One of the biggest differences between Italy and other (northern) European and north American countries is the attitude towards the temperature in the house.
Even though over the last few years air conditioning has become increasingly popular, it is by no means a common feature in Italian houses. Nor is it common to keep the indoor temperature a very high during the winter months. By law, in public buildings (such as schools, common areas in hotels, etc.) the temperature should never be above 18°C.
This depends probably on the fact that in Italy the cost of gas and electricity is very high, and also that in some areas proper gas-lines are not yet available or have become available only recently. Over the centuries people have learnt to avoid waste and to find other ways to cope with the winter cold and the summer heat.
Here is a list of suggestions on how to “adjust” to the Italian climate like the locals do!
Our homes are great in the summer, because, being mostly built in stone, they tend to stay cool even in the hottest weather. For this reason, however, in winter they can be quite cold.
The first thing that people travelling to Italy during the winter months have to remember is that, even if here the temperatures are rarely as low as 0°C or lower, we do get some cold days.
Even with the most modern heating systems, you will soon find out that it is very difficult to make a house with stone walls and ceramic floors as warm as a northern European or American insulated wood house. Considering that the hot weather lasts much longer than the cold weather, houses around here are mostly designed to cope with the heat rather than with the cold.
There is not much you can do about that other than being aware that that’s the way things are around here and preparing to dress warmly. Contrary to what happens in other countries, in Italy, short sleeves, pants and skirts are safely stored away in the fall to come back out only in spring.
So if you decide to visit Italy in winter (which by the way is a great time of the year – no crowds, lower prices, good enough weather, and seasonal products such as chestnuts, mushrooms, and the new olive oil) remember to bring warm clothes to wear inside as well as outside, and don’t forget warm pyjamas and socks. I also recommend you bring slippers, because walking with bare feet on cold tiles is not as comfortable as walking on carpets or wooden floors.
And if it gets really cold, you can always enjoy some of the excellent new wine or the local liqueurs! Nothing is better than a bruschetta, some “salsicce alla brace” (grilled sausages) and a good glass of red wine in front of the fireplace!
There are some tricks to beat the summer heat in Tuscany even without air conditioning. Even if most places will have fans, here are a few things you can keep in mind to cope with the hot weather!
Most houses have shutters outside the windows: keep them closed during the hottest hours of the day, but leave the windows open. This keeps air circulating but blocks the sun out, which ensures lower indoor temperatures. When it cools down, normally around 6:30 pm, open all the shutters and the cooler evening breeze will come in.
Drink a lot of water and eat a lot of vegetables and fruit. There are so many delicious seasonal products in the summer! A nice peach, or a cold slice of watermelon is better than any air conditioning system!
Do not drink alcohol during the hottest hours of the day, you will feel even more dehydrated. You should also avoid very cold water: the difference in temperature between inside and outside your body will be too great, and it will make it all worse.
Take warm showers rather than cold showers: if you use hot water, it will seem cooler when you get out of the shower. For the same reason, contrary to what you may think, a visit to the hot springs can really help when it’s very hot outside.
Dress in cotton and avoid synthetic materials.
If you are sightseeing, stop in a bar or a nice restaurant, or even better in a park or a field under some trees and enjoy a couple of slow hours out of the sun before going back to walking around. In the art cities, try to leave the hottest hours of the day to visit the churches: they are generally very cool. Also, if you decide to visit wineries, make sure you are in the cellars in the early afternoon and leave the outdoor sightseeing for later in the day.
And don’t forget to enjoy ice-cream and granita!