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TOURISM

What you need to know about Italy’s free museum Sundays

Want to see the Colosseum or Michelangelo’s David for free? You can on Italy’s free museum Sundays.

The Galleria dell'Accademia in central Florence is home to the original 16th century statue of David by Michelangelo Buonarroti. Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP

People across Italy will be able to visit museums for free once again this Sunday, September 4th, under the nationwide Domenica al Museo or ‘free museum Sundays’ scheme allowing ticketless entry on the first Sunday of every month.

First introduced in 2014, the offer was suspended during the coronavirus pandemic amid concerns about crowding but reinstated in April 2022.

READ ALSO: Sagra: The best Italian food festivals to visit in September

As tickets for major historical sites and museums in Italy often cost upwards of €15 per person, there are big savings to be made and the free Sundays scheme is understandably popular among both tourists and residents.

The remaining dates for the year are: September 4th, October 2nd, November 6th, and December 4th.

Where can I go?

The scheme applies to hundreds of state-run museums, archaeological parks and monuments, including world-famous sites like the Colosseum, Pompeii, Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, the Reggia di Caserta and Trieste’s Miramare Castle.

The offer does not apply to sites that are run by local authorities rather than the state, though many cities run similar initiatives of their own.

READ ALSO:Nine ways to get into trouble while visiting Venice

Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

How do I book a free ticket?

In many cases you don’t need to and can simply turn up and walk in.

However, some venues such as Rome’s Galleria Borghese require advance booking, so it’s always wise to find the attraction’s website and check the rules before you go.

Are there any Covid restrictions?

Right now the Italian government does not have any health restrictions in place for museums.

The culture ministry recommends visitors wear masks, but this is no longer obligatory.

Individual venues – as well as local authorities – can however set their own requirements, so it’s another thing you may want to check before your visit.

Will museums be overcrowded?

This really depends on where you go. Italy most famous attractions always draw huge crowds in summer – free entrance or otherwise – while lesser-known spots or those outside the major tourist areas may be less chaotic.

But frankly, it’s likely to be busy in most places. The scheme was cancelled in 2019 (and then reinstated after a change of government) due to concerns about long queues and overcrowding – long before anyone had heard of Covid-19.

Some sites capped visitor numbers when the scheme was initially reinstated in spring but it’s unclear how many still do this.

What else should I know?

You can find a full list of the sites included and links to further information for each on the Italian culture ministry’s website here.

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TOURISM

Trulli to treehouses: Why Italy’s tourists can’t get enough of ‘back to basics’ travel

Italy's mountain huts, treehouses and even caves are being given luxury makeovers and rented to tourists, often for eyewatering prices - and people are happy to pay. Reporter Silvia Marchetti looks at what's behind the growing trend.

I believe there’s nothing more luxurious than simplicity, especially when it comes down to accommodation and travel. 

And it seems that tourists visiting Italy agree. Several accommodation business owners have recently told me there’s a high demand for chic but simple experiences, both in terms of holiday homes to rent and hotels, as well as restaurants. 

Unexpectedly, these places are more expensive to buy or rent than modern rentals and hotels. 

There’s a sort of ‘expensive poverty’ glamour that lures travelers. That’s why there’s been such a revival of ancient dwellings across Italy, well beyond the famous luxury spa-type hotels set in old cave houses like the ones in Matera, Grottole and other southern areas.

It’s an emerging trend that feeds the primeval nature of man. Travellers want to reconnect with mankind’s ancient heritage – but with money and a few modern comforts.

READ ALSO: Is Italy’s west or east coast the best place for a holiday?

Take the simple treehouses that are springing up recently in Puglia, near Foggia, within lush forests where visitors are surrounded by nature – but at the same time inside a cozy room. The experience may recall our prehistoric roots in some way.

Or reverting to sleeping in sea grottos originally inhabited by primitive men, then turned into cozy white-washed fishermen shelters where entire crews would take shelter during storms.

A renovated fisherman’s hut on Italy’s Ponza island. Photo: Touristcasa

The tiny atoll of Palmarola off Rome’s coast is dotted with fishermen grottos turned into élite summer retreats, rented with private dinghies starting from 500 euros per person per night. One such grotto home has a double entrance that cuts right through the rock, so you have panoramic sea views on both sides – great for solo morning swims. 

On the nearby island of Ponza, where caveman used to go looking for the precious obsidian black stone, clifftop seafront villas cut into hillsides are the most in-demand accommodation.

I once met a young couple who was staying in one of these for two weeks and it was funny how they enjoyed such an isolated place with no easy access (only by boat). At night they would climb down to their little dock along a steep dark path without any lights lined with prickly pear shrubs to get to a little dinghy (that comes with the villa) that would take them each time to the main village to shop, eat and so on. It was like their scooter.

I fell, scratched my legs and nearly broke my neck visiting, and it was daylight. They enjoyed going around with flashlights at night because it was cool, they said. Oh, and their kingsize shower also had a limited water supply, because it used rainwater as a source like in the good old days. 

The view from a fisherman’s hut on Italy’s Ponza island. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

This is all part of a new  trend that’s unique to Italy, given the country’s rich, ancient architectural heritage. 

The cone-shaped trulli of Puglia are an iconic type of accommodation, found not only in Alberobello, the most touristy place of all, but scattered all over the area, where families that own one in their backyard can rent it at high prices – as referenced in the funny Italian movie titled ‘Mi rifaccio il trullo’ (I’ll give my trullo a makeover).

READ ALSO: Why visitors to Italy are ditching hotels – and where they’re staying instead

Last time I visited the Alto Adige region I was surprised at seeing so many old ‘masi’, which are Alpine dairy lodges and farms built by ancient shepherd tribes with thick stone walls and slanted roofs, lavishly restyled and transformed into country houses offering ‘nature stays’. The ‘spa’ at the one I stayed at was the actual freezing stream outside with currents, so I just had to take a dip and have my legs massaged by the running water, and the spring water served at dinner came also from that same stream. 

The owners are a very rich couple who hate cars, so they would travel from their house to the lodge on horseback. Obviously all the teas and herbs I drank came from the maso’s garden.

Part of an Alpine maso in Alto Adige. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

In Sicily I found interesting salt pan mills turned into panoramic bars, while near my house medieval olive oil millis, or frantoi, are now busy pizzerias and B&Bs with stone rooms featuring the original grindstones.

In the region of Abruzzo, the entire coast is dotted with old wooden sea huts dubbed Trabocchi suspended above water with fishnets, abandoned by fishermen families after the second world war and now turned into restaurants with a cute, romantic vibe.

All these ancient dwellings which are being restored for tourist use are in demand because they offer a chapter of history and an ‘immaterial cultural experience’. That is why people are prepared to pay whatever the price. 

It’s a bit like renting a tribal tent in an African luxury resort: you’d be paying more for the ‘emotions’ it triggers than the tent itself.

With savvy travelers always looking for that special, out-of-the-ordinary experience, this ‘luxury poverty’ accommodation trend will only keep growing in popularity.

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