There’s never been a better time to plan a sabbatical in Florence and consider spending a life-enriching extended period of time in Italy.
Earlier in the year, more than 280,000 people applied to take part in a three-month sabbatical organized as a marketing ploy by Airbnb in a village near Matera, in southern Italy. A 2017 study by leading online travel agency eDreams revealed that Americans are most in need of an extended break, such as a sabbatical, with 52% of respondents admitting that a “planned strategic work pause” would improve their mental health. The report went on to state that “although sabbaticals are strongly associated with employees in academia and college faculty members, the term also extends to a period of paid leave from work, which can be used to acquire new skills, travel, training or rest.
In Biblical times, a sabbatical year was observed every seventh year under the Mosaic law as a Sabbath, during which the land was allowed to rest. Now evolved, you can take as long or as little as you like, and more and more people are taking time out from their careers to take a postponed “gap year”.
What makes Florence the perfect sabbatical destination?
David Bach and Alatia Bradley Bach are in the second year of their sabbatical in Florence.
Taking a sabbatical takes planning and preparation, but if you find the right resources, it’s entirely doable. Magazines like The Florentine and popular blogs such as Girl in Florence have become leading points of references for people considering a sabbatical. Or, in bestselling American financial author David Bach’s words, “One day I go online and I find The Florentine. And The Florentine becomes my bible for coming out to Florence. The more I read, the more I realized that we could do this. I’m an American in Europe, there’s an English newspaper; it’s all laid out for us.”
Florence: an internationally minded city
Florence has a long tradition of welcoming international visitors for long spells. In the eighteenth century, spending time in Florence was a firm fixture of aristocratic education and many of the intellectual elite set up temporary (or permanent) home here. Henry James famously visited Italy 14 times and began to pen Portrait of a Lady in a hotel room overlooking the Arno river. Tchaikovsky was so inspired by his time in the Florentine hills, near Arcetri, that he composed his opera The Queen of Spades in just 44 days. Oscar Wilde, Shelley, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain: the list of writers inspired by Florence is reason alone to extend your stay in the hope of putting pen to paper. This international atmosphere still lingers today: most locals speak English, though learning the local language will open more doors and lead to more lasting friendships. A contemporary city, Florence offers myriad artistic and cultural opportunities, in addition to acting as the ideal base for European and Italian travel with Florence’s high-speed rail link north to Milan and even Switzerland, Germany and France, and as far south as Salento and Naples. Florence Airport might be a small operation, but it’s a useful one with interconnecting flights to major European hubs like Paris, Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt and Munich. Bologna and Pisa Airport provide additional connections and Rome Fiumicino Airport is well connected with a train service.
Staying legally in Italy: obtaining the right visa
International lawyer Michele Capecchi has years of experience in assisting families and individuals in their move to Italy. “Elective residency visas in Italy are in high demand in the US at the moment and consulates can be demanding when it comes to presenting documents that prove your eligibility. To get this visa process right the first time, it’s best to seek professional legal advice.” Student visas are also an option for people wishing to move to Italy on a temporary basis, recommends international law firm Davies & Associates, LLC, which has an office in Florence.
Paying the right taxes in Italy
Tuscan chartered accountancy firm Vannucci & Associates provides advice and assistance on tax, corporate, administrative, accounting, contractual and financial matters to small and medium enterprises in Italy and overseas, especially when it comes to special tax regimes to encourage foreigners to transfer their tax residence to Italy. The Investor Visa for Italy, for instance, was introduced to attract foreign capital and talent, allowing foreign investors to make the most of important tax benefits and immigration concessions, as well as the facilitated flat tax regime. Read here for more details about the investor visa.
Finding the perfect school in Florence
Tuscany boasts several top international schools to ensure the very best continued education for your children during your family’s sabbatical. Set in the hills above piazzale Michelangelo and in nearby Bagno a Ripoli, The International School of Florence was founded in 1952 and welcomes students from early years 1 through to grade 12. A valid alternative is the Canadian School of Florence, which opened in Florence’s residential Campo di Marte neighbourhood in 2016 and teaches the Canadian Ontario curriculum leading to the Ontario Secondary School Diploma to more than a hundred 14- to 18-year-olds. The Canadian School is opening a separate kindergarten and elementary school in San Domenico, Fiesole in September 2021. Lycée Victor Hugo in Florence city centre offers a grounding in French and Italian culture, with English also featuring as a teaching language. Younger children can be enrolled at Kindergarten, a nursery, preschool and elementary school that has been situated in Florence since 1973, or at Canadian Island, a bilingual kindergarten staffed by qualified native English speakers. Canadian Island is also renowned for its popular summer camps for a taste of moving your family to Florence before taking the full sabbatical plunge. The International School of Siena has grown significantly since its founding in 2010, teaching the International Baccalaureate and educating from 3 to 19 years. Lucca also has a bilingual elementary school and international middle and high school all on the same spacious campus. In Pisa, the Elizabeth English Academy offers preschool and primary education from 3 to 13 years and the Westminster International School provides the IB Primary Years Programme for students from 3 to 12 years.
