How to travel on an Italian vacation for free (almost!)

How to travel on an Italian vacation for free (almost!)

How to travel, fly and stay on an Italian vacation for free (almost!)

If you have Italy on your bucket list of places you’re dreaming about but think it’s out of your budget, then read this article.

In it, I share how I travelled to Italy and back and how I stayed at top of the line hotels – all for next to nothing.  If I can do it, so can you.  And once you read through this recount, you’ll see how easy it can be with a little planning and perseverance.

So how do you achieve an Italian vacation for free?  By using air and hotel loyalty programs to your advantage.  You don’t have to compromise on quality at all.  In fact, you’ll have some of the best lodging and flight options if you plan out how to achieve your goal – which is free travel to Italy!

Note: I am not an affiliate for any of these loyalty programs or credit cards – and don’t make any money for mentioning their name or for any links.  I am just sharing how I travelled for free and which specific companies I used to do so.

Now, on to the good stuff…

 

Award Ticket Reservation/ Flight

I flew on American Airlines from Ft. Lauderdale to Rome (connection in Charlotte) and returned from Venice to Ft. Lauderdale (connection in Philly).  Flying into one airport and flying out of another is called an “open-jaw”.  And yes, that’s possible with an award ticket.  To do this, you have to have one airport in common – ie. Ft. Lauderdale.  This is helpful in that you can start at one point and travel to another point – and not have to backtrack to your original point to fly back home.  Open jaws are perfectly viable “round-trips”.

Another example of open jaw is FLL to FCO/Rome and FCO/Rome to NYC – here the common airport is FCO.  But since you are leaving from US, then it would make sense to have a common airport in US.

I secured an Award Ticket for my trip using 45,000 AAdvantage miles and paid $60 in taxes.  So, the flight was essentially free except for the taxes.  The 45K miles (MileSsaver award) represent a non-peak travel time.  For a peak travel time, the amount of miles need for award ticket will be more.  When going to Italy, I recommend a non-peak time anyways to avoid the crowds and to get more availability in hotels and flights.

If I had purchased my ticket outright (ahead of time), that airline ticket would have cost $600+ round-trip.  Early May is when I travelled and that’s really getting close to peak time over in Italy as it’s nearing the summer.

 

How did I get miles for an Award Ticket?

To get a bulk of miles, you would have to either fly a lot (ie. every weekend) – or get an airline credit card.  In this case, I recommend getting a credit card.  The one for signed up for is Citi Platinum Select AA card.  This card has a $0 annual fee for the first year and 30,000 bonus miles if you spend $3K in the first 3 months.  I was able to get this card on a promotion – so it was 60,000 miles for $3,000 spend in 3 months and $0 annual fee in year 1.  That’s double the bonus miles for the same activity!

Timing when you get a credit card is also beneficial.  The 60,000 offer appeared in Oct – Dec when credit card companies are trying to make their card acquisition numbers.  I still see this card offer in market to certain select customers.  I don’t see this promotional offer on the AA website but I get this offer in the mail often (at 50,000 bonus miles).  Look out for it online or in the mail as it’s more than worth it to get this card for double the bonus miles.

Therefore, you will accumulate 63,000 miles total.  60,000 from the promotional bonus and 3,000 miles after $3,000 spend (ie. 1 mile per $1 spent).  You will have more than enough miles for a round-trip (or open-jaw) award flight to Europe during a non-peak time (and/or a peak time frame).

I travelled with my family members and they each had enough miles in their own AA accounts – some from past travel and some from getting an AA card also.

 

Hotel Accommodation – Award Reservation

During my vacation in Italy, I stayed at American hotels using hotel points because I wanted a more luxury hotel and more modern amenities.  These hotels were not in the center of town.  If there were hotels available using points in the center of town, they would require a lot more points.

