No Frills Italy

Crisis? Did anyone say the word crisis? It may be time to downgrade your holiday in Italy from A++ to A+. You don’t need Moody’s for that. Now I’m no CouchSurfer: I need my space and privacy when travelling. Here are some personal hints for visiting Italy on a budget – no frills but no real hardships either.

Fly low cost. You won’t get the peanuts but you won’t pay astronomical airport taxes either (that’s where most of your money goes when you fly into airports like Malpensa and Fiumicino). There are Ryanair hubs in smaller cities all over Italy, such as Pisa, Brindisi, Bergamo-Orio al Serio, Lamezia Terme. Check them out.

Don’t move in August. Italians holiday in August and prices go sky-high. The cheapest time to travel is November and January-March.

South, the new North. No question about it, the south is definitely cheaper than the north. Discover Sicily, Apulia, Calabria, Marche and Basilicata for cheaper destinations and, on the whole, much better value for money.

Try alternative hospitality solutions. Get the new Air B&B app for your i-phone, see the Italian B&B site that organizes free stays and loyalty discounts, or try Splendia for over 300 design solutions and boutique hotel stays. Farm holidays are a great solution for families: there are thousands of Agritursimi all around the country with good-value rooms or self-catering apartments, usually family-run. There are also Catholic hostels in most larger towns, where students can stay while studying away from home; normally central, clean and very cheap.

Get off the autostrada. It may be the quickest route, but also the least attractive, and it takes its toll. Add a day onto your holiday to take alternative, scenic roads.

Discover street food. Not McDondald’s, but the local panificio with hot pastries, regional focaccia breads, and other local sweet and savoury treats. A euro usually goes a long way when they cut you a slice of focaccia.

Discover Sagre. Ever heard of those? Sagre are village feasts held all over the country at different times of the year in honour of a local food product. There are sagre for everything from beans to Brunello, with local music and makeshift dining arrangements. On the whole the atmosphere is pretty tacky, but they provide a great chance to mingle with the locals, get to know the folklore and eat your fill at a fraction of the price of a restaurant. You’ll find dates and venues on the sagrewebsite.

Always carry a water bottle. In Rome or Florence 500ml of mineral water from a street vendor can set you back €5. There are drinking-water fountains all over Italy, and everyone knows the water from the fountain is better than the bottled stuff, not to mention the food miles.

Stand, don’t sit. The price of coffee, ice cream and whatever else you may order from the bar often triples if you sit at the tables outside. Check the listino before you get charged €16 for a gelato.