Why your Italian Airbnb is about to cost more

Italy has finally made a move against Airbnb and come June of 2017, things are going to change.

It’s difficult to really get a fixed number to asses the impact Airbnb has had in Italy’s major tourist destinations, because Airbnb hasn’t been sharing it, but the city of Rome, just as an example, has about 4,000 legally registered guesthouses and vacation rental apartments, whereas a search on Airbnb shows well over 12,000 results.

Despite having unlocked lots of amazing, well priced places to stay, the illegality it has promoted matters, and here’s why:

- Italy has strict anti-terrorist laws that requires all accommodation owners to register their guests with the police.  So far this has helped police to track anyone, visitors and residents alike, who are staying somewhere other than their primary residence.  Accommodation providers that aren’t registered with the city, and thus illegal, have no way (and no reason) to register their guests, which undermines the efforts of law enforcement.

- Tourist tax.  Almost all major Italian cities now enforce a tourist tax, which is collected by the accommodation provider and then paid to the city.  Those that are illegal have no way (and again, no reason) to collect this, so a huge amount of money that’s needed for the upkeep and maintenance of cities that are heavily trafficked by tourists, goes unpaid.  Or worse, the accommodation providers collect the money from tourists, but then pocket it.

- Taxes.  Yes, no one likes to pay them.  But taxes do pay for the police, hospitals, firemen, and everything else that we hope is working well when we need it.

- Everything else under the table.  If you’re illegal, you can’t hire staff legally, can’t pay sales tax.  Essentially any services you hire out will be paid as an individual without the same contributions that businesses make that pays health insurance, unemployment, pensions – all the benefits that people rely on.

The new law and what it does:

- Packaged as a tax break, it gives the option to any private individual renting real estate for under 30 days to pay a flat 21% tax instead of the normal income tax that starts at 23% and goes up depending on one’s income.

- Obligates intermediaries, including on-line sites that collect payment from the guest, specifically Airbnb, to withhold the 21% and pay it directly to the tax authorities on behalf of the accommodation provider.

- Obligates the same intermediaries to report to the tax authorities all rentals taking place.

- Owners who don’t wish to pay the flat rate will have the amounts paid on their behalf put on credit toward whatever else they owe.

- This new law goes into effect as of June 2017.  The tax authority has 90 days to inform the public and other parties concerned how the reporting and payments will be done.

What we can expect:

Whatever the number of illegal properties are, those who are illegal cannot pay their taxes, either purposefully or because to do so would shed light on their own illegality.  Those people, as of June 2017, are going to see their takings drop 21%, which will surely force them to increase their prices, or to close down entirely for risk of getting fined for not having the proper authorisation.  Either way – we expect either the market will shrink, which will push prices up, or the market will remain the same size, but prices will increase to compensate.  Intermediates are also obligated to report (though it hasn’t been released how) all the details of each rental transaction.  This will mean the tax police will have detailed records of all Airbnb hosts, and those that are operating without authorisation will be easily identifiable.

Airbnb has been known to push back legally at legislation that can potentially hurt their revenues, so it’s possible that this law will be contested.  However, they’ve also recently made peace with San Francisco and NY, two of its biggest markets, by dropping lawsuits.

Visiting the Domus Aurea with Through Eternity Tours

When I first moved to Rome I lived near the Colosseum and walked through the Colle Oppio park, passing by the ruins of Trajan’s bathhouse, a few times a day.  Shortly after, a section of Nero’s “Golden House”, the Domus Aurea, was opened in the park – then closed  and reopened numerous times.  In the 18 years since, I’ve never been able to coordinate a visit, so when we were invited by Through Eternity Tours on a private, small, walking tour of the site, I accepted without hesitation.

A brief history lesson:

Before the Colosseum was built, the area from the Palatine Hill all the way up the Oppian hill, almost to Santa Maria Maggiore on the Esquiline hill, was residential and considered the countryside.  The big fire of Rome in 64 AD burned this area down and Emperor Nero, taking advantage of a law that gave him the right to reclaim the land, took possession of this vast area and decided to build an enormous palace.  It stretched from the Palatine hill, over the Celian and Oppian hills, all the way to the Esquiline hill.  No one knows for sure how big it was, but estimates are between 100-300 acres.

