10 Corso Como
Tel: 39 02 626 163
There can't be many hotels in the world that have catalogs in each room—so you can look up who designed which piece of furniture. But Carla Sozzani, sister of Italian Vogue editor-in-chief Franca, is not just any hotelier. 3Rooms is part of her 10 Corso Como shopping, dining and culture hub, which sprawls across a series of buildings on four sides of a typical, plant-filled Milanese courtyard. The rooms themselves are three private luxury apartments, each with their own separate entrance off the 10 Corso Como courtyard. They look as if they might have come straight out of a history of 20th-century design, and will be best appreciated by those who can spot an Arne Jacobsen armchair at 20 paces. But the mix is far from random: The Verner Panton rugs, Fontana lamps, and Eames bedspreads are matched with a real feel for pattern and color, and the whole thing feels sophisticated and stylish—especially in number 3, the most spot-on suite. Hotel services are fairly minimal (a mobile phone number is provided for after-hours emergencies), but room service and a gourmet breakfast are guaranteed by the eatery downstairs—a popular café-resto that also generates an after-hours hubbub that may disturb light sleepers. In-room facilities stretch from a complete shoeshine kit to an extensive library of books on art and design to a fax machine—though it takes a while just to get the hang of the seven remote-control devices provided in each room. Sozzani has recently opened another 3Rooms in Paris in collaboration with designer Azzedine Alaïa.
Strada di Bagno Vignoni
San Quirico d'Orcia
Tel: 39 0577 889 000
The thermal waters of Bagno Vignoni, a tiny spa resort just off the main SS2 road (a.k.a. Cassia) south of Siena, have been famous since Etruscan times, even before the ancient Romans arrived. This resort hotel, however, sparked a resurgence in hot thermal treatments when its luxurious spa opened in 2004, offering massages, beauty treatments, and gallons of hot water from a natural spring. By the time the water reaches the huge outdoor thermal pool, it's a pleasant 36 degrees, and it stays that way all year round, making this a good option even out of season. Other places to get wet include an indoor thermal pool, a kids' thermal "fun pool," and a cooler sport pool for those who want to swim without breaking a sweat. Children are well catered for (there's a Kids Club for ages four and above), while adults will enjoy three steam rooms (one built in a stone grotto), an olive-wood sauna over a lake, and sumptuous relaxation areas with views across to the castle of Rocca d'Orcia. Even the gym has a thermal spring running through it. Further enticements include 90 spacious bedrooms, many with terraces, and a glass-roofed restaurant flooded with natural light.
Closed early January to early February.
2557A Fondamenta della Fenice
Tel: 39 041 241 3234
Tucked just off the main St. Mark's–Accademia drag and nestling up against La Fenice opera house, AD Place is a delightful boutique hotel that plays with bright colors and exotically ornate design details. The artsy feel is underscored by frequent painting and photography exhibitions in the reception area. The attentive staff will organize transfers, tours, and reservations, and the buffet breakfast is particularly good. There's a water entrance if you're arriving by gondola or launch, and (unusually for Venice) wheelchair-friendly ground floor accommodation; but be aware there is no elevator to the other floors). The Suite, a large and stylish boudoir done out in shades of lavender and apple green, has pretty views over the canal. And though some classic doubles can seem a bit small, all the rooms are individually and quirkily decorated, with baroque mirrors and lots of drapes. The oriental-themed roof terrace is the perfect place for an evening aperitivo.—Lee Marshall
Tel: 39 01 8780 2517
Just one train stop from Monterosso, the mellow resort of Levanto is a good base for the Cinque Terre. For post-trekking rest and relaxation, head for this rural retreat perched on the hillside above town. An 18th-century family estate set amid terraced olive and fruit groves, Villanova now offers hospitality along with its farm products, including wine, olive oil, and honey. There are three suites in the handsome main villa, and five more in a farmhouse further up the hill, plus a couple of self-catering apartments on the grounds. The design scheme is jazzed-up Italian country style, with walls of yellow ocher or baby blue, pretty stenciled wardrobes, and lots of artsy prints and drawings. Breakfast, served in the garden, is based on homemade or locally sourced organic produce. There's no pool, but plenty of space for sunbathing. Those without a car will probably want to take a taxi from Levanto stationthough if you're traveling light, it's a pleasant (but steep) 20-minute walk.
Closed early January through mid-February.
Via dei Fusari 9
Tel: 39 51 261 891
Fax: 39 51 227 179
By looks alone, you'd never know this hotel was 630 years old. The 32-room boutique is as 21st century as they get in Bologna. Furnishings are urban luxe, with dark woods, warm-colored bed linens, and all the latest amenities (soundproof rooms, satellite TV, minibar, and Internet access). The hotel claims it's just 164 feet from Piazza Maggiore (but who's counting). Its name means "red hat" and refers to the headwear worn by workers who stayed here while building the square's church of San Petronio.
5 Via delle Drapperie
Tel: 39 051 223 955
Currently the best centro storico budget option, this 21-room novelty opened in 2004. It's in the heart of the action, on a colorful street of food shops and fruit and vegetable stalls. One of the things that keep prices low in this four-story hotel is the fact that there's no elevator. The style is cozy antique, with rotating exhibitions of modern paintings by local artists that lend a more contemporary touch. Bedroomswhich are on the small sidehave cute cast-iron headboards; some rooms also have frescoed ceilings. There's air-conditioning and satellite TV, but no Internet access (though there are plenty of student-oriented Internet cafés in the vicinity).
63 Piazza della Rotonda
Tel: 39 06 678 0441
Few hotels have guest lists that stretch back to the Renaissance. But the Sole is one of the oldest in Europe: It had already been going for almost half a century (under its previous name, the Locanda del Montone) when racy rhymer Ludovico Ariosto put up here in 1513. Today it's a pleasant, efficiently run four-star, though the desk staff can be a little cold. A room on the piazza comes at a premium, but it's worth the price: The side view across to the Pantheon really is extraordinary (ask for a third-floor room if you're worried about noise from the piazza below). The decor is classic, with brocade covers on the somewhat mushy beds and reproductions of Old Master paintings and prints on the walls; there are hot tubs (some of them decidedly petite) in all rooms. A good buffet breakfast is served—in a pretty inner courtyard in summer. Rack rates are a little steep for what you get, so keep an eye on the special offers posted on the Web site.
29 Via XX Settembre
Tel: 39 0341 830 298
The Milano was simply a poky little pensione with a million-dollar lakeside view until 2002. That's when Bettina Mallone and her Swiss husband, Egidio, transformed it into a budget boutique hotel—before that term was even known in Italy. They fitted the eight simple rooms with modern art and gauzy curtains to catch the lake breezes, mixed creaky peasant armoires with compact Deco desks, and wisely retained the house's original stone floors. All rooms come with balconies and at least lateral lake views, though the vista is best from rooms 1 and 2 (each has a small private terrace) and from 5 and 6 directly above. The Mallones' infectious enthusiasm and stylish sensibilities bring a loyal repeat clientele of mostly middle income, middle-aged (and often American) visitors. The Mallones also converted the front room and shared terrace into a restaurant where Egidio creates three-course Mediterranean meals at guests' request.
Closed mid-November through February.
15 Via di San Basilio
Tel: 39 06 422 901
Not for the fainthearted, this pricey luxury option not far from the Via Veneto has all the decadent verve that we have come to expect from an Adam Tihany interior. The Israeli-American architect's heaven-and-hell theme segues from an infernal blood-red lobby to a celestial basement spa, with a chill-out room concealed behind the massive caveau door of this former bank's high-security vault. The funky rooms (in Purgatory, natch) are dominated by huge black-and-white photos of the Eternal City; it's best to push the budget here, as the classic doubles can be a little cramped. As can sometimes be the case with boutique hotels, service leans toward pretty rather than competent. The rooftop bar-restaurant is a good aperitivo refuge.
5768 Calle dell'Aseo
Tel: 39 041 2411944
Al Ponte Antico has taken the traditional Venetian hotel design idiom and run with it to create a baroque extravaganza. From the padded gold reception desk to the ornate banquettes in the high-ceilinged, rose-pink salon where breakfast is eaten and drinks and snacks served throughout the day, to the brocade-overload bedrooms, this property is old-school Venice at its most playful. There's a delightful little terrace from which to survey the Rialto bridge and the boats, waterbuses, and gondolas plying the Grand Canal. You'll need to book well ahead to secure one of the seven rooms or suites in this extremely popular hotel, especially the deluxe room and junior suite with their Grand Canal views. It's not only the dramatic decor but also the exceptionally warm reception from the Peruch family that makes this place a winner: You'll be greeted by name as you arrive, and cared for and coddled through your stay (so steer clear if you prefer aloofness and anonymity).—Lee Marshall
2063 Santa Croce
Fondamenta Rimpetto Mocenigo
Tel: 39 041 524 4797
This ten-room gem near the church of San Stae is easily one of the best deals in Venice. Guests enter the Mocenigo through a private courtyard where aperitivi are sipped and breakfast is served in good weather; that relaxing welcome sets the tone for the whole place. Rooms are elegant and airy, upholstered in cream, green, and deep red, and furnished with a mix of 18th-century pieces. Our favorite: the large first-floor junior suite with a four-poster bed, a terrace overlooking the courtyard, and a whirlpool tub.
72 Via San Gallo
Tel: 39 055 462 7296
This six-bedroom gem of a guest house is situated a bit away from the tourist crowds, a ten-minute walk north of the Duomo. It has the air of a house belonging to a cultured aunt who has good design sense, with framed botanical prints and pastel-hued walls. Oriental rugs take the cold edge off the traditional tiled floors, and all the furniture is antique, some of it very high quality. Four rooms have four-poster beds hung with gauzy linen curtains, and one (room five) has a private terrace with rooftop views. The comfortable sitting/breakfast room is well-stocked with arty books for browsing, and you can also choose a DVD to watch in your room. This is not a hotel in the conventional sense; there is no bellcap or night porter service—you will be given your own key to come and go. But it is a delightful, discreet place to stay and offers a high standard of accommodation for the money. The Antica Dimora is part of the Johanna & Johlea group (www.johanna.it), which includes two other good value accommodations on the same street (the Johlea and the Antica Dimora Johlea).
6 Via San Tomaso
Tel: 39 02 805 4080
Good-value accommodation has always been a problem in Italy's most ostentatiously wealthy city—especially in the center of town. Which is why this upmarket guesthouse a five-minute walk from the Duomo is often booked solid. The 14 rooms are simple—some, even basic—but they all have touches of style, which are at their most impressive in the four (more expensive) suites on the top floor. Each has its own design scheme (one looks like a painting by Gustav Klimt), a four-poster bed, and a verdant private terrace. The Locanda shares a reception area with its neighbor, Alle Meraviglie, another charming B&B (8 Via San Tomaso; 39-02-805-1023; www.allemeraviglie.it). The two hotels have kept their own identities and Web sites—though at peak times they will recommend each other. All rooms in both guesthouses have free Wi-Fi broadband access.
170 Via Fillungo
Tel: 39 0583 950 856
A fully air-conditioned seven-room town house hotel accessed via a palm-shaded courtyard, Palazzo Busdraghi is easily the nicest hideaway within Lucca's town walls. This upmarket B&B occupies the second-floor piano nobile of a 16th-century palazzo that has been in the Busdraghi family since 1701 and combines period elegance (in one of the rooms there's even a wardrobe that belonged to composer Giacomo Puccini) with contemporary color, thanks to extensive use of warm reds, golds, and oranges. Our favorite room is number 5, with its whitewashed wood-beamed ceiling and ringside view of busy via Fillungo (footsteps and voices are the only noises you'll hear if you open the soundproofed windows, as Lucca's centro storico is off limits to unauthorized private traffic). Service is friendly and willing, and guests with their own computers can access the hotel's Wi-Fi network for a small fee. If you're arriving by car, call ahead for directions to the hotel's nearby car park, which is included in the room price.
31 Via Manzoni
Tel: 39 02 8883 8888
The 95-room Armani Hotel Milano, a joint venture between Giorgio Armani and Emirates-based Emaar Properties group, occupies floors two through eight of a rationalist palazzo in central Milan. At street level, there's an Armani superstore—a one-stop Giorgio mall of fashion boutiques, café, bookshop, florist, and Nobu restaurant—but the hotel keeps a refreshing distance from the branded retail hoopla below. Discretion, calm, and privacy are the key concepts in a design scheme that nods winsomely, but never brazenly, at the building's 1930s origins. The city view is sliced up and made oddly virtual by sun-screening louvers on all the windows. Inside, marble and semiprecious stone (such as the translucent onyx panels behind the bar) are used not to dazzle but to impose a tone of sober luxury. A palette of earthy taupe, subdued greens, ivory, cream, and black soothes the soul of the stressed urban explorer. Even the smallest rooms feel large, and you could host a small dinner party in the handsome, luxe-minimalist bathrooms. All the sixth-floor rooms have bamboo-fringed balconies, and on the top level is a full-featured spa where you can enjoy a panoramic massage or simply work out with a Duomo view. But it's the seventh-floor Armani/Bamboo Bar and adjacent Armani/Restaurant, with its unfussy Mediterranean fusion menu, that have proved the greatest hits. Locals enjoy the skewed view of their hometown, so if you're planning to eat here, you'll need to book well ahead, even if you're staying at the hotel.—Lee Marshall
Maddalusa , Sicily
Tel: 39 092 251 1061
Centered around a late-13th-century tower, renovated by Emperor Charles V to guard against invaders in 1555, the historic Baglio della Luna features a high-walled courtyard, views across Agrigento's famed Valley of the Temples, and 23 beautifully appointed rooms and suites. The three medieval tower suites are particularly romantic, with dark-wood wainscoting, sitting areas, and hardwood floors (some have beamed ceilings), but all rooms have handsome antique furnishings, including dramatic carved headboards and pretty if slightly faded fabrics. There's no swimming pool, but there is a common outdoor hot tub, and the hotel shuttles guests to a private beach just five minutes away. The intimate Dehors is one of the area's top dining spots for traditional Sicilian cuisine, like mezzelune (half-moon-shaped pasta) with swordfish and lobster tartare.
The ever-expanding empire of Bauer hotels is presided over by Francesca Bortolotto Possati, whose family has owned the two original properties—the Bauer and Il Palazzo—since 1930. L'Hotel doesn't look like much on the outside, but the blocky 1949 building's 91 rooms and 18 suites are all plush and pleasant, with lots of velvet furniture and brocade upholstery. The location in Campo San Moisè, among some of Venice's smartest shops and just a stone's throw from Piazza San Marco, is hard to beat. For more pampering, check into Il Palazzo, a former annex that's now a 44-room, 38-suite boutique lodging. Here, the luxury is super-discreet: Those wishing to stay incognito can slip in and out via private launch at the water entrance. For Bauer's two Giudecca properties, see Bauers Palladio & Villa F.—Lee Marshall
Fondamenta delle Zitelle
Tel: 39 041 520 7022
Located in the former charitable institution that surrounds Andrea Palladio's church of Le Zitelle on the Giudecca island, the Bauer group's Palladio is a spacious and tranquil 50-room property. But for all their jazzy hues, the rooms can be a little dowdy; the property's best features are the ground-floor spa, with its extensive range of Daniela Steiner beauty treatments, and the pretty garden with pool. With access to this same garden is Villa F, a canal-side palazzo with 11 austerely grand self-catering suites, ranging from good-size one-bedroom units to the immense St. Mark's–facing Residenza F suite. Nannies and chefs can be arranged, and there's a full concierge service in this palazzo, which used to be an artsy budget hotel frequented by artists and writers.—Lee Marshall
Savelletri di Fasano
Tel: 39 080 225 5000
Despite a late start in tourism, Puglia has jumped ahead of other regions in Italy with its abundance of stylish hotels, yet even in this high-design market, Borgo Egnazia stands out. Unlike many of its masserie (traditional Puglian farmhouses) counterparts, the hotel is newly built in the traditional style, a large compound surrounded by stone-walled fields of ancient olive trees. An enclosed courtyard leads into a lofty, domed hallway filled with hanging lanterns, while fireplaces set into the white stone flicker throughout the public spaces. The 63 comfortable guest rooms have white stone walls and canopy beds, and each comes with a terrace looking onto the sea, the hills, or two huge pools flanked by double-size daybeds. The spa has a heated indoor pool, and the 18-hole golf course next door, the San Domenico, is one of the area's main attractions (this, combined with a terrific children's club, is a welcome combination for families).
33 Contrada Sant'Angelo
Tel: 39 080 439 5757
Built by the Knights of Malta in the 15th century and now owned by a family of olive oil producers, this good-value masseria's dozen rooms (mostly suites) are worthy of any shelter mag. The shapely stone arches are not always whitewashed (sometimes they're plum- or tan-washed), and witty details abound: a woolly mini sheep on a stone shelf; a black-sheeted bed on an ocher-daubed stone platform; a stack of twigs propped against a wall; table lights fashioned from terra-cotta amphorae; swaths of organza drapes. Still, there are enough cast-iron granny bedsteads, antique walnut armoires, and wood-framed mirrors to keep things easily this side of whimsy. Rooms have no TVs, but they do have air-conditioning and minibars. An outdoor whirlpool bath has been placed in the middle of an ancient walled garden of mandarin oranges, and the landscaped pool is surrounded by canopied day beds for serious recharging of the mind and body. There's a charming bar area, and a simple dinner based on local specialties is served here for guests Monday through Saturdaya boon in view of the remote location.
Closed November until the week before Easter.
Tel: 39 0577 75 1222
The Sienese monks who stopped at the Borgo Santo Pietro more than 800 years ago wouldn't recognize the place today. Danish owners Claus and Jeanette Thottrup have rebuilt the old stone exteriors and added chandeliers and beautiful trompe l'oeils to the extensive public areas and six guest rooms (another three garden suites are planned for this summer). The effect is elegant, with useful modern touches: Oil paintings open to reveal flat-screen TVs, an extensive DVD library is on hand, and claw-foot tubs look plucked from an Italian castle. Rose-lined pathways lead to secluded benches, a lovely orto (vegetable garden) that provides the restaurant with its greens, and just-planted fruit orchards. Danish chef Thomas Brieghel is only 28, but his tasting menus at the standout restaurant are already generating talk of a Michelin star.
4–6 Corso Matteotti
Tel: 39 02 7767 9611
The Boscolo group gave post-postmodern Italian architect and interior designer Italo Rota carte blanche to revamp a former bank headquarters on central Corso Matteotti and turn it into a five-star. The result, opened in September 2009, is a playful clash of harlequin patterns, textures, and colors—some will find it bold and glam, others decidedly over-the-top. Things calm down a little in the 154 spacious bedrooms, which mine a rich1970s seam with their bucket chairs, huge fabric lamp shades, and rainbow-shaded shower gels. Downstairs is Milan's biggest hotel spa, designed by Simone Micheli in jaw-dropping Barbarella-meets-Clockwork Orange style. The hotel's Made in Italy mandate, not to mention its ironic flirtation with the down-market, comes through in the Lambruscheria wine bar: Its list centers on the sparkling Lambrusco red wine from Emilia-Romagna that is often (unjustly) considered a cheap party lubricant, and its menu highlights Bologna's hearty bolliti (boiled meats). There's also a pricey seafood restaurant done in disconcertingly shiny black marble. The hotel's stated aim of being open to the city seems to be working, at least around aperitivo time, but if you're staying here, you'll need to weigh the fairground fun of your surroundings against the not always spot-on service and the steep room rates.—Lee Marshall
7b Via Privata Fratelli Gabba
Tel: 39 02 805 8051
When luxury jeweler Bulgari went into the hotel business, it did so in style, partnering with Ritz-Carlton and opening this discreet exercise in contemporary urban charm in a large town house a short walk from the fashion district. It's the unmatchable location that is the first X factor: The hotel stands at the end of a private, gated cul-de-sac. The second is the hotel's garden, which merges visually with the city's ancient botanical gardens behind. And the third is the interior, which architect Antonio Citterio has turned into what feels like a contemporary gentleman's club that combines minimalism with luxury, largely thanks to the use of rich natural materials. The 58 rooms and suites, suitably subdued in their buffs, creams, and browns, have solid teak balconies (many with garden views), dark oak floors, and oversize polished black Zimbabwe marble and pale travertine bathrooms. The suites are big enough for serious entertaining or business meetings; some of the starter-level superior rooms, on the other hand, are a little cramped. Open since May 2004, the Bulgari has been stealing customers from the old standards (such as the Grand Hotel et de Milan and the Principe di Savoia) with its impeccable service and location—and the added bonus of the downstairs spa, a cool, Milanese Zen haven with a gold mosaic pool and green-glass hammam. The restaurant is by no means a mere style exercise: Young Sardinian chef Elio Sironi's light, seafood-oriented Mediterranean cuisine attracts plenty of non-hotel customers, and the Sunday buffet brunch is currently the hottest ticket in Milan.
78 Via Cedrare
Tel: 39 045 6855555
Dino Facchini, owner of the Byblos fashion label and a passionate contemporary art collector, teamed up with Milan architect and designer Alessandro Mendini to create a stage for his art collection in this fabulously restored fifteenth-century Venetian villa in the heart of Valpolicella wine country. Pieces from Facchini's collection, complete with descriptions of each work, are displayed throughout this twenty-first-century grand hotel with neo-Baroque surprises: futuristic design furniture and antique-style headboards, dressers, and full-length mirrors with neon-orange or pop-art green insets. The amazing restaurant is lined with Sandro Chia paintings, the 60 light-filled guest rooms are done in bold-colored fabrics, and the otherwise classic bathrooms are outfitted with toiletries in fluorescent wrappings. There's a pool and a café on the five acres of gardens, as well as a spa designed to evoke ancient Pompeii.
979 Rio Terè Foscarini
Tel: 39 041 2401411
Art Deco is not necessarily a style you associate with Venice, but Ca' Pisani carries it off with aplomb. This 29-room property set hearts aflutter in the city's staid accommodation sector when it opened as the first concept hotel in 2000. Concepts tend to come and go, but Ca' Pisani's continued high standing is based as much on exceptional service and very high standards as on its impeccable blending of striking Deco pieces—authentic and reproduction—with the most contemporary design details and up-to-date facilities, all inserted seamlessly into a 16th-century palazzo framework. The hotel is located right behind the Accademia gallery and a short stroll from both the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation and the Punta della Dogana gallery. But despite being on the quieter Dorsoduro side of the Grand Canal, it's just a short walk to St. Mark's. The breakfast is one of the best of any hotel in the city, and the Turkish bath and pretty roof-top terrace are attractive extras.—Lee Marshall
4198 Campo Santa Sofia
Tel: 39 041 2413111
This gorgeously restored fifteenth-century palazzo on the Grand Canal benefits from its ideal location: near the Rialto but outside the fray around San Marco. The historical tour offered at check-in is worth your time: Among the highlights are original frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo and Pietro Longhi in the grand hall, a high-ceilinged ballroom with oversized windows overlooking the canal, and huge Murano chandeliers—all of which conjure the masked balls that once took place here. The 42 guest rooms are beautifully appointed with sofas and chairs covered in pale silk damask and custom wallpapers in pretty, light patterns, and all come with large bathrooms. Less inspired is the uneven service from concierges who tend to send guests to the city's tried and tired restaurants.
Rio Terrà dei Catecumeni
Tel: 39 041 520 3078
Opened in 2004, this property right near the Peggy Guggenheim Collection achieves what so many others have failed to pull off: It seamlessly mixes Venetian traditions and modern design, with stunning results. From the striking reception area, where Byzantine columns rise out of a pool of water, to the sheet-glass door opening onto a private boat mooring, to the 12 stylishly decorated bedrooms, Ca Maria Adele has single-handedly redefined what elegant lodging looks like in this town. The nine "deluxe" rooms (two of which are suites) are restful and sophisticated, with minimalist wood furniture and damask wall coverings in colors of sand and cream. The five "concept" rooms, however, really push the envelope; check the photos on the hotel website before you book to make sure you can deal with the seriously sensual black Sala Noir or the overwhelmingly scarlet Doge's Room. The blue-tinted Sala dei Mori, with its tiny balcony overlooking the Salute church next door, is our favorite. Only the bathrooms—which are large and well-appointed but strangely neutral—are a slight disappointment.
25 Via della Sapienza
Tel: 39 0577 222 073
A near-perfect example of the small, historic boutique hotel, this six-room charmer situated just below the church of San Domenico has two very strong calling cards. First, its unparalleled view across Via Fontebranda to Siena's central hill, crowned by the Duomo, and second, the way it manages to be both classy and elegant without feeling remotely frosty: The book-lined lounge, with its honesty bar, antique piano, and panoramic terrace, invites guests to live the aristocratic lifestyle well away from the tourist hordes. Two premium-price rooms, Camporegio 5 and 6, enjoy that view (5 even offers a small terrace), but the other four rooms, which look onto pedestrianized Via della Sapienza, are no less attractive, sharing their pricier neighbors' rich silk curtains, smart antique decor, and firm mattresses with pure linen sheets. Breakfast, served on the terrace in good weather, is a real feast, with homemade cakes and lots of fresh fruit. Parking is not included in the price (call ahead for advice on the best spots), but the hotel offers free ADSL Internet access.
Siracusa , Sicily
Tel: 39 093 169 057
This former family farm has been painstakingly restored by Emmanuela Marino and partner Gareth Shaughnessy to give Siracusa a much-needed dose of style. Though close to the attractions of the city and the beach (plus the Sicilian Baroque towns of Noto, Modica and Ragusa Ibla), Marino built the hotel as a place to unplug rather than sightsee. There's a pretty raised infinity pool, secluded grounds, and décor that is modern but not out of place (design aficionados will like pieces such as the Edra Angel chaise lounge, a huge Hoesch tub, and a Davide Groppi test tube light). With only ten rooms (ask for one of the bigger ones), the property feels intimate but there are lots of communal areas to read and drink wine, which adds to the uncrowded feel. The nouveau Sicilian restaurant Zaffreano Bistrot is also a draw—try the grouper with ricotta and honey and the crudo, raw fish—as is the English-speaking, friendly staff. Plans are in place to arrange a boat transfer to and from Siracusa, which should make the journey even more romantic.
3 Via Faro
Salina , Aeolian Islands
Tel: 39 090 984 4330
Named after the lighthouse at the front of the property, this new resort has a beautiful position overlooking the sea, with a big-decked pool and restaurant area that capitalizes on the views. The 20 rooms are spread out through low whitewashed buildings with shaded terraces (you'd be forgiven for thinking you had landed in the Greek isles, but this is actually the typical architectural style of the Aeolian Islands). Inside, the design is pared down but still luxurious, with butter-soft bedding and well kitted-out bathrooms. During the summer the hotel becomes more of a scene, with many tanned Italians crowding into the chic restaurant and bar, but off-season the place becomes positively sleepy. Regardless of the time of year, one of the best sights at night is Stromboli giving a little volcanic firework show in the distance. Ask someone at reception to arrange a boat trip to check out the nearby empty coves, and be sure to try the sweet Malvasia wine grown on the property's vineyards.
