetting the day trip and hiring an apartment for a week in Rome, Florence or Venice, either as part of a two-centre holiday or a trip in its own right. That way, you can experience local life to the full.
Italy is really well served by budget airlines like easyJet and Ryanair, with direct flights to regional airports throughout the country. If these aren't convenient, there are still a few charter flights to places like Pisa (handy for Tuscany) and Sicily, and of course standard scheduled flights to the larger cities.