Nero also commissioned a 35 meter tall, bronze statue of himself at the entrance, called the Colossus Neronis, made to look like a Greek god of the sun, which was so, uh, colossal, that later on in the middle ages people started calling Flavian’s Ampitheater, built after Nero’s death by Vespasian in the middle of what was an artificial lake, the Colosseum.

The Domus Aurea

Needless to say, it was a not only large, but also amazingly adorned.  So much gold leaf that it was called the “Golden House”.  Precious stones, ivory, frescoed walls, mosaics – you name it.



After Nero’s death, on the section of the palace on the Oppian hill, where a large part of the palace was, both Titus and Trajan built large bathhouses, filling in the palace with earth that was probably dug out of what is now Trajan’s Forum.  For a long time people thought the ruins of the Domus Aurea were just part of the baths of Trajan, but later it was realised that they were part of something much larger.  And since it was all buried, the frescoes were preserved until they were discovered in the 15th century.

The story goes that a young Roman fell into what he thought was a cave (grotta in Italian) and he discovered the fresco paintings.  Soon after, lots of artists, now considered some of the best artists of the Renaissance, would shimmy down by rope and study the frescoes by candlelight.  This style, later to be called “grotesque”, which comes from the term “grottesche”, or “cave-like”, was a huge inspiration to the renaissance masters.

The Tour

All visitors wanting to tour the Golden House have to do it with a guide by appointment.  Since we went with Through Eternity, our tickets and appointment were all sorted and we entered, put on our hard hats, and got a tour by the site’s employee, with our Through Eternity guide present to add detail, context, and explanations that went beyond the expertise of the staff that lead you around.

The visit is well done – there’s a few videos that help show you where you are and what you’re looking at.  There’s a virtual reality headset that literally puts you in the 2000 year old house, spins you around, takes you outside to feel the sun on your face and see the grass blowing next to you.  It is so incredibly well done that you really feel like you’re there.

Our Guide and guides in general

The best, and in my opinion, essential part, was Enrica, the tour guide who works with Through Eternity.  The amount they show you in the actual Domus Aurea is interesting, and they do a good job explaining what it was and what it looked like and what challenges they face in maintaining it and uncovering more of the art within, but to really have it click, you need someone like Enrica who can frame the visit around a bigger discussion of history and the Roman Empire in general.

After the tour, which lasts about an hour and a half, Through Eternity takes you to the most amazing rooftop terrace overlooking the Colosseum for an aperitivo and drink and further discussion about what you’ve seen and the history of Rome.

Before we had begun our tour, Enrica had brought us to the front of the Colosseum and gave us an overview of the entire area, explaining the changes the area saw from the Roman Republic through the Julius/Agustus line to Nero and up to the middle ages.  This helped a lot when we then went into the Domus Aurea because with all things historic, context is everything.

Afterward, on the terrace, we continued our discussion about history, and about the challenges tour guides currently face.  To be a licensed guide in Rome is no easy task.  It takes a hell of a lot of knowledge and passion, and to be good at it also requires tireless people skills.   Unfortunately, many companies and platforms have tried to capitalise on experiences by making any old Joe a tour guide and selling his time.

There’s a big difference though between someone who wants to make a few bucks by leading tourists around, and someone whose entire life is history and being a professional guide.

The Domus Aurea is a one of a kind archeological site, and Enrica is a one of a kind guide.  I strongly recommend the combo to everyone.  And, of course, organising it all with Through Eternity means you get to do this at the end:

Cross-Pollinate blog readers receive a 10% discount on all Through Eternity tours.  Does not include the Underground Colosseum or Early Entrance Vatican tours.  Use the promo code:  BEEHIVE on their site when making a booking.



La Bottega del Tortellino – artisan pasta shop in Orvieto

I’m a big fan of making my own bread and pasta and think it’s worthwhile for everyone to learn – it’s easy, cheap, and for most people, what you can make at home is much better than anything you can buy from a store.