2b Via Capodimonte
Anacapri , Capri
Tel: 39 081 978 0111
The narrow lane that leads to Villa San Michele may be a souvenir souk, but this five-star palace rises above the tack with effortless style and panache. Since 1960, Capri's most glamorous hotel has rolled out the red carpet for such island regulars as Valentino, and it remains the hottest address for aristocrats, fashionistas, and divine divas (Julia Roberts, Mariah Carey, and Oprah). Tasteful objets and contemporary works of art from the owners' collection decorate the spacious bar and lounge areas, keeping things funky. One of the nice things about the place is the way even the classic doubles (the most basic category) feel luxurious. Most of the 79 rooms and suites share the same calm design scheme of white floors, cream bed linen, and gold tables and doors, though as you move up the scale they gain in size and character. A range of themed suites pay homage to artists and cultural icons from Andy Warhol to Magritte and Katharine Hepburn, while the two-bedroom rooftop Megaron suite has its own swimming pool and, on its panoramic terrace, an ancient olive tree that was winched up here by helicopter. The Beauty Farm luxury spa offers facials, massages, and serious health-oriented programs, including a Leg School and a Heart School, while the L'Olivo restaurant features special healthy, low-carb menus alongside its standard mod-Med menu, backed up by more than 1,000 wine labels. This being Capri, where boats are as common as scooters, the hotel maintains two motorboats and a 72-foot yacht for guest use.
Open April through October.
11-14 Via Croce
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 978 7111
Marriott took over the original Tiberio Palace hotel in 2004 and reopened it as a five-star luxury resort with a contemporary Mediterranean look (it remained a Marriott until late 2009). Interiors combine rich fabrics, modern frescoes, antique prints, retro-contemporary furniture, and specially designed features such as ivy-leaf-appliquéd wall lights to create an ambience that is warm but also sharply stylish. The 61 rooms vary in size and aspect; the second- and third-floor superior doubles, with their arched balconies, are good mid-range options (book the prestige room category for sea views). The Ego Wellness Center & Spa is arranged ancient Roman–style, with its frigidarium, tepidarium, and caldarium, while the in-out pool does just what it says, allowing guests to sit in half-immersed loungers enjoying the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows, or to swim out to the semicircular exterior section below the bar terrace. The White restaurant (named for its decor, though black and silver also play a part) is one of the island’s more creative eating options with twists on traditional dishes, such as ravioli alla caprese stuffed with codfish. Free Internet access (Wi-Fi in public areas, broadband in the rooms) is a welcome feature on pay-for-everything Capri.
Open April through October.
147 Via G. Capriglione
Tel: 39 089 813 1333
The Amalfi Coast's first design hotel is no empty style exercise. This boxy, postwar structure that sits in glorious seclusion above a private beach a few miles east of Positano used to harbor an undistinguished package hotel. It's now a cool seaside refuge owned by hotelier Tonino Cappiello, who named it after his late mother. The all-white decor in the 43 rooms and suites (most with terraces) will feel antiseptic to some, but it's softened by fresh flowers and warm teak flooring, while playful glass sculptures jazz up the lounge and cigar room. The panoramic rooftop restaurant, Un Piano nel Cielo, is a serious culinary player that gives the local tradition a creative twist; for everyday dining, there's a good choice of trattorias in the center of Praiano, a five-minute walk away. The lift to the beach still leaves 190 steps to climb down and up; for those who can't face the legwork, there are two pools, one inside the fitness area and the other outside on a decked terrace.—Updated by Lee Marshall
18 Via Capo le Case
149 Via Sistina
Tel: 39 06 6992 4555
If you don't happen to have stylish Roman friends who can put you up in their apartment, Casa Howard is the next best thing. This tasteful, upmarket B&B has two locations, both near the Spanish Steps, and each room has a theme—everything from Chinese to flowers—with wallpaper and furniture to match. The Via Capo le Case location is more feminine; go for the Pink Room here, for its en suite bathroom and larger size. The more design-y Via Sistina branch (opt for the Zebra suite) was designed by Tommaso Ziffer, the architect behind the far pricier Hotel de Russie. All of Via Sistina's rooms have Wi-Fi and en suite bathrooms. Most rooms are tiny, but we love the breakfasts of fresh cornetti and honey from Tuscany, and the hammam bathrooms (there's one for your steaming pleasure at each property). Book early, though: The secret's out (149 Via Sistina).
18 Via della Scala
Tel: 39 06 6992 4555
Casa Howard more or less invented the luxury Italian guesthouse in its two original Roman locations. This discreet home-away-from-home exports that winning formula to Florence, offering high standards of comfort and service at great rates. The look is colorful and vaguely eccentric; furniture is an eclectic mix of antiques and custom-made pieces combined with fine fabrics and strong tints. No two of its 13 bedrooms are alike: The spacious and dramatic Drawing Room has black walls and white cornices, while the Hidden Room is a sexy little den with deep red walls hung with erotic Japanese prints (plus a sunken bath). The Fireplace Room has two working fireplaces, an oversize black-velvet sofa, and honey-colored silk curtains. There is no communal space to speak of (unless you count the Turkish bath), so breakfast is served on a tray in one's room. The location is central, just steps from the Santa Maria Novella church.
180 Via G. Orlandi
Tel: 39 081 837 2923
Anacapri finally has a decent mid-price alternative to luxe perches like the Capri Palace, the Caesar Augustus, and Villa Le Scale. Casa Mariantonia's position is hardly spectacular—it's on the main pedestrianized shopping street, just across from La Rondinella restaurant—but for those open to the more rural feel of Capri's second town, it makes for a good base. The decor is a persuasive mix of Provençal and Caprese, with pretty ironwork bedsteads, bijou lamps, and a choice of Vietri floor and bathroom tiles that is a cut above the usual blue-and-yellow standard. All nine bedrooms have generous terraces with garden views; five (three classic doubles and two suites) look onto an ancient grove of orange and lemon trees to the side of the house. Free Wi-Fi (though it doesn't reach all rooms) and a plentiful continental breakfast are included in the rates. The owner's grandmother was one of the first people on Capri to make limoncello in any great quantity, and the family still owns the original Limoncello di Capri outlet down in Capri Town.
Closed November through March.
9 Piazzale Flaminio
Piazza del Popolo
Tel: 39 06 3260 0421
A five-room bed-and-breakfast with the soul of a much bigger design hotel, Casa Montani has become a solid word-of-mouth success since its November 2007 opening. Located just outside Piazza del Popolo, a ten-minute walk from the Spanish Steps, the third-floor guest house was once a typical Roman apartment, but it was given a stylish makeover by architect Liliana Sciacca. While no expense has been spared, it's not the Designers Guild fabrics, Shantung silk curtains, nor bathrooms in Ligurian slate or local travertine that seal the deal so much as the sheer urban elegance of the place. The only communal area is a small library-lounge, and the rooms have little view to speak of—with the exception of the suite, which has a ringside view of Piazza del Popolo and the twin bell towers of Trinità dei Monti beyond. But Casa Montani's intimate interiors make this a good place for cocooning after a hard day's sightseeing (the Flaminio metro stop is just outside), and the fact that breakfast is served in your room contributes to the cozy atmosphere.
6 Via Tragara
Vejer de la Frontera , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 0158
Like its sister pad La Scalinatella, this divinely located hotel is a boutique offshoot of Capri town's über-luxe grand hotel Quisisana. Casa Morgana is a little cheaper than the molto elegante La Scalinatella, but it's equally romantic, with views down over tree-clad slopes to the turquoise sea. Bedrooms are done out in typical caprese style, with local majolica tiles and furnishings pushing a bold (and occasionally strident) blue, white, and yellow color scheme. All of the 20 bedrooms have scenic terraces, but for the full-on panorama, opt for the sea-view rooms. The breakfast and bar patio gives onto a delightful semicircular infinity pool (as always on Capri, space is at a premium, but in this case the proximity of dining and dipping feels like fun). Service is a strong point, and the charming concierge, Luigi, is helpful and well-informed.—Lee Marshall
Via Rezzola 41
Tel: 39 089 874078
Once a fisherman's home, Ca' P'a, the restored dream house of a family of architects, doubles as a six-room inn saturated with Mediterranean charm and contemporary good taste. Every bedroom has a 14-foot domed ceiling and a glorious sea view, although there's no AC. The simple accommodations are softened with natural colors and lots of pillows, and the two suites have four-poster beds with mosquito netting. There's a small seawater pool, and terraced gardens slope down to the rocky coast. With no on-site restaurant, meals require climbs up to the Amalfi Coast road, but Casa Privata's location ensures serenity and immunity from the summer crowds.
69 Via Enrico Caronti
Tel: 39 031 32 511
Villa Roccabruna, the home of soprano Giuditta Pasta, muse of the nineteenth-century composer Vincenzo Bellini, has been transformed into the CastaDiva Resort, becoming the first hotel in nearly a century to open on Lake Como's shores. The 75-room property is in an enviable location right on the water and a short drive from the towns of Como and Bellagio. Guests arrive by boat, docking in a cave in the rocky foundation below the hotel. The secluded grounds are ringed with white-pebble paths; huge pine trees frame the view; and a brilliantly designed pool floats on the lake. The spa, too, is a centerpiece, a subterranean enclave with an indoor pool and huge treatment rooms carved into the rock. L'Orangerie's menu showcases local and seasonal ingredients in such dishes as a delicate pea soup with quail egg and local lake trout. While the staff are friendly and professional, the stiff Frau-like uniforms are a misstep. Some of the rooms' design elements might also be a bit over the top for purists (heavy silk curtains and mirrored closets with gold paint), and the new buildings that house additional guest rooms look a little architecturally jarring next to the original villa, but all in all CastaDiva captures the rarefied grandeur of another century.
7 Strada Spicciano
Tavarnelle Val di Pesa
Tel: 39 055 806 470
The big Tuscan novelty of 2006, Castello del Nero is a top-end hotel set amidst the vineyards of Chianti. Though plenty of other castles and villas in the area now take in paying guests, this is one of the first to offer luxury facilities and customer serviceat prices to match. If you can't do without 24-hour room service, a huge heated outdoor pool, an ESPA holistic spa, two flat-screen TVs in each room (one in the bedroom, the other in the bathroom), cashmere blankets, and an evening turndown service, then Castello del Nero is pretty much obligatory. The 12th-century castle and adjoining buildings were converted by Sting's favorite interior designer, Alain Mertens, into 50 rooms and suites, some of them adorned with restored floor-to-ceiling frescoes. In the historic suites, most of which are in the main body of the castle, Mertens offers a contemporary take on the feudal theme, with antique-style claw-foot bathtubs, Philippe Starck stools, and twisty-columned four poster beds; many also have working fireplaces. The simpler (and cheaper, though by no means cheap) "Tuscan rooms" go for a more subdued, country-house version of the same oldnew blend. A standout feature is an outdoor vitality pool in the shelter of a long arcade. The La Torre restaurant is in the hands of a young Roman chef, Alessio Mecozzi, who uses vegetables and herbs grown on the estate in his light and healthy take on the Tuscan tradition; he also presides over the hotel's afternoon cooking classes.
Strada Spicciano, 7
Tavarnelle Val di Pesa
Tel: 39 055 806 470
With its 700 acres of centuries-old cypress trees and impressive gardens, Castello del Nero feels much like the fiefdom of a Tuscan lord—and in fact, the original structure has belonged to various noble families since the twelfth century. Frescoes and vaulted ceilings give the design grandeur and formality, as do the terra-cotta floors, claw-foot tubs, and sumptuous four-poster beds done in the baldachin style with fabric headboards. The 50 huge guest rooms designed by Alain Mertens (Madonna and Sting are among his clients) are airy and light, with beautiful fabrics and subtle colors. Florence is a 25-minute drive away, and the property offers free twice-a-day shuttle service. The only caveat is that the hotel imposes feudal tax—like charges for any extras—breakfast costs about $40 a person, a glass of prosecco is $20, and Internet service is another $26 per day. ESPA is included among the 2007 Hot List Spas.
Strada di Vicarello
Poggi del Sasso
Tel: 39 0564 990 718
Near the village of Sasso d'Ombrone, 40 minutes' drive northeast of Grosseto, Vicarello is a 12th-century feudal castle perched on a rocky spur with views west to the sea. The atmosphere is that of a discreet house party, presided over by charming hosts Aurora and Carlo Baccheschi Berti. Aurora lived in Bali for 18 years, something that comes through in the five suites—three in the castle itself, two more in the grounds—which mix Indonesian furniture with contemporary rural art. There are two swimming pools—which means that much of the time guests have one to themselves. Lavender, rosemary, and a whole bank of ground roses cover the slopes just below the castle, with terraces of olives and vines down below. Suites have real working fireplaces (it can get quite chilly here out of season), and breakfast—much of it based on produce made, grown, and/or baked by the hosts—is served in a huge country kitchen. Signora Baccheschi Berti also organizes impromptu cooking courses for those who want to do more than just go for long walks or lounge around the pool.
19 Località Monastero d'Ombrone
Tel: 39 0577 570001
The latest Italian hilltop hamlet to morph into a luxury hotel, Castel Monastero serves up a perfectly curated version of the Tuscan lifestyle, right down to its stylish but safe contemporary-country interior design. Those who know and love the real Tuscany might find the 76-room village-hotel a little airbrushed, but there's no denying that the setting—in the wild Ombrone valley on the edge of the Chianti Classico wine zone—is spectacular, and the restoration of this fortified abbey turned wine estate can hardly be faulted. The appointment of British chef Gordon Ramsay as culinary consultant generated media mileage, but it's head chef Alessandro Delfanti who is in the kitchen turning out tasty, conservative variations on Tuscan tradition. The views back across to the village-hotel from the terraced infinity pools are sublime, and the spa by Urban Retreat—proprietors of the day spa at Harrods in London—offers an impressive range of beauty and revitalizing treatments with highfalutin names like Diamond Sublime. The bedrooms in the central castle buildings are soberly elegant, with wooden wainscoting, Chesterfield sofas, Rubelli silk curtains, exposed overhead beams, and a color palette of creamy magnolia and dark cocoa. Be warned, the rooms can be a little gloomy; this was originally a medieval monastery, and windows, where they exist, are generally small. Rooms and suites in the outlying properties, including a self-contained butler-serviced villa, tend to be more spacious, bright, and airy. The good-size bathrooms are lined in dark volcanic stone and feature rain-head showers; many also have tubs. Unlike many Tuscan luxury retreats, Castel Monastero has opted for a flexible pricing policy that (at least by current Italian standards) is almost reasonable for a luxury resort. When demand is low, classic doubles start around $560 per night, including breakfast.—Lee Marshall
Tel: 39 0577 80 7078
In the heart of Brunello wine country, the nearly 4,500-acre Castiglion del Bosco is one of Tuscany's most impressive debuts in years. While the resort's spa, golf course, and equestrian center won't be completed until 2010, there is already plenty to attract in this medieval borgo, or hamlet, which includes the noble family's original villa and 16 large suites (with 10 more in the works). The accommodations have huge living rooms and massive showers and are done in a refined country style with leather chairs and heavy draperies. A former priest's house now holds the two restaurants: one the unpretentious Osteria, which serves simple pastas; the other the Ristorante Del Drago, a more formal affair. It's also the site of cooking classes and wine-tastings (the property produces its own vintage). With many cozy spaces in which to enjoy a glass of wine, and a fleet of discreet staff to cater to your whims, you'll feel like the master of your own estate.
327 Via Vittorio Emanuele
Palermo , Sicily
Tel: 39 091 336 666
The aptly named, 18th-century Centrale is right near the Quattro Canti, steps from the cathedral…in fact, it's near everything. The lobby's frescoes, chandeliers, gilt-framed mirrors, and marble mosaic floors make a grand first impression; if you're not careful, though, your room might be a relative disappointment. Those who like their digs authentically worn (and who like to save a few dollars) might not mind the 58 "classic" rooms and suites—but more persnickety types may find the faded furnishings and upholstery dowdy. The 46 "neoclassic" rooms (added in a 2003 expansion) are a better bet; despite a slight furniture-showroom aesthetic, they have solid parquet floors, mosaic tile bathrooms, and lots of space—and only cost a little more.
Tel: 39 041 34281
Few properties have a more enviable address: Right at the mouth of the Grand Canal, facing St. Mark's Square, the imposing nineteenth-century redbrick palazzo manages to be centrally located (the wonderful new Punta della Dogana museum and the spectacular Santa Maria della Salute church are just steps away) yet feel apart from the city's bustle of tourists. Inside, Florentine architect Guido Ciompi has brought a modern aesthetic to the landmark structure, to mixed effect. The 50 one-of-a-kind rooms and suites, some of which have fireplaces, feel intimate and contemporary, with light-wood floors, bathrooms lined with exquisite gold-leaf treatments, and custom furniture in burnished shades of orange, light pink, and blue velvet. (Try to snag a water view, and note that rooms on the courtyard are quiet but smaller.) The public spaces, however, are either a bit too stark (like the blindingly white restaurant and bar) or almost garish (the lobby). Still, the Centurion's sublime location eclipses these few design missteps and the hit-or-miss service.
6R Vicolo dell'Oro
Tel: 39 055 27262
The newest of the four Ferragamo properties in Florence (Gallery Hotel Art, Hotel Lungarno, Lungarno Suites) opened in 2003, and is, in our eyes, the most effortlessly stylish. The decor is early '60s retro with a contemporary tweak, as in the slim Venetian blinds that frame the ringside view of the Ponte Vecchio, or the pink and black armchairs that look like they've just been vacated by Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. The 43 bedrooms are more neutral, done up in shades of tan, beige, cream, and white. For the ultimate A Room With a View experience, bag one of the fifth-floor river-view rooms, such as number 503, a spacious superior double. But the real calling cards of the Continentale are its impeccable service, neither overfamiliar nor overformal, and its panoramic rooftop chill-out terrace, the Terrazza de' Consorti, where cocktails are served in summer.
34 Via Orfeo
Tel: 39 051 272 039
A novelty on the staid Bologna hotel scene, the "Silk Flower Nunnery" offers ten rooms in a converted 15th-century convent. Some will find the contrast between contemporary design details and the surviving original brickwork and frescoes a little jarring, but it works better in real life than it does on the Web site: Though colors and contrasts are bold, there's a playfulness in the mix of designer chairs, silk drapes, Turkish carpets, and huge flower prints (the nuns who lived here were famous for their floral embroidery) that mostly works. The lobby, mezzanine breakfast area, and four ground-floor bedrooms occupy the original convent church; the sacristy has been turned into a tiny but highly glamorous wine bar. Six upstairs bedrooms are more modern in style. Bathrooms are generous in sizeand although only one has a tub in addition to the shower, there's a small basement spa area where guests can soak in a four-seater whirlpool or take a Turkish bath. Free Wi-Fi access is included in the price of the room.
Daphne Veneto, 55 Via di San Basilico
Daphne Trevi, 20 Via degli Avignonesi
Tel: 39 06 4782 3529
Tel: 39 06 4544 9177
The Daphne is part of a new generation of stylish B&Bs in Rome. Like Casa Howard, it is spread over two locations, both near Piazza Barberini. The rooms are simple but tasteful, with ethnic-modern decor; of the two branches, the Daphne Veneto has the edge, with its elevator (note that you'll need to climb stairs to the Daphne Trevi) and en suite bathrooms (55 Via di San Basilico). Guests consistently rave about the enthusiastic staff, who recommend restaurants and walking tours. Free amenities include Wi-Fi and use of a cell phone during your stay—for contacting the owner outside of staff hours, or for receiving calls from friends and family. For this price, the service and accommodations are unparalleled. Note that neither location allows smoking.
27 Via Garibaldi
Tel: 39 06 588 861
This restored seventeenth-century convent in Trastevere was designed by one of the great Baroque architects, Francesco Borromini, and has all the play of convex and concave shapes for which the architect is celebrated: soaring archways decorated in bas-relief in the bar area and a refectory complete with a lofty coffered ceiling, dark boiserie, and a pulpit where matins were read. The 78 rooms are soberly done (although the beds are sumptuous), with many of the convent's antiques and Baroque architectural flourishes. The garden cloister, with its magnolia tree, camellias, jasmine, rooftop terrace, and smaller Cloister of the Angel, provides outdoor space where guests can enjoy the monastic tranquillity. What saves the property from too much gravitas is the hospitality of the exceptional staff.
Via Giordano Bruno, 28
Tel: 39 0541 24215
This Ron Arad–created modern edifice in the center of the Adriatic town of Rimini (Italy's Atlantic City) is a world away in design from its Baroque mansion neighbors, from the ring-shaped steel reception desk to the chrome pillars and bronze ceilings. Podlike bathrooms are standouts, with wood floors and oval Alessi tubs. Despite a few irritations—tiny bedside tables and little space for luggage—the 43-room hotel has plenty of strong points, including an honor bar, free bikes, free beach access—and NoMi, Rimini's coolest bar.
Giubiliana , Sicily
Tel: 39 093 266 9119
On a clear day you can see Malta from this property, in the region south of Ragusa known as Val de Noto. Built in the 12th century as an Arabic fortress/hermitage, it later became a Knights of Malta monastery. Owned by the Nifosì family for the last 300 years, it's now one of the most sumptuous hotels in southern Italy. The nine double rooms and three suites—formerly friars' quarters—have refurbished exposed-brick walls, arches, and wood beams, and are filled with 18th-century antiques. Splurge on the Tower Suite, in the oldest part of the building, with its two vaulted, stone-walled rooms, fireplace, and private garden. Privacy seekers prefer the five freestanding stone cottages, each with two or three bedrooms, a stone barbecue, a fireplace, and a kitchen. The hotel has its own airstrip for sightseeing tours and guests' private aircraft.
179 Via Provinciale Marina Grande
Tel: 39 081 8379671
Housed in a creamy white Belle Époque villa, the Excelsior Parco is halfway up the road from Marina Grande to Capri Town. The ground-floor reception, breakfast room, and lounge areas are bright and elegant, with Art Nouveau detailing and sculptures from the owner's art collection, while the 13 rooms are sunny and welcoming, making the most of the generous Capri sunlight with their white walls, yellow or cream textiles, and bathrooms done out in jaunty local majolica tiles. There's a garden surrounding the property that features a six-person outdoor whirlpool tub surrounded by lemon trees. Service is extremely affable, breakfast is made from organic produce, with cakes from a reputable pasticceria in Marina Grande, and the Wi-Fi is free. A rooftop solarium was added for the 2011 season.—Lee Marshall
Butera , Sicily
Tel: 800 337 4685
Tel: 39 0934 349 012
Falconara Charming House & Resort is the latest stylish addition to the new generation of Sicilian boutique hotels—a place known for grande dame, slightly fusty properties, or mom and pop bed & breakfasts. Despite its proximity to the highway and a stretch of built-up coastline, the new hideaway on the sea actually has an enviable position looking onto a private beach and a number of undeveloped coves. The one building in front of the property is a castle (which houses some of the bedrooms) that only adds to the vista, and the grounds also have a pretty pool and little beach club. The 65 rooms are simple but chic, with black stone floors, dark wood four-poster beds, and relatively small bathrooms that come with tubs and oversize showerheads—ask for a room with a terrace that looks onto the water. The restaurant is well priced and the bar area stylish, with oversize armchairs and chaises—though they could lose the pianist playing over recorded music. Perhaps best of all, service is warm and quick.
84 Largo Fontanella Borghese
Tel: 39 06 6880 9504
Fontanella Borghese is a striking exception to Rome's slew of disappointing mid-price options. A welcoming 29-room gem in a palazzo that once belonged to the Borghese family, the hotel is just a sashay away from the Via Condotti fashion strip. The sober antique decor is offset by cut flowers, potted plants, and cheerful fabrics. A recent expansion into the apartment next door has given the hotel a decent-sized breakfast room and freed up a charming little lounge. Factor in the friendly and knowledgeable service, and you begin to understand why this place is usually full both in and out of season. The Fontanella's sister hotel, Due Torri, located nearby, is a good alternative.
2 Piazza Tricolore
Tel: 39 02 7631 8516
A pharmacist (who owns the store downstairs) and a lawyer with a passion for design opened this molto carino three-room B&B in 2005. Well placed for Piazza San Babila and all the fashion and design boutiques, this place was a hit from day one, and it's easy to see why: With its original parquet floors and views of city traffic, this is a typical Milanese apartment, yet it has been given a good deal of character by a sensitive eye for color combinations and a neat interplay between contemporary design pieces (Philippe Starck chairs, Bisazza mosaic tiles) and comfortable antiques. Frette linens, efficient AC, a communal kitchen with tea- and coffee-making facilities, and free Wi-Fi and cable broadband are among the perks. You get a set of keys and are encouraged to treat the place like your own apartment in Milan; the staff consists of one simpatica maid who brings a basic breakfast to your room in the morning. The only downside is the traffic noise that filters through the double glazing; but along with mobile phone ringtones, this is the city's background music.
47 Via Petroselli
Tel: 39 06 678 7816
Near the Forum and Circus Maximus, this "modern hotel dedicates each of its five levels to a different Italian artist of the twentieth century, such as Umberto Mastroianni or Emilio Greco. Rooms have parquet floors; suites come with Nespresso coffee machines and "terraces with fantastic views." Circus Roof Garden dishes up Mediterranean cuisine, but it's "incredibly overpriced and the service isn't great."
99 Borgo Pinti
Tel: 800 819 5053 (toll-free)
Tel: 39 055 26261
You could never accuse the Four Seasons group of rushing into things. It wasn't until the most prestigious private estate in central Florence came up for sale that they made their move into the city; even then, they spent seven years restoring Renaissance-era Palazzo della Gherardesca, its surrounding 11-acre park (easily the largest within the town walls), and a 16th-century convent before opening for business in June 2008. The result merits a visit even if you're not staying: The courtyard lobby, dominated by lively 15th-century bas-reliefs; the leafy botanical garden, with its yews and sequoias; and the tiny computer room, where guests can surf the net surrounded by 18th-century frescoes, are all worthy of a museum. From the American doorman in, service is impeccable, and the hotel is good with important little details like the freshly squeezed pineapple juice at breakfast. Bonuses include Florence's only genuine hotel spa, with treatments based on products made by the Santa Maria Novella pharmacy; a huge open-air pool; and a restaurant firmly rooted in Italy's seasonal Slow Food movement. The 116 bedrooms, in a bewildering range of categories, are well appointed and come with large marble-lined bathrooms; some guests will feel that the antique decor lacks brio, however. We prefer the rooms in the main palazzo to those in the rather isolated Conventino across the park—though the latter would work perfectly for a wedding party. If central location is a key factor, you may want to look elsewhere: It's a good 20-minute walk from the hotel to the Ponte Vecchio.