Here’s where I stayed and their equivalent points today (note: I had to use less IHG points for Rome but more Hilton points for Florence & Venice when I went there – but it’s all good):

Rome – Crowne Plaza – 30,000 IHG points per night (my 3 night stay = 90,000 IHG points)

Verona – Crowne Plaza – 20,000 IHG points per night (1 night stay)

Florence – Hilton Garden Inn – 14,000 points non-peak per night (my 2 night stay = 32,000)

Venice – Hilton Garden Inn – 16,000 points non-peak per night (my 2 night stay = 32,000)

There’s not as much seasonality for hotel rooms as there are for airline award reservations.  Thus, there is more likely to be availability for hotel rooms closer in to your arrival date than there will be award flights closer in to your travel date.  In short, book your flight award ticket as early as possible.  But you have a little more wiggle room on the hotel bookings (in case you are waiting for points to post to your account).

If I had booked these rooms without points, here’s what the cost would have been (May timeframe):

Rome – Crowne Plaza – $136 per night (3 nights=$408)

Verona – Crowne Plaza – $118 per night (1 night=$118)

Florence – Hilton Garden Inn – $129 per night (2 nights=$258)

Venice – Hilton Garden Inn – $204 per night (2 nights=$408)

Total saved by using award reservations: $1,192.  Prices for hotels are variable so in peak or busy times of year, the prices may be higher and in some cases during lull times, it may be lower.  But in general, at these hotels, I would expect no lower than the $118 per night at any American hotel chain.  In fact, for that hotel, even $118 is a steal.

Whoever says that loyalty programs don’t provide value or that they are difficult to use are missing out on major savings.

I will share that I did have city-taxes (read more about this in my review of each Italian hotel) that occurred despite my reservation with points.  However, that pales in comparison to the value I received.  I’m still not a fan of the city-tax but it’s better than paying $1,192 to stay at some very, very nice hotels.

 

How did I get the hotel points for a hotel Award Reservation?

Once again, I have to share that I got the bulk of my points from credit card sign ups.  I signed up for an IHG credit card that offered 100,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 in 3 months with a $0 annual fee in first year.  I no longer see this promotional offer from IHG but that doesn’t mean it won’t resurface.  IHG recently changed their loyalty program in late 2016 so that may be part of the reason for the holdout on high bonus promotions on their credit card (or not).

Right now IHG credit card has a 60,000 bonus point offer after $3,000 spend in 3 months.  Also, there is a 5,000 bonus point kicker if you add an authorized card user as well as 10% point rebate on award redemption.  This means is that if you have the IHG credit card and redeem 30,000 points for a hotel night, you will get back 10% or 3,000 points into your account.  Thus, the points needed in effect is only 27,000 points for the hotel night.

My travel companions (ie. my family members) at the same time signed up for the Hilton Visa Signature credit card.  Today, this card carries a 75,000 bonus point offer after $2,000 spend and no annual fee.  One person getting this card would cover the 64,000 points needed for 2 nights in Florence and 2 nights in Vencie. There’s even enough for an additional night using points and $ (or if you spend a bit more to get to 14,000 points).

If travelling with a travel companion or family member, you can tackle the accumulation of miles and points together.  That means double the points or miles in some cases if you both get credit cards.

Card Considerations:

An additional plus for both of these cards is no foreign transaction fees!  Also, if you have to pay city-taxes at the hotel, use your respective cards to get 5X IHG points or 6X times the Hilton points.  The card language says 5X IHG points or 6X HHonors points on hotel stays.  But what this means is any charge at the hotel property (ie. dining, city taxes, room charges) qualifies because IHG or Hilton is the hotel merchant.  It all adds up and can be used for a future trip.

Getting these cards by pre-planning ahead of time is not that difficult.  You don’t have to carry a revolving balance to incur additional interest and fees.  With planning, you can be diligent and organized about what you spend ($3,000 and $2,000 respectively for the IHG & Hilton cards) so that you don’t go overboard and incur additional cost.  We’re trying to get our points for free travel, remember.  You can even space out your card acquisition so that you are working on one at a time.

As well, you may incur a minor ding on your credit or you may not.  However, that ding will go away as you pay off your balance in full monthly for both of these cards.  If you feel like you can’t pay off balance in full for each of these cards, then I would advise to not do it.  You have to be responsible about miles and points and how to obtain them for free!

 

What would this have cost out of pocket?

By adding up the cost of flight and hotels, I saved $1,792 from using airline miles and points.  Keep in mind that if you’re travelling with other people in your group, you’ll save the hotel $ portion for them as well because you can share a hotel room.

