So they say that the best times to visit Italy are in the spring and fall. Super. But what if your vacation time falls during summer? Now what?
Actually, vacationing in Italy in the summertime can be fabulous (the exception is August, when virtually the entire country comes to a halt), but you have to be prepared to handle the heat. I’ve found that you really can’t beat the heat – high temperatures are high temperatures, and that’s that. But you can absolutely learn how to handle the heat. That’s the key.
So here are 10 heat-handling suggestions:
1. Stay in the countryside. Preferably in an agriturismo that has a pool. Summer heat feels more intense in the city – particularly when you’re surrounded by throngs of hot tourists. Don’t get me wrong, it will be hot in the country too, but when you have access to a swimming pool, shady spaces and welcome breezes, things tend to be much more pleasant.
2. Leave early for outings.Here in Umbria, when I travel somewhere in the summertime – even to the store – I do it early. By 10:00am the summer sun is already intense, so it’s best to get to where you’re going as early as possible so you can make the most of your visit before lunchtime. In addition, shops and museums in hill towns and medieval villages often close for several hours after lunch, so take that as a signal that it’s time for you to go home and rest too.
3. Eat lunches in caves and cantinas. In other words, go down. In the historic centers of towns you’ll often find trattorie and cafes that have ancient cellars (perhaps former Roman wine cantinas or medieval storage areas) that have been converted into eating spaces. Ahhh, cellar temperature. So cool – literally!
4. Take a riposo. Riposo means ‘rest period’ in Italian, and hot afternoons are the ideal time to do exactly that. Since many places close in the afternoon anyway, we usually head back home (or to our villa when we’re hosting a tour) to spend the hot, summer afternoon the way it should be spent – taking a dip in the pool, reading a book beneath a shade tree or simply napping.
5. Enjoy a late afternoon gelato break. In Italy, about 5:00pm, Italians head out into the streets, piazzas and local parks for passeggiata. Passeggiata means literally “to stroll” but it’s also a time for socializing with family and friends, and in summer for grabbing a gelato. Need I say more?
6. Close the window shutters. Really. Actually you should get in the habit of doing that in the morning, or whenever you leave your room for the day. Energy costs are very high in Italy, and air conditioning can be anemic, so it’s best to conserve that energy and block the scorching sun when you can. Plus it’s surprising how cool old stone walls will remain when the shutters are closed during the day.
7. Drink lots and lots and lots of water. Seriously. Lots. Summer in central Italy brings high temperatures along with very dry air. That means you can easily dehydrate before you even realize you’re thirsty. Keep a water bottle with you at all times.
8. Go easy on the wine. (Did I just write that?) Okay, let me qualify. During the hottest hours of the day, it’s best to go easy on the wine. As most of us know, alcohol is a diuretic, which in turn causes dehydration (potentially dangerous on a hot, hot day) so it’s often best to enjoy that bel’vino during evening hours when the sun has dipped. Just sayin’.
9. Slow down. It’s easy to turn sightseeing into a frantic affair, with long lists of towns to visit and places to see. But you can’t see it all (in fact, you’d can’t even see a tiny fraction of Italy’s endless beauty) and running around like that in summer heat leads quickly to exhaustion. Besides, quality is more important than quantity when it comes to just about everything in Italy – something clearly evidenced in the food. So slow down, pull up a chair and take the time to savor it.
10. Eat dinner late. And whenever possible, under the stars. This is one of my favorite ways to not only handle the heat, but to enjoy it. The climate of central Italy is such that evenings sometimes cool down enough to grab a sweater – even in hot summertime – and long, late summer evenings spent outside, under the stars, are absolutely heavenly.