68 Via Gesù
Tel: 39 02 7708 8
Fax: 39 02 7708 5000
If you can get a room at the Four Seasons during fashion week without booking a year in advance, you're either very rich, very well connected, or, more likely, both. Right in the middle of the Quadrilatero d'Oro fashion district, on a quiet road between the boutique arteries of Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga, this former 15th-century convent, which opened as a hotel in 1993, is the last word in discreet luxury, with the impeccable service that one expects of the brand. The style is no-expenses-spared without vulgar excess: rich silks and velvets (including Fortuny fabrics), highly polished pear-wood and cherrywood furniture, Murano chandeliers, and back-heated bathroom mirrors (which won't steam up). The 118 rooms and suites vary a great deal in size and view, and price is not always the best guide: For example, we prefer the charming, light-filled courtyard-view deluxe doubles on the second floor over the more expensive first-floor split-level suites, which are roomy but gloomy. If you really want to splurge, the Brioni Suite is a one-of-a-kind Wunderkammer filled with fabrics, antiques, and artwork selected and styled by former Brioni CEO Umberto Angeloni. The opulent Il Teatro restaurant cooks up a haute mix of traditional and new Italian cuisine; La Veranda, upstairs, is more informal, though still pretty fancy by most people's standards. The only thing missing is a spa, though in-room massages, manicures and pedicures are available.
5 Vicolo dell'Oro
Tel: 39 055 27263
When the Ferragamo family opened this confidently stylish hotel in 1999, it caused quite a stir. Not only was it Florence's first "design hotel," but it had an enviable location, just a few steps from the Ponte Vecchio. While it is no longer unique (its hip competitors now include an adjacent Ferragamo property, the Continentale), the Gallery continues to hold its own. Florentine interiors wunderkind Michele Bonan took care of the decor, which combines elements of East and West, and while the style is minimalist, it avoids being cold. Colors are muted, but dark African wood and soft lighting add warmth. Rotating art and photography exhibitions liven up the inviting public rooms; we especially like the reading room with its sofas and cashmere knee rugs. The 74 bedrooms are quite sober and masculine. The Fusion Bar is a fixture on the city's aperitivo circuit; foodwise, it serves—as its name suggests—fusion dishes such as foie gras nigiri sushi topped with chutney, plus brunch on weekends. The hotel is popular with fashion and film types, but don't worry: Regular tourists are tolerated too. Online rates offer significant discounts if you hit on the right dates.
125 Via Labicana
Tel: 39 06 7759 1380
This pretty pink palazzo, with its foundations in the Ludus Magnus (ancient Rome's gladiator training school), is about as close as you can sleep to the Colosseum. In fact, deluxe rooms have an unimpeded view of that iconic monument. More prosaically speaking, this 16-room five-star endears itself to travelers who prize a central location and boutique comforts (coffee-makers, a mini gym, in-room massages, and contemporary-classic decor) despite the thundering traffic (even soundproofed windows don't muffle it entirely). Five luxuriously appointed apartments, all with full hotel services but without the Colosseum view, allow groups of up to five travelers to opt for a self-catering stay. A big selling point is the view from the rooftop bar and restaurant, which is, quite simply, stunning.—Lee Marshall
38–40 Via Rimembranza
Tel: 39 0365 798 000
D. H. Lawrence stayed here in 1912 and 1913 and deemed it "one of the most beautiful places on earth." The Liberty-style villa was built in 1892 and was converted into a 21-room hotel in 2001. It quickly moved into the top echelons as one of the world's finest hotels. Its air of exclusivity appeals to an elite clientele, as evidenced by the outrageous prices (the very cheapest rooms start around $1,200—in the off-season). All of the rooms are suites, and of the 13 in the main house, the one to book is Il Poeta, which has a breathtaking panorama of Lake Garda. The other guest quarters are scattered among four park cottages. Expect lavish antiques, frescoed ceilings, and wonderfully quirky furnishings throughout. The bathrooms are particularly delightful, often up to 500 square feet in size with enormous tubs, heated marble floors, and walk-in showers. The exquisitely maintained grounds include eight acres of olive, magnolia, and cypress trees.
Closed mid-October through mid-April.
8 Via Indipendenza
Tel: 39 51 225 445
This 300-year-old palazzo opened as a hotel in 1911 and remains the swankiest place in town. Its Old World charm, marble lobby, and five-star service endear it to visiting dignitaries and celebrities. Each of the 109 spacious, individually decorated rooms is named after a famous Italian artist or performer. Plush drapes, brocade wallpaper, flowery prints, antique reproductions, and marble bathrooms give the accommodations an aristocratic swagger. Top-floor rooms are most popular and include small balconies, and all units are soundproofed to block out street noise. The hotel's ultraformal I Carracci restaurant is named after the famous Carracci brothers, whose 16th-century frescoes appear throughout the hotel: It's a favorite with expense-account businessmen and well-off local families gathered for dynastic Sunday lunches.
85 Via Banchi di Sopra
Tel: 39 0577 56 011
Siena's only real luxury hotel sits right in the heart of the city, two minutes from Piazza del Campo. Its 51 individually decorated rooms mix old-world elegance with modern panache. Rich fabrics, antiques, and oil paintings raise the comfort level, while Internet access (though it's not free), pay-TV, and CD players in some rooms provide convenience. Several rooms on the second floor have vaulted frescoed ceilings, and the rooftop suite, the Altana, has wraparound views of Siena. Opened in 2002, the impeccably restored building—originally a Renaissance palazzo—includes a chic wine bar with eye-catching armchairs in a bright glassed-in courtyard on the ground floor, next door to which is a more traditionally elegant restaurant in a couple of Belle Époque dining rooms. Service is professional but can appear a little frosty compared with Tuscany's many hands-on, family-run establishments.
67 Corso Umberto I
Tel: 39 0323 938 938
A hotel famous since 1861 and featured prominently in Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms might be content to rest on its reputation. Luckily, Iles Borromées continues to fuss over the details, and not just those of the manicured grounds, elegant Belle Époque façade overlooking the lake, and grand public areas…not to mention two pools, a tennis court, and a private heliport. In 2003, the hotel thoughtfully added balconies to even the rooms on the back overlooking the mountains. The 172 rooms come in three styles. Most are fitted in the local 19th-century style of intricately inlaid woods and baths sheathed in marble. The junior suites are more ornate, with Murano chandeliers, wall tapestries, lacquer furniture, and plenty of gilded frippery. The Imperial suites are done in full Empire style, with gilded headboards, inlaid stone tables, and frilly plaster decorations in the bathrooms. One room that has remained unchanged: the Hemingway Suite, preserved just as Papa liked it. The room has frescoed ceilings, a large private terrace, two king bedrooms, and three bathrooms. Unlike most top lakeside hotels, the Iles Borromées closes only briefly in winter.
Closed mid-December through mid-January.
Piazza Tasso, 34
Tel: 39 81 877 7111
Views of the Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvius "that you could stare at for an eternity" greet guests at this Art Nouveau complex consisting of three adjoining buildings whose rooms have wood flooring, Biedermeier furniture, and marble bathrooms. Order from the daily-changing menu at Ristorante Vittoriait may include regional specialties like sea bass carpaccioor go alfresco in the grove of the Orangerie. Renovations in 2010 added a gym.
30 Via Milite Ignoto
Santa Margherita Ligure
Tel: 39 01 8528 7013
This 84-room white Belle Époque pile stands at the Portofino end of Santa Margherita Ligure's seaside promenade. If you can't afford the rates at the Splendido, the Miramare makes a better alternative than any of the cheaper (but still overpriced) hotels in Portofino itself, which is three miles away and connected by a regular bus service. (It also stays open year-round, unlike its Portofino rivals.) Rooms are welcoming, if a little démodé, with their polished parquet floors, flowery wallpaper, Murano chandeliers, and antique writing desks; most have bathtubs as well as showers. The hotel's trump card is its palm- and pine-shaded back garden, beyond which lies a large pool with a spectacular view down the coast toward the Cinque Terre. There's a small spa, and a generous breakfast buffet is served in the ground-floor restaurant. Be aware that heavy construction going on next to the hotel is likely to continue into 2009. Sea- and park-facing bedrooms are largely unaffected, but the pool terrace is right above the building site.
12 Viale Mazzini
Siracusa , Sicily
Tel: 39 093 146 4600
This grand turn-of-the-century hotel, set on the island of Ortygia, is arguably the best in Siracusa. In its heyday, the hotel was a social center for wealthy Italians who gathered for lavish balls, fashion shows, and film screenings. Today, both A-listers and regular folks come for the old-world charm and waterfront setting. The three-story building's impressive common areas are an elaborate mix of marble and hardwood, soaring pillars, and stained-glass domes, furnished with period antiques. The 58 modern rooms and suites seem a bit staid by comparison (although the deluxe suite has its own sea-view balcony and Jacuzzi tub). But there's a dazzling roof-garden restaurant, Terrazza sul Mare, with views overlooking the harbor. Guests have access to a private beach with shuttle service.
2 Via Camerelle
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 0788
This 160-year-old grande dame on Capri's main shopping street is still ready for her close-up. Quisi is the It place for glitterati (everyone from Ernest Hemingway and Jean-Paul Sartre to Tom Cruise and Sting have slept here)—and paparazzi—and it has the advantage over its main rival, the Capri Palace, of being a short swan from La Piazzetta. Most of the hotel's 148 rooms have views of the sea and range from snug singles to spacious and deluxe doubles and suites. All are simply furnished with antiques (both real and repro), creamy white walls, and tiled floors; all bathrooms have tubs, some of them with hydromassage. There's a great attention to detail, from the fresh flowers in the lobby to the sumptuous silk and velvet curtains and upholstery. Amenities abound: There's a huge gym with state-of-the-art TV-equipped workout machines, tennis courts, and a serious beauty center, which also functions as a day spa for patrons staying elsewhere. The Quisi restaurant is a formal white-linen affair in the grand style, while at lunchtime the poolside Colombaia grill offers lighter meals and sushi. Best spot for star sightings is the Krug Room—an annex of the opulent, old-style bar. Even if you can't afford the rent, it's worth stopping for lunch or a limoncello by the pool that overlooks the Faraglioni rocks. The only downside to the place—apart from the prices—is the fact that it often fills up with conference delegates or jolly corporate incentive travelers in the off-season.
Open April through October.
59 Via Teatro Greco
Taormina , Sicily
Tel: 39 0942 627 0200
Sitting above the photogenic Bay of Naxos, near Taormina's 2,500-year-old Greek amphitheater, the circa 1873 neoclassical Grand Hotel Timeo was a natural Sicilian muse from the start. D.H. Lawrence lived here for four years, followed by guests such as Jean Cocteau and Tennessee Williams. An old hand at adopting and refurbishing historic properties, Orient-Express wisely took a respectful approach when it bought the fading diva in 2010. Final renovations won't be completed until 2012, but many of the hotel's 72 rooms have already been refreshed with tech updates (plasma flat-screen TVs, complimentary Wi-Fi) and the kind of sparing makeover (new parquet floors, marble bathrooms, gilded mirrors, and local landscapes) that doesn't disturb the old-world Mediterranean vibe. Most rooms have a balcony or terrace overlooking the bay or the landscaped parkland that frames a pool and wellness center. We recommend starting the evening with a limoncello at the Literary Terrace, where Audrey Hepburn once swanned about, before sitting down to a classic Sicilian plate of pasta with sardines at the hotel restaurant, Il Dito e la Luna. When booking, make sure that you snag a revamped room and avoid the 31 spaces in the Villa Flora across the road—they don't have the grandeur or sweeping views of the main building's accommodations.—Raphael Kadushin
155 Via Veneto
Tel: 39 06 487 881
This April 2009 addition to the glam offerings along Via Veneto—once home to the dolce vita but now the domain of the generous expense account—is suitably stylish. The striking Art Deco theme in the public spaces is offset by warm russet tones in the 122 plush bedrooms and suites. From front-desk staff oozing charm and efficiency to flawless service in the smart street-level bar/seafood café, you'll feel coddled throughout your stay. Carrara marble abounds in the large bathrooms; corner suites have delightful views through foliage to Via Veneto and a quieter side street. Up on the roof, with its spectacular view across the city, the solarium has a whirlpool tub from which to enjoy the spectacle.—Lee Marshall
18 Viale Machiavelli
Tel: 39 055 22 87 90
Old-world opulence is ingrained in this restored nineteenth-century mansion overlooking the Boboli Gardens. Built in 1868, the villa has been home to aristocrats from Napoleon III's widow, Eugenie, to an Egyptian pasha, and the remarkable staff sustain this noble aura with warmth and professionalism. The 46 rooms and suites fill three buildings on the estate, with the most lavish on the piano nobile of the main villa. Above that, spacious second-floor rooms are decorated (in some cases, exaggeratedly) with a rose motif honoring Empress Eugenie's love of the flower. The third floor is eclectic, with embroidered baldachins, soft lamps, and heavy satin drapes in deep gold, green, and burgundy. The smaller Villa Eugenia has modern frescoed ceilings and direct spa access, and La Follie is a two-bedroom former gatehouse with a private garden. Though a chauffeured car is at guests' disposal for the short ride to Florence's center, you may never feel the need to leave Villa Cora. It has two terrific restaurantsthe elegant gourmet Il Pasha and a luminous garden restaurant next to the heated white-stone poolas well as two bars, one with an impressive selection of cigars, and a full-service spa with a sauna, steam room, and massive whirlpool bath.
1 Via Roma
Tel: 39 031 950 216
This grandiose 1850s villa has been the place to stay in Bellagio since 1873. Its location is perfect, flanked on one side by the town's central square and on the other by the wooded headland of the Bellagio promontory. The Serbelloni maintains its air of luxury through its oil paintings and antiques, 97 guest rooms with decorative stuccoed ceilings, and ceilings festooned with grotteschi in the grand salons that overlook the heated outdoor pool and private pier to the lake just beyond. Of the dizzying array of room categories, you need know only this: Nearly all rooms with lake views are labeled "deluxe," though not all deluxe rooms have the view, so be specific when booking. The on-site restaurant Mistral has had a Michelin star since 2005, and chef Ettore Bocchia serves his impeccably prepared traditional Northern Italian cuisine on the glass-enclosed terraces. Tucked away further back on the grounds you will find a gym, spa, and indoor pool, as well as the Residence L'Ulivo. These 13 modest but stylishly modern mini-apartments have terra-cotta floors and rattan furnishings and are great for families (the largest sleeps six). They are rented by the week in summer and for shorter periods in the shoulder seasons.
Closed early November through March.
2 Via Richard Wagner
Palermo , Sicily
Tel: 39 091 336 572
This new five star is providing a bit of competition for the older grande dames in town—a good thing since a number of them are becoming more fusty than charming in their old age. Housed in a neoclassical palace on the street where the composer Richard Wagner lived for a couple of years, it's well located and a close walk to places like the Politeama Theater and Via Liberta. The 61 rooms have plush carpets, upholstered furniture, and heavy silk drapery, but because the property is new they feel more luxurious and intimate than dusty. NB: The chandelier in the lobby was used in the ballroom scene in the Sicilian cinematic classic, The Leopard.
6 Via San Raffaele
Tel: 39 02 720 8951
This madly modern 21-room hotel opposite the historic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II mall, hard by the shopping on Via Montenapoleone, opened in mid-2003, setting its cap for the fashion elite. Styled by Guido Ciompi, designer of Gucci boutiques worldwide, the Gray puts its cards on the table as soon as you walk into the small, hushed lobby: A fuchsia daybed is suspended on 12-foot ropes over a polished black Makassar floor next to a textured concrete wall. Further wild effects enliven the guest rooms, each one different from the last—materials such as white ostrich leather, crocodile, steel, and travertine; a duplex suite whose upper floor is accessed by a staircase of iron parallelogram boxes bolted invisibly to the wall; two suites with a private gym (the only workout equipment in the house); three more with giant round Jacuzzis with mini–plasma TVs in the rims. Somehow, though, the net result is playfully chic rather than chaotic, so it's no surprise the Gray kicked off the Milanese trend for high-concept design-centric hotels. The only downside is the lack of public spaces: There's room for a hip mezzanine restaurant, Le Noir, that doubles as the breakfast room, and a tiny bar off the lobby—and that's about it. Guests can use the spa at the nearby Hotel de la Ville (6 Via Hoepli; 39-02-879-1311; www.delavillemilano.com).
25 Via Lazzaro
Tel: 39 089 852 048
The 18-room Hotel Botanico San Lazzaro opened in 2010, in a pale-pink palazzo amidst lemon and olive groves. The hotel's most impressive feature, alongside the warm and personalized service, is its series of terraced gardens, planted with hundreds of cacti, succulents, and exotic plants. But the romantic interiors work very nicely too, their traditional Amalfi upscale decor enriched and varied by Designers Guild fabrics; all guest rooms have hydromassage showers or tubs. The panoramic swimming pool (added in 2011) is delightful, and hotel guests can also use a private section of the beach down in Maiori. The only downside is that it's a testing six- or seven-minute walk up from the town center (your luggage is taken separately, as on Capri). But the lack of easy car access explains why rates here are so reasonable, and unless you have mobility issues, the path is delightful. If you can't face the walk down and back up in the evening, the hotel has a perfectly fine restaurant, Donna Clelia, that serves up tasty Neapolitan cuisine.—Lee Marshall
4 Via G. Orlandi
Anacapri , Capri
Tel: 39 81 837 3395
Everything's vertical at this landmark hotel towering 1,000 feet over the Bay of Naples. Renowned for its IMAX views, the family-run Caesar Augustus is a sweet and seductive getaway from the crush of Capri town—providing you have a head for heights. The 53 rooms (including 43 suites) are comfortably chic, with cushy chairs, big beds, and fragrant flowers. Pay extra for the sea-facing rooms with eye-popping vistas from the balconies. Four "special" suites include the one that Egypt's King Farouk used to block-book for the whole season—even though he only used it for a few weeks each year. Deepen that Caprese tan at the new two-level infinity pool and sundeck or enjoy a glass of wine from the hotel's private cellar at the terrace bar or Terrazza di Lucullo restaurant, which specializes in flavorful Neapolitan cuisine.
Open April through October.
6 Via del Biscione
Campo de' Fiori
Tel: 39 06 6880 6865
A recent refurbishment has turned this once rather kitsch and shabby three-star into a 23-room romantic boutique hotel, but the family touch is still present in the warm and willing service. The location—just around the corner from bustling Campo De' Fiori market and within easy reach of several good restaurants—and the reasonable rates make this property a good choice for travelers who'd rather splurge on food and wine than a posh hotel. Bedrooms are small but elegant, with chandeliers and Venetian-style antiques. To avoid being woken up by the sounds of drunken late-night revelers (market by day, Campo De' Fiori is Rome's late-bar hub by night), ask for a room at the back: Those on the top floor (like 601, with an outlook across to St. Peter's) are the ones to net. The small roof terrace offers yet more unbeatable views. The hotel also has a number of family-size apartments in the surrounding area, which can be booked for longer stays.
2 Piazza San Giovanni del Toro
Tel: 39 089 858 801
The legendary Hotel Caruso Belvedere (its fans have included Greta Garbo, Jackie Kennedy, Humphrey Bogart, and Virginia Woolf) was reconstructed and reopened by Orient-Express Hotels as the Hotel Caruso in summer 2005. This hostelry started in 1893 as Pantaleone Caruso's small pensione within the 11th-century D'Afflitto Palace, then grew to occupy the entire place. Now it has 47 rooms—most with terraces featuring Ravello's spectacular hilltop sea vistas, and 15 with private gardens. There's a heated infinity pool worthy of the name, a gym, and a Wellness Centre offering massages and body treatments. The hotel's two restaurants make the best of the views; there's also a poolside snack bar, and a piano bar with 18th-century frescoes. A free shuttle connects with Positano and Amalfi; morning boat excursions are also gratis. But "gratis" is a relative term here: 22 of the rooms have per-night price tags of a thousand euros or more.
Fondamenta San Giovanni
Tel: 39 041 520 7744
Cloistered among sweeping, verdant grounds on the island of Giudecca, across the Grand Canal from Piazza San Marco, the Cipriani is a luxurious world unto itself. It's frequented by the ultrarich and the ultrafamous—many of whom never even bother to take the hotel's private launch across to the bustle of Venice proper. For them, the Cipriani, with its restaurants, bars, tennis courts, spa, and Olympic-size saltwater pool, is its own destination. The decor in the public spaces and 104 rooms is mostly opulent, with lashings of silk brocade, murals, frescoed and gilded ceilings, and all-marble bathrooms—though bedrooms not yet touched by an ongoing refurbishment effort are (at this price) frustratingly faded. The service is formal, at times even a little frosty. If you simply can't cope without a private butler and space for an entourage, opt for the 11-suite Palazzo Vendramin or the five-suite Palazzetto Nani Barbaro, across the garden from the hotel. But be sure to book far in advance: These mini-palazzi are popular with visiting sheiks and their security staff.
12 Via Oberdan
Tel: 39 051 745 7611
A small, charming hotel just a few minutes' walk from Piazza Maggiore in the heart of the medieval quarter, the Hotel Corona d' Oro occupies part of a 14th-century house that still retains its original facade, complete with rustic wooden columns. The highlight is a stunning Art Nouveau salon with a retractable glass roof, where breakfast is served. Popular with visiting opera singers, actors, and artists, this is one of the few places in Bologna where you can be fairly sure of avoiding the business crowd. A tasteful 2004 refurbishment has given the whole place the feel of an elegant townhouse, with cream and beige tints predominating in the 40 bedrooms, none of which are alike. Some of the first-floor rooms have ceiling frescoes dating back to the 15th century; others have views of the city's twin leaning towers. A few feature small terraces. Part of the Bologna Art Hotels group (which includes Hotel dei Commercianti, Hotel dell'Orologio, and Hotel Novecento, the hotel offers free Wi-Fi and bicycle use.
Riva degli Schiavoni
Tel: 39 041 522 6480
Rubbing shoulders with the Doge's Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, the Danieli has been a hotel since the early 19th century. Back then, it was the choice of Grand Tourists like Charles Dickens and Richard Wagner. Now part of Starwood's Luxury Collection, the 225-room hotel spreads from its original 14th-century palazzo to incorporate two 20th-century buildings. Formerly slightly dowdy, this modern "Danielino" wing has been the first part of the hotel to benefit from a major restoration project, under the creative direction of Hôtel Costes designer Jacques Garcia. Deep reds and earthy greens lend an almost Asian touch, but the repeated arch motifs are decidedly Venetian. The number of rooms has been reduced to provide more suites—ten new ones have lagoon-facing terraces—and the top-floor restaurant has been remodeled, with Gian Nicola Colucci, formerly of London's Four Seasons, brought in to preside over the kitchen. Throughout the hotel, rooms are outfitted with Fortuny and Rubelli fabrics, and while antiques adorn the magnificent Venetian Gothic reception hall, the ambience is more Hollywood mansion than aristocratic palazzo. The view from the roof terrace across the Bacino di San Marco to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is stunning.
11 Via de' Pignattari
Tel: 39 051 745 7511
Much of the original architecture is still intact in this 12th-century palazzo that was once Bologna's town hall. Restoration work exposed parts of the original medieval structure, including massive oak beams, but while there are playful hints at its Gothic origins (heraldic motifs, a suit of armor sitting on a divan in the lounge), the prevailing style is warm, classic modern, with earthy wall colors and retro cherrywood furniture. The 34 rooms are mostly small but bright and cheery, with parquet floors and tasteful printed linens. Some have views of Piazza Maggiore; others (including four third-floor doubles with terraces) face the side windows and Gothic buttresses of San Petronio, the city's cathedral. The breakfast buffet is served in an area of the house where Roman and early medieval artifacts were discovered during renovation. One of the four Bologna Art Hotelsalong with the Corona d'Oro, Hotel Novecento, and Hotel dell'Orologiothe Commercianti has free Wi-Fi, a fleet of bicycles for guests' use, and its own garage, though parking will set you back around $40 a day.
Via IV Novembre 10
Tel: 39 51 745 7411
Simple, stylish and well located, this 34-room boutique, named after the clock tower (orologio in Italian) it faces, is steps from the famous Piazza Maggiore and other Bologna attractions. Small rooms, most with views of the square, have antiques, fabric walls, and marble bathrooms. There's a computer terminal in the lounge for guest use. Owners Cristina and Mauro Orsi of Bologna Arts hotels also operate Hotel dei Commercianti, Corona d'Oro, and Novocento properties. Each offers complimentary buffet breakfast and free city parking passes (vehicles are not permitted at the hotels, only in designated city lots for a fee).
9 Via del Babuino
Tel: 39 06 328 881
When the historic De Russie reopened in 2000 after extensive renovations, it was the first in a new generation of Roman hotels, a neoclassical landmark with refreshing, Deco-tinged contemporary design, courtesy of Rocco Forte's sister Olga Polizzi and Italian architect Tommaso Ziffer. Rooms mix Robert Mapplethorpe flower photos with crisp white chaise longues; the best have long, thin terraces that overlook the rooftops of nearby Via Margutta. Right off Piazza del Popolo, the 125-room property's real trump card is its magnificent garden, which rises up the slopes of the Pincio hill on a series of palm-shaded and statue-strewn terraces, home to a butterfly sanctuary. The elegant Stravinskij Bar (martinis are a specialty) moves outside in summer, complete with cheesy pianist. Owen Wilson, George Clooney, and Julia Roberts are among the stars who have chosen the De Russie, but be warned: Rates are punishing, rooms for mere mortals are often on the small side, and service can go into meltdown at peak times.
49 Via Ludovisi
Tel: 39 06 478 121
The stately Eden is close enough to the Spanish Steps to be central, but because it's tucked away on a quiet street, it retains a tranquil feel—just what you'll need after a day spent fighting the crowds. If you can afford it, angle for one of the fifth-floor deluxe doubles, whose small balconies overlook the gardens of the Villa Medici and a large swath of the centro storico. The room decor is classically elegant without being musty, the service is close to impeccable (make use of the excellent concierge), and La Terrazza dell' Eden, the hotel's restaurant and bar, has some of the best views in Rome. Federico Fellini held court here back in the day, and just like his beloved Via Veneto, the Eden has seen renewed favor of late. A 2006 change of ownership (from the Forte Group to Starwood's luxurious Meridien brand) has left the refined atmosphere and services as good as ever.
2467 San Marco
Campo Santa Maria del Giglio
Tel: 39 041 794 611
Built on the Grand Canal in 1525 for then-doge Andrea Gritti, this magnificent palazzo has lost none of its pomp and ceremony. Now part of the Starwood Luxury Collection, the hotel has museum-quality art and antiques filling its public spaces. The 91 guest rooms and suites are outfitted in traditional, opulent Venetian style, with massive Murano glass chandeliers, intricate painted wood paneling, and sumptuous brocades. Just three of the first-floor suites have breathtaking views over the canal, but vista-deprived guests can console themselves with a terrace table at the hotel restaurant.