That’s money back in my pocket to spend during my trip on sights, food, shopping, etc.  Or I could just pocket it for other uses.

 

You can have an Italian vacation for free!

Hopefully, by detailing out my travel to Italy using miles and points, I have illustrated how attainable this can be.  If you’ve never used a loyalty program or credit card in this way, start out small or one at a time.  You’ll start to see how the programs work and become more confident.  Then, once you take your first trip with miles and points, you’ll be hooked (as so many of us are J)

Travelling doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.  You can manage your budget and in this case loyalty programs to maximize value on your trips.

Good luck and let me know if you end up taking a trip using miles and points.

 

*Featured photo by Ruthie at Unsplash.

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Discover Italian train travel

Discover Italian train travel

Planning a trip to Italy and considering taking an Italian train?  Well you’ve come to the right place.  I traveled all over Italy using the Trenitalia trains and want to share how easy, convenient and yes, affordable Italian train travel can be.

To learn more about Italy travel, check out my posts on How to travel to Italy for free (almost!) and Take an unforgettable Italian vacation.

Featured photo by Seth Doyle.

 

Italian Trains aka. The “Frecc”

There are 3 different types of Italian trains:

  1. Frecciarossa is a high speed line going up to 300 km/h, the fastest train of the 3 types of trains.  The Frecciarossa 1000 can get up to 400Km/h.  The new Frecciarossa 1000 is the first high-speed train to have obtained the certification of environmental impact (EPD).  Featuring 4 levels of service onboard: Executive, Business, Premium, Standard.  All levels except Standard have a welcome drink and morning newspaper.  There is food service onboard at your seat.  In Business, there is a bistro section as well if you want to sit and eat.  Disabled seating (2) onboard.
  2. Frecciargento trains run on both high speed and traditional train lines and can get up to 250 km/h.  This line connects Rome to many cities in the North, Northeast and South.  Disabled seating (2) onboard. There are 2 levels of service: First Class and Standard. There is a bar/bistro in the middle wagon/car.  First class passengers get a welcome drink + morning newspaper.
  3. Frecciabianca trains run on the traditional train lines. Seating for Disabled available.  Train magazine at seat. Restaurant service at the Corner Bar.  This line is the slowest of the 3 types.  While booking, you may notice this train as “Regionale”.

 

Booking your Italian train ticket:

Go to trenitalia.it and select the English language option in the upper right (it will have a British flag image for English).

While booking your tickets, select your seat assignments. After payment, Trenitalia sends you an email confirmation with your ticket info (names of passengers, date & time of departure and arrival, city of embarkment and disembarkment, cost, seat selections).  Keep a printed copy of this when you travel on the train. I don’t recall there being a processing fee for the online ticket purchase. Once you get to the station for your departure, have your printed itinerary ready, check that you are boarding the right train, get on and go to your seats. So easy and convenient. No need to join a long line to purchase tickets, just head right onboard.

I advise to purchase a train ticket ahead of time to get a discounted price. Train pricing is similar to airline in that there are discounted fares in advance.  When those are sold out, the availability is less and then your only option is a more expensive fare.  In your planning, it’s better to snag a cheaper fare earlier. The conductor does make his way around to check your tickets – even for a short hop like Florence to Pisa. If you are on the train without a ticket, you will either have to buy one then and there (which most likely to be more expensive) or possibly pay a fine.

 

‘Specials’:

Check the Trenitalia site for specials. When I traveled, I got a 2 for 1 special on my ticket from Florence to Verona.  Currently, I see specials online for Mother’s and Father’s Day 2 for 1 pricing.  Keep checking but if you see a cheap fare don’t hesitate to snag it. I recommend checking the site 2-3 months ahead of your arrival day for availability.  Trenitalia doesn’t release seats a year ahead like the airlines. They do so about 2-3 months out so make sure you’re on the site looking.

