With temperatures topping 41’ Celsius (105’ Farenheit!) in some parts of Italy and across Europe many are starting to wither and wilt under the heatwave. Sadly 10 people have even lost their lives this week, according to Italian media reports, and many more are vulnerable*. So if you want to avoid the stifling humidity and high temperatures, here are some of the hottest tips for staying cool during an Italian summer.
Hot tips for summer
- Before you leave your hotel room or apartment for the day close the curtains, shutters and windows to stop the rooms heating up like a greenhouse! Its what the Italians do and they should know!
- Carry a water bottle with you everywhere and fill it up from the water fountains sprinkled around the towns and cities including Rome, Siena and Venice – they often look like water pumps with taps so keep your eyes peeled as Italian water is drinkable, tasty and free! Plus its better for the environment to drink this beautifully fresh mountain water (or tap water) and easier on your wallet too!! (The only water you should NOT drink is labelled non potabile or non potable as this is not drinking water.)
- Staying with water, run your wrists under the water fountains (it also works with your ankles) for a few blissful seconds every couple of hours as it helps to cool the blood. Just don’t dip your toes in fountains such as the Trevi Fountain in Rome or you’re likely to get a rather brusque warning from a Policeman!
- Dress comfortably in loose fitting, but decent, clothes. Yes, its roasting but this is not the time for bikini tops, hot-pants or going topless in the city – no-one wants to see your nipples across the souvenir stall! Save them for the beach or the swimming pool! BTW churches, museums and restaurants will turn you away if you are not appropriately dressed but if you absolutely must flash the flesh, at least bring a sarong or large scarf so you can cover your modesty when required
- Also, ensure clothing is made from light-coloured cotton or linen as natural fibres will absorb perspiration and keep you cool as it evaporates. Plus light colours apparently reflect the sun’s rays better than darker hues – who knew?!
- Eat gelato – now you have the perfect excuse to have a refreshing cone or cup of the coldstuff on a regular basis! I’m thinking hourly…….!!!! Other options along the same lines include sorbets, frozen yoghurt, Sicillian granita or Roman grattachecca which is a mix of ice chips and sweet fruit juices! Mmmmmm!
- One of my own personal tricks when the heat gets too much is to dive into a church for a sit down and a moment of contemplation. It works a treat as stone-built churches are always a few degrees cooler than outside. Plus they give you a chance to refresh both the mind, spirit and body, whether you are religious or not, as they often house plenty of art to enjoy as you cool off.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg to rehydrate – watermelon is ideal but grapefruit, salads and oranges all help to restore fluids to the body
- Throw off the duvet or quilt and sleep under a sheet instead. Even better, if you can, fold the sheets and put them in the fridge for a couple of hours before bedtime – it sounds weird but it totally works!
- Another trick in bed is to fill a hot water bottle with ice cold water – heaven on a hot night and totally free!
- And on really hot days why not go completely Italian and have a mid-afternoon siesta with the windows and shutters closed – its your perfect excuse to have a nap from 2pm to 5pm, especially as many shops are closed anyway, what more can I say!
- If you have access to a pool, firstly lucky you(!) and secondly jump in it!! After a scorching hot day exploring, there are few things nicer than diving into a cool pool for a late afternoon swim! The same goes for a late afternoon swim in the sea! Just don’t forget the sun screen!
- Stay indoors, or at least out of direct sun, during the hottest hours of the day – have lunch inside, find air-conditioned shops, galleries or museums to peruse or just go back to your hotel and cool off
- Ditch the big back pack and go minimal! You are likely to be sweating just walking around so you do not want a heavy rucksac to make that sweaty back even worse! Just take what you absolutely need in a small over-the-shoulder bag and keep a re-usable cloth bag handy for all those souvenirs and tasty biscuits that always seem to come home with you!
- You’re not going to like this one but here goes – cut down on the alcohol. See, I told you, but trust me on this – water at lunch instead of wine will rehydrate you instead of dehydrate you. But if you absolutely can’t live without a wine, make sure to chase it up with as much water as you can or keep the alcohol till later in the day when the temperature is beginning to drop
- Eat little and often. Larger meals take more effort to break down and create more heat so snack on salads, fruit and foods low in protein to keep your temperature down
- Leave the city and get out to the coast or up into the mountains. During the day cities can be 2-3 degrees centigrade warmer than the surrounding countryside and up to 12 degrees hotter at night. It can mean the difference between a restful night’s sleep and a sultry, sweaty one spent tossing and turning! Wealthy Romans knew about this and often headed to their breezy coastal summer houses, whereas many modern Venetians head to the Lido coastline or up to the Dolomites to escape the oppressive heat of the lagoon
- Slow down and take it easy! Don’t go jogging or cycling during the heat of the day. Spread your sightseeing out, slow your pace down from a sprint to a gentle stroll and build in plenty of cold drink, ice cream and shady breaks – Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t see everything in a day either.
- Have a tepid bath or shower to cool down rather than a cold one otherwise the body generates heat to make up for the heat loss under the cold shower
- Put some damp flannels in the freezer – they can be used to cool you down in bed or during the day
- Carry a fan at all times! I know it’s old-fashioned but believe me you won’t care as you will have your own little air-con system to keep you cool! Jealous? Others will be!
- Carry tissues, wet wipes or a hankie with you as your face will probably be leaking and you may want to mop it at regular intervals or to catch the make-up that is sliding down your face at a rapid rate of knots!! Just me?!