26 Lungomare Vittorini
Siracusa , Sicily
Tel: 39 0931 465 861
The secret is out: Hotel Gutkowski is the best bargain in ancient, seaside Siracusa. You'll need to book way ahead for one of the 26 rooms at this pale-blue villa, on the city's island of Ortygia. All are decorated with rustic simplicity: plain white walls, white linens and drapes, basic wood furniture, and tiled or hardwood floors. But all come with satellite TVs and fridges, and seven have Mediterranean views. Your room rate includes one of the best continental breakfasts in Siracusa, with fresh-squeezed juices, homemade jams and pastries, and organic fruit.
6 Piazza Trinita dei Monti
Tel: 39 06 699 340
Perched at the top of the Spanish Steps, the classic Hassler has spectacular views and—with more gold and brocade than a Palm Beach dowager—a timeless, stately elegance. Bigger rooms come with ornate moldings and ceiling frescoes, and a family-owned atmosphere still prevails. To make sure you get your money's worth, ask for a city-side view. The Hassler also has a restaurant worthy of the hotel's august reputation: stylish rooftop perch Imago, helmed by talented young chef Francesco Apreda. Oenophiles should consider staying at the adjacent Il Palazzetto: four intimate suites above a wine school, restaurant, and bar that are run by the hotel (39-06-699-0878; www.wineacademyroma.com).
2 Via dei Pescioni
Tel: 39 055 26651
One of central Florence's best small hotels, the Helvetia & Bristol has had a distinguished history, with Stravinsky, Gabriele d'Annunzio, Pirandello, and Bertrand Russell among its past guests. The public rooms and 67 bedrooms are filled with fine paintings and antiques, and the atmosphere is exclusive without being stuffy, largely thanks to the genuinely helpful staff. On the ground floor is an elegant salon hung with handsome oil paintings, where velvet sofas and armchairs are grouped around a huge pietra serena fireplace. Breakfast is served in the Belle Époque Winter Garden; for lunch or dinner, the Hostaria Bibendum restaurant mixes unfussy Tuscan dishes like Chianina beef tartare with more flashy Italian and international numbers. Minimalists will probably find the sumptuous decor in the bedrooms too opulent, and some rooms are seriously on the small side (try to upgrade from the poky classic double to a deluxe double, if possible). Splurge on a suite here—as Tom Ford reportedly used to do when he was designing for Gucci—and you'll be very happy; otherwise, you may find better value elsewhere.
24 Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Tel: 39 055 277380
Don't even think of getting a taxi from the station: Hotel L'Orologio is a two-minute walk away, and yet such is the compact geography of central Florence that you're in one of the city's most charming, historic, and tranquil piazzas. Opened in 2009, L'Orologio is a well-priced property with the air of a gentlemen's club. The owner is a watch collector, and while the ubiquitous prints of high-end wristwatches (orologio means clock or watch) may feel a little gimmicky, the warm autumnal colours, deep leather sofas, polished mahogany paneling, and rich textiles in the public spaces and bedrooms lend the place an exclusive, stylish feel. There is a glorious fireplace in the main sitting room, where a fire burns throughout the colder months, and the bar, with its big wooden counter, is a good place for a light lunch. The rooftop breakfast room has fantastic views, but it's also rather small for this 54-bedroom hotel, and the hungry queues that form at peak times are not always handled with grace by the hassled staff. Splashing out on a room with a view will bring you face-to-face with the magnificent facade of Santa Maria Novella, or allow glimpses over the Florentine rooftops to Brunelleschi's Duomo.—Lee Marshall
8 Via Tragara
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 0633
Perched along one of Capri's most beautiful walking paths, this romantic 30-room boutique run by the Morgano family (of Quisisana fame) feels like a private villa above the sea. (The name means "little stairway," referring to the hotel's terraced layout, with entrance and reception at the top). It's the perfect place for an intimate tryst, with large rooms well-screened from other guests. The rooms and suites are luxurious and modern, with alcove beds, sunny marine color schemes, and tiled bathrooms; all have panoramic terraces. Some have two baths and whirlpools. The pool is tiny but delightful, with a snack bar and shade trees—though the plastic sun loungers lower the tone somewhat. Guests can make use of the Quisisana's facilities (for a fee) to practice their forehand or get a massage.
Open from Easter to the end of October.
22 Via della Penna
Tel: 06 361 0841
If you book into this art deco landmark, make sure to reserve in the new wing of the hotel. If you stay on the chintzy older side, you won't enjoy the property and in fact may feel that you are in a sad film noir: rooms are worn and have a melancholy air (though a refurbishment is scheduled for 2011). The ones in the newer wing on the other hand are outfitted in stylish silks and have gorgeous wood floors. And deluxe rooms have sumptuous 1920s marble bathrooms. For timeless ambience, the rooftop bar can't be beat.
3 Viale Matteotti
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 0433
Location, location, and location is the main calling card of this lovely 52-room hotel, which sits just above the 14th-century Certosa monastery in its own extensive garden, with a bougainvillea-shaded pergola leading to the main building. It's close to town but far from the tourist crowds, and the views over the Faraglioni rocks from the terrace bar and the sea-facing rooms are superb. A quarter of the accommodations have recently been refurbished in a classic-contemporary style, though other guest rooms remain in a more old-fashioned Victorian mode. For a few extra euros, guests can enjoy a balcony facing the lush gardens and water. The huge pool features a hydromassage area and underwater seating. If you can't face the short walk into town, the hotel's namesake restaurant, which makes the most of its outside terrace, serves up simple Bay of Naples specialties.
Open from Easter through October.
14 Borgo San Jacopo
Tel: 39 055 27261
With a stunning setting right on the south bank of the Arno just a few steps from the Ponte Vecchio, the 73-room Lungarno (another Ferragamo-owned property) is the first choice for travelers who prefer smaller hotels but don't want to sacrifice top-class personal service and supercentral location. Book early to secure one of the rooms with a terrace overlooking the river; the fifth- and sixth-floor suites are quite spacious and have big decks, while standards are much smaller. The ground-floor breakfast room and beautifully appointed lounge/bar—complete with white-jacketed servers and an impressive array of coffee table books—are right on the water. The Borgo San Jacopo Ristorante has a tiny terrace on the river and serves modish food, such as brodetto (a bouillabaisse-like fish stew with mussels, clams, squid, and sea bass), in a calm and elegant setting. On the other side of the Arno, you'll find its sister hotels Gallery Hotel Art, Continentale, and Lungarno Suites.
50 Via Cristoforo Colombo
Tel: 39 089 875 130
The best of Positano's sea-view mid-range hotels, the Marincanto is built into the slope (actually more of a cliff) that shelters the bay and main beach to the east. In typical Positano fashion, the entrance is via the rooftop car park—from here you get the elevator down three floors to reception (and there are more floors below). All 25 rooms face the sea, and all except the standard doubles have balconies so you can enjoy the view. They're arranged like a vertical slice of theater boxes, with the azure Mediterranean where the stage should be—except these boxes are bright, roomy, and joyously sunny, done out in an uncluttered antique minimalist style. Other attractions include an infinity pool, a private beach, and a delicious breakfast spread served (weather permitting) on a panoramic terrace under the shade of lemon trees. The Marincanto feels really looked after (its sparkling white walls are repainted scrupulously each year during the winter break), and the attention to detail carries through into the courteous, problem-solving concierge service.—Lee Marshall
1332 San Marco
Tel: 39 041 520 0211
The Benetton family acquired this 99-room hotel eight years ago and have since incorporated three adjacent buildings. The first houses an additional 30 small but comfortable accommodations that are a mix of Venetian opulence (silk fabrics, Murano glass) and minimalist understatement. The second is the storied Palazzo Dandolo, where Casanova seduced courtesans in the seventeenth century and which is now reserved for public functions. And the third is the Palazzo Selvadego, where Luciano Benetton's personal architect, Moreno Carniato, brings a masculine elegance to the magnificent late-Gothic palace's 34 rooms. Although the staff won't win any hospitality awards, the hotel's fabulous location on the Grand Canal at St. Mark's makes up for it.
4/3 Piazza Galileo
Tel: 39 051 745 7311
Fax: 39 051 745 7322
Small but perfectly formed, the Novecento is our current candidate for best-value centro storico accommodation. The building that houses the hotel goes back to the early 1900s (hence the name), and its origins are hinted at in design details inspired by Viennese-style Art Nouveau (dark wood furniture and fittings, chrome bedside lights). But the overriding design idiom of this 2003 newcomer is a comfortable modernism, with stripy silk and organza curtains, colorful cushions and dried flower arrangements lending warmth to the sleek lines and muted cream and white color scheme of the 25 bedrooms. Bathrooms in sand-colored marbles have all the amenities, and the generous breakfast buffet features lots of fresh fruit, homemade jam, hams and cheeses. It's one of four Bologna Art Hotels (along with the Corona d'Oro, the Hotel dei Commercianti, and the Hotel dell'Orologio, whose perks include parking permits for the Old Town, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary use of bicycles.
14 Piazza Duomo
Tel: 39 0835 33 4358
Seventy years ago, Carlo Levi painted a grim portrait of the cave-dwellers of Matera, in southern Italy's Basilicata region. Post-war governments paid attention, first relocating the inhabitants, and then making tourist hay by encouraging the renovation of the Sassi, or caves, into small inns. In July, the evolution of Matera took a giant leap forward with the opening of the 20-room Palazzo Gattini. From the summit of Matera, on the Piazza del Duomo, the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century rooms and suites look across the roofs of the town. Each room is unique, preserving painted ceilings in cool beiges and blues, balconies and balustrades in some suites, while adding enormous bathtubs, theatrical lighting, lithographs by the Franco-era artist Juan Rafael Ortega, and slashes of color in dramatic ten-foot draperies by Dedar. An underground spa features aromatherapy, water massage, and a heated pool, and the adjacent restaurant features a nuovo italiano menu of local ingredients. All is run impeccably by a superb staff of locals who will direct you to the seasonal festivals and nearby abbeys, beaches, and even caves.
57 Via Tragara
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 0844
Churchill and Eisenhower stayed here before it opened in 1972 as a hotel. Today, guests pay through the nose for views from this apricot-pink villa hanging precariously over the Faraglioni rocks. The Le Corbusier–designed inn takes full advantage of its location, with picture windows in the lobby and balconies in all 43 rooms and suites. You can gaze down the cliff while lazing in two heated saltwater pools without ever leaving the water. Fireplaces, antiques, and marble adorn the public areas; plushly appointed guest rooms feature large bathrooms. The Bussola poolside restaurant is the sweetest spot on the island for watching sunsets. For classic Mediterranean cuisine, head to the hotel's upmarket Bizantino restaurant.
Open from mid-April to mid-October.
9 S.S. Amalfitana
Tel: 39 089 871 012
Built in 1850, this is the oldest of the Amalfi Coast's grand hotels, just outside town on the coast road, and has been run by the same family for four generations. Such continuity pays off in serenity and in service that runs like clockwork. There is also a certain lived-in feel to this gracious 48-room mansion, which Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie enjoyed during the filming of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Rooms in the main building feature patterned Vietri or white-tiled floors, early 19th-century antiques, and balconies looking over the sea toward Amalfi's yacht harbor. Thirteen other separate accommodations are set around the verdant grounds, including four Garden Suites—our favorites are the Chalet Giulietta e Romeo, a little honeymoon cottage perched at the edge of the cliff amid the orange groves, and the Follia Amalfitana (Amalfi Folly), a romantic refuge with a sunken Jacuzzi on its panoramic terrace. Both these suites also have outside swimming pools. Two rock-cut elevators lead down through the cliff to the rocky bathing area and saltwater pool below. There's also a spa and two restaurants, one more formal, the other beachy and casual, with a wood-fired pizza oven.—Updated by Lee Marshall
38 Via Santavenere
Tel: 39 97 387 6910
No wonder this five-star hotel has attracted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton, and Ivana Trump. Nestled in the pine and olive groves above the bay of Fiumicello, the Santavenere is a gorgeous light- and plant-filled retreat (red and pink bougainvillea frame guest room windows). There are bars both by the swimming pool and on the rocky private beach. The house spa, Le Terme, offers Turkish baths and shiatsu massage.
7 Piazza della Repubblica
Tel: 39 055 27351
Rescued from decay in the late '90s by Sir Rocco Forte, the Savoy is a stylish, upbeat hotel and one of the city's most popular, attracting both business and leisure clientele plus a fair share of celebs. Olga Polizzi, Rocco's designing sister, has created a characteristically stylish and calm ambience using notes of dark wood, splashes of loud pattern and color, and some striking modern art against neutral beige and cream. None of the 102 rooms are huge, but they are comfortable and well-equipped; most have walk-in closets. The best overlook the bustling Piazza della Repubblica from the upper floors; two of the suites have Turkish baths. Kids are well looked after here, too, with special touches like junior-size bathrobes and dedicated toiletries. In 2011 Italian superchef Fulvio Pierangelini took culinary direction of the smart, street-level L'Incontro Bar & Restaurant. But this doesn't mean fancy dishes at inflated prices: Pierangelini is on a fresh and local simplicity kick—expect dishes such as a light fry-up of squid and seasonal vegetables, or paccheri pasta with broccoli and burrata.—Updated by Lee Marshall
15 Via Scalo
Salina , Aeolian Islands
Tel: 39 090 984 4222
Opened by a local couple, Hotel Signum is located in a low-key gorgeous landscape between twin volcanoes that spills down to the pristine sea. The 30 rooms are charming rather than slick (snag one with a Tyrrhenian sea view), and the grounds have an incredible vista of Panarea and Stromboli in the distance. The sunset terrace in particular is a perfect location for doing absolutely nothing but staring off into the distance. If you must move, rent a moped and spend your time exploring the island's gorgeous fishing villages, or hike one of the dormant volcano trails. The included breakfast here is one of Sicily's best and dinner isn't shabby either, though you'll have to let the staff know if you are staying for the meal that morning. One caveat: the ferry schedule can be sporadic when the seas are rough and the staff seems completely clueless about whether they are running—a frustration when you turn up at the port and there is no way to get back to the mainland.
16 Salita Baratta
Tel: 39 01 8526 7801
Owned and run by the Orient Express group, the Splendido is an Italian hospitality legend: It vies with the Villa d'Este on Lake Como and the Sirenuse in Positano for the title of Italy's most desirable high-end leisure hotel. Perched on a south-facing terrace above the Bay of Portofino, the 64-room grande dame boasts a celebrity guest list that stretches from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Bill Gates. Although you might not agree with the hotel's claim to be "quietly democratic" when you're paying nearly $4,000 a night for an Exclusive Suite, it's true that there's nothing ostentatious about the place: It feels lived-in, like the home of a globe-trotting uncle with good taste. Rooms are frequently refurbished, but the default style is French country, with soothing cream walls, flowery curtains and furnishings, and antique prints in gilt frames. Bathrooms are generally large and well appointed, complete with toiletries from Bulgari, Molton Brown, and Penhaligon's. The gardens, with their shady pergolas and hidden benches, are delightful, and the restaurantwhich serves a surprisingly unfussy Italian menu with a focus on fresh fish and homemade pastahas an unbeatable view of the harbor. The small but efficiently run Wellness Centre was added in 2003. Since 1998, the Splendido has had a waterside offshoot, the 16-room Splendido Mare. The bedrooms tend to be a little smaller than those in the mother ship; about half have a ringside view of the Piazzetta, Portofino's waterfront square. Breakfast is served in the Chuflay Bar Restaurant downstairs, which is also a great spot for people watching around aperitivo time. For those looking for more privacy at mealtime, there's also a panoramic rooftop terrace.
Closed early November through early March.
1 Via Vanni
Città della Pieve
Tel: 39 057 829 8063
The price is definitely right at this stylish 30-room property in the handsome hill town of Città della Pieve, southwest of Lake Trasimeno. Until 2004, when it was bought by a globe-trotting American and refurbished, the Vannucci was basically a glorified pensione; now, its rooms are outfitted in tasteful, mod-colonial style: Balinese carved-wood headboards and tables; wicker chairs; dramatic modern light fixtures; and immaculate, generous-sized bathrooms. The attentive service, the fitness room and sauna, and (as of summer 2007) a small outside plunge pool make the starting price of $128 in low season a spectacular bargain. The hotel also has two very good restaurants: the Pizzeria Pavese, which spills out onto a pergola-covered veranda in fine weather, and the more upscale Zafferano. The local town, a little-known jewel in weathered brick, was the birthplace of Renaissance painter Pietro Vannuccia.k.a. Il Perugino.
2 Via Ugo Ara
Isola dei Pescatori
Tel: 39 0323 30 408
This bloodred villa at the very tip of Fishermen's Island is a short ferry ride from the main town of Stresa. The 12 rooms are named after flowers, but don't expect an overly floral B&B. The decor is limited to pastel shades to match each individual bloom, plus painted cast-iron headboards. Some rooms look across the water to the gardens of nearby Isola Bella (best seen from the two rooms on the front with working fireplaces); others open onto a view of Isola Madre and the eastern shore of the lake. The restaurant inevitably draws boatloads of nonguests touring the islands who stop off to dine on food a cut above the standard tourist fare in these parts. The homemade pasta and the lake perch are excellent, and the tables are set under shade trees right near the lakeshore.
Hotel closed December through February. Restaurant open daily year-round.
Via Timone 46
Acquafredda di Maratea
Tel: 39 973 878 134
For charm on a budget, look to Villa Cheta Elite by the tiny bay of Acquafredda. It occupies a Liberty-style (Italian Art Nouveau) villa in pleasant, bougainvillea-shaded gardens just above the coast road. For once, the half-board requirement is not an imposition: the restaurant, which features gourmet fare such as swordfish and chickpea soup, is good enough to pull in outsiders. Horseback riding, boat trips, and yoga classes are available for an additional charge.
298 Via Canova
Tel: 39 423 523 411
With "commanding views of the surrounding countryside," this 16th-century Veneto villa has "beautiful grounds including a tea garden and several shady terraces." Rooms decorated "in good taste pack in modern comforts." The restaurant makes a show of such local specialties as "sea bass baked with Guerarde salt potatoes, Taggiasche olives, and white wine sauce."
60 Via Leonardo da Vinci
Taormina , Sicily
Tel: 39 094 228 153
Set on a hillside, the elegant Villa Ducale is the best bet for guests wanting Taormina without the crowds. Just a ten-minute walk from the center of town, this pink 17-room villa evokes la dolce vita, from the delicate wall frescoes and terra-cotta floors to the wrought-iron beds, antiques, and lush garden. All rooms have private terraces with gorgeous views of Mount Etna or the Mediterranean Sea. The hotel provides free shuttles to the beach and city center, and a buffet breakfast each morning on an expansive patio.
2 Via Carusiello
Castiglione di Ravello
Tel: 39 089 872 237
Nestled among stone-walled terraces and gardens full of lemon trees and bougainvillea, this simple, friendly 12-room hotel sits on a cliff between Amalfi and Ravello. A winding staircase carved into the cliffside takes you down to the rocky beach (really more of a swimming platform), from which you can arrange to be whisked away by boat. Almost all of the rooms have balconies for drinking in views of the Gulf of Salerno, and for alfresco breakfasts (the only time of day there's room service). Rates include a meal plan, which is great if you're lazy and/or carless, but the quirky, family-run restaurant is also a treat in its own right. The simple guest rooms have traditional tiled floors, paisley drapes, and bright-blue woodwork. Air-conditioning, satellite TV, and direct-dial phones are also standard. There's no pool.
Via Roma, Piazzetta Bastione
Taormina , Sicily
Tel: 39 094 223 481
There's no better deal in touristy Taormina than this pretty-in-pink hillside mansion, which turned a century old in 2005. The former Schuler residence (it's still run by the family) sits on prime real estate, adjacent to the city's botanical gardens and only two minutes from the pedestrian shopping stretch of the Corso Umberto. Most of the 26 affordable rooms and suites have balconies with stunning views of the gardens and the sea. Families will appreciate the separate Garden Villa, with two bathrooms, Jacuzzi, kitchen, living room, and patio. The hotel's many freebies include a piano and TV room, a small library, mountain bikes, and shuttle service to local beaches.
Via Silvio Bonomelli
Tel: 39 030 982 2977
Sometimes to get the best lake views, you have to leave the shores and drive a few miles up into the surrounding mountains. I Due Roccoli, set in a quiet park, has 23 rustic guest quarters with heavy beamed ceilings and simple furnishings. Just be sure to request one with commanding views over the lake below. Breakfast is included, and it's worth signing up for half-board to indulge in the excellent à la carte dinners of fresh local ingredients accompanied by Franciacorta wines. Meals are served by a roaring fire on cool nights; on warm evenings, you can opt for candlelight out on a flower-fringed patio flanked by rough stone walls and open to a sloping lawn rimmed by forest. Being well off the lakes also means I Due Roccoli tends to attract the kind of guests who are happy to spend a day doing nothing more strenuous than strolling the wooded grounds or curling up with a book on one of the panoramic terraces. The hotel does have a pool and bocce courts, if you are feeling so inclined.
Closed November through mid-March.
Tel: 39 0577 877 700
Set amid 7,100 undulating acres of vineyards and olive groves near Montalcino, Castello Banfi, maker of some of the region's best-known wines, has opened its doors to overnight guests, having converted its former workers' lodgings into sumptuous accommodations that embody Tuscan-style good living. The 14 individually styled rooms, housed in conjoined eighteenth-century stone buildings adjacent to the estate's twelfth-century castello, have retained some atmospheric elements of the original structures, from wood-beam ceilings to deep-set windows to terra-cotta floors, and are done in a cheerful, elegant Tuscan palette, including softly patterned silk draperies, plump couches, and absurdly comfortable beds with romantic baldachins. Special touches include a gratis bottle of Brunello, an LCD TV hidden in a false bookcase, and free high-speed Interneta rarity in these parts. The large, well-lit bathrooms also come with comfort in mind, equipped with heated towel racks, sizable glass-walled showers with rain showerheads, and toiletries made with Sangiovese grapes grown on the estate. The service throughout is warm and efficient, and the hearty breakfast (included in the room rate) exceeds the typical Continental-style offerings, while the two excellent on-site restaurantsthe intimate Michelin-starred Ristorante, and the more casual Tavernaoffer well-prepared Tuscan dishes and, naturally, a strong house wine list. A small pool overlooks the bucolic landscape of vineyards.
Località Il Borro
San Giustino Valdarno
Tel: 39 055 977 053
Centered around its very own medieval hamlet, this 1,700-acre property in the wilds of the Arezzo region is owned by Ferruccio Ferragamo—son of Salvatore, founder of the famous Florentine fashion dynasty. The estate includes a lavishly restored ten-bedroom villa in English-country style, with an indoor pool and a formal Italian garden—the whole thing rented en bloc with staff (for the full bells-and-whistles experience with chef, sous chef, and waitress in addition to the default option of maid and assistant, we're talking a cool $50,000 per week in high season). There are also 12 apartments for rent in the medieval borgo (village); these are comfortable enough, with rustic Tuscan wood-beamed ceilings and cotto tile floors—and although the borgo's rather twee artisan workshops (imported, rather than original) strike a false note, the houses themselves have been sensitively restored, avoiding the fake retro approach that spoils some other Italian village conversions. Better, though, are the 16 apartments located in farm buildings scattered around the property. They have more light and more style than those in the village, and each has the use of a pool. A classic osteria serving traditional local dishes in the hamlet, much patronized by local day-trippers, completes this idyllic Tuscan retreat.
Open March 10 to November 10 and for two weeks over Christmas and New Year.
Marittima di Diso
Tel: 44 7736 362 328
Greek-born Athena McAlpine and her husband, Lord Alistair, the (very) British Conservative Party treasurer during the Thatcher era, made a highly unpredictable career choice in 2003 by opening this extraordinary haute bed-and-breakfast in a 15th-century convent half an hour south of Lecce. It is like no other B&B you'll ever encounter. If you score one of the nine rooms, you'll gain access not only to the entire propertyno room is off-limitsbut also to Lord McAlpine's museum of a collection, focusing on textiles and primitive and folk art from multiple sources (Australian Aboriginal, West African, Indonesian, Indian, Panamanian, you name it). And you can take "museum" literally, since much of this is rare as dodo eggs. Pieces are strewn liberally and artfully around the place according to Athena's artistic eye. One room contains another McAlpine collection: the library, with 14 tons of books. Included in the rates are breakfast, laundry service, and superb Euro-modern (as opposed to Puglian) lunches, garnished with the fruit of yet another McAlpine collection: the wine cellar. Some of the beds could sleep a family of six, yet all are made up in precious linens from Lecce; a few volumes are thoughtfully piled on the night table. Despite its well-connected hosts, this haven is emphatically not for wired peoplethere are no TVs, phones, or newspapers, and definitely no WiFi.
370 Località San Martino
Tel: 39 0575 612 679
A delightful 17th-century villa surrounded by cypresses, olive orchards, and vineyards, this Relais & Châteaux property is personally managed by owners Silvia and Riccardo Baracchi, and their attention to detail makes all the difference. The 20 spacious rooms, some with modern frescoes and four-poster beds, have original cotto tile floors and are elegantly furnished with antiques and tapestries, yet the atmosphere is unpretentious, relaxed, and sunny. The Michelin-starred restaurant in the former limonaia (a greenhouse for young lemon trees) is one of the few chic eateries in the area, with elegant table settings and polished service. The outdoor terrace has a stunning view of Cortona and the valley. Silvia Baracchi personally oversees the waitstaff, while chef Richard Titi heads up the kitchen. Many dishes on the menu are of the hearty, rustic variety: baked stuffed turbot with zucchini and marjoram flowers; marinated shellfish with spelt panzanella and balsamic vinegar; wood pigeon stuffed with pears and pistachios, cooked in red wine. There's a vegetarian menu, too (most of the vegetables and herbs are grown in the hotel's garden), and the superb wine list includes the estate's own red, Smeriglio.
Closed three weeks January–February.
345 Contrada Torricella
Tel: 39 80 690 9030
The pioneer of all today's posh masserie, this great village of a 17th-century Magna Graecia-looking fortified farmhouse, opened way before Puglia got hip: in 1987. Though it has kept many fans, others prefer its sexier, fresher neighborsand they will continue to do so until the 31 rooms get an overdue freshening. Not that they're unpleasant. Just staid and bourgeois, with their clashing chintzes and brocades and tapestry and the ornate, gilt-edged Victoriana kind of antique that is not in fashion. Then again, fusty decorating has a kind of charm, and the rooms are relative bargains considering the facilities: There's a big saltwater pool and a beach club four miles away (by free shuttle) called La Peschiera, with a fish restaurant installed on the remains of a 17th-century fishery. There's also Il Peschereccio, a refurbished traditional fishing boat for coastal forays and a famous cooking school (four times a year) led by gifted British expat Diane Seed. Breakfasts in the restaurant are gargantuan; dinners expensive, but good. There is one thing missing though, something rarely glimpsed in the '80s, but compulsory today...a spa.
