It was New Year’s Eve 2012 and the view outside my window was perfect. In the darkness, I could just make out the rolling Italian hills, dotted with brick houses with terracotta rooftops. A lone bell tower rose from a small, ancient church into the sky. And as the bell tolled midnight, the sky lit up with fireworks from three different directions.
I had just arrived in Perugia—a medium-sized university town in Tuscany’s lesser-known neighbor, Umbria.
This was the beginning of a whole wonderful month exploring the nearby hill towns, and savoring a slice of la dolce vita. When I tell people about this adventure, they often respond with a wistful sigh. “I wish I could do something like that,” they say. “But I just don’t have the money.”
Which is why they’re shocked when I tell them that my budget for a month in the Italian countryside was less than $2,000, including everything but airfare.
Their next question, understandably, is: How can one live the sweet life in Italy on a budget?
I start by telling them about my sweet little apartment. When I started looking for apartments, I wanted a spacious, furnished place with working Internet and spectacular views. I wanted a fully-outfitted kitchen and a comfortable bed. And my budget for housing was $1,000, half my total budget.
To find this idyllic space (and oh, did I find it), I searched for apartments in Umbria (looking in and around Perugia, Assisi, and Orvieto) listed for under $1,500 per month.
Why $1,500 when my budget was $1,000? Because I knew I was traveling in Italy’s off-season.
Summertime commands the highest prices, while spring, fall, and winter, particularly in the countryside, tend to offer higher vacancies. This means that many landlords are willing to offer large deals for off-season travelers. After all, it’s better to have the space occupied and make less money than usual than to have the space vacant and make no money at all.
In the end, I wrote to about six different landlords, asking if they would offer me an off-season deal. All six of them did, and two spaces in particular stood out:
The first was a small villa just outside town. It had a view over the hills and into town, a spacious patio, and a clean, well-furnished interior. The landlord offered me a rate of about $750 per month for one month or $650 per month if I wanted to stay for two.
The second amazing space was a spacious studio on the top floor of a beautiful old brick building near the edge of town. The views out over the hills were breathtaking and the space was walking distance to everything. They discounted the price to just under $1,000. Once we added in the fee the website I used charged to find it, the price put me just over budget at $1,047.
I chose the second apartment for its views and location, even though it was more expensive. After finding a comfortable space to rent, the next most important budget item was great food and even greater wine.
In Perugia (and in many other parts of Italy), wine is wildly affordable because it is local and the shops can skip most of the distribution and transportation costs.
Similarly, food is surprisingly affordable if you are willing to put together some of your own meals. In all, my grocery and wine budget totaled just $262.52, including groceries for a small dinner party I threw for all my new friends at the end of the month. This is less than what I used to spend on food back in the U.S.
I did treat myself to restaurant dinners a few times, but I chose places hidden away on side streets, with reasonable prices and Italian-only menus. My eating-out budget totaled just $92.03.
My total spending for one month in the Umbrian countryside? Just $1,882.66.
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