However, it’s another story when you live a 2 minute walk from a fresh pasta shop like La Bottega del Tortellino.

For years we’ve dutifully bought their ricotta and spinach ravioli at least once a week.  In a pinch, we’ll get a few portions of tortellini to serve in broth, or the potato and taleggio cheese ravioli which we’ll toss with butter and sage.  Yes, this is what we get to eat when we’re too lazy to cook – fresh pasta, usually made no more than a day ago.

The owners have a 10 year old daughter and I often see them at the elementary school.  Having chatted with them a few times, I understood that they had an unlikely story – having decided to change careers and become professional pasta makers.

The following video is about competing with big business, a changing food culture in Italy, and of course, pasta!

La Bottega del Tortellino – artisan pasta shop in Orvieto from Cross-Pollinate Travel on Vimeo.

Lisbon Cruisers: From the Port to the City in Minutes

Sunny Lisbon’s port of entry is situated along the Rio Tejo River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. One of the hottest travel destinations in the world, Lisbon welcomes approximately 18 million visitors a year arriving by air, rail, and sea.

The modern Port of Lisbon isn’t just for transportation and shipping, it’s also a cultural and commercial hub with a wide-array of restaurants, bars and cafes. To date, the port serves fifteen cruise lines arriving at one of three terminals (Alcântara, Santa Apolonia, and Jardim do Tobaco Quay). From any one of these piers, it’s an easy jaunt to Lisbon’s city center—between 1 km and 4 km, depending on where your ship docks.

Get printable map here

If you cometh by sea, here’s how to easily “geteth” to town…

There are six (6) options to reach the historic center from the port: By foot, bus, tram, metro, train, or taxi.

From Alcântara and Rocha Conde de Óbidos:

Buses (Nos. 28, 714 & 732) and trams (Nos. 15 & 18) depart along the main road just north of the docks. Alternatively, you can take the train at Alcântara-Mar station (Cascais/Cais do Sodré line). *Note: A one-day (24hr) ticket can be purchased; valid on buses, trams, funiculars, and metro.

From Santa Apolónia:

It’s a short walk to the old town center or, if you don’t feel up for a stroll, take the metro from Santa Apolónia (Blue Line) station, getting off at the Biaxa-Chiado stop.

Taxi ranks are located at each terminal, as well.

Lisbon in a day: From ship-to-shore-to-city!

Port of Lisbon, Gare Marítima de Alcântara 1350-355 Lisbon, Portugal; geral@portodelisboa.pt; Tel: (+35) 1 21 361 10 00




Recreating “Orvietan” – a 400 year old medicinal potion

In the center of Orvieto, on the Via del Duomo – a main road that runs from the 14th century cathedral to the town’s medieval clock tower is a small shop called “L’Orvietan”.  The shop’s owner, Lamberto Bernardini, took the name from Girolamo Ferranti, who in 1603 obtained the license from the city of Orvieto to sell a medicinal potion of his own invention.  As a travelling salesman, Girolamo toured Europe with his potion, becoming known as the “Orvietan” (the guy from Orvieto), a name that later was used to refer to his medicinal.

Later, in 1647, Ferranti passed the formula down to Cristoforo Contugi, who obtained the royal privilege and exclusive rights to sell it, from King Louis IV.

For 200 years, “Orvietan” was all the rage as a protection against poison and love sickness, being cited in many books and pharmacopeia.  References to it appear in works of Walter Scott Kenilworth, Molière, Voltaire, and Balzac.

Lamberto, an antique book collector as well as shop owner, came across a copy of Niccolo Lemery’s Farmacopea, published in 1697, containing a few recipes for the potion, and with the help of a few pharmacists and herbalists, recreated the potion is the form of a digestive liqueur which can be enjoyed as an aperitif, an after dinner drink, or in a tea or coffee.

Here’s a quick video of Lamberto and the story of Orvietan:

L’Orvietan – recreating a famous, 400 year old medicinal potion from Cross-Pollinate Travel on Vimeo.


If passing through, or staying in, Orvieto, you can visit Lamberto’s shop, L’Orvietan, on the Via del Duomo, or ask for the digestive in restaurants around town.