Tel: 39 0564 858 111
It's hard to find a reason to leave this sumptuous 50-room resort with its heated pool, private pebbly beach on the Cala dei Santi, and superb (but pricey) restaurant. Set in a natural amphitheater on the rocky Argentario coast, this exclusive resort's accommodations are discreetly spread out in villas nestled among pine trees and cypresses. Rooms are spacious and light-filled, and decorated with comfortable luxury in mind; most have terraces overlooking the sea. The privacy factor draws aristocrats and muckety-mucks from the fields of entertainment, the arts, and banking: A staff of more than a hundred is on hand to cater to their every whim. Even if you're not staying in the hotel, a meal at Il Pellicano is worth a detour. From June to September, lunchtime here consists of an informal but spectacular buffet on the stunning seaside terrace overlooking Porto Ercole, with an array of exquisitely fresh fish and meats; make your choice, and it will be custom-barbecued for you. In the shoulder seasons and in the evenings, the elegant dining room serves a creative Italian menu that rates a Michelin star (the only one on Monte Argentario). Choose from tagliolini with lobster in a pea and barley cream, a delicate thyme-scented roast turbot with potatoes crushed with shallots and fennel, or lamb shank with spelt and Swiss chard. The wine list offers more than a thousand labels.
Open April to October.
21 Via del Salviatino
Tel: 39 055 90411
Il Salviatino sits in manicured formal gardens just within the city limits at the beginning of the road that winds up to the leafy village of Fiesole. The 45-room austerely elegant patrician villa opened as a hotel in October 2009, and since then has become a hit with high-end clients. The stately home decor is charming, but on top of that add perfect service (you're assigned a personal "service ambassador" on arrival), plus the excellence of the extras—including a very persuasive gourmet Tuscan restaurant and a Devrana spa. Staying here is probably as close as you'll get to the cultured expatriates-in-Florence spirit of a Henry James novel. Some rooms (such as the aptly named ground-floor Affresco Suite) have 19th-century frescoes, though overall the decor can be on the gloomy side, with dark wooden floors and furniture. For maximum light and the best outlook (though not more space), pay the extra for a Dome View Deluxe room. The Garden Suites, housed in a former greenhouse, are lighter in every sense, but frustratingly viewless.—Lee Marshall
2 Via Laurito
Tel: 39 089 875 455
The most striking thing about the San Pietro is its invisibility. No magic rings here: It's just that the hotel seems to merge with the vertiginous cliffs to which it clings. From the sea, this engineering feat is further disguised by the verdant screen of bougainvillea, hibiscus, and grapevines that seem to cascade from terrace to terrace. The 1971 creation of one man, the late Carlo Cinque, the 62-room tumble is now run by his niece, Virginia Attanasio Cinque, and her two sons. About a mile outside Positano on the Amalfi Drive, the hotel is so secluded that it's easy to drive straight past. The only clue that it's there is a discreet sign by an ancient chapel, which turns out to conceal the elevator that whisks guests down to the lobby. A second elevator continues down to the stone sundeck, small private beach, tennis court, and the hotel's new excursion boat. Back "upstairs," there's a new spa and a small semicircular pool lined with Bisazza mosaic tiles, as well as a much-lauded restaurant where Belgian chef Alois Vanlangenaeker works his mojo. Book one of the "special" rooms if you can: They all have features that set them apart, whether it be the largest windows, the most sumptuous decor, or the most expansive bathroom.
30 Via Degli Ibernesi
Tel: 39 06 6919 0970
A foliage-draped door on a pedestrian alley reminiscent of a Tuscan village opens into one of Rome's most attractive new designer-boutique offerings. The Forum's 12 bedrooms have cascading brocades around four-poster beds, and marble cladding in bathrooms supplied with luxurious toiletries. You'll eat breakfast on a fourth-floor terrace with a heart-stopping view across the Roman Forum. Behind the terrace, two gorgeous rooms back onto a little high-walled garden; book them together as a suite to have your own private hideaway. A recently excavated cryptoporticus in the cellar gives the place an exclusive, ancient feel. The Forum location is the latest addition to a stable of hotels that includes the Inn at the Spanish Steps on chic Via Condotti and its four-room ultraluxe annex, View at the Spanish Steps.
85 Via dei Condotti
Tel: 39 06 6992 5657
The only hotel with an entrance on Via Condotti, Rome's fashion strip, the Inn at the Spanish Steps is a luxury boutique hotel with a fabulous roof garden, where breakfast is served when weather permits (which in Rome is most of the year) and where a free aperitivo spread is laid out between 6 and 9 p.m. The antique style of the rooms—with their oil paintings, polished parquet floors, and (in some rooms) exposed wooden beams and stone fireplaces—is a throwback to the days of literary travelers like Hans Christian Andersen, who briefly lived in this palazzo. In 2004 the Inn opened a four-room ultraluxe annex, the View at the Spanish Steps, on the top floor of an adjacent building; it provides just what the name suggests: the ultimate angle on one of the Eternal City's most famous landmarks. The style here is more classic-Moderne, with ebony floorboards and safari-striped armchairs. A third member of the family, the Inn at the Roman Forum, opened in June 2006.
2 Via dei Magazzini
Tel: 39 055 239 9546
Occupying the top three floors of a venerable old mansion on the edge of Florence's most famous square, this upmarket guesthouse has ten cozy rooms, most with at least a side view of the comings and goings below. The hosts give guests a genuinely warm welcome, and many leave as friends. The place is tastefully furnished in a fairly traditional, unfussy style, with antiques, elegant fabrics, canopied beds, a couple of four-posters, wood floors, and bright oriental rugs. Rooms are named after artists; if you want a full-on view of the piazza, book either Leonardo or Michelangelo. Breakfast is served at an enormous oval communal table or in your room. Prefer to cook for yourself? A couple of self-catering apartments are available on the top floor.
69 Via Indipendenza
Tel: 39 051 421 85
If you need to be near the train station, this handsome newcomer is a more attractive option than any of the maxi-hotels that overlook the tracks (including the uninspiring new Una Hotel Bologna). Housed in a converted palazzo that belonged to a Belle Époque iron magnate, I Portici goes for a neutral, minimalist palette of colors and furnishings that serve to focus attention on its acres of restored Art Novueau frescoeswhich embellish 60 of the 87 guestrooms. On the ground floor, next to the airy, skylit lobby, what was once the Maccaferri family's private theater is now used for regular café-chantant evenings of cabaret, theater, and jazz; here too is the restaurant, with a light Bolognese menu presided over by former Grand Hotel et de Milan chef Sergio Corvi. The hotel has free Internet access and a 50-berth parking lot, plus a small gym and Turkish bath.
4425 Campiello Querini Stampalia
Tel: 39 041 2410062
A four-suite luxury home-from-home with its own porta d'acqua (water-level entrance) in a Gothic palazzo north of St. Mark's, iQs dares to be dark in this city of light. The suites' sober decor is enlivened by splashes of color (a red Moroso armchair, a vase of flowers) and given depth by rich materials (leather, mosaic, fur, and crystal). In winter, the somber color scheme can feel oppressive, but in summer it's a soothing refuge from the heat and glare outside. IQs followed on the heels of this company's earlier high-concept design experiments in super-trad Venice. When it opened in 2003, around the corner from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, DD724 was considered a huge departure (shocking or refreshing, depending on your point of view) from the traditional damask-and-chandelier lodgings elsewhere in the city. Nowadays, though its neutral tones and wenge wood furnishings don't seem so extreme, it still attracts those who can't take another fresco or brocade swag. The owner's collection of contemporary Italian art hangs on the walls, and chairs covered in checked Frigerio prints add a touch of mod. Most of the six bedrooms are spacious enough (unit G overlooks a walled garden, and B has a pretty view out of windows on two sides), but the bathrooms, breakfast room, and corridors all feel cramped. Finding the hotel entrance can be a bit challenging: The sign high on the wall of the cul-de-sac is easily missed. Even closer to the Guggenheim, DD694 is a large suite with original terrazzo flooring that adds a splash of antique Venetian warmth to the cool shades-of-brown design mix.—Updated by Lee Marshall
7 Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Tel: 39 055 264 5181
Since opening in 2003, J.K. Place has quickly become one of the city's most sought-after hotels, especially by a young, hip fashionable crowd. Occupying a tall, elegant town house with only 20 rooms, it has the dimensions and atmosphere of a discreetly luxurious private residence. Huge mirrors, drawings, and engravings hang on the walls, and fine antiques rub shoulders with lacquered Oriental pieces and '50s lamps. Flickering candles give everything a warm glow. Bedrooms—ranging from cozy little dens to three spacious master rooms—are built around a small internal courtyard hung with Moroccan lamps. At the top are the panoramic penthouse and a roof terrace/bar. It's seriously stylish here but not stuffy, thanks largely to the young staff, which strikes a perfect balance between immaculate service and friendliness. Since 2004, the adjacent J.K. Lounge has become an essential stop on the Florentine aperitivo circuit. Upstairs, it's styled in the same antique-chic idiom as the hotel, but the basement—where DJs spin cuts as evening turns to night—is a glowing pink chill-out vault. Dress accordingly.
225 Via Provinciale Marina Grande
Marina Grande , Capri
Tel: 39 081 838 4001
Inaugurated in April 2007, this island offshoot of one of Florence's most successful design hotels is a perfect place for sophisticated travelers to rest up for a few days. Don't be put off by the hotel's position, just above the main ferry port of Marina Grande: It's just far away enough from the hustle and bustle to seem a world unto itself—an impression that is encouraged by Florentine designer Michele Bonan's tasteful decor. Like its older sibling in Florence, J.K. Capri feels like the house of a refined and wealthy collector, but here the accent is more maritime, and a tad more feminine. Splashes of bright color enliven the eclectic sprinkling of antique furniture, while new pieces in sixties-retro style, statues and framed atelier drawings decorate the downstairs lounge, library, and breakfast room (the communal table stresses the house-party vibe). Perched on a cliff above the sea, the hotel has a ringside view of the waves, and the sense of being on a yacht is helped along by the pale-wood floors and jauntily striped textiles in some rooms. Bathrooms are large (one even has room for a couple of striking lilac armchairs) and most have tubs. There's a huge decked outdoor swimming pool—heated, so you can also take a dip out of season—and a small ESPA spa and beauty center. Perhaps most impressive of all is the service—attentive and friendly without being overfamiliar, and without the superciliousness that mars so many Capri hotel experiences.
Open Easter through October.
Mazara del Vallo , Sicily
Tel: 39 092 367 500 00
When this luxury resort opened in 2005 it quickly became the place to book for a stay on the western part of the island—with easy day trips to places such as Erice, the salt pans of Trapani, and the ruins of Segesta, Selinunte and Agrigento. Most of the hotel is new build though there are some original sections that are around 150 years old, and it is obvious that the property has benefited from a great deal of investment. The 91 rooms are huge, the Daniele Steiner spa suitably soothing and worth a treatment or two, and the garden and pool area is well-landscaped. In many ways the resort doesn't have a great sense of place from inside its walls, and it doesn't feel particularly Sicilian in its décor, but it's definitely the most luxurious pad around. A plus is the private beach club accessible by hotel shuttle—it has a charming blue-tiled restaurant, chaise lounges set out on the sand, and a bar on the small dock—but be forewarned that though the hotel says it is a ten-minute drive from the property, it's really half an hour.
Baia del Buondormire
Tel: 39 974 931 324
Located above a rocky cove on the unspoiled southern side of the Palinuro headland, the King's Residence has the rather impersonal feel of a high-class package hotel (complete with 1970s leather armchairs and a white grand piano). But the private beach is reason enough to stay hereas long as you don't mind hiking down a hill to find it. Less adventurous guests lounge by the waterslide-equipped swimming pool.
Castiglione della Pescaia
Tel: 39 056 494 4800
Alain Ducasse's divine new country inn takes its name from the sweeping allée of umbrella pines and cypresses that lead to the entrance to this 1,200-acre estate. Nine rooms in the main villa, once the hunting lodge of Leopold II, the last grand-duke of Tuscany, and 24 in the connected fattoria (farmhouse) are designed with sponged apricot walls, Como silks, and voluptuous modern couches strewn with pillows; bathrooms are particularly luxurious. L'Andana is also equipped with an outdoor heated pool and whirlpool tub. A sensualist's spa opens later this year, half of an eventual 18-hole golf course will tee off by year's end, and a Ducasse restaurant is scheduled for 2006. At the moment, the food is in the hands of Ducasse protégé Christophe Martin, whose sophisticated take on Tuscan cuisine makes the most of authentic ingredients and fresh seafood from the nearby Tyrrhenian coast.
1 Via Dante Alighieri
Tel: 39 074 236 0130
Surely Umbria's most unique accommodation, the Orto degli Angeli is both a stylish boutique hotel and a historic experience. It lies within the walls of Bevagna, an important Roman town with some handsome medieval architecture. The hotel occupies an elegant town house, built at the beginning of the 18th century by incorporating a group of other properties, including a 16th-century palazzo and the remains of a Roman amphitheater. The feel of a provincial nobleman's residence has been preserved in the 14 guest rooms that spread between the two facing wings of the hotel. Original frescoes decorate the more imposing rooms, like the Arcangelo Michele suite, but even the more modest rooms are full of antique furniture and family heirlooms, and some have huge stone bathtubs. In the elegant common salotto (sitting room), handwritten estate registers and black-and-white photos of pre-war ski holidays adorn the shelves. Best of all is the hanging garden, the kind of aristocratic Eden that makes one want to put on a linen suit and read Byron. The hotel's Redibis restaurant occupies the long, curving underground ambulacrum of the Roman amphitheaternot so great for claustrophobics, but a culinary treat for everyone else.
Closed early January to early February.
Gaiole in Chianti
Tel: 39 0577 744832
Tel: 39 0577 744801
A thousand-year-old monastery on 2,000 acres of Tuscan countryside, La Badia di Coltibuono recently opened its eight guest rooms to the public (previously, they were available only to participants in its residential cooking courses). Though simple and absent of high-tech gadgetsyou won't even find a cell phone signalthe five renovated monks' cells and three larger rooms are full of charm, with original terra-cotta floors, shelves of books, pretty cotton drapes and bedspreads, and stuffed armchairs or chaise longues. With its cloisters and massive downstairs fireplaces, the monastery is architecturally impressive, and rooms take full advantage of the region's breathtaking vistas. After a stay that includes walks in the woodlands and hearty Tuscan meals in La Badia's restaurant, you'll be completely recharged.
Fondamenta delle Zattere
Tel: 39 041 520 6466
Continued improvements have spruced up this family-run pensione overlooking the Giudecca canal in Dorsoduro. The 19th-century furniture is still there, as are the lovely—and, for Venice, unusual—polished parquet floors. But the hotel's 32 rooms and suites now have WiFi, TVs, and minibars, as well as crisp white curtains and clean-lined furnishings in honey-colored wood. In the reception area, classical music wafts and friendly staffers give advice about where to go and how to get there. The terrace of the bar-restaurant is on a wooden deck extending into the canal; eating breakfast here on a sunny morning with boats passing by and the church of the Redentore across the canal is heavenly. All told, this has become one of the best-value places in its category.
Conca Verde , Sardinia
Tel: 39 0789 758004
With an undulating, bright-red facade that is equal parts Frank Gehry and Dr. Seuss, this high-design hotel near the northern tip of Sardinia is a stylish, relaxing, and surprisingly With an undulating, bright-red facade that is equal parts Frank Gehry and Dr. Seuss, this high-design hotel near the northern tip of Sardinia is a stylish, relaxing, and surprisingly affordable find. Thanks to its winning combination of 45 minimalist white-walled rooms, asymmetrical turquoise pool, and small private beach, La Coluccia was booked solid in July and August, its first high season. Sophisticated Mediterranean-style meals are served in a black-and-white restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows; better yet, dine on the breezy terrace with its Mediterranean views.
Radda in Chianti
Tel: 39 0577 738 833
Simple pleasures are the order of the day at this seven-room haven deep in Chianti country—a glass of wine by the pool, a wide-screen view of rolling hills topped by walled villages and the occasional castle, or a stroll through the surrounding woods. Run by affable hosts Guido and Martina Bevilacqua, La Locanda works because it reflects its owners' laid-back sense of style and relaxed attitude toward profit margins: So bath products are by Bulgari and mineral water is free—as are the Amadei chocolates that are offered to guests on arrival. The honesty bar in the lounge offers not the usual array of supermarket spirits but a wide selection of Tuscan wines, some of them very fine indeed. Rooms are done out in warm Tuscan country style, spiced up with the odd piece of colonial furniture and some Bevilacqua family photos; the best ones are the four that face that view. Though it's quite a long drive down a dirt track from Volpaia, the nearest village, the payoff is total peace and seclusion. There's no restaurant as such, but since most guests are reluctant to leave, a fixed-price Mediterranean menu is offered in the evening five days a week, Thursdays and Sundays excluded.
Open April to October.
Via Carlo Mazzei 4
Tel: 39 973 877 487
This 25-room, five-suite hotel is housed in a tastefully restored 18th-century convent. The decor pushes the nunnish parallels, with scraped and sponged pastel walls and post-medieval details. Yet the delightful swimming pool and restaurant terrace are anything but sisterly, and in a suite called La Vicaria, a basket of condoms beside the oversized sunken bathtub encourages visitors to break any vows of chastity. Both this and the Santavenere hotel are under the ownership of Mondo Maratea.
29 Via San Giovanni Battista
Tel: 39 33 4287 5718
At the top of Vernazza's steep warren of lanes, this four-room guesthouse is doing something a little different from the usual faux-rustic act. It's all whitedazzlingly so in summerwith clean modernist lines, the only splash of color coming from the warm teak parquet floor. The overall effect is refreshing rather than cold, and the lack of distractions inside only enhances the spectacular sea views (which are especially impressive from rooms 26, 31 and the small cliff-top terrace). Breakfast is served in a bar down on the main harborside piazza. The hotel is a bit tricky to find: The best advice is to ring ahead and arrange to be met at the station.
Via Occhio Marino
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 0374
Value for money is not something one associates with Capri hotels—but pretty, spruce La Minerva definitely provides it. A family-run oasis on the panoramic lane that leads down from the swanky shopping street of via Camerelle, it offers stylish decor and gracious hospitality at a reasonable price. Walls and ceilings are whitewashed, and are floors tiled with bright and cheery polychrome majolica from Vietri sul Mare. Guests are quickly drawn to the sea views from the lobby terrace and most guest rooms. In true Caprese style, the 18 rooms are spread over five floors that slope gently toward the water. There's a rainy-day breakfast room, but most of the season guests can enjoy breakfast on their private balconies (some have suntanning beds) or on the hotel's sunny roof terrace. For a few dollars more, book one of the larger deluxe units with large walk-in wardrobes, roomy tiled bathrooms, and whirlpool baths.
Open March through October.
Via Adolfo Cilento 2
Tel: 39 974 967 053
Once a private house, this good-value hotel on the edge of the medieval town of Old Castellabate offers just five bedroomsthree suites and two doubles. Whitewashed rooms with iron bedsteads look onto a flower-decked terrace where meals and a continental breakfast (included) are served. In summer, the air up here is always a few degrees cooler and the panoramic view is truly spectacular.
4 Via Genova
Monterosso al Mare
Space is at a premium in this small but perfectly formed four-room guesthouse in a quiet lane just off Monterosso's tourist-trap main street. The three double bedrooms, named after women who appear in the poems of local Nobel laureate Eugenio Montale, are compact but comfortable, with checkerboard floor tiles and sunny color schemes (light-filled Clizia, with its two floor-to-ceiling windows, is our favorite). The Giglio Rosso Suite offers a tad more luxury and legroom; it features an antique bed with a baldachin canopy under a high vaulted ceiling. All rooms have satellite TV and air conditioning; the shower-only bathrooms are a little cramped. In good weather, breakfast is served on a small plant-lined terrace backed by a terraced lemon grove. But what really gives La Poesia an edge over most of the other Monterosso contenders is the incredibly warm welcome from owner Nicoletta, who makes it a point of pride to coddle and spoil her guests.
Via del Refari
Tel: 39 075 930 2428
Not so much a hotel as a house that's been thrown open to paying guests, La Preghiera is the home of dynamic English property developer John Tunstill and his Uruguayan wife, Liliana. The Tunstills have been buying and selling houses in Umbria since 1983, so it's no surprise that their own place is a magnificently restored monastic estate dating from the 12th century, set amid tidily landscaped gardens; it even has its own private chapel. Perhaps because it's essentially a residence, no corners have been cut: The antique furniture (check out the restored monks' cupboards in the upstairs hall), textiles, and bathroom fittings are top quality, and each of the 11 rooms (nine in the main house, two in a small villa just across the garden) has its own character. There's a billiard room, a low-chlorine swimming pool, and a well-equipped kitchen, where cooking classes are held. But the real surprise is downstairs: a whole museum dedicated to John's other passion, toy soldiers. La Preghiera lies just outside the village of Calzolaro, northwest of Umbertide in the Upper Tiber valley.
Closed late December to early January.
7 Via Scipione Petrarolo
Tel: 39 083 130 5925
Puglia's ultimate design hotel, La Sommità Relais Culti, is one of those places that require a certain effortunless you are a Milanese model or a fashion mag editor, in which case it's a real home away from home. Opened in 2003, this ten-suite inn is a showcase for the holistic lifestyle brand created by "project of the senses" guru Alessandro Agrati. Just about everything you see here is Culti, from the tableware in the elegantly minimalist restaurant to the crisp cotton bed linen, from the Mareminerale products used in the Relais' underground spa to the oversize armchairs that dominate the first-floor lounge. But the branding is discreet, and the setting makes up for the occasional product push. The Relais is carved out of a once-grand aristocratic town house that stands at the highest point of Ostunithe famous cittá bianca (white town) of Puglia. Sensitively restored, the palazzo's rough sandstone ceiling vaults play off against the smooth lines of the Culti furnishings and bathroom fittings. Best of all is the walled orange garden outsideits 40-year-old trees provide the fruit for the Relais' breakfast marmalade. Steps lead up from here to a series of balconies with views over the roofs of the old town to the distant sea: a perfect place for evening aperitivi. The service may appear frosty after all that Puglian warmth outside, but pretend that this is Milan rather than Ostuni and it will seem positively effusive.
39 Località Chiesanuova
Chiesanuova , Levanto
Tel: 39 33 8136 9602
Few of the visitors who trek dutifully between the Cinque Terre villages bother to head much inlandbut there's another world above the coast, an agricultural hinterland of chestnut groves and terraced vineyards so steep that farmers reach them on little monorail tractors. This charming guest house, perched above the hamlet of Chiesanuova (around 15 minutes' drive from Levanto), is a good introduction to this less touristy side of the region. Four spacious suites, sleeping up to four people, are done up in a contemporary country style in pastel and earth colors, and each room has a computer with free Internet access. The generously sized bathrooms mix modern Italian fittings with more grandmotherly details. Breakfast ($15 extra) is served on the terrace under an apricot tree, and much of what you eat here, like the delicious chocolate cake, is homemade, using local organic ingredients. Owner Fabio is a wine buff, and if you have dinner here (book at least a day in advance), you can sample some of the gems from his cellar. The pretty stone house has ancient origins: The name of the inn derives from a visit the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III is supposed to have made here in the year 996 A.D. Fabio and his Canadian wife, Angela, are authorities on the many footpaths and mountain-bike trails in the area.
Closed November until Easter.
20 Vico Volto
Tel: 39 01 8792 0327
The Cinque Terre is such a seller's market that there's little incentive for hoteliers to offer much more than four walls, a bed, and a working showerwhich is why La Torretta is such a welcome find. At the top end of Manarola, not far from the church, the locanda has 15 rooms, from singles to two-room suites, on different levels of a warrenlike Pompeii red townhouse. The decor is eclectic in a neo-Baroque sort of way, with striped fabrics and plaster busts of classical gods and heroes: not your usual Cinque Terre granny flat, in other words, but a more subdued and self-taught version of the Versace aesthetic. Some rooms have terraces, and suites feature Jacuzzis; satellite TV and air conditioning are standard. Breakfastserved on a large terrace with views over the rooftopsincludes freshly squeezed fruit juice and a selection of bite-size pastries. There's also a small splash pool on a solarium terrace on a lower level.
5 Via D. Birago
Tel: 39 081 837 0989
It's very nearly Capri's cheapest hotel, and yet the service and the views at La Tosca are the equal of (and in some cases surpass) those on offer at some of the more swanky establishments. Standing just above the Certosa, not far from the Carthusia perfume factory, at the end of a floral walk, the square white hotel looks a little bunkerlike at first sight, but the impression soon passes. The 11 rooms are pretty basic but clean and light-filled: Angle for one of the five sea-facing rooms with terraces. Best of all, though, is the friendly service courtesy of owner Ettore Castelli, whose English is impeccable—he's married to an American and spends the winters in the United States. Touches like free Wi-Fi, air-conditioning in all rooms, and superfresh bread and brioches at breakfast (served on a terrace with views across to the Faraglioni) make up for the sometimes spartan feel of the accommodations. But there's something so likable about the place, such a breezy seaside charm, that only the hopelessly pampered are likely to complain.
Closed November through March.
1569 San Polo
Calle dei Botteri
Tel: 39 041 524 4673
On a busy calle in the San Polo district, this six-room charmer is one of the most attractive of a crop of new Venetian B&Bs. It's basically a traditional apartment on two floors that has been jazzed up by owner Francesca Adilardi, who has a flair for playful, decorative design. Each room is themed: In light-filled Mondo Nuovo, under the rafters, a reproduction of the famous Tiepolo carnival fresco of the same name takes up most of one wall, while pretty Turandot features throws on the bed and Chinese-style stenciling on the otherwise grandmotherly antique furniture. The overall effect is theatrical, feminine, and fun, but there's also a satisfying attention to detail. Beds are huge, bathrooms well appointed (though only three of the six have tubs), and all rooms have free Wi-Fi.
Tel: 39 075 801 9000
Set amid the thick forests of Monte Subasiothe mountain south of Assisi where Saint Francis and his followers lived as hermitsthis remote but welcoming country estate combines monastic seclusion with self-indulgent amenities (like two large pools and a gourmet restaurant). Though the hotel is open from March through mid-November, Le Silve really comes into its own at the height of summer: At 2,300 feet above sea level, it's gloriously cool even on July and August eveningsand rather chilly in spring and autumn. The austere decor of the 20 bedrooms (exposed-stone walls, dark wood furniture) is another reason for sticking to high season; it can get quite gloomy here on gray days. The views down across the southern reaches of the mountain are magnificent, and most guests enjoy them from around the pool. In addition to the tenth-century manor farm that houses the hotel, the property includes three smaller farmhouses (two with shared pool) that are offered for weekly rental. Considering the isolation, it's just as well that Le Silve takes its food seriously: The surrounding 570-acre farm estate produces olive oil, cheese, and cured meats, and the menu is overseen by Marco Bistarelli, chef of Il Postale in Città di Castello.
