Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Tuscany vacation accommodations with handicapped access

Tuscany is high on the list of travel destinations that are friendly to the elderly and those with mobility limitations, especially since laws were introduced several years ago regarding provision of suitable facilities for the physically handicapped. I'm often asked for information about Tuscany vacation accommodations with handicapped access. One important piece of information everyone should take account of is that Tuscan farmhouses ("villas") and sometimes genuine villas are characterised by numerous steps and steep staircases. For this reason, if your mobility is impaired, read the descriptions of rural vacation accommodations in Tuscany with care and feel free to ask the owners detailed questions. This is one of the several reasons to rent owner-direct, by the way. Agencies rarely have the kind of information you need.

Tuscan vacation accommodation handicapped accessibility
A fairly frequent sight in Tuscany - this you don't want if moving around isn't all that easy for you.
Step-free or almost step-free agriturismi and other rural holiday homes are definitely available. Today I want to describe one of them which has recently been renovated and which enjoys one of the most beautiful locations in Tuscany. This is Agriturismo Felciano, a cottage with two large double rooms and a large living-dining room, situated on a winery near Panzano, in the famous Conca d'Oro.

Accommodation in Tuscany for mobility impaired visitors
Agriturismo Felciani - an ideal Tuscan vacation location for anyone with mobility problems.
Agriturismo Felciano has a large terrace in front of the entry and flat ground round about, including the location of the gazebo. There is one very slight step at the large entrance and none at all inside the cottage. Of the two modern bathrooms, one is fully-equipped for handicapped accessibility. You can bring your car right up to the terrace.

In addition to being able to buy your Chianti Classico wine directly from the cask and extravergine olive oil by the bottle, you can buy Tuscan saffron grown on the Felciano farm.

Click here to visit the Agriturismo Felciano website.

More about Panzano in Chianti.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
www.bella-toscana.com
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

What you need to know before renting a car in Italy

Today, a few tips on what you need to know before renting a car in Italy.

Firstly, many car rental agencies in Italy leave much to be desired in terms of service, accessibility and opening hours, and some of them are to be avoided at all costs. Waits of up to two hours are not exceptional when picking up and dropping off a car at a popular point such as an airport. Closure for lunch, holidays and at night are standard practice. Be aware that some rental car companies that have a good reputation in the US, for example, are totally separate from companies of the same name in Italy.

Secondly, don't try to save money by using price comparision websites and opting for the cheapest deal. You will surely lose money and a lot of time if you do. Use Avis, Hertz or Europcar or a reputable broker such as Auto Europe even if it appears to cost a bit more. Europcar is probably the largest rental company in Italy and has a good reputation.
renting a car in Italy
Motoring in Tuscany
Auto Europe is an agency that arranges cheap rentals with the major and reputable car rental companies. The UK site is sometimes cheaper than the US one, so check out both www.autoeurope.com and www.auto-europe.co.uk. AutoEurope has a good reputation.

DO NOT confuse Auto Europe with Auto Europa - Sicily by Car which has a very bad reputation. Auto Europe good, Auto Europa bad.

Rental car agencies in Italy to be AVOIDED at all costs.


● Auto Europa - Sicily by Car has an appalling reputation for sullen service, hours long waits, major overcharging, total lack of response to communications etc. NEVER have anything to do with Auto Europa. All business for Dollar and Thrifty car rental companies in Italy is handled by Auto Europa - therefore AVOID.

Once again: Auto Europe good, Auto Europa bad.

● Goldcar Rental Agency, especially at Pisa Airport, is notorious for hard-selling additional and unnecessary insurance, including not mentioning that the charge is per day not per hire and stating falsely that your own insurance, if any, is invalid. They overcharge for the initial tank of petrol and refuse a refund on remaining petrol when the car is returned. There are also endless reports of other excess charges. Waits can be up to four hours. Their staff are uniformly reported to be rude, aggressive and intimidating. Note that many brokers send customers to this rental car agency without fully explaining their fuel and insurance policy. If a broker offers you a car from Goldcar, refuse it.

● Maggiore Car Rental is another company to be absolutely AVOIDED, especially in Sicily. All the same issues as for Goldcar and more. Maggiore Car Rental has by far the worst reputation of any large car rental company in Italy. They routinely come up with excess charges in the hundreds and will call in the police if you don't pay. Never threaten to dispute a card payment nor give them cash. Work through your card company after the event. DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT RENT FROM MAGGIORE.

● Sixt Holiday Car Rentals is yet another rental car company that should NEVER be used. If a broker sends you to this company, cancel immediately. A Sixt speciality is to send you to a franchise that does not have an available car. Complaints to Sixt elicit the response that their small print says that reservations are NOT confirmed (despite their email titled "Confirmation of your reservation".)!

● Locauto should NEVER be used. If you are sent there through a broker, cancel immediately. They routinely demand a large deposit and then charge for existing damage, they do not check returned vehicles in the presence of the customer and they add damages to the blank check sheet, their insurance makes no provision for the passengers if the car breaks down and so on and on.

