30 Aug How to: Survive (and maybe even enjoy) August in Italy
I know, I know, if you come from the rainy UK, a week in Italy in the summer is probably something you fantasise about, but let me assure you that spending the entire month of August in an Italian city is not as fun as it might sound.
In case you hadn’t heard: Italian summers are hot. Really, really hot. In August, temperatures in Turin regularly reach the mid 30s and with humidity, it can feel more like the core of the earth than somewhere just a couple of hours from Switzerland. As you move further south, the temperatures only go up (although the humidity thankfully doesn’t). Air conditioning ranges from Siberian to non-existent, making popping to the shops and visiting cafés and restaurants both a sweaty and a shivery experience. Unless you’re very lucky, rented properties tend to be painfully warm, and it’s not guaranteed you’ll have air conditioning at work either (my office does, but the system tends to conk out roughly once every 24 hours).
To add to the fun, Italy is essentially closed in August. Ferragosto (a Catholic holiday) falls on the 15th and this, combined with the soaring temperatures and school holidays, means that the Italians all take their annual leave at this time, flocking to the beach and away from the cities. Shops and restaurants pull their shutters down and stick up their “IN FERIE” signs (often closing for the entire month), and by the second week of August, the cities become ghost towns, while the seaside resorts are overrun with tourists, both from Italy and abroad.
In the last couple of years, more shops and services have started to stay open, but it’s still a bit sad when you have to stay in the city for the whole summer, as I did this year.
The good news is, there are a few things you can do to enjoy your August a little bit more.
1. Buy. A. Fan.
If you don’t have air conditioning at home (and if you live in a regular rented apartment, you won’t), the most unbearable thing about August is spending 31 days wanting to tear your own skin off, and having to hang out in the surgelati aisle at the supermarket all day in a desperate attempt to keep cool. A cheap fan will save your sanity and feel like the best €30 you ever spent. Added bonus: it’ll also keep the mosquitos more or less at bay.
2. Get into gelato, big time
The gelaterie are more or less the only places guaranteed to be open throughout the summer, and most days, frozen food is the only stuff you’ll want to eat. Take this as a sign from the universe, and spend your lunchbreaks trying as many ice cream flavours as you can. If you’re after something a bit lighter, try the granite – sorbet slushies with far fewer gross chemicals than the fluorescent ones you used to get at the Odeon.
3. Phone a friend
Trust me, more people are stuck in the city than you might think. The thing is, they’re all huddling around their fans at home just like you are, so you can’t expect to bump into your friends while you’re out and about. Put out some feelers, publish that desperate “Anyone here?” Facebook status, and find someone else in your same situation – August gets a lot more fun when you’re in good company.
4. Make the most of the evenings
Being outside in the daytime can be painful, but once the sun goes down, it’s a whole different ball game. Make the most of your evenings – head for a late aperitivo and sip an icy Spritz in a nice piazza with a friend. The bar options will be more limited than usual, but when you want Aperol, have faith that you will find it.
5. Enjoy the emptiness
This sounds strange to say, I know. But you may find that the ghost town brings you more joy than you’d expected. Most of the bigger museums and galleries stay open for the whole month, so you can use this as the ideal moment to visit somewhere which is usually crawling with tourists – S and I had the Castello di Rivoli all to ourselves this summer. Even if some of the shops are closed, it’s also nice to wander up and down via Roma or via Garibaldi without the hoardes, and you can stroll around Zara like it’s your personal walk-in wardrobe.
6. If all else fails, head to the mountains
Unless you particularly enjoy suffering, you’ll probably want to escape the city, even if that’s just for a day or a weekend. If you ask me, the beach is even worse (as are public swimming pools), as you’ll not only hit huge traffic jams to get there, but Italian beaches tend to be small and overcrowded, so you probably won’t be too relaxed even when you do eventually arrive. The mountains are a great alternative. Although food and accommodation can be pricey, it’s worth investing in a place where you won’t be surrounded by screaming children and sweating from every pore. The higher you go, the cooler it gets, and getting out of the car to some cool, fresh air is honestly a delight.