Closed late November to early March.
30 Via Cristoforo Colombo
Tel: 39 089 875 066
After 50 years of being cherished and polished by its owners, the Marchese Sersale family (now into its second generation, with patriarch Franco's son Antonio and his wife, Carla, at the helm), "The Sirens" still has a glamour and poise few hotels in the world can match. Part of the attraction is the 18th-century palazzo itself: Located halfway up this near-vertical village (hence the magnificent views down the coast), it's stuffed with the Sersale family's own collection of antiques. Then there's the service—Le Sirenuse has 63 rooms and twice as many staff. All of this conspires to maintain the illusion that one is a privileged houseguest—though it is, of course, a privilege you pay for. The Gae Aulenti–designed Aveda spa (Aulenti renovated Paris's Musée d'Orsay), the Champagne bar with its views down to the sea over the rooftops of the town, and the family's vintage Riva speedboat that you can rent for a spin around the coast only add to the grandeur. One important point: If you're shelling out for a room here, go all the way and accept nothing less than a deluxe or above, and preferably on a high floor. If you don't have a balcony with that incredible sweep over the bay, you'll cry.
Località Santa Cristina
Tel: 39 075 922 9912
For R&R in the heart of the Umbrian countryside, you can't do much better than the Locanda del Gallo. Perched on the crest of a wooded ridge around ten miles south of Gubbio, this restored ten-room home surrounded by gardens is a cozy haven in a landscape as wild and unpeopled as you'll find in central Italy. The decor is simple but not stark: Ethnic furniture (much of it from Indonesia) and walls painted in earthy colors give the place a warm, welcoming feel. The owners (he's German, she's Milanese) are friendly and full of good advice on local walks and restaurants; they also make their own olive oil, grow herbs and vegetables, and bake bread and make cakes—so breakfast here is a real delight. Dinner is served in a panoramic dining room, and lunch packages can also be prepared for those who really can't be bothered to move away from the infinity pool (one of the most scenic of any we've seen in Umbria). Gubbio and its attractions can be reached in just over half an hour; the E45 freeway is also nearby for day trips to Assisi, Perugia, and Sansepolcro.
Closed January to March.
1083 San Marco
Tel: 39 041 520 4827
Orseolo's four bubbly, enthusiastic young owners make sure that guests have a memorable Venice vacation. With their unfailing charm, readiness with tourist information, and warm willingness to arrange anything from restaurant tables to seats at the opera, they'll make you feel like one of the family. Their domain is a charmingly restored family home with 15 pleasant, bright rooms (a few with baldachin beds) is just a two-minute walk from Piazza San Marco. Guests never feel like they're in the middle of a tourist parade, though—in fact, the Orseolo's secluded courtyard actually makes the hotel difficult to find. (For those without a good map: Make your way to Campo San Gallo, then push the unlocked low iron gate almost opposite the church and head into the courtyard beyond.) The breakfast spread is a perfect way to fuel up for a day of wandering.
22 Località Buonviaggio
Tel: 39 076 321 7314
The Umbrian country-house experience can be had on a budget, as Locanda Rosati proves. Located on the Bolsena road, across the valley from Orvieto, this stone farmhouse is hugely popular with English-speaking visitors. The comfortable communal rooms downstairs encourage guests to mingle, and the house-party vibe carries through into dinner, served in a rustic dining room that also includes a space for tastings of wine and local produce (some of which is also for sale). The ten rustic but comfortable (and air-conditioned) bedrooms are decorated with contemporary wood carvings by local artist Michelangeli, and the large pool, slightly sunken in the lee of an embankment, is a fine sun trap (though traffic on the busy road that skirts the property is a constant background presence). The charming owners can help to arrange wine-cellar visits, horseback riding, and guided tours to a number of the Roman and Etruscan sites in the vicinity; they also organize cooking and Italian-language courses. Given the out-of-town location (around five miles west of Orvieto), you really need a car to get the best out of the surrounding area.
Closed on Christmas, and early January to February.
Riva degli Schiavoni
Tel: 39 041 520 0533
Two 19th-century hotels combined in 1900, this Grand Canal property is a block from St. Mark's Square, a central location that makes lunch on the terrace of Do Leoni "extremely busythe experience of dining there is overshadowed by tourists filing by." Hotel staff are "exceptional""all employees called us by name"while the rooms' Biedermeier-style furnishings and local textiles add "to the wonderful experience of being in Venice."
1243 San Marco
Calle Larga dell'Ascensione
Tel: 39 041 528 9840
The "location could not have been betterliterally steps off the Piazza San Marco" at this hotel where rooms in soft pastels have 18th centurystyle furniture, silk wall coverings, and Murano chandeliers. Italian marble bathrooms are "very large and modern and come with luxurious bathrobes." The Caffé overlooks the Royal Gardens; a pianist performs in the evenings. "Extremely friendly and helpful" service included "champagne and a welcome amenity on arrival."
14 Lungarno Acciaiuoli
Tel: 39 055 2726 4000
These 44 super-stylish, fully-serviced apartments are ideal for anyone looking for the comfort and service of an upscale hotel but also craving a bit of independence. The suites are located on the north bank of the Arno just west of the Ponte Vecchio, so views from the huge picture windows of those facing the river are fabulous; those on the top floors have terraces. The style is modern and clean, but colors are warm. Each apartment has a well-equipped kitchen where you can indulge your Tuscan cooking fantasies, and staff will even do the shopping for you. If you're feeling lazy, you can order meals to be brought in from the Fusion Bar at the adjacent Gallery Hotel.
12 Viale Monte Grappa
Tel: 39 02 29 00 98 58
You might accuse those Moschino people of leaping on the fashion hotel bandwagon in the wake of Ferragamo, Bulgari, and Versace, but there's no denying that this 65-room playhouse, opened in February 2010, is very much in the label's quirky, tongue-in-cheek idiom. The hotel is housed in a long-abandoned 19th-century railway station just around the corner from buzzy Corso Como. As it's a protected historic building, the monotonous gray exterior could not be touched, but this just makes the contrast with the colorful fantasy fashion interior—designed by Moschino creative director Rosella Jardini—all the more enjoyable. Fairy tales in their most tripped-out, Alice-through-the-Looking-Glass form are the inspiration, and rooms are divided into 16 themed categories. Among the options are a Little Red Riding Hood room with a wolf in the bed and a Sweets room complete with an M&M's chandelier and huge pastry-style bed cushions. Standard rooms, which can be small, have pleated headboards that continue up the wall into outsize dresses. Some of the corridors and common spaces reveal blandness beneath the Moschino window dressing, but for the most part, the makeover has a verve that works. A Culti spa and the Clandestino Milano restaurant—the Milanese outpost of maverick chef Moreno Cedroni, Italy's answer to Ferran Adrià—tie the bow on the Maison's stylish package.—Lee Marshall
379 Strada Litoranea
Savelletri Di Fasano
Tel: 39 080 482 7769
Without a doubt the most polished of all the masseria hotels is the huge 15th-century San Domenico, surrounded by olive groves on the coast near Fasano and already into its second decade. Every corner of every acre is manicured like a Park Avenue princess: from the large, free-form saltwater swimming pool, bordered with oiled Romans in La Perla bikinis and floodlit at night, to the majestic Thalassotherapy-La Prairie spa with its skylit, galleried pool and special treatments using estate olive oil. There's also a triple-groomed 18-hole golf coursenow with its own separate 15-room luxury guesthouse, the Masseria Cimino. The 50 rooms at the San Domenico are done up in bobble-trim brocades and bed curtains, with polished walnut upholstered chairsall very bourgeois and comforting. The junior suites include patios. Of the two restaurants, only the posh-Puglian San Domenico is open for dinner; the Pool Grill just does a buffet lunch.
Closed second week in January until Easter.
8 Contrada Coccaro
Savelletri Di Fasano
Tel: 39 080 482 9310
A resort hotel with a real sense of rustic-elegant style was carved out of this 16th-century farmhouse in 2002. Here you'll find slipcovered or button-backed armchairs and wrought-iron chandeliers, shapely wooden commodes and armoires painted in dusty blue, eggplant- or black-stained smooth stone floors, and linen sheets. Two of the 39 rooms are installed in ancient caves (one with its own private orchard and plunge pool); other accommodations are in the tower. When the lakelike swimming pool palls, catch the free shuttle to nearby Torre Coccaro Beach Club, a private white-sand stretch with a Balinese feel, where you'll find wooden lounge chairs; straw palapas; drink, snack, and towel service; a sushi and oyster bar; and a fish restaurant, plus a boat at your disposal, with a skipper who will take you fishing or cook your lunch while you swim in some secluded cove. Another shuttle plies the golf-course route. Back home, you can take cooking lessons from a pair of formidable local housewives, have an agave facial in the Aveda spa, or play cave billiards (the baize table has been set up in a room of the underground olive press). And as you would expect, the restaurant is also molto bene, grazie.
Savalletri di Fasano
Tel: 39 080 482 7838
Surrounded by ancient olive trees and an immaculate nine-hole golf course, this 28-room sister property to the fabulous Masseria Torre Coccaro in Puglia serves up a dash of urban style against the prevailing local rusticity. A fifteenth-century masseria (fortified manor house) is the centerpiece, and the star-vaulted, window-walled bar and restaurant overlook a stunning solar-heated pool and a wooden deck. There's an Aveda Spa on the premises, and the hotel also offers guests a private beach club with a sushi bar on the Adriatic Sea. Every room has a small garden, and the stone floors, vaulted ceilings, and handwoven wool rugs say country, while framed black-and-white photos of Puglia, dark-stained furniture, and armchairs upholstered in white cotton chintz give rooms an edginess that appeals to hip Italian weekenders.
154 Corso Umberto
Taormina , Sicily
Tel: 39 0942 625 417
In a town laden with fading grande dame properties, this stylish restoration of a landmark hotel that dates back to the eighteenth century is a special achievement. Contemporary touches meld with the original architectural details of the lava-red palazzo to create 23 ultramodern guest rooms with white leather sofas and headboards, marble floors, massive spiraling crystal chandeliers, and TVs mounted into custom-designed nooks. Bathrooms feel like mini spas, with huge showers. In the public areas, arching stone tunnels from the fifteenth century lead to a cliffside pool that awes even on this hillside famed for its panoramas, and the hotel's entrance sits on the main thoroughfare of Corso Umberto I but feels away from the fray. Perhaps the best part of The Metropole is the warm, hardworking staff, who show no sign of the service fatigue too often encountered elsewhere in town. They go beyond the call of duty, sending a receptionist to guide lost drivers to the garage, offering upgrades and late checkouts whenever possible, and ensuring that rooms are set up the way one wants.
Tel: 39 041 272 3311
It may be a Hilton, but it's one of the brand's most distinctive and luxurious properties. Opened in June 2007, the 389-room giant occupies the largest single historic complex in Venice—a former flour mill and biscuit factory founded by Swiss-Italian Giovanni Stucky in 1895. At the eastern end of the Giudecca Island—an authentic, lived-in slice of Venice—the hotel is housed in a series of connected buildings, with original details like cast-iron columns and (in the efficiently run Espace spa) Belle Époque terrazzo flooring. The layout is so complex that they give you a map at reception, but the hotel's high point—in both senses of the word—is easily located: the rooftop pool (relatively shallow, at not quite four feet deep throughout) and sundeck, which enjoy 360-degree views over Venice and the southern lagoon. Venice's tough historic-preservation regulations mean there are no umbrellas and relatively few lounge chairs (in summer, you need to be up here soon after the pool's 9 am opening to be sure of a place). Here, too, is the aptly named Skyline Bar—worth a visit for a panoramic sunset cocktail experience even if you're not a hotel guest. The pleasant but dull bedrooms revert to Hilton type, with cookie-cutter classic modern decor and decent-size bathrooms. Individual travelers should be warned that the hotel is heavily convention-oriented: In spring and autumn especially, be prepared to be surrounded by hundreds of osteopaths. Considering the hotel's business slant, it's a shame Internet access is so pricey, with a minimum charge of $17 for one hour.
19 Via Porta Rossa
Florence , Italy
Tel: 39 055 271 0911
This city-center hotel, housed in an aristocratic 16th-century town house, was once an eccentric sort of place, with shabby antique decor, uncertain service but plenty of quirky charm. A takeover by Spanish hotel group NH has brought the place up to international standards, forfeiting some of its individuality in the process, but bringing benefits such as plumbing and air-con that actually work and pleasant, well-trained staff. The stylish design scheme is based on beige, cream, and antique-wood background tones, with red armchairs and sofas adding splashes of color. Some of the 72 rooms have traces of 19th-century frescoes, and the ground-floor breakfast room and bar, with their marble floors and stained-glass windows, exude old-fashioned elegance. But the Porta Rossa's real trump card is the Torre Monalda suite—a bedroom in the 12th-century tower that the palazzo was built around, with 360-degree views over Florentine rooftops and the countryside beyond. It's accessed by 60 steep stone steps, so this romantic refuge is strictly for the fit and adventurous.—Lee Marshall
2683 San Marco
Calle del Dose
Tel: 39 041 241 3765
Adorned with carved-wood furniture, wall hangings, rugs, and objets picked up in Africa and the Far East, this nine-room townhouse a few minutes' walk from Piazza San Marco is everything a Venetian inn should be: welcoming, eclectic, and just a little frayed around the edges. Amid the comfortable ethno-antique clutter, the guest rooms have mod cons like WiFi and individual climate control. Art exhibitions are often hung in the oak-beamed breakfast room, while breakfast—a wonderful array of pastries, fruit, and freshly squeezed orange juice, with cappuccino made to order—can be taken on the pretty paved courtyard when it's warm out.
2542 Fondamenta Contarini
Tel: 39 041 2750015
This charming boutique hotel concealed behind a high gate near the Frari basilica is a true home from home. Looking more like a country house than Venetian palazzo with its pretty front garden, this villa was once home to Alma, widow of the composer Gustav Mahler. Today it's an urbane and stylish retreat from the tourist crowds, its discreet yet welcoming house-party vibe reflecting the philosophy of genial owner/manager Lorenzo Muner. Two lovely suites (perfect for families or groups) in an adjoining palazzo have been added to the original six options in the main house—consisting of two classic doubles, two junior suites, and two suites, all with views over the garden. Throughout, the understated contemporary decor is pale and relaxing, with occasional splashes of brightly colored detailing and some quality antique pieces. The Green suite opens out onto its own private corner of the garden. A good breakfast is served in the comfortable ground-floor living room or in the garden, a pleasantly verdant place to start your Venetian day.—Lee Marshall
6 Via Grotte
Tel: 39 030 990 5890
Imagine a grand neo-Palladian villa set atop ten acres of lush and carefully landscaped grounds as only a wealthy 19th-century Austrian baron and confirmed Italophile could construct. That's the Villa Cortine, its serpentine driveway winding past elaborate fountains sculpted with mythological scenes, its interiors crafted by an army of artisans with precious Verona marbles, Byzantine-style stuccoes, and frescoes teeming with symbolism. The splendid isolation of this upscale haven hidden amid a bustling resort town, along with the high-end sports cars frequently parked in the gravel lot, hint at the kind of clientele drawn to such a luxury hideaway. The 54 guest quarters, most housed in an extension built in 1957, have a slightly more sober elegance of burled walnut, heavy curtains, Murano chandeliers, and Oriental carpets on herringbone parquet floors. The vast grounds extend all the way down to the lake with a private beach, pier, and summer beach bar and barbecue for grilling fresh lake fish at lunch.
Closed late October through late March.
3247 San Marco
Tel: 39 041 5284644
An aristocratic fifteenth-century palazzo on the Grand Canal is the canvas for Philippe Starck's first Italian design hotel and this month's "Room with a View," a 26-room bijou that combines a twenty-first-century vision with Venice's colorful past. Next door to the Palazzo Grassi, now home to François Pinault's extraordinary contemporary art collection, the Palazzina is set to become the Algonquin of the lagoon city's contemporary art scene. Very discreet, the hotel has no sign beyond the stylized Murano glass bull's heads on its private Grand Canal dock or its Calle Grassi back entrance, and guests are greeted by massive glass sculptures by French artist Aristide Najean. The opulent and intimate bar/restauranta large mahogany-covered room furnished with an eclectic mix of couches and Starck chairsoccupies the ground floor. Luminous guest rooms have comfortable beds and white-leather furniture, and Starck Flos reading lamps. But the true star here is the mirrors, which are everywhere: Even the flat-screen TV is encased in a mirrored cabinet that incorporates both a well-stocked bar and a wardrobe. Staff are professional yet friendly and refreshingly free of by-the-book protocol. Check-in is done wherever you like, and the delightful breakfast is served whenever you're ready for it.
Tel: 39 041 241 3784
Until 2002, this 16th-century palazzo just north of the Ca' d'Oro gallery was Marisa Rossi's private residence; now that she's turned it into a hotel, she continues to treat guests like visiting friends. Family heirlooms, massive chandeliers, and paintings from the school of Tintoretto adorn the magnificent entrance with its sweeping double staircase, as well as the spacious reception rooms and 13 bedrooms. The ones to book are the six junior suites; some are immense, and all open onto the vast second-floor salone. But perhaps most inviting of all, after a hard day's sightseeing, is the palazzo's gorgeous walled garden, with its centuries-old trees and shady walks.
2765 San Polo
Tel: 39 041 740 172
This former family palazzo from 1569 on the Grand Canal is part of the new generation of intimate guesthouses that are giving travelers an alternative to the usual grande dame hotel. The 18-bedroom property now houses a cheeky boudoir design with heavy velvet curtains, feathered bedside lamps, massive mirrors, and seductive chaise longues in rooms kept light by huge windows overlooking the canal. The baldachin-style bed comes with two duvets (putting an end to couples' wrestling for the covers). Other attractions are the sizable bathrooms (the rooms themselves are spacious by European standards), a stylish Art Deco bar that doubles as the breakfast area (a meal that is delicious rather than passable), and a great location on vaporetto route No. 1. One caveat: The arrival by water taxi is quite lovely, but the way by foot is marred by a narrow unsigned alley full of "exotic" smells.
Santa Maria di Castellabate
Tel: 39 974 960 211
Its perch above a private beach is a curious (yet spectacular) setting for a stately home with extensive grounds. The current Principe di Belmonte occupies part of the complex, built in the 17th century as a hunting lodge; the rest is rented to a mainly British clientele, no surprise given its aristocratic charm. The main palazzo houses guest rooms ranging from the elegant to the rustic; two new garden villas are divided into double rooms and suites. A walk through hibiscus, lemon trees, and dwarf palms leads to the swimming pool and restaurant terrace. (All bookings require a minimum three-night stay.)
10 Via degli Eremiti
Tel: 39 074 322 4930
In the high part of Spoleto, not far from the town's photogenic Duomo, this palazzo perches above the town walls, with fine views across the valley (as long as you ignore the SS3 highway). The property, which was built in stages between the 13th and 18th centuries, is stately: Just on the other side of the entry gate is a gorgeous formal garden of manicured shrubs, flowering plants, and palm trees. Inside, the decor in the 12 guest rooms is elegantly neoclassical: lots of chandeliers, Persian rugs, decorative bedsteads, rich silk curtains, and prettily stenciled wardrobes. On the other side of the garden a separate duplex suite provides a romantic escape. We like the details: the starched white-linen tablecloths and proper china breakfast service, the bath products by French parfumeur Annick Goutal, and the illustrated books and guides in the common living room (which are meant for reading, not just for decoration). The only downside is the fact that the bathrooms are all rather small (be sure to ask if you want a bathtub rather than a shower; only four rooms have them).
5 Borgo San Frediano
Tel: 39 055 239 9544
Situated in the lively Oltrarno district, this grand palazzo was home to the owner's family until he decided to convert it into an upmarket hotel. All the characteristics of its noble origins are still in place, and you will find grand salons filled with fine family antiques and pictures, elaborate frescoes, original boxed ceilings, old terra-cotta floors, and glittering chandeliers. There's plenty of communal space: a plant-filled courtyard, a billiard room, various sitting rooms, and a fabulous rooftop terrace with views over the city and beyond. The only drawback (though for some this may be a plus) is that this "all-suite palace" has the air of a residence rather than a hotel—its echoing chambers sometimes feel eerily empty, however reception (and room service) are present 24/7. The 13 suites are enormous and each has a separate sitting room. The most charming room, however, is also the smallest; a romantic little boudoir with floor-to-ceiling frescoes and a small private garden.
23 Via dei Mulini
Tel: 39 089 811 419
Step off the busy, boutique-lined lane that heads beachward in Positano into the entrance courtyard of Palazzo Murat, and suddenly you're in another world. Away from the day-trippers and the dubious '60s caftans is the garden of the elegant summer residence that Gioacchino Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law, bought and renovated after he was crowned King of Naples in 1808. Given the aristocratic setting, it would have been easy for Palazzo Murat to wing it on ambience alone, but this stylish establishment also offers excellent service and attention to detail. It's also good value in comparison to other Positano four-star hotels—if you can put up with the lack of a pool (don't worry, the beach is just a sashay away). Interiors are embellished with period antiques, rare marble, and objets d'art, with 30 bedrooms divided between the antique splendor of those in the 17th-century wing and the lighter, sunnier grace of the newer rooms, most of which overlook the delightful garden—the only proper green space in the center of town. Another plus point is the hotel's Il Palazzo restaurant, which does upscale Neapolitan cuisine in a romantic alfresco setting.—Lee Marshall
2 Via dei Servi
Tel: 39 055 282 412
Want to do the aristocratic palazzo experience at a mid-range price? This new-but-old centro storico option, in the building where sculptor Donatello had his workshop, is the answer. Located opposite Brunelleschi's Duomo—which fills up the view from many of the windows—the palazzo dates back to the 14th century, but the stunning allegorical frescoes that adorn the public areas and guest rooms were painted in the 1760s. Current owner Ginevra Niccolini is usually on hand to welcome guests, and the ambience is warm despite the museumlike surroundings. Most of the 13 rooms (three of them suites) are large, and those that aren't frescoed are still pretty sumptuous, with handsome antique furniture, brocade curtains and bedcovers, and the occasional chandelier. The huge, elegant drawing room—well-stocked with books and magazines—feels like something out of a Henry James novel.
28 Via San Giovanni del Toro
Tel: 39 089 818 181
The ruined Renaissance palace that houses this 43-room hotel was given a complete overhaul in 1997, resulting in an opulent pink bonbon that has everything going for it except antique atmosphere. Unlike the revamped Hotel Caruso, Palazzo Sasso makes no attempt to conceal the fact that it is a hotel rather than a princely residence. There are twice as many staff members as rooms and all the amenities to boot (a rooftop sundeck with two plunge pools, hot tubs, satellite TV, Frette linens, Bulgari bath products, and a Moroccan-style spa), however, so no one's complaining. The rooms are lavishly done in handmade Vietri tiles, with precious rugs, antiques of assorted periods, and heavy swag curtains. Unfortunately, only six of them—all of them suites—have balconies or terraces. Still, as long as you don't get stuck with the one entirely viewless internal room, you'll likely be happy (you can always head to the roof terrace or the swimming pool surrounded by gardens to get your fresh-air fix). The gym has a panoramic view, too: The equipment is set high on the mountainside under gazebo tents. The main restaurant, Rossellinis, is among the best in Italy, but there's also a more casual place and a café for your less extravagantly gastronomic moods. If you want to take a dip, the hotel opened Sasso by the Sea in 2009 with a saltwater pool, two cabanas, changing rooms, two "relaxation living rooms", a small restaurant serving pizzas and seafood, and a bar. But be aware that Sasso by the Sea is a bracing 40-minute walk downhill to the coast from Ravello. There's also a free private shuttle from the hotel for those who don't want to exert themselves too much.
Fondamenta del Traghetto
Tel: 39 041 277 0869
It's not often that a stylish but also relatively affordable new hotel opens right on the Grand Canal. Next to the Ca' Rezzonico water bus stop—a scenic half-hour ride from the main train station—the palazzo owes its present appearance to former owner Ernesta Stern, a wealthy socialite and art collector who had this eclectic home built on the ruins of a 15th-century palazzo in the years leading up to World War I. It's basically a high-quality pastiche, but this makes it a great setting for a hotel: With its mosaic-studded private chapel, colonnaded waterside terrace (where breakfast is served), and imposing carved wooden staircase, it evokes the dreamy spirit of Venice without the solemnity of a museum. The mostly spacious 24 bedrooms are done in a relaxed antique Venetian style in shades of wheat and magnolia. The panoramic rooftop terrace features a four-person whirlpool tub—but guests have to pay an extra $90 an hour to use it. Don't write off the standard rooms at the back of the hotel; they lack the Canal view but are a lot quieter and overlook a pretty garden.
4 Via degli Strozzi
Tel: 39 055 230 2802
Florentine golden-boy interior designer Michele Bonan (JK Place and the city's brace of Lungarno hotels) is also behind Palazzo Vecchietti, a chic centro storico sanctuary. This place could not be better located for access to all the major sights. Interiors have a suave home-from-home ambience, with management and staff who book restaurants, tours, and museum tickets at the drop of a hint. Public spaces—from the high, glassed-in courtyard/living room to the congenial breakfast room with its long communal table and tempting buffet—are understated but welcoming. The 14 rooms, suites, and apartments, all of which are large by Italian standards, are the last word in contemporary-classic elegance: Exceptionally comfortable beds have exquisite linens, and even the least fancy rooms come with elegant sitting areas, fully functional kitchenette corners, and Nespresso machines. Two top-floor suites have delightful terraces; views from some humbler rooms are considerably more limited, but this may not bother guests who plan to devote most of their time to the innumerable designer boutiques and glorious sights and galleries within walking distance.—Lee Marshall
Tracino , Pantelleria
Tel: 39 05 33 379 307
This Sicilian island of black volcanic beaches, pretty coves with colored fishing boats, and an interior of olive trees and vineyards has long been under the radar for non-Italians, mainly because stylish digs were unavailable for those without an invite to the villas of insiders like Giorgio Armani. That changed last year with Pantelleria Dream. Done in the island's traditional dammusi style (whitewashed structures with domed roofs), the 46 spacious and light-filled rooms have polished concrete floors and comfortable platform beds. The property's wide views take in the sea, and stone paths lined with desert flowers lead to a sleek bar area and restaurant (breakfast and lunch are included in the room rate) and a spectacular infinity pool. Other attractions are the friendly staff and the bamboo-lined pergola areas that come with each room, while drawbacks include bathroom lighting that would make a supermodel look unattractive.
