Our experts are here to help with all your questions about Italy. This time, we look at organising large family holidays, and getting away to northern Tuscany
This year we are taking a large family group away and we think a villa would be the best idea for us all. We have three generations coming along with us from preschool children to grandparents, so we need space, a safe pool area and easy access. I’ve seen that Invitation to Tuscany has villas on its site that seem to fit the bill – and offers a personal service to help narrow down the choice. Could you help us?
Steve Watson, by email
Organising a family reunion holiday is a wonderful idea and will generate lots of fantastic memories. Choosing a villa over a hotel gives everybody freedom to relax, cook, swim and share together – but making sure you have the right place is crucial to your holiday’s success.
We visit each and every house we list, usually several times over, and often stay in them, and we know our areas inside out; all our advice is first-hand, and our service is engaged. We love asking you questions about what you’re looking for, about the quirks of the various generations and different things you might like to do so we can try to match you to the perfect villa.
We often describe the process as a little like old-fashioned match-making: any old website can show you lists of available places (or people!) with endless lists of features, but it’s a valuable skill to know your villas well and help you pick the perfect one for your family stay.
Many people have told us it also cuts down on the stress – usually there is one family member who has been charged with ‘finding the perfect villa’ and who bears the weight of everybody’s expectations. By narrowing down the choice and then giving you detailed answers to various questions we make sure you’re going in prepared, ready to make sure that Auntie Angela can do her cookery course while cousin Fred is out on his bike and you are snoozing by the pool, with a chilled Aperol soda within reach.
The free concierge service is the cherry on the cake, and is developed naturally from the booking business; if you need a chef, or a tour guide, Italian lessons or bike hire, we’ll do it for you. All you have to do is ask.
Dan Wrightson, Invitation to Tuscany
Northern Tuscan travels
We have visited Tuscany on several occasions but have always stayed either in Florence or in the surrounding area, and haven’t had an opportunity to practise our Italian. as everyone there seems to speak English. We would like to find out more about the northern part of this beautiful region but don’t know where to start. What are the key places of interest you would recommend for first-time visitors? There are two of us and we would like to stay somewhere quiet that is within reach of some these areas.
Jenny Barnes, by email
I’m glad to hear that you have visited Florence, and the beautiful areas of Tuscany surrounding it. If you are now ready for something a little quieter, I thoroughly recommend the Lunigiana area of northern Tuscany. To give yourself the best chance of visiting all its attractions, I would try to stay in an area bounded by Fivizzano to the north, Fosdinovo to the south and Casola to the east.
Fivizzano is worth visiting in itself, especially if you catch it in the summer months when its internationally famous flag throwers are in action, and you can visit its Malaspina castle. From Fivizzano, a 30-minute drive will take you to the beautiful area of Cerreto Laghi, which provides peaceful walks around its lakes and mountains. A 20-minute drive in the other direction will take you to the natural baths at Equi Terme, which also offers prehistoric caves which are open to the public to visit.
Casola itself is the capital of tranquillity. When we first got to know the area about 20 years ago, we were told that it was 50 years behind the rest of the world. It hasn’t done a lot of catching up since, although some surprisingly good restaurants have opened up, if you know where to look.
Casola is also the gateway to the Garfagnana, another beautiful part of upper Tuscany. The Garfagnana valley will lead you, either by car or better still by train, to the area’s jewel, Lucca. If you need a quick gasp of what you got in Florence, this is the place to go. And finally, Fosdinovo, perched up on top of a hill with a magnificent view out over the Bay of Poets to the ancient port of Portovenere and its islands, Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. Just around the corner are the seaside villages of the Cinque Terre. A 15-minute drive will get you to the historic town of Sarzana with its extraordinary Renaissance fortresses.
And if you want to try out your Italian, the locals will be only too delighted and will not respond in their best English as you may have found elsewhere in Tuscany, not unless you want them to. Best of all, this is available at a fraction of the cost you are used to paying in southern Tuscany. My focaccia and ice cold sparkling water in the Caffè Letterario in the centre of Pontremoli, in which I am sitting to write this reply, has just cost me €3.50.
Jerome O’Brien, Luni Holidays
We have a holiday home in Lerici, Liguria. Recently I have heard that we must have a will drawn up in Italy to cover what happens to the property after we die. Is this correct? Can we not include it on our assets in our British wills? We are British citizens.
Adrian Gibson, by email
International private rules on succession in Italy have recently been replaced by the new European Regulation 650/2012 on succession.
Under the new regulation, the law that takes precedence is that of the deceased’s habitual country of residence. In cases where the habitual residence and nationality differ, the individual may stipulate in their Will that the law of their state of nationality should apply.
Although the UK has opted out of EU Regulation 650/2012, the provisions of the regulation may have implications for anyone who owns assets in an EU state that has opted in, such as Italy.
Despite the fact that UK Wills are valid in Italy, Italian probate involving foreign Wills is usually more complicated and an official, legalised translation of the Will and/or Grant of Probate is usually required. A declaration of succession must also be produced in order that any taxes due may be paid.
British citizens who own properties in Italy are advised to make a separate Italian Will to cover their Italian assets as doing so can dramatically simplify the probate procedure in Italy upon their death. Italian inheritance tax is payable on assets located in Italy and ranges from 4 per cent to 11 per cent for immovable properties.
When making a Will, UK citizens should carefully consider their potential UK liabilities, which may still impact British nationals resident abroad. All formalities can be dealt with more smoothly with the assistance of a legal professional who can liaise with the relevant Authorities on behalf of the beneficiaries and prepare all the necessary paperwork.
Laura Protti, LEP Law