- Sunhats are also de-riguer in Italy this year. Straw hats, floppy sunhats, gents trilbys, baseball hats, whatever takes your fancy! If it keeps the sun off your face, head or neck, it will help to keep you cool and will protect those bald spots. Again, just me?!
- Another old-fashioned idea that works is to use an umbrella or parasol to keep the sun off you, especially in areas without shade such as Pompeii. They’re light enough to carry around and will keep the worst of the sun’s rays away. My littlest niece didn’t believe us when we told her that this is how people keep cool but was finally convinced as the mercury rose last month and she had to take shelter in the shade! Sadly for her though, she had to carry her own umbrella and didn’t have a servant to carry it for her like Venice’s Doge at the recent Regata Antica parade below! Large umbrellas outside cafes also help to keep the sun off your neck and keep sun-stroke at bay whilst enjoying a refreshing drink.
- If you really can’t survive without it, ask to book a room with air-con! Not everywhere will offer it and I know its not great for the planet to have the electricity running all the time – indeed parts of Venice saw brief, localised black-outs this week as everyone reached for the on switch – but if you really need to cool off this is the quickest way short of sticking your head in the mini-bar or diving into the ice-bucket! Just don’t leave it running 24 hours a day!
- Pack a good deodorant with an anti-perspirant as its not always an option in Italian personal care for some reason – if you forget yours you may not be able to find it here.
- If you like taking tours, pick carefully to make sure your ticket enables you to skip the lines outside big museums – you do not want to be standing outside the Vatican in the sun for 2 hours at the height of summer! An air-conditioned bus helps too!!
- If you’re travelling with pooches make sure they have plenty of water. Take a bottle and bowl with you or call in to one of the increasing number of dog-friendly cafes dotted around – I’ve spotted a couple recently in Venice and Desanzano sul Garda where dogs are very welcome. Failing that, the odd-ice-cream always goes down extremely well with my friends’ dogs although I don’t know what the vet would say!
- NEVER and I do mean NEVER EVER leave kids or dogs in a car whilst you nip into a shop! The temperature can quickly reach into the 40s Celsius or over 100’ F even with windows cracked – that’s very dangerous territory for little ones and furry ones without water, even for just a few minutes, and you would never forgive yourself if anything happened to them. Its just not worth it and the only hot dogs I want to see this summer come in a bun with onions and ketchup!
- Park your car in shade and use a sun-shade for the windscreen. It won’t keep the car totally cool but it might just drop the temperature from that of the surface of the sun to just below being able to fry an egg on the dashboard!!
- Instead of walking everywhere take an open-top bus or boat ride. Many cities offer hop on hop off services that take you round to all the main sights so you can take in the city without having to walk miles. Companies like City Sight Seeing, for example, offer bus tours in 15 cities around Italy and can be a great way to explore without roasting. Or take the boat tour around the Amalfi coastline instead of roasting on a coach. And Venice’s vaporetto water buses offer a lovely way to see the city whilst escaping the glaring sunshine. Just be careful – the cool breeze on your face can fool you into thinking the sun has cooled down, when it actually hasn’t so make sure to keep your sunhats and sunscreen on!
- This is a bit of a weird one but as the sun is cracking the pavements I’ll try anything once – apparently visualising snow or cold places can cause the body to react to cool the overall core temperature. I’ve never tried it but I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has!?
- Seek out naturally cool spots such as caves, catacombs or crypts. Underground archeological ruins such as the catacombs in Rome are often rather chilly, even in the height of summer, so are an ideal spot to cool off and check out the culture! Alternatively, hilltops or the tops of bell towers can often offer a nice breeze to go with the breathtaking view.
- Get up early and visit busy sites before sun is too hot and before the busloads of tourists descend! You’re then ready for a leisurely lunch before your siesta followed by an early evening stroll, or passeggiata, and dinner. Italians love their passeggiata. It’s a time to see and be seen and is a great opportunity to find out where the best bars are without dying of heat stroke!
- Oh and one last thing – please don’t jump in the canals in Venice! If you knew what goes in to them you really wouldn’t want to! If you need to cool off with a swim, Venice has proper beaches out on the Lido where you can splash about to your heart’s content!
Italians take the heat very seriously for good reason. A heatwave in 2003 killed 3,100 in Italy and over 20,000 across Europe. 2012 saw the deaths of 15 people with 500 needing hospitalisation. And 2015 has already claimed 10 lives. This isn’t like the rare one-day-a-year British summer sun to be savoured and cherished!
In Italy the sun shines every day for months and months! So the one thing you can be sure of is that Italian summers are always hot, hot, HOT especially in July and August! And it can be relentless. Parts of the country can be so unbearably hot that tarmac melts, sandy beaches scorch your feet and camping is like being microwaved in your own canvas cook-in-the-bag! You will be sweating buckets just sitting in the shade, doing nothing – please take care!
So, wherever you are vacationing in Italy this year, prepare to sweat and swelter and stick to plastic chairs – we all will – as the temperatures soar, but don’t let that spoil your enjoyment. Even just trying one of two of these hot tips should cool you down and help you to beat the heat as you take in the wonders of il bel paese, the beautiful country! And if you have any tips of your own for chilling out under the sun, please leave me a comment as Venice is already particularly sticky! In the meantime, have a wonderful time! I’ll be sleeping in the freezer for the next few weeks if you need me……!!!
*Government helpline – The Italian Ministry of Health has set up an emergency summer hotline on 1500 for those with heat-related emergencies or in need of advice.
As temperatures continue to soar staff at Rome’s zoo have been trying all sorts of ingenious methods to keep the animals cool! I particularly like this one!
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