By- Claudia Quesito

Chiuso per ferie: if you’re planning to visit Italy in the summer, you’d better be familiar with this sentence, which translates “closed for vacation.” Actually, ferie means “time off from work,” while the equivalent of “vacation” is vacanza, but the outcome doesn’t change here. You will spot chiuso per ferie on storefront signs starting in July and peaking in August.

Things have changed a little in the last few decades: in the ’80s and ’90s, cities—even big ones, like Milano and Roma—used to truly be deserts in August. Most stores, restaurants, and bars were closed, giving the city a lunar look. Quirky and romantic, maybe, but if you needed a plumber … good luck with that. It was an epic enterprise to find one, and the one who was miraculously not lying on a beach normally applied stellar rates.

Now however, many stores (in addition to the big chains, which never close) stay open all year ’round, and so do many restaurants and such. Residents still flee the cities, especially during the two middle weeks of August, when Italians celebrate Ferragosto (August 15) and many offices and factories close. To be on the safe side, just give a call to the restaurant you have been dying to go for a while and ask: Siete aperti? Chances are, you’ll find a good place open at any point in the summer.

Schools in Italy end for the summer at the beginning of June and start again in mid-September. In June and July, working parents have a summer camp option for their children, but in August they’re on their own, so they normally pick this month to go on vacation. This means places are often crowded and prices are higher. Italians normally have four to five weeks of vacation per year.

The school calendar is always the same, but vacation habits have changed in the last decade: while a two- to three- week-long summer vacation used to be the norm, many people now opt for shorter breaks, and then maybe take some time off—and possibly travel—throughout the year. It is one of the consequences of the economic crisis of 2008, together with a cultural shift and a more diverse labor organization. All of the above said, if you’re planning a trip to Italy in the summer, be ready to be flexible and … buone vacanze!

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