Finding the perfect home in Florence
Living in Florence is not the same as vacationing in Tuscany. This time you’re here to stay, so while renting an apartment or checking a hotel room is fine for the first few days, finding your home away from home is paramount. Experienced rental agencies such as Dimore Fiorentine are staffed by a multilingual team that offer Facetime or WhatsApp video tours of apartments for people still living in their home countries. With the Covid-19 pandemic, Florence’s rental market has transformed overnight. Owners have moved over from Airbnb rentals to transitory contracts where, for work or study purposes, tenants can rent a property for up to 18 months. The apartments are nearly always furnished and the contract stipulates the exact rental period required. Now that many more apartments are available, prices have lowered to be much more realistic and accessible for people who want to come and enjoy all that Florence has to offer, ranging from 800 euro for a one-bedroom to 2,000-3,000 euro for a larger apartment with outside space. Rental prices in Florence remain much lower than London or New York, as are the utility bills, making Florence an even more desirable location for an uncertain yet rapidly changing future.
Alternatively, for families seeking more space and freedom, it’s possible to rent beautiful villas in the Tuscan countryside, complete with desks and home offices and al fresco living. Luxury rental agency Essenza Escapes provides a ‘workation’ solution for visitors to Italy who want to base themselves in the region for a longer period of time. They can arrange advantageous rates for rentals, support services, cooks, housekeepers, tutors for children, and even membership to golf courses and sports clubs.
Healthcare coverage in Italy
Tuscany’s public healthcare service is renowned for its excellence and also vaunts leading private medical care for residents and Europeans (free) and internationals on a payment basis. Remember to stipulate a health insurance policy before you leave home. In Florence, the Giomi Group provides high-level healthcare with a range of surgeries and services at Villa Ulivella e Glicini, including X-rays, ultrasound, surgical procedures and consultancy. Villa Donatello now boasts several sites in Florence and its environs, all of which put the patient’s quality of care first and provides a range of specialist treatments. Given the international nature of Florence, several English-speaking doctors provide private surgeries, including British-trained general practitioner Dr. Stephen Kerr; Switzerland- and Italy-trained Dr. Antonio Weber; Medical Service Firenze for 24-hour rapid reliable medical assistance; and MedinAction, an on-demand medical service that delivers a qualified doctor to your home, office or hotel 24/7. English-speaking dentists like Studio Moll provide family dental, whitening and orthodontic services. Local psychologists and therapists are on hand to support you during your move: there’s American psychologist Dr. Mary Ann Bellini, Canadian therapist Elizabeth Connolly and English-speaking Florentine psychologist and psychotherapist Paolo Molino, amongst others.
Learning the local language will open more doors and lead to more lasting friendships. Florence has a plethora of top-notch language schools. Vibrant cultural centre Europass, in its historic headquarters near the Duomo, offers a warm welcome to the city with small class sizes and experienced, enthusiastic teachers. Learn before you leave with Valentina Giovannelli, whose online lessons can be continued in person once you arrive in Italy. Barbara Cipriani believes that “learning should be a pleasure”, which reflects in the teaching style based on conversation and walks around Florence.
A sense of community
Book presentation of Mary Gray’s Rental Diaries with the international community of Florence / ph. Valeria Raniolo
Arguably what makes Florence so appealing for a sabbatical is its sense of community. The Florentine holds community events (currently more digital than in person; see TF Together) and runs a weekly and monthly events calendar (sign up for the free newsletter). The Paperback Exchange, by the Duomo, continues its years-old vocation as an English bookstore and community hub. Check out the cultural talks at The British Institute of Florence and scholar-led virtual learning with Context Conversations. Enjoy insightful experiences with established tour operator ArtViva and dive deeper into the city with local guides such as Alexandra Lawrence, Paola Vojnovic and Elaine Ruffolo. St. Mark’s English Church and St. James Episcopal Church provide religious services in English and a warm welcome to Florence through their choirs and social activities, as too do the Synagogue, Quakers, Methodist Church and “Agape” Protestant United Church.