Trying to embrace la dolce vita on a budget can be a challenge in a country like Italy. Both the British pound and the U.S. dollar are still relatively expensive against the euro, and Italy’s steep accommodation rates and reluctance to offer recessionary discounts and special offers just compound the problem, but a little forward planning means you can save money on your holiday in Italy without feeling deprived.
Getting Around Italy
Travelling by train around Italy has become substantially more expensive on long-haul high-speed routes in the past few years, but you may be able to secure discounts if you book
online at the Italian Railways website www.trenitalia.com and adapt your travel plans to suit the offers available.
For the greatest flexibility and value, however, you really need to rent a car in Italy. In a country as big and as varied as this, public transport can only take you so far, and you may end up wasting both time and money on accommodation if you have to make allowances for different travel connections. Car hire in Italy gives you the freedom to design your own perfect trip, and, if you arrange your Italian car rental well in advance, you can avail of substantial discounts and special offers.
Eating and drinking
Stand at the bar to avoid paying double (or more) if you’re just having a drink or a quick snack. When you’re in Venice, sample the tapas-like range of cicheti that are laid out on bar counters, and be sure to embrace Milan’s tradition of aperitivo, a couple of hours between about 7pm and 9pm when often quite substantial snacks are served when you buy a drink.
You will find fixed-price menus more common In restaurants at lunchtime, particularly in the business districts of Rome, Florence, and Milan. Remember, however, that you don’t have to order the full three courses, and you won’t pay more for an entree if it is eaten as a main course, so feel free to order pasta with a contorno (side dish) or a starter and dessert.
It is also advisable to eat local, away from the tourist traps, so if you’re staying for a week or more it could be worth investing in Osterie d’Italia 2011, the Slow Food Association’s guide to Italy’s best good-value traditional trattorias. You also don’t need to worry about tipping, as most Italian service staff do not expect it.
When in Rome, buy a three-day Roma Pass (www.romapass.it) and receive free admission to two museums, reduced-price access to several more, and transport on the bus, tram and local train network. In fact, most of the major cities offer all-inclusive tourist cards, but some are only worth it if you plan on some fairly intensive sightseeing. Look at Venice Connected (www.veniceconnected.com) for discounts on museums to waterbus passes, but you must purchase your pass at least five days before your visit. Again, forward planning pays off. And if you are an EU citizen under 18 or over 65, or you are a teacher or student, bring your ID and professional documentation with you – you may qualify for free entrance to Italian state or municipal museums.
Spend Time (not Money) on the Beach
Lounging on the beach in Italy is rarely free. All those beach umbrellas and sun-worshipping deck chairs on the beaches of Sicily and Sorrento are rented out, with per-person day rates averaging about €15. For a no-cost place to throw down your beach towel, seek out the spiaggia libera (free beach) that Italian towns are obliged to provide – or just avoid the beach bedlam near Rome, Venice, Genoa, Naples or Rimini for more secluded parts of the coast.
Take out a map and look for parks by the sea, including Monte Conero (www.parcodelconero.com) south of Ancona or Monti dell’Uccellina (www.parks.it/parco.maremma) on the Tuscan Coast. Here commercial beach developments are either prohibited or restricted, and beaches are generally cleaner and less packed.
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- License: Image author owned