When Jan Keshen retired from her teaching job last year, she celebrated by planning a three-month trip to Italy. She said being able to spend time seeing the country in-depth was a dream come true. “We’re not super-rich,” says Jan. But by staying in apartments and balancing longer stays in less expensive spots with a few hotel nights in cities, she and her husband struck an affordable balance. “Turns out, I loved the grocery shopping and cooking in Italy; it became a big part of the overall travel experience.”
The great thing about Italian towns and cities is that most of their best attractions are free. Those charming lanes, pretty piazzas, artistic fountains, art-adorned churches and exquisite Renaissance palaces are all like open-air museums. The constant exposure to such historic romance is part of what makes Italy so alluring.
Italy’s historic piazzas are favourite visiting spots of locals and tourists alike.
Wine tasting at a local winery is usually free and if you take your own bottles, you can fill them up for about $3.50 a litre, straight from the vat. Pack a picnic to enjoy in the picture-perfect countryside and enjoy Italy’s treasured aperitivo, where your glass of wine is accompanied by enough snacks to make a light dinner, for only $10. Otherwise, cafes and small restaurants often offer filling three-course, fixed-price lunch menus (look for menu a prezzo fisso) from $10 to $16.
Look for the City Cards. Many cities in Italy now offer a City Card or Museum Pass to save you money on entrance fees. Not just Rome, Florence and Venice, either; you’ll find them in Verona, Orvieto, Naples and Turin, too. Ask at each town you visit; they just may have discounts.
If I were to pick one place to spend three months, I’d pick Umbria. It’s perfect for exploring the entire centre of the country. Around the region you’ll find divinely decorated cathedrals, festivals and perfectly preserved hill towns at every turn. Even small villages have a sense of life and history and enough services to satisfy daily needs. It isn’t remote and yet it isn’t overrun. It’s both rural and refined, full of culture and high on outdoor activities, too.
Best of all, its location means you can easily explore Tuscany, Le Marche and Lazio, the region that hosts Rome. My vote for best home base goes to Citta della Pieve, a sophisticated town near the Tuscan border. Unfurling itself across a ridge, it is elegant and graceful, yet friendly and easygoing. With Renaissance-era appeal and world-class artwork by hometown hero Il Perugino, it also has nice restaurants, homey trattorias, everyday coffee bars and classy wine bars. This is where actors Colin Firth and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio have holiday homes, but you don’t have to be wealthy to hang out here.
I found some beautiful furnished apartments on a country estate a few kilometers from town, in an old stone farmhouse with a swimming pool—a relaxed place to spend a few months. The rent? Only $930 a month for a comfortably furnished 111-square-metre, two-bedroom apartment. Prefer to be in town? There are some simple but furnished apartments in the old town renting from $590 to $770 a month.