HOTELS IN ITALY
ITALY – WHY GO?
Italy's intoxicating mix of Tuscan hillsides, luscious Alpine lakes, Roman piazzas and sun-splashed Sicilian beaches are just tailor-made for romantic getaways.
This richly beautiful country seemingly has it all. Italy is one vast end-to-end art emporium, heaving with Renaissance treasures and medieval hilltop towns. Italy also has great style – whether it’s glamorous bars or hot designer labels. And Italy has some wonderfully romantic hotels, seductive B&Bs, swish villas and plush palazzos perfect for experiencing a taste of la dolce vita. Browse this site, and you’ll find some of the best.
VENICE & THE VENETO
As Truman Capote once memorably said, Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go. This impossibly rich confection of art, churches and palazzi, wrapped in a filigree of canals, is one of the world’s quintessentially romantic destinations. And there’s no better way to start your stay than sipping a frothy peach bellini on the terrace of one of Venice’s grandly romantic hotels.
Piazza San Marco is the city’s spiritual heart, and the Basilica’s mosaic-encrusted interiors twinkle like a rich jewel. Just steps away is the imposing Doge’s Palace. Galleria dell’Accademia groans with artistic masterpieces, while the Peggy Guggenheim Collection showcases striking 20th century art. Take a gondola ride or speed along the Grand Canal in a vaporetto, then shop for Venetian glassware on the islands of Murano and Burano.
Don’t ignore the charms of the Veneto on your Venetian odyssey. Padua and Vicenza are fine cities, while Treviso has its own historic charms.
ALPS & DOLOMITES
Italy’s Alps and Dolomites offer a glittering contrast to the wide open spaces and Palladian splendours of the Veneto, just a few hours south. Those who love their sun-and-snow fix make a beeline each winter for the chic ski resorts of the Dolomites and Valle d’Aosta.
Cortina d’Ampezzo – the St Tropez of the Italian Alps – draws its share of glamorous stars and big spenders, not to mention thrill-seeking heli-skiers. Early summer brings a carpet of mountain flowers.
Bolzano is crammed with historic monuments, while a short drive brings you to Merano, ringed by Tyrolean peaks. Valle d’Aosta, fringed by Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, is another outdoor lover’s nirvana, while Courmayeur boasts Europe’s highest golf course.
Swanky Portofino epitomises the Dolce Vita appeal of the chic and scenic Ligurian coast. The summertime home of Europe’s beau monde, it has been a mecca for Hollywood stars, fashionistas and the seriously rich since the 1950s. Pastel-painted houses jostle with sleek cocktail bars around the harbour.
Aristocratic Rapallo, Camogli and pretty Santa Margherita also have their charms – not to mention narrow streets a-buzz with little shops. Further down the cliffy Ligurian coast are the medieval villages of the Cinque Terre, whose colourful houses cling to impossibly steep hillsides overlooking the sea.
Make your base in the towns of Moneglia or Levanto, then hop on a boat or train to join one of the spectacular Cinque Terre walking trails linking pretty Vernazza with Monterosso, Corniglia, Manorola and Riomaggiore.
MILAN & THE ITALIAN LAKES
The Italian lakes of Garda, Como, Maggiore and Iseo can be heaven on earth. Lake Como’s jewels include Varenna, from where you can cross the lake on a steamer and Bellagio, poised just where Como’s two arms join up.
Lake Garda is another visual cracker, and the ideal summertime base for music fans visiting Verona’s famous opera festival. Its Riviera shoreline is lined with fetching resorts perfect for exploring aboard a steamer cruise. Smaller Lake Iseo’s lesser-known vine-clad shores are just as appealing.
The perfect urban launchpad for the Italian Lakes is of course Milan – Italy’s swish fashion capital. Flex your plastic in the Giorgio Armani superstore or the original Prada shop in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. For a cultural fix, buy opera tickets for La Scala or admire the Duomo and see Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper fresco.
Eat, drink and be merry – that could be the maxim of Emilia-Romagna, stretching from the Rimini coast to the cities of Bologna, Parma, Modena and Ferrara. This is the region famous for Parma ham, Parmesan cheese and tortelloni pasta. No wonder it’s nicknamed the belly of Italy.
Start your gourmet journey in the foodies’ mecca of Bologna – nicknamed La Grassa (the fat lady). Start your discoveries in the twin squares of Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno in the heart of the city, and be sure to see Le Due Torre – the old leaning towers.
The Tuscan-Emilia hills south of Bologna are just the place to get back to nature and unwind. Browse local markets, see medieval villages, go truffle-hunting in season and set off on breezy country treks in three national parks here.
FLORENCE & TUSCANY
Tuscany can’t be beaten for its wealth of art treasures and history. This really is Italy with all its bells and whistles.
Florence dazzles with its glittering Renaissance jewels. The Duomo is unmissable, soaring above the terracotta rooftops just as it did back in medieval times. Then there is Michelangelo’s David, towering as high as a double-decker bus. Palazzo Pitti houses works by Tintoretto, Botticelli and Raphael, while the crème de la crème is the Uffizi, where you could spend days gazing at works by Italy’s grand masters.
Siena is another cultural must, dominated by Tuscany’s tallest tower and another dazzling Duomo, not to mention the vast Il Campo square. A forest of towers pierces the skyline of San Gimignano, one of Tuscany’s most appealing towns. Cortona and Pienza are also a must in any grand Tuscan tour together with Lucca, whose city walls are now a tree-lined esplanade. Lucca is also just a short drive from Pisa’s famous leaning tower.
