Monday, April 4, 2016

Self-Catering Apartments - Are They Right For You? Part 1: Florence Casa Iris

   As you're planning your trip to Italy, you'll have to decide early where you'll spend your nights. I'm guessing that most people traveling on vacations far from home choose to stay in a hotel, an inn or B & B, a rental villa or self-catering apartment. There are choices for every taste and budget. In each of our stays in Italy with one exception in Milan, we chose to rent an apartment. This worked out very  well for us each time.
   One of the best things about renting an apartment, aside from the obvious like saving money on meals, is the chance to live in an Italian neighborhood away from the tourist center hustle and bustle. If you're lucky enough to find an apartment with a balcony, you can open the doors to listen to the everyday sounds of Italian life. You don't usually get that by staying in a hotel in the city center.
   In 2011, after reading many reviews on Tripadvisor, Flipkey (Tuscany) and/or, we were able to choose the best apartment for us. Our budget calls for spending no more than 100 euros a night, if possible, for lodging. Of course, a good exchange rate can definitely save you money. With a dollar/euro exchange rate of $1.39 a 100 euro/night apartment would be $139 per night, but if the rate is only $1.10 like on our last trip, the nightly cost is only $110 - a big savings!
   Once you've decided on a location, don't forget to read a lot of reviews because budget is hardly the only criteria to use when searching for your perfect place. When we were looking for our first apartment in Florence, the reviews describing the owners and the service they provided alone convinced us to go ahead and reserve Casa Iris (take a look at the owner's photos here). Not one of the excellent reviews turned out to be an exaggeration. So, on our very first trip to Italy we chose this apartment based more on reviews than on price - there were other apartments we found that were cheaper, but none compared to Casa Iris in any other way.

  The apartment is spacious and spotless with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a nice eat-in kitchen equipped with everything you need for meal prep including some food staples, a small balcony and a large comfortable living room with a flat-screen TV which we never used. The Internet and wifi worked quickly and well. There is even a small washing machine to do your laundry. There are two flights of stairs, which was not a problem for us. The apartment is secure with with keyed entry into the building as well as into the unit itself.

   If you do choose to rent a car, there is an underground pay parking garage right across the street. Be aware that you will not be allowed to drive or park in most of the city center. If you're caught, be prepared to pay a stiff fine. One store nearby, that we visited daily, was the Essalunga Supermarket on Masaccio (about a 8 minute walk from the apartment). You can find whatever you need there, including excellent wine at very reasonable prices. There are several city bus stops within about three minutes of the apartment door. Two of the buses will take you to points in the city center like the Santa Maria Novella (SMN) Train Station and points in between and, one where you can board Bus #7 to Fiesole. The city bus service in Florence is excellent.

The location of Casa Iris near Piazza della Liberta, (a local landmark) far enough from the sometimes noisy City center (citta centro), but close enough for walking. It's approximately a 20 minute walk to the Duomo at a steady clip and 25-30 minutes to the SMN train station and the SITA bus station. The Uffizi Gallery is about 20 minutes walking and The Accademia Gallery are about 15 minutes. We found that Casa Iris was ideal for all of our day trips to other cities like Venice, Rome, Siena, San Gimignano, Bologna, Pisa, Lucca and many more. Plus,there is so much to see in Florence that is just a 20-30 minute walk away or a 10-20 minute city bus ride. Here are Tripadvisor's top 10 attractions in Florence. You can not be bored!

   We loved everything about this apartment from its amenities to its location, but especially, its owners Gabriele and Stefania, who were there for all of our questions and solved any minor problems immediately. Their attention to detail can't be beat. Our 16 day stay was perfect! We liked this apartment so much that we rented it again, for two weeks in 2014. Gabriele and Stefania also have a smaller one bedroom apartment which we rented for 7 days in 2015, Aurora Apartment on the same street that I'll feature in my next post.
Door to Casa Iris
Barry relaxing on the balcony at Casa Iris

Debbie hanging out laundry

Great internet and wifi!

One of three very nice bedrooms

Calling it a night...

Keeping out the sun...

Lunch at Casa Iris



  1. Hi B, Loved reading this...does the smaller apt. (Aurora) have a full kitchen, do you know. Planning ahead. We hope to go for Nan's 60th!

    1. Hi Karen, yes, the Aurora apartment has everything you need for a great stay. A spacious bedroom, extra nice bathroom, and a combined eat-in kitchen living room.


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