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Rentals offer taste of region

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Renting a villa or apartment in Italy is an economical and interesting way to vacation. By renting instead of staying in a hotel, you'll become more intimate not only with an area but also with the Italian lifestyle.

We asked Dick Mercer and Sandro Berra of Experience Italy, based in Sacramento, Calif., and Sandro Gilioli and Francesca Tosolini of Seattle-based myItalianVacation.com to answer some questions about vacation rentals.

Question: Why are Americans interested in villa and apartment rentals?

Tosolini: Americans are really fond of Italy, and I think one of the reasons why they decide to rent an apartment or villa, instead of a hotel room, is because they want to be part of the Italian life, even for just a week.

Gilioli: Renting property in Italy is different than renting a condo on the beach in Hawaii or (elsewhere in) America. Often, in these places, you're getting new construction, you're not renting a monastery, say, built in the Middle Ages. It's a totally different feeling.

Question: Besides their age, how are vacation rentals in Italy different from those in America?

Berra: They're usually more simple places. Don't expect to have data ports in farmhouses or most houses. Air conditioning is uncommon. They may have washers but never driers. We use clotheslines.

The shower box is small, as are doorways and cars.

Question: How is the rental process for Italy different from the process in the States?

Berra: Typically, there's a breakage deposit, but for good reason. There are often serious antiques and works of art in the homes.

Question: What questions should travelers ask of a rental agency?

Mercer: Ask them if they've seen the properties or if they work with someone who has. Ask if they have relationships with the people where you're renting. That's the value we bring. We've been to these places. Even the drive is measured, the beauty, the proximity, the ease.

Tosolini: One of the reasons we go to Italy to inspect the properties is to ensure that an American person can be comfortable in this Italian house. Also, we are Italian, we understand the place, the culture. We can answer questions for customers, like how the nightlife is and the special dishes from this area.

Question: What extras do agencies offer?

Mercer: With some of the farmhouses, the landlady also offers cooking. It's not restaurant cooking, it's home cooking, and it can be wonderful. We can arrange that for you.

Our company offers a full range of travel services. We can reserve train tickets, arrange a rental car, opera tickets, even museum tickets so you don't have to stand in line.

Tosolini: We've had people who want to get married in Italy. Big villas can accommodate 20 people or more. Some villas in Tuscany also have a little chapel where you can get married.

Berra: We can arrange cleaning and cooking services. We don't arrange rental cars or flight tickets, but we can give you recommendations. And we're in the process of adding other services that are more related to vacation rental, too, like cooking classes and guided tours.