Preparing to travel can be daunting and having a helping hand in your smartphone can be very reassuring. I've gathered together all of our favourites - most free, some paid - to make your villa holiday a fantastic experience.
My first suggestion is a staple for finding out quite where you are, even when lost in your home town. Google Maps is a great tool for driving as well as for getting around Italian cities.
I often use it as my SatNav and bring a phone holder with me in my hand-luggage, one of the ones that you can clip into the vents on a car dashboard. If roaming costs are a worry, there is a way to download maps for offline use so that your phone won't be racking up costs for you as you drive around. Here's how:
On Google Maps, in the top left of your screen there is a "hamburger" menu - three lines stacked. Open the menu and, near the bottom, there is the "offline maps" option. It will ask if you want download a map close to "Home" or "Custom"; if you select custom it will show you a window that you can drag to the area you're interested in - the route from Pisa airport to your villa, for example - or the local town. Each offline map will be around 50Mb, but it will save you from roaming costs and network blackspots.
If you're travelling within the EU, roaming costs don't apply.
I also like to use ViaMichelin for navigation - it also suggest restaurants, and I trust their restaurant suggestions far more than TripAdvisor's because they are curated rather than crowd-sourced. This GPS also has a handy calculator for your fuel consumption - though this is more useful for long car trips.
The Italian Trains' own app and great for checking timetables and booking online. Be warned, however: you'll need to use the Italian spelling for whichever town you're travelling to - so it's "Firenze" and not "Florence".
The catch-all. When you can't work out how to get from A to B, and whether a bus, a train or a taxi is the best option, Rome2Rio can help.
Talking to People
An excellent app for learning a language - I'm using it at the moment to try and get some semblance of German going. It's simple and takes you through easy, daily steps.
I can now say "I'm a man, not a doughnut" - "Ich bin ein Mann, kein Berliner" ... always handy.
But it is most suitable for when you're preparing your trip - if you've arrived and panic sets in as the waiter describes the menu in great and unitelligible details, try:
It does what it says on the tin.
Visits and Tours
Rick Steve's Audio Europe
I haven't tried this app myself but was recommended it and, given how long I have spent on Rick Steve's travel forum - either looking for advice or dispensing, I'm prepared to wager that it is good.
Food and Wine
Now we're talking. This is the important section. Italy and Tuscany are foodie heaven and I am fussy about whose advice I will take. I shy away from crowd-sourced reviews - all it takes is a bus-load of over-entusiastic teenagers on a school trip to love a rather shoddy Pizzeria and suddenly it's at the top of the restaurant list somewhere.
So I like curated lists - call me a bluff old traditionalist.
My favourite app is probably
The Michelin Guide - Europe 2020
The restaurants tend to be on the expensive side so it's not for everyday lunches, but I enjoy the fact that the review and the inclusion is based on a set of standards. The app itself costs £ 14.99 but if you like eating out anyway it does cover Europe so is worth the money.
Is a good alternative. I'm not quite sure how they choose which restaurants to include but when I checked the area around Casole d'Elsa (omphalos of my world) they had included some of my favourites, like Piattoforte, a great restaurant just below the tiny village of Monteguidi, which is where I grew up.
Tuscany by the Touring Club Italia
The TCI still produces excellent maps (paper ones) and very good guides. This app is interesting and I like the default to map view to find things to see and places to eat - but it doesn't have many places listed. Nevertheless, it's useful to find your way around.
Wine Maps of Italy
Another app that costs money - this one is £ 7.99 but it's a great app for getting a picture of where you are, which wines are produced there and what to try.
Converting money and knowing quite what you're spending can be difficult when abroad. I use two apps - though one is more than an app, it is an actual bank account.
If you open an account with Transferwise you can convert your money into Euro and then spend those Euro with a debit card while abroad. You've locked in your exchange rate and the debit card works just like any other one. We use it all the time for Italian trips and it's invaluable.
Great for checking rates on the spot - just put in the Euro amount and it will tell you the equivalent in USD or GBP - invaluable. Xe also have a foreign currency transfer service, I use for larger sums and their rates are excellent.
And that's it. If I think of any others I will add them later - but I would like to add that I also still love paper guide books and maps - there's nothing quite like spreading a large map out on a table and following roads and paths with a finger, spotting places to visit along the way. For reasons I can't put my finger on, paper maps and old guide books seem better tools for spotting the unexpected and for finding things and places you weren't actually looking for.
Many of our houses have maps and guidebooks in them - and I've been known to post maps to clients who were particularly interested in a certain area - so if you can get hold of any, treasure them and remember that apps don't replace them - they do a different job... : )