1 Via Tommaso Grossi
Tel: 39 02 8821 1234
Perfectly located right by the Duomo, La Scala, and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the 117-room Park Hyatt went straight onto the essential hotel map of Milan when it opened in October 2003. The second Hyatt (after Paris Place Vendôme) to have been designed by Ed Tuttle, famous for his many Amanresorts, it has spacious proportions and understated richness. Tuttle signatures are natural, autumnal colors and subtly luxe materials (here, travertine with black marble edging, Murano glass, Venetian stucco, silk and velvet upholstery), vast bathrooms (almost as big as the bedrooms), and flattering, calming light effects. It all feels a bit like a modern Roman imperial palace. Add high ceilings, Bang & Olufsen electronics, exclusive Laura Tonatto bath and beauty products, and the biggest standard rooms in town, and you get why this is going down very well with the punters. It doesn't hurt that former Villa d'Este GM Claudio Ceccherelli is in charge. Naturally there's a spa and a gym, the latter open 24 hours a day, and the hotel also offers a free bicycle hire scheme. The gourmet Park Restaurant is a hot ticket during fashion week, while the buffet lunch offered by the more casual Park Bar next door is popular with less-exalted mortals the rest of the year. But the real place to see and be seen is La Cupola, the lobby lounge bar, magnificently crowned by a 30-foot glass cupola: it's second only to the Bulgari Hotel as the place for Sunday brunch in Milan.
13 Piazzetta Riccardi
Tel: 39 0832 245 111
Starwood, bless its corporate vastness, hasn't ruined this 17th-century palace, though a little bit of soul was lost in the renovation. Still, the 67 rooms, with their shades-of-blue decor and faux-antique TV armoires, are the best in town (especially the second-floor front ones with the little balconies), and the efficient service hits the spot. The Patria Palace is also in a great position, right opposite the Basilica of Santa Croce, and the valet parking means you can leave the car and explore Lecce's Baroque splendors on foot. Atenze, the restaurant, attracts plenty of custom from outside the hotel.
Tel: 39 041 521 0188
This pretty, secluded 17th-century palazzo, set in a quiet area of Dorsoduro just off the Grand Canal, has two wonderfully lush gardens—perfect for relaxing on warm afternoons before dinner. Its 27 rooms are spacious and Venetian-traditional, with brocade fabrics and Murano glass chandeliers; some of the bathrooms are marble. There's a stately wood-paneled breakfast room, though you can also eat in the front garden in nice weather. The staff tends to be more efficient than warm, but that doesn't keep guests from returning year after year—especially those art-lovers who like the proximity to the Accademia gallery.
Via Bocca di Leone 23
Tel: 39 06 6938 0742
In Milan and Florence, fashion designers long ago extended their operations into the hotel sector. Rome, on the other hand, had to wait until 2006 to get its first fashion hotel, courtesy of Salvatore Ferragamo. Located above the flagship store on chic Via Condotti, the design house and architect Michele Bonan modeled Portrait Suites on a London gentleman's club. Vintage fashion photos and sketches from the company archive line the walls of public spaces. In the rooms, a soothing neutral color scheme is interrupted by dashes of lime and pink, and curtains are subtly decorated with the Ferragamo logo. If you tire of the gourmet eating options in the surrounding centro storico, you can cook in your private kitchen, complete with dishwasher. The roof terrace, where breakfast is served in good weather, followed by apertivi in the evening, has spectacular views over the neighborhood.
17 Piazza della Repubblica
Tel: 39 02 62301
Once upon a time, the Principe di Savoia was Milan's number-one luxury hotel. These days, it has plenty of competition from several new kids on the block, among them the Four Seasons and the Park Hyatt, both of which are more centrally situated for the design and shopping action in the Quadrilatero d'Oro. But although it no longer wears the undisputed crown, the Principe, now under the wing of the Dorchester Collection, is still an attractive, classy five-star option that oozes old-fashioned charm—and it's still the hotel of choice for visiting aristocracy and political bigwigs. Many of the latter stay in the enormous Presidential Suite (almost 5,400 square feet), which features three bedrooms, a CCTV surveillance system, a Pompeii-style indoor pool, a Jacuzzi, a sauna, and a Turkish bath; but even below these giddy heights, rooms are opulent, with an abundance of rich fabrics, inlaid marquetry work, brass lamps, and crystal-drop chandeliers. We like the 48 new Mosaic Deluxe guest rooms, done out in a more contemporary idiom, with bright Mediterranean colors and decorative mosaic bathroom panels; however, some of the more traditional suites (such as the Napoleonic-style Elegant Suites) are also extremely desirable. The sheer size of this 401-room behemoth will not suit all, but it does guarantee top-class facilities, including a full-featured spa with indoor pool, a decent modern Italian restaurant, and two bars. It also means that rooms can be found at quiet times well below the official rack rates—online booking rates automatically adjust to reflect demand.
67 Viale Amm. Morin
Forte dei Marmi
Tel: 39 0584 783636
This summer playground on the Tuscan coast is known for its tony beach clubs and nightlife, but until now has lacked the kind of chic small hotel that would lure a more design-minded guest. Set a block back from the boardwalk, Principe has brought a 1960s Italy-meets-Miami aesthetic to the beach: Wood cube beds come with plush white linens, glass-box bathrooms have huge rain showers where curtains create a peekaboo effect, and custom-built sofas and chairs mix with white shag rugs. In addition to its own decked pool and cabanas, the 28-room property is affiliated with the area's only beach club (the Marechiaro), which has a great restaurant, white terry-covered chaises, and 28 gazebos staffed by majordomos. Principe also has a rooftop restaurant and lounge complete with a DJ, low (what else?) white sofas, and an illuminated fiberglass barall nods to sleek Miami counterparts. The service is uniformly professional. The main caveat is about the prices: Gazebos at the beach club cost an extra $210, and on the room service menu even a prosciutto-and-melon starter is a whopping $42.
171 Via Filippo Turati
Tel: 39 06 444 841
Tel: 800 333 3333 (toll-free)
When it opened in 2003, this 273-room glass tower was the city's most radical hotel design statement. After becoming part of the Radisson group, room rates dropped and reviews remained mainly positive, even though the relentless design approach is beginning to show its age. Reception and concierge desks are housed in cool white pods, most standard rooms have the bed and shower on the same wooden platform, and much of the furniture is custom-made by Cappellini. Fashionistas still love it, and the hotel's Zest Bar attracts plenty of hip Romans. The large rooftop pool (open June–September) and little touches like free Wi-Fi access give the Radisson a decided edge. However, its location—handy for Rome's main Termini train station but in the rather sleazy Esquilino neighborhood—won't please everyone. Grand Tour types should steer clear, but for those who want a taste of la città moderna, complete with a ringside view of the tracks, the Radisson is still a hot ticket.
24 Via Villapizzone
Tel: 39 02 3631 888
At the end of 2009, the Chedi was taken over by the Rezidor group and rebranded as the Radisson Blu. Apart from a welcome drop in price, little else has changed. With its cool, Asian-tinged decor, this 250-room "urban resort" features a quality fusion restaurant; an excellent spa; a long, slim indoor pool with attached sauna, hammam, and gym; and two executive floors with luxurious rooms (540 square feet) and extra services (including a personal butler). The chill-out bedrooms are done in a Bali-meets-Ikea idiom calculated to soothe the overworked business travelers that make up much of the hotel's clientele; don't sniff at the basic deluxe doubles, which are as roomy as many city-center suites. Free Wi-Fi, conference and meeting facilities, and a 40-room long-stay annex (the Virtus Club) are other baits set out to tempt the hotel's core market. The former industrial area of Bovisa, where this property is situated, isn't central—but it's convenient to the Fiera Milano trade fair complex, and it's beginning to attract a loft-dwelling population of creative types.—Updated by Lee Marshall
3 Corte Palmieri
Tel: 39 083 326 5318
Discovered long ago by northern Italian tourists but still relatively unknown outside the country, historic Gallipoli is one of southern Puglia's most characterful seaside towns. The old part is clustered on a promontory that juts out into the Bay of Taranto, and somewhere in its maze of narrow lanes (check the map on the hotel Web site) stands this 20-room boutique hotel, recently converted from an 18th-century town house. It's an enjoyable warren of a place, with stairs and passageways leading to terraces on different levels. Rooms are whitewashed, but the starkness is lifted by splashes of color: bedcovers with vigorous vermilion borders, or wardrobes jazzed up with stenciled coral motifs. Breakfasta fairly simple affair, with fresh fruit, brioche, fruit juice, and marmaladeis served on a panoramic terrace, which also functions as an aperitivo bar. The chic-antique Palazzo Mosco Inn, a sister hotel less than a five-minute walk away, is also worth a lookthough for our money, Corte Palmieri takes the charm prize.
19 Via Galeotti
Tel: 39 075 922 0157
Gubbio is a steep medieval town: Its solid stone houses rise up the southern flank of Monte Igino on a series of terraces. Most buildings—including Relais Ducale, at the top of the town—have clear views over the rooftops from the higher floors (ask for una camera con vista when you book). Right across the square from Palazzo dei Consoli, Gubbio's iconic 14th-century town hall, the Relais is housed in the former guest annex of Palazzo Ducale, the city's seat of power between 1384 and 1508. Most arrivals enter through the bar-restaurant; reception is upstairs, next to the delightful garden that connects the two main wings of the hotel. There's also a charming, panoramic giardino pensile (hanging garden). The 30 bedrooms are pleasant and comfortable, with parquet floors, carved wooden headboards, sunny color schemes, and flat-screen TVs; all have decent-sized bathrooms. Gubbio's steep and narrow streets make driving a nightmare: If you ring ahead, you can park in one of the edge-of-town lots and the hotel will pick you up. Light sleepers may be disturbed by the nearby belltower, which chimes every quarter of an hour.
10 Via Nuova Raito
Vietri sul Mare
Tel: 39 089 763 2301
At the less fashionable eastern edge of the Amalfi Coast, set back from the sea on the leafy slopes above the ceramics town of Vietri sul Mare, this comfortably contemporary mini-resort has a few trump cards to make up for not being in Positano or Amalfi. One is the seclusion of the setting, another is ease of access: Vietri's proximity to the A1 freeway means that you save at least 30 minutes on journey times to Pompeii, Naples airport, and Rome compared to the western resort towns. Then there's the service: While the language skills of some of the staff could be improved, they are unfailingly courteous and helpful. Done out in a clean contemporary style without being coldly minimalist, the 22 rooms and suites all have terraces (some sea-facing, others with a park view) and—a nice touch—complimentary minibars. Spa staff can provide in-room treatments (there's also a single massage room), and the creative southern Italian in-house restaurant, though not cheap, is well worth an evening. One thing to bear in mind is that although there's an hourly shuttle service down to Vietri (five minutes away), you'll have a better experience in this out-of-the-way spot if you have your own wheels—unless of course you're just planning to chill out poolside.—Lee Marshall
87 Via Ghibellina
Tel: 39 055 234 2230
Inaugurated in spring 2005, this 24-room hotel offers luxurious accommodation and contemporary style in the shell of a grand, 18th-century palazzo close to the Duomo. The first-floor public rooms are particularly impressive, especially the vast Music Room, which has lofty frescoed ceilings, elegantly decorated stucco panels, and an original wood floor. The two mammoth Royal Suites on the first-floor piano nobile are decorated in sober classical style, but the double rooms and regular suites on the upper floors are modern in design, with clean, sober lines lightened by quirky design details, such as walls decorated with boiserie panels. There is a decent restaurant in the hotel that's justly proud of its "Fiorentina" steak, but you may prefer to eat at Enoteca Pinchiorri, one of Italy's most celebrated restaurants, which is housed on the ground floor of the same building.
Via Marconi, 29
Tel: 39 125 639290
On the edge of Romano Canavese, an ancient town 20 miles north of Turin, the late-Baroque Relais Villa Matilde is radiant with color after a two-year restoration. The 20 (soon to be 43) unusually spacious and luminous rooms, each unique, are furnished with the villa's original antiques, tapestries, and paintings cheek by jowl with flat-screen TVs, high-speed Internet access, and DVD players. Walls provide a backdrop of delightful color combinations, from apricot outlined in deep terra-cotta to periwinkle framed in daffodil. Stone paths wend through the parklike grounds, past tennis courts, the pool and gym, and a restaurant that occupies the former stables.
Via Taranto Zona G 59
Tel: 39 80 485 7719
Master restorer Martino Solíto reconstructed this nineteenth-century farmhouse on the outskirts of the medieval/Baroque town of Martina Franca using only original materials and furnishing it with local antiques and Louis XVIstyle pieces made by skilled artisans. The stunning result is a pink-and-white terra-cotta villa of 18 rooms and five suites swathed in silks and damasks in blue, gold, green, and rose custom-made at San Léucio, the silkworks established by the Bourbon kings in the eighteenth century. Flat-screen TVs, DVD players, and Internet access add a technological touch to the period elegance. In the basement, the Moroccan-influenced spa includes a gym with a sauna and a steam room.
24 Via Mercato
Tel: 39 380 4666 659
When historic grapperia (grappa bar) Resentin was reopened as a restaurant and aperitivo bar in September 2008 by pop star Eros Ramazzotti and a business partner, regulars (who have included Umberto Eco and Domenico Dolce) were relieved to find that the sober mahogany decor had been preserved, and that the cuisine was trad rather than rad. The big change was upstairs, where four charming guestrooms have been created, adding Resentin to Milan's growing list of small but charming contemporary locande. Stairs lead down to the bar-restaurant, but there's external access, too. Rooms are done up in soft beiges, browns, and creams, in a pleasing modern-retro idiom straight out of the pages of a home decorating magazine. There's satellite TV, free Wi-Fi, and Acqua di Parma beauty products in the bathrooms. A breakfast featuring plenty of fresh fruit and just-baked brioches is served in the bar. At a starting price of around €290 ($375) for a double, Resentin is not as cheap as some other new-wave guesthouses—but you're very in with the in crowd here, and the location, halfway between the Duomo and Corso Como, could hardly be better.
40 Via dei Servi
Tel: 39 055 288 021
Residence Hilda offers 12 stylish, self-catering accommodations at reasonable rates. Situated just north of the Duomo, well-located for both sightseeing and shopping, the pristine modern apartments are done out in shades of white with blond wood floors and spare but well-chosen furnishings (Philippe Starck chairs, for example). The smaller apartments are adequate for two, but the larger ones are quite spacious. All, however, have kitchens, and groceries can be ordered in.
6 Via C. Mazzoni
Tel: 39 0736 255123
This romantic inn is in the renovated stables of an aristocratic palazzo in a small medieval town in Le Marche, an increasingly popular region on the Adriatic side of the Italian peninsula. Cream-colored stone walls in open, arched public rooms create an airy atmosphere everywhere, from the delightful winter garden flooded with natural light (where breakfast is served), to the 14 rooms, where ivory draperies, piles of pillows, natural oak floors, and wood-beamed ceilings make bedrooms cozy. The Tassi family have tastefully furnished the hotel with family antiques, canopied beds, local crafts, and contemporary art depicting the town. Although staffing is minimal, Maria Enrica Tassi is present and very helpful during the day, and there is 24-hour room service from the bar. A small spa is in the works.
11 Via Sant'Agnese
Tel: 39 075 815 5124
Assisi, the most tourist-oriented town in Umbria, is also one of the hardest to find good accommodations in. The problem is that with guaranteed year-round turnover, the hoteliers of Saint Francis's hometown have little incentive to make an extra effort. San Crispino, however, is a refreshing exception. Not far from the church of Santa Chiara, the mansion that houses the residenza dates back to the Middle Ages, and its seven vaulted suites are inspired by themes from Saint Francis's Canticle of the Creatures: Sora Luna e Stelle ("Sister Moon and Stars") has a starry night sky frescoed on the ceiling, while Frate Foco ("Brother Fire") and Frate Sole ("Brother Sun"—the largest suite, with two double bedrooms) both have working fireplaces. San Crispino is part of the Assisi Wellness group, which also includes the San Crispino Resort and Spa and two country villas, one with a large pool. Spa treatments and wellness programs (including the intriguing-sounding "chocolate therapy") can be arranged at reception.
3 Via Mastalo II Duca
Tel: 39 089 873 6365
If you can deal with this compact charmer's downside—74 steps up from the street and no elevator (although happily there's a porter service at the bottom of the stairs)—you'll discover what is currently the best budget option in Amalfi. The building that hosts the hotel was once a palace owned by one of this mercantile town's aristocratic families. The upper floor, where the Residenza is located, dates back to the 16th century and still conserves its original chestnut roof beams. The only communal space apart from the tiny lobby is a small, neat breakfast room that spills out onto a plant-lined alfresco terrace area, but it's the rooms themselves that really get our vote: Each is done up in a subtly different color scheme with rich fabrics, stenciled or gilded headboards, and a sapient sprinkling of antique furniture. Four have views over the rooftops of the old town toward the sea, while the remaining three (including a great-value but very small single for $70) look inland. There's AC throughout, and all the showers in the pretty bathrooms—tiled with reproductions of historical Vietri patterns—have massage jets. That the hotel is open year-round, a rarity on the Amalfi Coast, is another plus.
15 Via del Moro
Tel: 39 055 290 884
The latest addition to the city's roster of unique hotels is this 11-suite jewel, situated in a 16th-century palazzo just around the corner from the shopping street of Via Tornabuoni. The place belongs to Gilberto Sandretto, one of Italy's leading collectors of contemporary art, and among the Baroque stuccowork, baldacchino beds, and trompe l'oeil frescoes are works by Nan Goldin, Roni Horn, Andy Goldsworthy, and other international artists. The individually decorated suites, however, stress the antique rather than the modern, with splashes of strong color and opulent touches such as the green silk headboard in the Bengala Suite or the hidden whirlpool bath in the Moro Suite. This is one of Florence's most exclusive hotels, and the punishing prices (starting at more than $1,000, for the deliciously theatrical Alcove Suite) reflect its cachet.
98 Via Baccio Bandinelli
Tel: 39 055 7130 272
A relaxed urban refuge, Riva Lofts is the personal project of globe-trotting Florentine architect Claudio Nardi. This former factory on the southern bank of the Arno was Nardi's private studio until he decided to turn it into one of Italy's most original design hotels, in 2006. Run by his daughter Alice, the guesthouse describes itself as a "home for modern travelers"; Nardi likes to leave the walls and ceilings bare, focusing the eye on details like antique leather armchairs or canopy beds veiled by floor-to-ceiling white lace. The eight suites vary greatly in size; we prefer the larger upstairs studios, especially 7 and 9 (the smaller, ground-floor rooms that give on to the entrance courtyard can seem a little dark and claustrophobic). Free bicycles compensate for Riva's distance from the centro storico ( at least half an hour away on foot). Although a public thoroughfare comes between the guesthouse and its river frontage, the on-site garden is a lovely, tree-shaded spot for reading or sunbathingwhile, perhaps, sipping a beer from the honesty bar. You can even enjoy a dip in the "metaphysical" swimming poolso named, we assume, because it is bigger on striking modernist geometry than on size.
101 Via Alberto Cadlolo
Tel: 800 445 8667 (toll-free)
Tel: 39 06 3509 1
Recently dropping "Hilton" from its name as part of its Waldorf-Astoria Collection rebranding, this 1960s classic on lofty Monte Mario may be a fair hike from the sights (a 20-minute taxi ride to the Vatican, for instance), but there's regular shuttle-bus service, and the payback is the amazing view over the centro storico—plus the city's largest hotel pool, attached to a huge spa and fitness center. The 370 rooms are lushly decorated, all with balconies, and even the standard Deluxe doubles feel spacious. But for the full luxury experience, check into one of the 25 suites, or any of the Imperial Rooms on the top two floors; the latter feature more opulent decor, choicer fabrics, a dedicated Imperial Club bar and breakfast room, and even a separate elevator, which whisks guests straight up past the plebs—and as you'd expect, the penthouse is pretty spectacular, too, with some of the best views in the city. The owner, Angelo Guido Terruzzi, is an art collector, and many of his purchases are scattered around the hotel. They include a cycle of paintings by Tiepolo in the lobby, for which Terruzzi paid $8 million in May 2006. The eighth floor hosts La Pergola restaurant, fiefdom of German super-chef Heinz Beck.
45 Via Cristoforo Colombo
Tel: 39 081 0175
This ancient Mediterranean beehive, often snubbed by travelers rushing to the Amalfi Coast, is in fact a fascinating and cultured place. Which is why the portside 85-room Hotel Romeo celebrates its hometown by incorporating portraits of the city by its most famous photographers. In fact, the art card is played everywhere at the Romeo, from the anodized aluminum and glass fish-scale facade by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange to expressly commissioned art by Italians Francesco Clemente, Lello Esposito, and Mario Schifano. For all of the pedigreed brand namesCaprai sheets, B & B furniture by Tramontano, custom-designed sofas by Philippe Starck, what's really winning here are the adorable and smartly uniformed staff, and the stunning rooftop pool and spa. Rooms are rich-looking due to their brown- and tan-streaked tabu wood floors, and origami-clever in their efficient use of space, including a sliding glass door between bedroom and bath.
5 Piazza San Domenico
Taormina , Sicily
Tel: 39 094 261 3111
It has been called the most majestic hotel in Sicily, and the legendary San Domenico doesn't disappoint. Built around a 15th-century monastery, the hotel offers incredible views, dreamy gardens, serious in-room luxury, and old-world charm (17th-century painting lines the walls). Not surprisingly, the hotel draws a wealthy international clientele who park themselves around the swimming pool, or at one of four sensational restaurants. The 108 rooms are located in two wings, one old (the Ancient Convent) and one new.
Via Giulia, 62
Tel: 39 06 686611
The St. George shines as much for its charm as for its perfect location on the elegant Via Giulia. Pope Julius II commissioned Bramante to design a tribunal on this very spot, and rough travertine blocks still jut out from the restored facade, but the interior is sleek modernism mixed with serene classicism. The entrance has a comfortable library and two enormous sofas flanking a modern fireplace. On the other side of the open ground floor, a wine bar, the restaurant I Sofà di Via Giulia (which serves elaborate, overpriced food), and a cigar bar flow around a skylit atrium. A typical guest room has walls of the palest gray, blond parquet floors, floor-to-ceiling windows framed in travertine, and a bathroom stocked with good hand cream and lip balm. Later this year, a spacious rooftop terrace will open, as will a basement spa with a tiny gym and a Turkish bath.
1 Piazza Ognissanti
Tel: 39 055 27161
Starwood has nailed the new luxury spirit with some finesse in this intimately opulent makeover of Florence's former Grand Hotel. Inaugurated in October 2011, the Arno-side 81-room property has a country-house-style library and lobby (where you check in at a couple of large tables) and affable service. Outside of the austerely fashionista one-off Bottega Veneta suite, room decor celebrates Florentine style in retro details like the landscape and cityscape murals in some rooms, and in the swish but sometimes overloaded classic contemporary furniture and ornaments. Angle for an Arno-facing room: The view upriver toward the Ponte Vecchio is breathtaking. Housed inside the glassed-in ground-floor winter garden, dominated by a huge Murano chandelier, the hotel's Etichetta Pinchiorri restaurant is now under the tutelage of legendary Florence eatery Enoteca Pinchiorri—though here the Mediterranean dishes are a little simpler and less punishing on the wallet.—Lee Marshall
4 Via Marconi
Tel: 39 01 8780 8258
Staying in this family-run guesthouse in the centre of Levanto is like taking a trip back in time. It's on the second floor, there's no elevator, and the service is laid-back to the point of being casualbut the interiors are breathtaking. Above the creaking parquet floors are original 19th-century frescoes of winsome nymphs and chubby cherubs. Ornately carved wooden bedsteads vie for attention with Deco-style chandeliers and huge mirrored wardrobes that must have been in the family for generations. There's also a small formal garden where predinner drinks are served. This is the place to come to reconnect with your urbane, Oscar Wilde side after a week of sweaty trekking in the nearby Cinque Terre, and at surprisingly reasonable rates. The water in the shower takes a while to heat up, and although rooms feature free Internet access and satellite TV, there's no air conditioning. But you come to Stella Maris for Belle Époque atmosphere, not five-star comforts. Half-board is applied between April and September, with a tasty dinner menu of Ligurian specialties prepared by the owner, Signora Renza; in March and October, bed-and-breakfast terms apply.
Open March through October.
Via San Raffaele 3
Tel: 39 2 805081
The Zen-inspired Strafslang for St. Rafael, the property's couldn't-be-better locationis about as minimalist as you can get and still have all the comforts of a fine hotel. Designer Vincenzo de Cotiis used industrial materials (concrete, metal, slate) in the 66 rooms, but gauzy linen throws and lots of mirrors soften the look. Wireless Internet access and flat-screen TVs provide entertainment, and the luxe accessories include plush bathrobes and Marie Danielle toiletries. The Straf's svelte black-clad staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and the adjoining Straf Bar is a popular place for fashionistas to stop for a light lunch or an aperitivo.
33 Via del Teatro Pace
Tel: 39 06 687 9075
Location, location, and location are what make this boutique hotel such a good value—plus a delicious Baroque spiral staircase, designed by a pupil of Bernini, which more than makes up for the lack of an elevator. Just around the corner from Piazza Navona, this former cardinal's residence offers 23 high-ceilinged rooms with original beams. The decor is on the plain side, but the damask curtains and bedcovers and the antique writing desks are pleasant enough, and all the usual three-star accessories (AC, TV, Wi-Fi) are provided. There are no communal spaces, so a generous continental breakfast is served in your room.
7 Via Sant'Alò
Tel: 39 335 561 6858
This unique bed-and-breakfast advertises itself as "a tower for two," and that's just what it is: Owner Matteo Giovanardi has turned his former homethe second-highest of Bologna's famous medieval towersinto a one-bedroom romantic hideaway. Come prepared for adventure rather than five-star luxury: The thick-walled tower, which dates back to the 12th century, is 65 yards high, and the wooden staircases that lead to the rooftop terrace, with its breathtaking views over the Old Town, are vertiginously steep. But the main living room and sleeping areaan elegant old-world space with vaulted ceilings, furnished with family heirloomsis on the second floor. Above this is a kitchen, where guests fix themselves a self-service breakfast, and a dining room where candlelit dinners can be arrangedaccompanied, should you so desire, by a string quartet or medieval-style minstrels. Much in demand (from locals as well as visitors) for surprise birthday and anniversary treats, the Prendiparte is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
33 Via Goldoni
Tel: 39 02 91437635
Edgy and experimental, like the rest of Milan's Townhouse empire (the portfolio includes Townhouse 31, next door, and the luxurious Seven Stars Galleria), the Town@House Street is an homage to both pop art and functional design. The four-room property fuses practicality and fun, with touches like a kitchenette set behind sliding mirrored doors; a TV that hangs horizontally over the bed, the screen set in a bright-colored fiberglass structure that doubles as the headboard; a vintage photo of Milan that wraps around the room; and a podlike bathroom like something from a deluxe space shuttle. For some, the fact that the door opens directly onto the street (hence the name) might be off-putting. But for most, a setting right out of a design magazine, a friendly and professional staff (shared with Townhouse 31), and a reasonable price make this an attractively chic option.