 ● Firefly is yet another disastrous hire car company that should NEVER be used. Easycar and Holiday Autos sometimes refer customers to Firefly. Cancel immediately if that happens. Dirty vehicles often with over 100,000 km on the dial, headlights that don't work etc etc. plus charges for an additional driver despite that being included, the usual massive (e.g. 1500 euros) deductions from credit cards without explanation, and so on.

To check carefully: unethical car rental companies pressure their customers to buy additional insurance. This not only costs money unnecessarily but can render your original insurance invalid.

Always insist that you get a finalisation of your rental - that is a receipt that the car has been checked and that signed off as OK and that there is no balance due for car items (damage and petrol). This can take a lot of time but it's worth it. They will not sign off on possible future parking or other road infringements.

IMPORTANT - limited traffic zones (ZTL's).
These are the areas in the historical centres of most Italian cities and towns that are closed during certain hours to traffic other than permit holders. Rental cars do not have these permits. The ZTL's are monitored by traffic cameras and entry by non-permit holders results in a charge to your credit card by the car rental company and a fine from the traffic authorities. Many rental car companies have offices very near these zones so that it's easy to wander into one when driving to or from the car pickup. For this reason, it is highly recommended, in Florence, for example, to use the offices and rental car pickup at the airport rather than those in the centre of town.

Full details about traffic violation in Italy, including ZTL infractions, click here.

Car rentals in Italy
Driving in Florence
ALSO IMPORTANT - an International Driving Permit, which is in essence an official translation of your driving licence, is required, in addition to a driver's licence, by everyone who does not hold a driving licence issued by an EU country and who intends to drive in Italy. Note that International Drivers Licences sold over the Internet are all scams, offering worthless pieces of paper at best. You need an International Driving Permit from your national motoring organisation. They're very cheap. Most rental car agencies now ask to see your International Driving Permit in addition to your licence.

If you plan to spend most of your time in a city such as Florence, with just one or two excursions into the countryside, you might find that the additional cost of a car and driver-guide rather than a rental car will be far outweighed by convenience and the efficiency of having a planned sightseeing itinerary.

More about motoring in Tuscany.

More about getting around in Tuscany.

Chianti without a car, including a list of recommended drivers.

Rental cars, minibuses and coaches offered by a small, local company in central Chianti

Rental vehicle companies are hard to come by in the smaller towns of Chianti, but there is one in Gaiole in Chianti that hires out high end machines from their own garage. If you're planning a stay in the Chianti area of Tuscany and will need transport, especially for groups, you might want to contact Tuscany Limousine.
These are the cars, minibuses and buses they have available
with and without a driver.
Mercedes Classe E280 4 (+1) persons
Mercedes Vito 8 (+1) persons
Renault Trafic 8 (+1) persons
Mercedes Sprinter 18 (+1) persons
King Long 35 (+1) persons
Domino HDI 52 (+1) persons
Domino HDH 55 (+1) persons

They also offer luxury sports car rentals for test drives, weddings etc.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
www.bella-toscana.com
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2017. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Why is the Conca d'Oro of Panzano in Chianti called the Conca d'Oro?

The rich history of Tuscany not only manifests itself in ancient towns, abbeys and castles, but also in the place names of villages, hills and rivers and many other topographical features. One of the most beautiful names for a beautiful area is the Conca d'Oro below Panzano. Conca d'oro means "golden basin", so looking at the picture of the vineyards of the Conca d'Oro below, we have to ask ourselves why is the Conca d'Oro of Panzano in Chianti called the Conca d'Oro? Why isn't it called the Conca Verde - the green basin - for example?

Conca d'Oro of Panzano in Chianti
View over the Conca d'Oro towards Panzano in Chianti
The answer to this riddle is quite simple (once you've been told). For centuries, Florence and Sienna fought for control of the historical Chianti area (now the Chianti Classico wine zone) that forms the territory between them. They did this in large part because of the critical value of its agricultural production. Wine? Olive oil? Only in small part. Until the middle of the 19 C, agriculture in Chianti was given over principally to grain production, meaning wheat. Most of the population of both Chianti and Florence subsisted on bread as their staple diet - and, indeed, bread is still an important part of every Tuscan meal. As a consequence, every piece of land that supported wheat was used to grow it. Even into the pre-war 20 C, wheat was grown in the spaces between the rows of grape vines. One of the most productive areas for wheat was in fact the Conca d'Oro of Panzano, and as harvest time approached it was exactly what its name says, a golden basin of ripening wheat. It was only in the post-war years that wheat was replaced by the increasingly lucrative crops yielding olive oil and wine. This change coincided with the reclamation of the Maremma and the modernisation of agriculture in the Val d'Orcia (described by Iris Origo in her wonderful book, War in the Val d'Orcia) and the consequent increase in the wheat harvest in those areas.

More about what to see in and near Panzano in Chianti.

My recommended vacation rentals in Tuscany.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany.

Tuscany Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013. All rights reserved.