 

Pre-board:

All the major Italian train stations also have food and shopping that you can partake if you have a connection or if you arrive at the station early. Florence and Venice in particular have really built out their retail options at the station (food, shopping).  I was at Rome’s station so early in the morning I didn’t even notice.  But since Rome is such a large city, I would expect they also have many options.  I was able to buy coffee and snacks at SMN (Santa Maria Novella) in Florence and bring it on the train with me so that’s also an option when travelling.

I didn’t see anyone coming around with food so not sure if that’s new or if I was in a train that didn’t have that service.  It may be that I had to go to a special wagon/car on the train – but I didn’t do that.

 

Onboard:

The trains are air conditioned and you can select your seats beforehand (at booking). This is very convenient if you are travelling with a family or group and want to sit together. To be honest, I didn’t really know which train I was on or which level of service. I booked according to departure time, price and length of trip. Length of trip will tip you off because the Frecciabianca trains run the slowest and you will notice the duration while booking. Double check the pricing because you may be able to get the same price for a faster train. Conversely, you may notice a higher price for the Frecciarossa trains and their different levels of service.

These Italian trains were clean, efficient and timely.  All of the trains I took left and arrived on time.  I had read about strikes beforehand but I didn’t encounter any.  As well, the trains were silent meaning there were no humming or buzzing noises.  The a/c temperature was perfect and it was pretty much a smooth ride on all my routes.

Luggage storage is no problem as there are overhead storage at your seat. There’s also additional storage at your seat and at the entrance /door of the train car. I had carry on luggage which fit overhead but larger luggage can go in the storage at the door.

 

FCO to Rome Termini:

You can even take the train from FCO airport in Rome to Termini metro train station in the center of Rome for $14 euros one way. Service from Rome Termini starts at 5.35 a.m. with last train departing at 10.35 p.m.  And, from Fiumicino Airport, service starts at 6.23 a.m. until 23.23 p.m. Kids under 4 are free.  Also, small & large pets are also free and ok to travel as long as they are in their carrying cases.

 

My itinerary:

If you have been following my blog posts or my Vacation Guide for Italy, below is the recap of my Italian train travels.  This includes the station names which are important to know so you end up in the right place.

  1. Rome Termini station – Florence Santa Maria Novella station.  2.5 hours.  Make sure to select Rome “Termini” and “Firenze SMN” station.  Both Rome and Florence have another station so make sure to select these as the main train station.  If you’re looking ahead of time (2-3 months), you may be able to snag this route for $20 euros one way which is a great deal.
  2. Florence SMN station – Pisa Centrale station.  30 minutes.  Most likely, this will be a “Regionale” or slower train.  This was the only train ticket I bought at a kiosk in the SMN station because I was unsure of the day and time I wanted to go to Pisa.  It’s $14 euros round trip.  There’s no discount (that I could see) to pre-booking.  The Florence-Pisa route is available every 20 minutes.
  3. Florence SMN station – Verona Porta Nuova station.  2-2.5 hours.  There is a train changeover/ connection in Bologna Centrale.  I got a 2 for 1 ticket deal on this leg – check the site as you may be able to get special deals on various routes.
  4. Verona Porta Nuova station – Venice S.Lucia station. 1 hour.  Make sure to select “Venezia S. Lucia” station and not Venezia Mestre station or any other.  Venezia S. Lucia will drop you off at the tail end of the Grand Canal and near Piazzale Roma, the bus terminal.

 

Hopefully, this takes some of the mystery out of Italian train travel.  Italy has invested a lot of money into revamping their train system and it shows.  Don’t hesitate to try it out.

 

 

Hotel review: Crowne Plaza Hotel Verona, Italy

Hotel review: Crowne Plaza Hotel Verona, Italy

Below is my hotel reviews for the Crowne Plaza Hotel Verona (IHG brand of hotels).  I stayed at American hotels because I wanted to use points for award reservations and for more modern conveniences.  These hotels are not found in the city center (as most American International brands are not usually in the center of town) but they were all easily accessible, modern, clean and luxurious.  I booked award reservations 4-6 months out from my arrival and found availability.

For more information on what to see and do in Verona, Italy, check out my post: All the Lovely Sights in Verona, Italy.

Featured photo by Nik Lanus.