31 Via Goldoni
Tel: 39 02 70 156
This lemon-yellow late-19th-century palazzina, with 18 rooms and suites, is located in a residential neighborhood in the eastern suburbs, but it's thankfully only a 20-minute walk or quick cab ride from the commercial center and fashion district, because the denizens of that world make up the hotel's core clientele. Interiors (by Italian Architectural Digest editor Ettore Mochetti) are suitably chic, in monotone cream with black-stained wood, palm trees in clean ceramic pots, and occasional Oriental artifacts. Overall, the vibe is hip, young, and friendly: The staff may not be trained in the grand-hotel school, but they're eager, helpful, and multilingual. The lobby lounge doubles as a breakfast room, with a communal long, high table (à la Schrager), and also doubles as a favorite local aperitivo venue in the evening—especially in summer, when the entrance courtyard becomes a tented chill-out space, halfway between the Arabian Nights and an Argentinian gaucho camp. The shabby-chic rooms can seem quite subdued after the downstairs styling, but they're comfortable and—for such a fashionista place—surprisingly good value. The Town House empire has recently expanded to include Town House 12, a more business-oriented option in the northern suburbs, and the Town House Galleria, opened in February 2007, which is the first hotel to be located (at least partly) inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Via Silvio Pellico 8
Tel: 39 02 701 56
The Town House Galleria aims for "seven star" status—whatever that means—and despite the stiff rates, the hotel certainly scores high for an unparalleled location inside the city's iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. A doorman at the discreet entrance of this 1860s palazzo allows only registered guests upstairs to the 24 suites, most of them duplexes. The decor is unexpectedly restrained, with taupe walls, original oak-parquet floors, and great photos of old Milan; the focus is on the double-height windows that look out into the historic shopping arcade. But the level of service is the true standout. Your dedicated butler expertly handles everything from preparing customized business cards and brewing tea before bed to putting away your purchases while you're at dinner (the best table is booked for you, of course). He can even arrange airport pickup in a Bentley or the loan of a Damiani necklace, should you wish it. You might never have considered needing a butler, but by the time you check outwith all your clothes neatly packed in tissue paperyou'll wonder how you ever managed to live without one.
Via Monte Nero, 15
Tel: 39 80 432 3860
Tel: 329 266 1549 (cell)
In 1997, Dino and Antonella Guido got the notion that foreigners might like to actually sleep inside the trulli they admired, so they renovated 25 of them. All in the trulli capital Alberobello, the circular, conical-roofed, thick-walled houselets are everything you'd expectsimple, cozy, unique. The Web site is more usable in Italian, given the translation job. Extras, for example, include "webbing to the ancient chassis." Trullidea can arrange airport transfer in their appropriately sized mini-mini-compact SmartCar.
Via Val di Luce
Val di Luce Abetone
Tel: 39 0573 60961
The ski-friendly Val di Luce in the Apennines stays true to its storybook mountain setting with materials like pine and travertine used throughout the open public rooms, library, and lounge bar. Yet the resort still pulls off a fresh design that's more sophisticated than rustic. The 77 rooms and suites, comfortable and contemporary with fluffy duvets and subdued plaid carpeting that breaks up the neutral tones, range in size from slightly cramped classic doubles to very spacious family suites that sleep four to six, many with well-equipped kitchens. Every room, however, has a balcony with mountain vistas, and bathrooms, while small, are attractively done in pine and marble. Though the Tuscan restaurant is pleasant and reasonable, the real treat here is the large and wonderful spa with several pools and a long list of sybaritic treatments. The dormered architecture of the resort curves around a central mini-version of I. M. Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre, and inside it is the spa's crystal pool, from which you can gaze at mountain views or a starry night.
Sciacca , Sicily
Tel: 39 0925 998 180
Verdura is a pretty ambitious project, even by Sir Rocco Forte's luxury hotel standards. The only hotel on Sicily that merits the term "resort," eco-friendly Verdura occupies over a mile of pristine coastline and 560 acres of gently rolling land just east of Sciacca, a charming historic town of crumbling Baroque palazzi and buzzing local bars, its streets lined with Cubist-pruned orange trees. A quarter of the way down Sicily's long southwestern coast, only an hour from Palermo's Punta Raisi airport, Sciacca is well placed for day trips to the Greek temples of Selinunte and Agrigento. On arrival, you and your luggage are ferried by golf carts from a distant parking lot to the suavely modernist reception, lounge, and bar area. The 204 rooms and suites occupy low monolithic blocks painted in hot Mexican hues, or landscape-hugging beachfront villas with grass roofs. Inside, Sir Rocco's designer sister, Olga Polizzi, has done a decent job of weaving local motifs, colors, and materials (like Caltagirone tile) into her accessible urbane style. Sharp design meets laid-back leisure, in other words—and the same goes for the clientele, a mix of keen golfers attracted by the two 18-hole championship courses and the discreet, linen-clad Euro rich. The 230-foot pool, the huge spa (including four hydrotherapy pools), and the range of places to munch and sip (our favorite being cliff-perched mod-Sicilian trattoria Liolà) add a wow factor. Perhaps the only downside is the beach: From the main bar terrace it makes for spectacular sunset views, but up close it's partly rocky and prone to seaweed.—Lee Marshall
Via San Cresci 31/32
Greve in Chianti
Tel: 39 055 884 0004
Not content with proving that a Scot could breeze into Florence, open a restaurant (Beccofino), and have Florentines themselves queuing up for a table, the indefatigable David Gardner has now moved into the hotel business with equal panache—and, so far, equal success. Inaugurated in the spring of 2006 in a baby-blue villa just outside the Chianti wine town of Greve in Chianti, the hotel comprises just ten bedrooms and suites—designed, like the rest of the place, by Florentine interiors wizard Riccardo Barthel. This is shabby-chic with the accent on the chic. Some rooms even feature flat-screen TVs encased inside antique mirrors. The garden, centering on a formal Italian section of box hedges, is a delightful refuge, and there's a decent-sized pool nestling amidst the olive groves. Gardner put one of his Beccofino chefs, Pugliese Francesco Fineo, in charge of the hotel restaurant: Fineo's contemporary Italian menu is based on local ingredients (some of them grown in Villa Bordoni's own kitchen garden) but not confined to Tuscan staples. It's an encouraging sign that the restaurant has already started attracting plenty of outside custom; and the hotel's cooking courses have also proved a hit. Another thing to like is Villa Bordoni's contained pricing policy: Finding a superior room of this quality at a low-season rate of $255 is a rarity in the increasingly expensive Chianti area.
Closed November-February (apart from the first week in January).
24 Via Tragara
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 81 837 0122
Capresians have a knack for engineering gorgeous cliffside villas, and this 20-room jewel is no exception. Built as ten floors on a narrow lot that overlooks the bay, Villa Brunella requires a Stairmaster-like effort to reach guest rooms and the pool. But the hospitality of the Ruggiero family, who've run this charming inn since 1963 with great flair and friendliness, makes it worth the sweat. Rooms come in different shapes and sizes, with cool ceramic floors, potted plants, rather démodé antique furniture and small, tiled bathrooms. Ask for a sea-view balcony when you book, as not all rooms enjoy this privilege. At the bottom of all those steps, a smallish swimming pool surrounded by stripey sun loungers overlooks the bay; there's a small bar down there and even two online workstations, as well as Wi-Fi, in case you need to check your e-mail between swims. Romance is on tap at the candlelit terrace restaurant, which serves up excellent seafood and sweeping panoramas, and attracts a good slice of non-hotel customers.
Open April through October.
81 Via Pirandello
Taormina , Sicily
Tel: 39 94 262 6058
Villa Carlotta è fabuloso, say guests who've stayed at this affordably luxe property. Built near the turn of the 19th century, this gem (formerly Villa Fabbiano) is still run by its Swiss-Italian namesake family with Mediterranean hospitality. The hilltop location guarantees good views and few tourists. All 23 charming rooms and suites, many with balconies, are small but stylishly decorated, with lots of cherrywood, wrought iron, exposed brick, and warm colors. The complimentary buffet breakfast will keep you going till dinner.
18 Via G. Fava
Orta San Giulio
Tel: 39 0322 911 902
This fabulously odd Moorish-style villa built in 1879 is easy to find: Just look for the onion-domed minaret towering above the pine trees. The interiors are the Middle Eastern fantasyland of a palace fit for a pasha, all horseshoe arches with toothy edges and walls slathered in fiddly scrollwork and arabesques. The 14 rooms are filled with 18th- and 19th-century furnishings with intricate wood-inlay floors, silk brocade walls, and marble baths. Some rooms are frescoed; others have tented ceilings to go with the whole Scheherazade motif. Every room in the deluxe category and above comes with a king-size canopy bed. The hotel is patronized by the kind of adventurous clientele drawn to its quirky styling and out-of-the-way location on one of the lesser-known lakes. The hotel has its own small fitness center offering massages, and guests can use the pools, tennis courts, and water sports facilities at the Crespi's two sister hotels, which are right on the lake less than a mile away.
Closed early January through mid-March.
Tel: 39 0173 529225
A nineteenth-century farm estate in the heart of Le Langhe in Piedmont, arguably Italy's best eating and wine-drinking region, the meticulously restored 37-room Villa d'Amelia is set amid hazelnut groves with views of the hillside vineyards of Barolo to the east and the snowcapped Alps to the north. Rooms offer old-school charm (four-poster beds, wood-beamed ceilings) with modern comfort (flat-screen TVs, rain showers). Treks through the adjacent woods will keep the appetite whetted for exploring the cornucopia that is Le Langhe; the enthusiastic young staff are well-versed in the tortuous terrain and can provide a GPS for your car programmed with directions to the best vineyards and restaurants.
40 Via Regina
Tel: 39 031 3481
Everything about this grande dame of lakeside hotels oozes luxury. Rooms have enormous marble bathrooms and walk-in closets and most have a balcony or terrace. The Empire-style furnishings swathed in Como silks actually date to the time when Napoleon himself was a guest and the villa belonged to his aide-de-camp. The 152 rooms and suites are split between the main villa and the Queen's Pavilion, a pinkish 1860 Moorish-Venetian palazzo at the far end of the 25-acre property. The heated outdoor swimming pool is built within the lake itself, and the indoor pool is flanked by a sauna and Turkish bath. Activities include tennis on the hotel's eight courts and teeing off at the indoor golf and putting green (the private, Peter Gannon-designed 18-hole course is seven miles away), plus sailing, canoeing, and waterskiing on Lake Como. Built in the 16th century as the summer palace of Como's Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, the main villa served as a home to royalty, from Caroline, Princess of Wales (in the early 19th century), to the last private owner, Tsarina Maria Fedorovna of Russia, before being transformed into a hotel in 1873. Since then it has hosted such cultural royalty as Mark Twain, Clark Gable, Madonna, and Liam Neeson. Besides celebs, you'll see well-heeled older travelers, expense-accounted businessmen, and honeymooners who would never dare spend this much on an ordinary vacation, as well as young families splashing out.
Closed mid-November through February.
Riserva Naturale Ciane-Saline
Cozzo Pantano , Sicily
Tel: 39 093 172 1321
Kick back at this peaceful country inn, set on a nature reserve just two miles from town. The 19th-century retreat is ideal for families and groups, with eight large suites containing separate living and dining areas, full kitchens, handcrafted furnishings, exposed stone walls, and ceramic tiles. The wood-beamed lobby is the size of a football field, comfortably appointed with potted palms, sofas, and plush woven rugs. Papyrus, olive, citrus, cypress, and other Mediterranean trees fill the huge garden, which has lounge chairs and a barbecue patio.
132 Corso Zanardelli
Tel: 39 0365 20 158
Mussolini ensconced his mistress, Clara Petacci, in this Art Nouveau villa during the dying days of his Salò Republic. Petacci's room, where the couple also lived out their final weeks together before the partisans arrived, is now the Claretta suite and has heavy wood furnishings and gilded stucco ceiling. The other four rooms, done in floral wallpaper and burled walnut antiques, are decidedly less grand. There's a piano bar and sometime discotheque in the Torre San Marco, a fanciful minicastle built against the water's edge at the end of the olive- and pine-tree strewn property. The hotel also hosts Gardone's best restaurant, where the exquisite food has earned the chef a Michelin star—though at these prices, portions could be larger (four ravioli on a plate do not a meal make).
Closed November through February.
5 Via Cunicchio
Foiano della Chiana
Tel: 39 0575 660 410
On a rise overlooking the fertile Chiana valley, a few miles west of Cortona, this foursquare, blushing-pink villa was bought by three friends—two English, one Italian—and opened as a nine-room hotel in 2000. It's a stylish refuge, rejecting the usual Tuscan clichés in favor of a relaxed, urban look enlivened by some little scenic flourishes—four-poster beds with slender obelisks at each corner, transparent curtains of colored gauze—that betray the hand of one of the owners, Philip Robinson, production designer on such films as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Howards End (a risqué thank-you photo signed by the latter film's stars, Helena Bonham Carter and Emma Thompson, takes pride of place in the downstairs toilet). The convivial atmosphere is that of a country house weekend (complete with "dinner parties" for guests on Tuesdays and Fridays) except this weekend goes on all season, from mid-March through to the end of October. The swimming pool is a delightful lounging spot, especially at sunset. Three other smaller villas—one with its own pool, the other two share one—are available for weekly rental.
69 Via Empolese
San Casciano in Val di Pesa
Tel: 39 055 828 311
Il Poggiale, opened in 2003, is a welcome addition to the local scene; it's also excellent value for money by local standards. A 16th-century patrician villa with characteristic pietra serena entrance loggia and deep-red terra-cotta floors, this rambling family home has been transformed into a 22-room hotel that still has an intimate country house feel. There is nothing ostentatious about the place, but the makeover has been done with style and taste, with pastel-painted walls, Moroccan rugs, comfy silk-striped armchairs, and antique furniture finding a happy modus vivendi. There's a sense of space throughout, enhanced by the decision to leave plenty of communal areas—including a huge drawing room and a library—rather than squeeze more rooms out of the complex. It can get pretty chilly in winter, but the lovely long pool among the olive groves benefits from the breeze at the height of summer.
22/23 Lungoteverde delle Armi
Tel: 39 06 322 6776
Anna Fendi (of the Fendi fashion empire) acquired a fabulous Art Nouveau mansion along the Tiber River with a foresteria, or guest villa, behind it, and has transformed the latter into Villa Laetitia, a 15-room hotel. (There are plans to open seven suites in the main mansion.) Set far back from the street in the meandering gardens and eclectically decorated by Anna and two of her daughters, the compact rooms mix modernism with design pieces from the '30s and '40s, ranging from Hoffman-style woodwork to bold black-and-white checkerboard fabrics and antique tiles. Each has a kitchenette, and most have direct access to the garden. Ground-floor public rooms are beautifully restored, with faux marble pillars, ceiling flourishes of stucco angels, and intricate wrought iron balustrades on the grand marble staircase. There are flamboyant chandeliers on every level and glass archways in the Victorian conservatory at the back of the main mansion facing the garden. In keeping with the residential atmosphere, staff are friendly but few. Still, fashion mavens will love the style and the tranquil location, just a 15-minute walk from Piazza del Popolo.
1 Via delle Cartiere
Tel: 39 089 873 6358
The best budget option in town, this six-room hotel is perched well above the tourist hordes, among the terraced vineyards and orchards that rise above the inland stretch of Via delle Cartiere, Amalfi's main street. From the gate down below, a short path leads past orange gardens and through a short tunnel to the elevator, which carries guests up to the white, 19th-century villa in exactly 50 seconds. Most of the spacious, white-walled, air-conditioned rooms have views across terraced vineyards, a tumble of rooftops, and majolica church domes to the sea, though a couple of the upper rooms are under the eaves and illuminated only by skylights. The decor is typical Amalfi-seaside, with colorful Vietri-tiled floors and baths, beamed ceilings, and king-size beds. Breakfast is served on a pretty terrace overlooking the water, and there's free broadband Internet in the lobby. But it's the warm welcome and helpfulness of the staff (not always a given on the Amalfi Coast) that give Villa Lara an edge over competitors in this price range. Co-owner Nello Rispoli will happily steer you to the best local restaurants, walks, and beaches.
78 Viale Michelangelo
Tel: 39 055 681 631
Five-star Villa La Vedetta sits proudly on a hill south of the Arno, just a stone's throw from Piazzale Michelangelo. There are stunning views from the front-facing bedrooms, especially at sunset, though only from the pool terrace does the panorama take in the full sweep of the city across to the Duomo. The 19th-century gray-painted villa houses 18 luxurious rooms and suites and a fine-dining restaurant, Onice—though on our last visit, the fabulous creative Italian food was let down by excruciatingly slow service. Inside, the grand decor is a mix of traditional and modern, with marble-laden public spaces and elaborate flower arrangements. The bedrooms are more intimate. If you want to enjoy Florence without being in the thick of the tourist hordes, Villa La Vedetta is an exclusive and very comfortable place from which to do so—the downside being the lack of restaurants, bars, and general animation in the immediate vicinity.
64 Via Capodimonte
Anacapri , Capri
Tel: 39 081 838 2190
Meticulously restored by antiquarian-art dealer owner Anna Maria Coronato, this exclusive 19th-century mansion with manicured gardens is a chic place to tie the knot, or just to live it up. Run more like a private home than a hotel, Villa le Scale is loaded with valuable antiques and art collected on Coronato's travels. Eight unique rooms and suites, each one inspired by a key antique (such as the ornate 17th-century Venetian bookcase frame that leads into the bathroom in the Venetian room) are the ultimate escape for the newly betrothed, and the two-to-one staff-to-guest ratio guarantees a pampered experience. Each room is plushly appointed with fireplaces, museumworthy paintings, and Murano chandeliers, and half have flower-lined terraces. Huge bathrooms are works of art themselves; one has a Turkish bath, two have plunge pools, and yet another features double showers and whirlpool baths. The decadent two-bedroom Garden Suite includes a freestanding tub cut from a single block of stone. There are also hot and cold Kneipp streams in the garden for leg rejuvenation.
Open from Easter through October; a three-day minimum stay is required.
191 Via Provinciale
Marina Grande , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 6630
Though minimalist chic and earth colors pervade at the restructured 1915 Villa Marina, each of the spacious 21 rooms is designed differently and named after a famous personality from the artistic enclave that put Capri on the map. Bathrooms are especially fabulous: Entertainer Gracie Fields's tub, big enough for four, features a rush of water spilling from a large rock, and physician Axel Munthe's enormous green marble bathroom has a tub with a sea view. A panoramic roof terrace means gorgeous sunsets, and the candlelit Ziqu' restaurant offers a spectacle of glittering yachts in the Marina Grande. The hotel's small spa is the perfect place to unwind after treks down the Via Krupp or up to Emperor Tiberius's ancient villa. The staff are warm, but, when making plans, watch out for a Neapolitan approximation of details.
127 Via Cristoforo Colombo
Tel: 39 089 811 955
The same views you get from the premium rooms at Le Sirenuse are available for a song—and from your own bougainvillea-decked terrace—at this superfriendly 20-room hotel in a classic Mediterranean village house. The spotless, air-conditioned rooms are sparsely but comfortably furnished and have whitewashed walls and terrazzo-tiled floors. In addition, each room is equipped with a refrigerator, TV, and phone. There's no restaurant, but cappuccino and pastries are delivered to your terrace for breakfast, and lots of other eating options are just a short stroll away. The rooms on the top two floors have the best views.
4 Via Doccia
Tel: 39 055 567 8200
Tel: 800 237 1236
There are those who rank this venerable luxe classic, now owned by Orient-Express, as the ultimate Grand Tour hotel. A former monastery, in part designed by Michelangelo, the 46-room property surveys the city from a lofty perch up in Fiesole, a villa-dotted hilltop village that has long been the Florentine aristo's favored refuge from the summer heat. It's San Michele's romantic setting that makes it such a perennial favourite—especially for weddings and honeymoons—with lemon trees on flower-edged terraces, a heated outdoor pool, and the elegant Loggia restaurant, which frames Florence and the Arno valley from an arcaded terrace. The rooms vary in size and aspect: Some are in the main building, others (such as the romantic Conservatory suite) hidden in the grounds. All are done out in an antique style that never feels gloomy thanks to summery magnolia-hued walls and opulent fabrics. Service is impeccable, and chef Attilio di Fabrizio's thrice-weekly Italian cooking classes are well worth signing up for. Despite the high price to stay here, expect to be charged for every little thing, except the shuttle bus that takes guests into central Florence in around 20 minutes.—Lee Marshall
137 Via Nazionale
Taormina Mare , Sicily
Tel: 39 0942 627 1200
This seafront hotel, located below Taormina proper in Taormina Mare, occupies its own private stretch of beach framing the Bay of Mazzarò. The ethereal setting wasn't enough to save the circa 1830 villa turned hotel from a long slump, but Orient-Express' takeover and renovation in 2010 firmly reversed that course. While the updates won't be completed until 2012, most of the Villa's 65 rooms have already been redone in a new, nautical style: a jaunty white-and-blue palette, seashell sconces, balconies facing the beach. The use of local stone and Sicilian materials is complemented by the artisanal treatments in the wellness center (try the orange blossom and jasmine massage) and the locally sourced ingredients at Restaurant Oliviero. The hotel's fishing boat can be commandeered for an exploration of the coast's coves and bays, but if that sounds too sporty, you can always wait for the Bellinis to make the rounds at the alfresco piano bar in the evening.—Raphael Kadushin
3a Via Tiberio
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 8377817
One of Capri's best budget options, family-run Villa Sarah stands at the beginning of the lane that leads up to Villa Jovis. It's a bit of a trek from the Piazzetta, but the reward is a semirural retreat set among olive and citrus trees, that has a real insiders' cachet. The 20 simply appointed rooms in the pale-apricot villa would win no design prizes, but they're spacious, airy, and pleasant, with Vietri-tiled floors, cast-iron chandelier lamps, and grandmotherly furnishings. Four have terraces with views over the garden and the small pool—which is a welcome recent addition. Breakfasts center on homemade products, many of them using fruits and vegetables from the hotel's organic kitchen garden.
Open from Easter through October.
Via Piacenza 4
Tel: 39 06 4890 7934
Italian aristos on Rome stopovers love Villa Spalletti Trivelli, and you can see why: It is every inch a home-away-from-palatial-home. Just across a leafy park from the Italian president's residence at the Quirinale Palace, the Villa is an imposing place of high ceilings, antiques, and artwork that have been in the Spalletti Trivelli family for generations, including an extensive collection of old maps. The 12 large, lofty rooms are individually decorated in rich colors, with Fiandra linens, fluffy monogrammed robes and slippers, 42-inch plasma TVs, and broadband access. Add to this four immense public rooms, a historic library, 24-hour reception and room service, a chef on hand to whip up candlelit dinners on request, and—new for 2007—a well-equipped spa offering Pilates, yoga, beauty treatments, and a hammam, and guests may be forgiven for never taking the short stroll from here to the Trevi Fountain or Roman Forum.
Località San Luca
Tel: 39 074 239 9402
Still owned by the Zuccari family, which began developing the estate in the 16th century, this large, elegant villa sits just outside the village of San Luca, near the wine town of Montefalco. The pink main house looks more Sicilian than Umbrian, especially when you factor in the palm trees in the formal garden (which will look great in a few years' time; since the hotel opened in summer 2005, some of the plantings still have that straight-from-the-nursery look about them). Inside, the common areas are decorated with delicate botanical wall frescoes; most charming are the trompe l'oeil creations in the breakfast room. There's not a huge price gap between top- and bottom-range rooms (there are 34 in all), so it's worth booking a deluxe double, like rooms 126 or 127both of which have hot tubsor going whole hog and nabbing the Torretta tower, which has wraparound views over the countryside, and a telescope to help you enjoy them. The huge swimming pool, well-stocked bar, and gourmet restaurant (open for dinner only) are strong motives to stay put, but Villa Zuccari is well-placed for wine-and-culture jaunts to Montefalco and Bevagna, and day trips to Assisi, Spoleto, and Todi. It's also one of the few Umbrian country hotels open year-round.
26 Via Cecili
Tel: 39 074 322 4187
Scottish knitwear designer Wallace Shaw moved to Spoleto after working in the Hong Kong and New York fashion worlds. His large, panoramic apartment occupies the third floor of a palazzo, which abuts the 13th-century Torre dell'Olioan imposing tower named for its defenders' habit of pouring boiling oil over gate-crashers. Shaw is more welcoming: An eclectic art lover and homegrown philosopher, his classy B&B is geared toward jaded types looking for something other than the usual Tuscan-Umbrian villa experience. The decor is sharp, modern, and minimalist, which enhances the dramatic exposed stone wall of the medieval tower. There are four double guest rooms with air-conditioning and private bathrooms, and there's a common elevated living room with huge windows and giddy views over the rooftops of Spoleto (and Wi-Fi, too). Shaw organizes regular art exhibitions and concerts here—which makes the Art House a perfect place to stay when attending Spoleto's Festival dei Due Mondi. Just be sure to book well in advance.
Closed December and January.
13 Via Watt
Tel: 39 02 8915 9244
Budget-conscious trendsetters should bookmark this striking four-star 87-room hotel in the far eastern reaches of the Navigli—an area known for its industrial canals and vivacious eating and drinking scene. At times other than fashion week and the Salone del Mobile, classic doubles can be nabbed here for as little as €69 ($90) a night, including a generous buffet breakfast. And once you've mastered the no. 2 tram or the 74 bus, it's actually not that far to the Porta Genova transport hub and the Duomo. The lobby, with its scattering of designer sofas, goes for a clean, white minimalist look, thawed out by rotating art exhibitions. Rooms are warmer, working variations on masculine browns and creams, and (given the price) surprisingly well appointed, with flat-screen TVs, crisp cotton bed linens, and complimentary Fragonard products in the bathrooms. There's no restaurant, but that's not really a problem in this neighborhood.
3 Piazza Ognissanti
Tel: 39 055 271 51
The Excelsior vies with the Grand Hotel, its neighbor across the square, for the title of Grande Dame of the Florentine accommodation scene. Rivalry has been reduced to a minimum now that both are Starwood properties, but there are still differences in character, and for our money the Excelsior has the edge in terms of old-world charm. Though certain features (such as Heavenly Beds and the Westin Workout gym) are common to the brand, the Excelsior asserts its own sense of style in the opulent antique decor of the public areas and the staff's impeccable green livery. Renovated in 1997, the 171 guest rooms are warmly elegant, and most are pretty spacious by Italian standards. Big spenders can splash out on the presidential suite, with its huge terrace overlooking the Arno. The hotel is a little out of the way (a couple of bridges east of the Ponte Vecchio), but there are plenty of decent places to eat in the vicinity. The hotel's restaurant Orun, with its light Tuscan cuisine, offers a good alternative when you've been tramping around museums all day. Note that breakfast is not generally included in the room rate, and can be pricey.