Thursday, July 7, 2011

Italy and Spain on $85 a Day - The Apartments

Our living room in Rome
I've said more times than anyone cares to remember that the best way to save money on a vacation while not stinting on luxury is by renting an apartment.  (In case you don't know the rationale for this philosophy, see this article.)  While David and I spent a frenzied week or two researching our "homes" for this trip, all our advance work paid off in delightful rentals that made our stay in each city even more enjoyable.

Apartment reviews are usually the most important deciding factor for us; if others enjoyed the place, we probably will too.  Since they are so important, we always try to help other travelers by writing reviews of our own when we return from a trip.  Here's what we wrote and submitted to Slow Travel, VRBO, Home Away, and/or Trip Advisor about each of the places we stayed:

Rome - VRBO #282276

David and I absolutely loved our apartment in Rome! Even though it was on the outskirts of the city, tram 8, right in front of the apartment building, got us to all the tourist sites in minutes. And we enjoyed leaving the clamor of Rome behind and returning to the ambience of our peaceful neighborhood at the end of a long sightseeing day.

There's a very large open-air market next door with stands selling bread, cheese, fish, produce and a hundred other things. We LOVED this market as well as the Frontoni Restaurant across the street with the world's best lasagna, and Tony's gelato a few doors down from Frontoni.

The apartment itself is huge with three spacious bedrooms and two big bathrooms. The apartment felt cozy for the two of us yet would be spacious for a much larger group, too. The furniture and beds are all quite comfortable, while the kitchen is well-equipped.

Morgan, the owner,  did everything possible to make us feel at home, giving advice about trams and buses, as well as neighborhood markets. He arranged for us to contact a shuttle from the airport at a reasonable price, and went out of his way to correct the problem with the satellite TV as we didn't have BBC in English when we first arrived.

We highly recommend this rental, one of our favorites of our five-week trip, and know you will not be disappointed whether there are two of you or twelve!

Florence - VRBO #302215

This apartment is well-located because all the sites you want to see are within walking distance; supermarkets and a 99 cent store are steps away; and there's no shortage of eateries and gelato stands. But this location also has inherent problems because the piazza fronting the apartment building is "home" to the homeless and they talk, fight, and scream, literally, all night long. Earplugs are mandatory if you want to sleep.

beautiful bathroom
The other problem with the location is that the apartment is housed in a 16th century building that has delightful character but hideously steep steps. David and I thought we'd have heart attacks lugging our suitcases up those 63 steps, and we dreaded the thought of leaving the apartment each day because we knew those steps would have to be surmounted in order to return.  

However, if you're young, have the stamina and disposition of a mountain goat, and can sleep through ambulance sirens (the hospital is one block away and the sirens blare every twenty minutes or so) and the homeless ranting at the world, then this place is for you. It is beautifully restored, with a well-equipped and lovely kitchen with large refrigerator and dishwasher; one of the nicest showers and bathrooms we've ever seen in Italy; and the nicest bedding and bed we encountered during our five-week vacation. The furniture, indeed almost everything, is Ikea-- fresh and nice. The wi-fi worked perfectly, as did the air conditioner and the washing machine.

We had assumed from the listing that satellite TV with BBC English stations was available, but that was not the case. The TV receives only Italian stations. Emily, while the only person requesting payment in advance as well as a damage deposit when we arrived, was accommodating and quite pleasant to deal with. She was right on time to return our damage deposit and call us a cab to the train station.

As we wrestled our suitcases and ourselves down those steps for the last time, we knew this was not a rental to which we'd ever return. Still, for the right couple on a budget, it could be the ideal spot for an Italian idyll.

Sorrento - Angiolini Apartments

The Relais Villa Angiolina  has a lovely B&B which is quite well-known to Slow Travel readers. What is a little less well-known are the two apartments that Angiolina also rents to visitors. David and I stayed in the beautiful B&B, with the best breakfast in town, the first two nights and then moved to the apartment for the last six nights.

The manager, Liana, calls the smaller of the two apartments a two bedroom, but since the second "bedroom" is a fold-out couch in the living/dining/kitchen area, I would call this a one bedroom. The rooms are quite spacious and every amenity is provided: a full-size refrigerator, dishwasher, and washing machine as well as free wi-fi. Rooms are nicely furnished with a modern feel.

The bedroom is lovely with a true, king-sized comfortable bed, beautiful linens, and a TV (another TV is in the living area) as well as a desk. Perhaps the best things about the apartment are the spacious balconies--one off the bedroom and living areas and another with table and chairs off the kitchen--with views of the town,the sea, and the mountains.
Mountain view from our kitchen balcony on the side of the apartment.
The apartment is on the fourth floor (fifth in US) with an elevator and is well-situated for shopping and access to the main tourist area, Tasso Square. It is also an easy walk to the train/bus station from the apartment.

Get your mainstay groceries from the market on Corso Italia, but for inexpensive culinary delights, do not miss carry-out next door from Bar-Rita bakery at 219 Corso Italia just a block or two from the main square.    They undoubtedly have the best food in town and I'd give anything right now for a piece of pizza rustica followed by a cannoli!

Liana is a delight to work with, gives lots of information and advice, and will arrange a taxi for you upon request. We paid 100 euros a night and considered this apartment a great bargain. We'd love to stay there again!
This was the least luxurious place we stayed during our five-week trip in Italy and Spain, but it may have been the most comfortable. Older recliners, not particularly new or beautiful, were nevertheless extraordinarily easy to sit in for hours watchingTV.After weeks of foreign TV, it was great finally to have stations in English.
View to the right from our balcony.  The view in the other direction is of the Nogalera pedestrian-friendly plaza.
The best aspect of the apartment, though, was the glassed-in balcony where we ate every meal and sat for long periods watching the sea or the people in the Nogalera Plaza below. Even though we were literally an elevator ride and a few steps away from the train station and about a dozen bars, it was extraordinarily quiet at night and we had no trouble sleeping.

Every convenience was provided and Graham, a joy to work with who waited two extra hours at the apartment the first night when our flight was delayed, made sure we felt comfortable with all the operating instructions. He also stocked breakfast supplies for us which were greatly appreciated.

David and I hated to leave this place and hope to someday return to Graham's apartment.
Practicalities -
We paid 100 euros per night (50 euros per person) in Rome and Sorrento.  We paid 77 euros per night (38.50 p/p) in Florence (500 euros for the week plus a 40 euro cleaning fee)  and 45 euros per night (22.50 p/p) in Torremolinos. 

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