 

Crowne Plaza Hotel Verona – Fiera

Via Belgio 16, Verona – 37135, Italy 

Hotel Review:

The Crowne Plaza Hotel Verona claims to be the only international hotel brand in Verona (per the IHG website).  My stay was in May and I was very impressed.  Not only is the hotel very modern but it may be the cleanest hotel I’ve ever stayed in.  The rooms were spotless and even the coffee maker seemed like it had never been used.  The bathrooms were ultra-modern and clean.

There is an onsite gym, pool, restaurant and complimentary wi-fi.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to sample these.  However, based on my impression of the hotel, I can’t imagine it to be less than stellar. 

Getting to/from:

By taxi, it is $12 euros one-way from the train station (Porta Nuova Verona).  The hotel is not in the city center of Verona but is accessible by hotel shuttle bus or local bus.

The hotel shuttle bus has a schedule (3 times in the morning and 3 times in evening).  You may have to reserve a spot ahead of time in peak times.  It drops you off in the city center. 

The local bus #98 is almost outside the entrance.  From the front door/entrance: turn left, make a left at the first street (Via Francia), then right onto Via Roveggia.  The street you are looking for is Via Roveggia – take the bus heading northeast to go into town.  This street is kind of behind the hotel – just look for passing buses and look for the bus stop which will have a map of the different buses and where they are going.  From there, it’s less than 10 minutes to the city center.  While on the bus, I did pass by the train station.  Thus, I’m sure there is a way to take the bus from the station to Crowne Plaza but I arrived after 9:30p so I just took a taxi. 

The local bus #62 stops outside the hotel entrance but I am unsure if this will take you to Verona city center.  If in need, there is a Tesla super-charger station next door to the hotel.

Other:

This hotel charges a city tax.  However, I can’t locate the exact number on their website.  When I was there I paid around $2.24 per person per night.

Recommend (Y/N): Yes

I would stay here again and definitely recommend the Crowne Plaza Hotel Verona.

 

 

Crowne Plaza Verona

Hotel review: Hilton Garden Inn Venice, Italy

Hotel review: Hilton Garden Inn Venice, Italy

Below is my review of the Hilton Garden Inn Venice.  During my trip to Italy in the Spring, I stayed at American hotels because I wanted to use points for award reservations and for more modern conveniences.  These hotels are not found in the city center (as most American International brands are not usually in the center of town) but they were all easily accessible, modern, clean and luxurious.  I booked award reservations 4-6 months out from my arrival and found availability.

For more information on sightseeing in Venice, check out my post Navigate the waterways and top sights in Venice, Italy.

Featured photo by Nik Lanus.

 

Hilton Garden Inn Venice Mestre San Giuliano

Via Orlanda, 1, Venezia Mestre, 30173, Italy

Hotel Review:

The Hilton Garden Inn Venice is very clean, modern with a very international and upscale vibe.  I have no complaints about anything – the rooms, bathroom, etc were beyond my expectation.  The location is outside Venice but I can’t think of a better value.  It is only 10 minutes away by bus which picks you up right outside the hotel.  Best hotel deal in Venice if you ask me.

There is a snack bar downstairs which is a bit pricey but if you are in need as I was, then it’s there for you.  From this hotel, you can also take the bus to the airport which I did at the end of my stay.  That involves going up the stairs to take the overpass on the other side of the highway.  En route to airport, I noticed a McDonalds and other restaurants nearby (although not in walking distance).

Other:

Hilton’s loyalty program, Hilton Honors, will be changing in late February to include new perks.  One of them is variable pricing on award reservations as well as the option to pay with points and money.  That is great news for this hotel because you may be able to reserve this hotel for as low as 14,000 points (with $0 cash).  When I stayed the points needed were closer to 30,000 (40K is now the high range).  Not sure if May is considered a peak for this hotel but if you book in advance or in a non-peak time, you may be able to get a better deal.  This hotel is a steal at 14K points.  Check out how many points are needed here

There is a city tax of $3.10 per person per night at this hotel.