Umbria’s wealth of fabulous medieval towns, mist-cloaked hills and artistic treasures make it a charmer. Its capital Perugia is an upbeat university city with a lively evening passeggiata, some splendid frescoed churches and a foot-tapping jazz festival each summer. Gubbio is another medieval masterpiece, with views of ochre rooftops and the Apennine hills beyond.
Assisi sits proudly astride a hillside, while chic Spoleto is another Renaissance triumph. Now firmly on the cultural map thanks to its summer arts festival, the town is also becoming a showcase for Italian music, dance and theatre. Todi meanwhile has blossomed in recent years into second-home country for wealthy urbanites seeking their little piece of Umbria at weekends.
Stretching between the Adriatic and the Apennines, the Marches (Le Marche to the locals) has everything from mountain ski resorts to bronzing beaches. Much-touted as the new Tuscany, it has some jewel-box towns loaded with history and nature reserves in the stunning Monte Sibillini range.
Come in winter to ski at Sassotetta and Ussita, or bring a bikini to take your pick of golden sands in summer. As it’s barely an hour from mountain to coast, you can do both in a day. Star of the show in the Marches’ cluster of medieval towns is Urbino, bursting with medieval art treasures. The 500-year-old ducal palace built is a stunner and fine example of Renaissance opulence. Other wonderful hilltop drinks include Ascoli Piceno, whose vast marble paved piazza is the stage for costumed jousting matches in summer.
ROME & LAZIO
Rome is The Big One – a full-on banquet of classical art, churches, piazzas and sculpture. Be sure to see the Capitoline, one-time heart of the Roman empire, and the Colosseum, where mobs bayed for the blood of gladiators. Then there’s the Forum, and the Trevi Fountain – scene of Anita Ekberg’s late-night dip in La Dolce Vita.
The soaring domed ceilings of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, home to the Sistine Chapel, are an awesome sight. Piazza Navona is unmissable, while Piazza di Spagna is one of the city’s classic picture stops. And Via Condotti is the place for some serious shopping.
Rome can be a scorcher in midsummer, so there’s every excuse to head off into the surrounding Lazio countryside to Lake Bracciano or Tivoli, 40 minutes away. The fabulous gardens and fountains of Tivoli’s lavish Villa d’Este still enthral.
Life’s a beach in Sardinia. If you’re after some sea-and-sun relaxation with a liberal dash of Italian chic, you can’t beat this alluring island in the sun with its scores of pristine beaches.
Count the swanky yachts at anchor in the ultra-glam hotspots of the Costa Smeralda. You can brush past the sleek mahogany tans of Europe’s glitterati, and give your plastic a thrashing in the aptly-named Billionaire Club. Wander through Porto Cervo’s maze of alleyways or Porto Rafael’s sleepy piazzas.
Linger in white-walled Alghero, with its medieval citadel, imposing cathedral and remarkable sea caves. Down south, Cagliari has a floodlit medieval citadel above the bay and a floodlit Castello.
NAPLES AND THE AMALFI COAST
Stretching east from Positano, the Amalfi coast is Italy’s most spectacular. Gravity-defying villas gaze out from near-vertical hillsides, and you’ll need plenty of bottle to drive along the white-knuckle cliffside Amalfi Drive.
Sorrento seduces visitors with stunning views over the Bay of Naples, chocolate-box Positano draws a more arty crowd while Amalfi lies curled at Ravello’s feet. Hovering on 1,000-foot clifftop, lofty Ravello offers al fresco opera nights in an exquisite setting in its yearly summer festival. Take a boat ride out to the millionaire’s playground of Capri and see the Blue Grotto. The Isle of Ischia is similarly glam, and easily accessed from the mainland.
Naples is the region’s natural gateway. The city offers a wealth of art museums, Italianate squares and narrow lanes weaving through the centro storico. Mount Vesuvius and the relics of ancient Pompeii are both within easy reach.
Miles of grassy dunes and silver-green olive groves, burning white sugar-cube towns, intense turquoise-blue waters... that’s Puglia. Washed by the Adriatic on one side and the Ionian Sea on the other, the heel of Italy’s boot still remains remarkably untrodden.
Puglia has an abundance of interesting towns and villages. Alberobello and Locorotondo are home to entire streets of beehive-roofed Trulli homes – many now turned into chic boutique hotels.
Bari has a rambling old town, while the town of Lecce – the so-called Florence of the Baroque – has a riotously ornate central piazza and narrow lanes perfect for getting lost in. Fortified Ostuni also begs to be seen. It stands proud above rock-fringed beaches, vineyards and olive groves and its dazzling white buildings are picture-worthy at every turn.
SICILY AND THE AEOLIAN ISLANDS
Lush and mountainous Sicily, the Med’s largest island, boasts some of the finest monuments of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. With its frisson of underworld Mafioso, great beaches and smoke-wreathed Mount Etna, it's not surprisingly one of the decade’s hottest destinations.
Sicily’s ancient ruins, mosaics and temples are rivalled only by those of Rome itself. Agrigento is home to Valley of the Temples, one of the wonders of the ancient world. You can also relive ancient history in elegant Syracuse with a ringside seat at the city’s Greek theatre, or in the hillside resort of Taormina.
Sicily’s capital Palermo has an altogether different appeal. Take to a horse and buggy for a clip-clopping ride through the backstreets – a tapestry of statues, markets, fountains and washing hung out to dry.
If Sicily is the place to sightsee, the neighbouring Aeolian Islands are the place to play. This necklace of tiny volcanic isles attracts a hip young crowd keen on sea, sand and sun. Panarea is the chic see-and-be-seen party island, with the coolest hotels most vibrant nightlife. Laidback Salina is a place to chill, Vulcano has its open-air mudbaths, while volcanic Stromboli offers a nightly free firework show, when molten lava shoots up into the sky.