Tips for Traveling Italy in the Heat

by Bianca Gignac

massa marittima what to do

It’s hot here.

Like 40° C (that’s 104° Fahrenheit). Dropping to a pleasant 30° C (86° F) at night.

Nobody in Italy talks about anything else right now. Just the heat.

The last Italian heat wave that I can remember was 12 years ago.

This year’s Scirocco (the hot winds from Africa that travel up the Mediterranean) came at the end of June and it’s lasted five weeks.

These aren’t normal temperatures. The last two years have been chilly in June and July in the north of Italy. Last year, it didn’t feel like summer until I went to Sicily at the end of July.

I’ve never (not once) turned on the air conditioner in the four years that I’ve hosted tours in the Cinque Terre. I stay in the same hotel, and I didn’t even know they had one. Until this year. We had that baby cranked! Even my Italian assistant, Rosa, who is convinced that air conditioners are the devil and lead to all sorts of “malattie,” was sleeping with the AC on.

It’s been so steamy the last few weeks in Italy (and parts of Europe) that I’ve been dreaming of living on a snow-laden mountaintop for two days to “re-set.” (This is crazy talk as I spend all winters freezing my ass off, cuddled up with a heating pad, dreaming of summertime.) In our house in La Spezia, I kept thinking we left the oven on. Walking down the corridor past the bedrooms was like being close to an oven door left wide open; hot winds pushed through the shutters flooding the house with stifling air. Although inside is still cooler than outside.

When we arrived in Tuscany, like I mentioned in the previous post, we stayed at the amazing property of Alessandro’s cousin. We slept with the windows wide open (a bat even flew in one night), but we would wake early to close the wooden shutters to the morning sun wouldn’t bake us.

In Italy, homes are built for the heat and are cool in the summer. But nothing is built for heat like this. Once the stone or cement walls of your place get hot, and they don’t cool down at night — you’re screwed. Most people don’t have air conditioning (although most hotels do). If you can’t live without AC, take note if you’ve rented a private apartment or an affitacamere. In Italian homes AC is a luxury, not a necessity.

#BiancaTravelTip:

When you’re traveling Italy in the heat — change your travel rhythms.

Don’t follow other travelers with big itineraries that seem happy to stand in line at the Duomo at noon in August. Or catch a train at 2pm in Vernazza on a humid July afternoon. You’ll just run out of steam and love.

Instead do what the Italians (or insiders) do: go out early in the morning or later in the day.

Eat dinner between 9 and 11pm. Between noon and six in the evening lay low. Sleep. Read. Write. Many stores in Italy adopt a summer schedule too and won’t open until 4 or 5pm after their morning shift. Stores in Pietrasanta, right now, are open until midnight. They adapt with the seasons and the heat and you need to as well.

If you wanna go to the beach when it’s really hot — head to the private beaches in Italy. Rent a beach lounger and umbrella for between 12-25 euros for two peeps. Private beaches have change rooms, showers, food, and drinks right there. You can stay all day and just arrive with your swimsuit and towel. Like the locals. Watch them as they cycle through the swim-eat-lounge-read-eat-swim routine — all within a 20 meter radius. #heaven

If you want to go to the free beaches in the extreme heat get there early in the morning and vacate before 1pm. Or wait until 5 or 6pm and stay until the sun sets. #alsoheaven

Anyways – back to our trip. Since the heat made us feel like we were living in a Tuscan stone bread oven, we spent the day inside and took the kids to the pool after 5 pm. Then we ate dinner at the restaurant (yeah pretty convenient to have a pool and restaurant on your property). Since we were with Italians they proposed a very Italian idea: let’s go for a walk in town! It’s an “Italian” idea because it was already 10 pm. The drive was 20 minutes away, and we had two kids under seven years old in our charge. Sleep when you’re dead, right?

So we jumped in the car and headed for Massa Marittima for a stroll.

Massa Marittima is a Tuscan city with a stunning Duomo. Even nicer than the one in Sienna (explained Luca, who went to University in Sienna and knew a thing or two about these sorts of things).

The city was, of course, super crowded at 10:30 pm, Because – it’s summertime, and that’s when Italians go out after holing up inside on a hot day. Most of the shops were also open this late. Many people were just sitting on the steps of the church watching the world go by.

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

The thing is – so many travelers to Italy make this summertime mistake: they show up at 7pm hoping to eat dinner. The restaurant doesn’t seem busy, so they say … lets’ go somewhere else … this place must be “no good.” But – watch out! It might be the most famous restaurant in the city. But no one, apart from seniors and tourists, eat at 7 pm in the summer.

It’s just life here.

And it’s wonderful when you adopt the rhythms.

With love + lemon gelato,
Bianca

P.S.
Where to eat in Massa Marittima? Elisabetta suggested Taverna del Vecchio Borgo and Tana del Brillo Parlante (which is adorable – a minuscule Trattoria down a minuscule alley).

Staying in Maremma area? The lovely Luca and Elisabetta will treat you right (like family — say hi from us) at their property Il Convento di Montepozzali.

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