Getting to/from:

This Hilton Garden Inn Venice is accessible by local bus #5 or #19 from the Piazza Roma (bus stop/parking grounds), the last transportation stop in Venice.  If coming from the Venice train station (next to Piazza Roma) or Piazza Roma itself, take bus #5 or #19 north.  You will see the hotel from the bus (on the left side) – just ring the bell to get off.  Once you disembark, you will have to climb up stairs to take an overpass b/c the hotel is on the other side of a very busy highway. 

If coming from the airport to the hotel, you can take local bus #9 or #15.  Once you see the hotel on the right side, disembark.  You will be on the other side of the highway so no need to cross the overpass.  Just walk towards the hotel.  And vice versa, if heading to the airport from the hotel, use local bus #9 or #15 but you will have to cross on the overpass (to go North). 

Please note the differences in buses 5, 15, 9, 19.  Double check the correct bus and direction at the bus stop which has a map of the route.

Recommend (Y/N): Yes

In short, I would stay here again.  This hotel provides great value for the $ paid – and even greater value if you snag an award reservation.  Hotels in Venice are very expensive and this one is conveniently accessible by bus to both Venice center and the VCE International airport.

 

 

Hilton Garden Inn - Mestre Venice San Giuliano

Venice International Airport

Venice - Piazza Roma

Take an unforgettable Italy vacation

Take an unforgettable Italy vacation

Going to Italy for vacation is always one of the top destinations on any traveler’s bucket list.  And with good reason.  There are endless things to do, see, eat and shop for in Italy.  It’s an art, food and fashion mecca.  There are many cities and regions in Italy — all offering its own flavor and distinction.  With Italian trains receiving a facelift in recent years, travel around the country is even more accessible.

I took this 10 day vacation with my family in May/Spring.  We started in Rome and ended in Venice. However, you could easily do the reverse or even start in the middle at Florence and pick up either leg.

Below is my recap of each place with links to my blog posts that have more detailed information about sights, getting around and maps to help you out.

 

Take a walking tour of Rome

Rome wasn’t built in a day but you can do a pretty good job of covering major sights around town.  Start with the most iconic, The Colloseum, and take a walk through history.  Don’t forget to stop for gelato or get a café.  The many squares are great places to people watch.

Check out my Walking Tour post of Rome for more information.

Explore a Roman Villa in Tivoli

Consider taking a day trip from Rome to get out in the countryside.  Visit the small town of Tivoli where you have access to a few Roman villas.

My suggested Roman villa is Villa D’Este which has a beautifully frescoed villa and expansive gardens.

 

Seek inspiration in Vatican City

Seeing Michaelangelo’s masterpieces is a must do for any traveler and Vatican City doesn’t disappoint.  Although small in size, the art and history of the Vatican overwhelms.

Get the inside scoop on how to make the most of your time in the Vatican.

 

Eat, Shop & Stroll in Florence

Appease your senses in Florence with a stroll through the city.  Gardens, retail therapy, gelato, David and incredible art await.  Make sure to take in the view of it all from the hilltop, Piazza Michaelangelo.

Read more about the many ways to enjoy your time in Florence.

 

Discover Siena in the heart of Tuscany

Explore the Tuscan medieval city of Siena for a  look at Florence’s rival city.  Stroll the winding cobblestone streets and enjoy a café at the Campo in the center of town.

Check out my post on what this beautiful, red city has to offer.

 

Snap your pic@Pisa

Get swept away in the craziest, cheesiest photo taking session at Pisa.  Don’t fight it — just join the fun.

Read more on this fun and funny tourist attraction.

 

From Verona with Love

No where is eternal love more cherished and celebrated than Verona.  Come explore this sweet and lovely city with its cobblestone streets, Romeo & Juliet balcony and heart shaped confections and pasta.

View all the loveliness of Verona.

 

A Doge in Venice

Visit this unique and beautiful floating city in all its splendor, starting with San Marco’s square and the Doge’s Palace.  Ride the Grand Canal, see a glass blowing demo on Murano Island and explore the connecting bridges and neighborhoods.

Take to the water and discover Venice.

*Featured photo by Federico Beccari.

