It goes without saying that you should always travel with comprehensive insurance cover for medical expenses and your personal belongings. If you are coming from with the EC, make sure you apply for and bring with you your European Health Insurance card, or EHIC - the replacement for the E111. If you are coming from the UK, you find details on how to apply for this here.
The quality of the public health care system in Tuscany is very high indeed, with excellent local facilities. If you run short of medication you can usually get help from the local pharmacies, especially if you bring your prescription with you. Care for children is some of the best in Europe, with superb facilities in Florence.
These pests are usually around from May to September. We don´t normally have too much of a problem (it is a bigger problem in the towns and cities), and all the rooms have netting on the windows to keep the critters out. But if you are particularly sensitive, bring insect repellent spray (though this is for sale everywhere here) and a plug-in repellent if you are especially worried. We have mosquito nets for those who would like one and a few plug-in devices. If you are planning on sitting outside in the evenings, repellent spray is very useful.
We are out in deepest Chianti, so there will always be a few bugs and flying insects. But please don´t worry. They are mostly harmless and non-agressive.
The voltage here is 220v (as it is throughout Europe) and most of the electrical sockets are of the in-line 2 or 3 pin type. If you have stuff to plug in, remember to bring an adaptor with you. Hairdryers are provided in all rooms, though please keep their use to a minimum to conserve electricity. Being in the middle of the country-side, we are limited to how much power we can draw, and if everyone dries their hair at the same time, the power can cut out temporarily.
Getting your phone to work in Italy might be as simple as talking to your provider and asking them to switch on international roaming. It’s not cheap to make calls, but good enough for emergencies, reservations and the occasional call home...
Otherwise, check your phone will work in Europe and that it’s unlocked, and then buy a SIM card from a mobile phone shop when you get here, probably at the airport. That’ll give you an Italian number and cheaper local calls, though international calls will probably still be expensive.
Finally, bring your computer/netbook/smart-phone/wireless PDA, load Skype (or similar) and use that to make cheap calls world-wide whenever you are in a free Wifi zone (we have one here at Patrignone).
The water here at Patrignone has been analysed and is perfectly clean. We drink it, and it tastes lovely! However, if you have a particularly sensitive constitution it doesn´t do any harm to play it safe and drink bottled water.
If you have never been to Tuscany before, eating out is going to be a major part of your stay here. The food is fantastic, and very varied, from fish to game, pizza to nouvelle cuisine, cheap-and-cheerful to über-expensive. If you are a steak-lover, make sure you try a Fiorentina (the biggest T-bone fillet you have ever seen, often shared between 2 and 4 people, and sold by weight). Pasta here is superb, and game a local speciality, especially Cinghiale, local wild boar.
And of course, you will never be short of choice when it comes to wine. If you feel like splashing out, try the wine made by our neighbour Isole e Olena. They make a superb ´Super-Tuscan´ red, Ceparello; it wont be cheap, but it is worth every cent in my opinion.
As with many European counties, finding good vegetarian food in restaurants is not always easy, so if you are not sure, make sure you ask to see the menu before deciding to eat. If there is nothing you like, ask the waiter whether the chef can prepare something for you. They will usually be very happy to help. Most restaurants have several vegetarian pasta dishes, and if you are going for a pizza, you wont have any problems at all.
The Italians drive on the right, as do most Europeans. Despite their somewhat aggressive style, Italian drivers are usually quite good. Don´t be surprised to see an Italian driving very close behind you and flashing his lights. Don´t panic – it´s just what they do. Take it easy, drive normally, and let them sort themselves out.
Please remember to switch on your headlights whenever you drive on an Italian motorway (autostrada or superstrada). It´s the law here. (I keep mine on all the time just to be sure.)
Navigating the Italian road network can be a tricky exercise, even for the well-initiated. If you are planning on doing a lot of driving, buy a good map. Plan your journey in advance so you know what towns and roads to look for in advance.
Better still, bring your Sat Nav (with Italian maps). I swear by mine.
There are no trespass laws in Italy, so the hunters and their guns are free to roam anywhere they please from October to January. This is unlikely to affect you, even if you are staying here during the Autumn season, though they tend to start at the crack of dawn, so it´s not unusual to hear the first shots just after 6am!
Russell & Marian, Maryland USA