 

 

 Where to stay in Italy?  My Hotel Reviews…

Crowne Plaza Rome

Hilton Garden Inn Florence

Crowne Plaza Verona

Hilton Garden Inn Venice

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Hotel review for Hilton Garden Inn Florence, Italy

Hotel review for Hilton Garden Inn Florence, Italy

Check out my reviews of the Hilton Garden Inn Florence.  During my Italy vacation, I stayed at American hotels because I wanted to use points for award reservations and for more modern conveniences.  These hotels are not found in the city center (as most American International brands are not usually in the center of town) but they were all easily accessible, modern, clean and luxurious.  I booked award reservations 4-6 months out from my arrival and found availability.

Featured photo by Jason Briscoe.

 

Hilton Garden Inn Florence Novoli (previously Hilton Novoli)

Via Sandro Pertini, 2/9, FLORENCE, 50127

Hotel Review:

The Hilton Garden Inn Florence Novoli is a very modern, updated, clean hotel.  This is a really, really nice hotel.  I am surprised to see Hilton change it to a Garden Inn which is a lower tiered category of hotel.  Maybe the level of Garden Inns is going up and I need to adjust my expectations.  Check out their site pics for yourself.

As I mentioned, this is a very modern hotel.  There is onsite gym, restaurant, wi-fi, etc.  I didn’t use these but I am sure they would be up to par.

One thing that wasn’t up to par – and I read on customer forums before I went there – was that the a/c wasn’t working.  I told the front desk but for the 2 nights I stayed, there was no a/c.  The hotel staff provided fans but that only circulated the hot air.  The windows wouldn’t open more than 3 inches.   It’s as if the hotel put an ultra-modern window in there (maybe for winter) but didn’t think about summer.  I was there in May and it was cool and lovely outside.  That is exactly the type of air temperature I would have loved if the window would open fully.

Everything else I loved about this hotel.  Did I mention super-clean and modern?

When I was at this hotel, the roses were in full bloom.  There is a trellis in the back courtyard with climbing roses and they were in full blossom.  Beautiful.  I saw roses in bloom all over Italy – maybe that’s a thing (which I really love).  I regret not asking where to get seeds for those roses.

Neighborhood:

Another wonderful thing about this hotel – even though the location is not in walking distance of the city center – is that it is near a retail shopping strip center sort of thing.  There are cafes, dining, shopping, etc in walking distance which is really nice.

Be sure to check out The Coop (or Cooperative).  This wonderful supermarket is more like a Whole Foods or boutique grocery but without the expensive price tag.  It’s filled with Italian artisinal brands and also has pizza, pasta, cheeses, breads, etc that you can take-away on the go.  The supermarket section has many locally made products that are certified as authentic Italian.  The prices are very reasonable and these items make for great souvenirs.  I got my breakfast items from The Coop every night.  You could easily get a pizza or sandwich to go for the day and pick it up in the morning.  Check it out at e-coop.it

Getting to/from:

To get to the Hilton Garden Inn Florence from the SMN train station, take the local bus 22 going towards Novoli (stop: Ragghianti).  You can also access the city by the local bus ($1-2 euros one way).  To get the bus, exit the hotel entrance and walk 5 minutes on Via Sandro Pertini to the main road, Via di Novoli.  Cross the street to take the local bus 22 heading towards city center (Novoli stop: Stradella).  If arriving at the hotel, exit the bus and you’ll be on the right/closer side to walk down Via Sandro Pertini towards the hotel.

Other:

Hilton’s loyalty program, Hilton Honors, will be changing in late February to include new perks.  One of them is variable pricing on award reservations as well as the option to pay with points and money.  That is great news for this hotel because you may be able to reserve this hotel for as low as 16,000 points (with $0 cash).  When I stayed the points needed were closer to 30,000 (which is now the high range).  Not sure if May is considered a peak for this hotel but if you book in advance or in a non-peak time, you may be able to get a better deal.  This hotel is a steal at 16K points.  Check out how many points are needed here.

City tax of $4.5 euros per person per night applies to all non-residents of Florence.  If you are a resident of Florence, what are the odds of you staying at this hotel in your own city, hmmm?

Recommend (Y/N): Yes

Not only would I recommend this hotel (even with the a/c issue) but I would also stay here if I am in Florence again.

 

Hilton Garden Inn - Novoli

The Coop - Supermarket