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Top 10: Italian hideaways

Each of Italy's regions has something different to offer, so pick a hotel or villa that promises an authentic experience.
Le Grotte della Civita, Matera, Basilicata Photo by Mario di Paolo
Le Grotte della Civita, Matera, Basilicata Photo by Mario di Paolo

Each of Italy's regions has something different to offer, so pick a hotel or villa that promises an authentic experience.

1. San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge, Alto Adige

Italy's scenic northern ski areas are a great place to visit year-round, with hiking in summer and skiing in winter, and fewer crowds than central and southern Italy. San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge, a wooden chalet in the Dolomites, has magnificent views across a deep valley. There's a whirlpool in the garden to cool off in after a long day's walking. The lodge is run by two ex-fashionistas from Rome, so the interior is rustic but stylish and comfortable in a homely, well-upholstered way. It's a great place to book with friends and family for a special celebration (it sleeps up to 10 in three double rooms and one bedroom furnished with bunks). For short stays (minimum stay in summer is three nights) dinner is provided every night, cooked by the owners.

San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge (www.sanlorenzomountainlodge.com; 00 39 0474 40 4042) costs from €2,400 (Dh11,020) per night for exclusive hire, including taxes and some meals; minimum stays apply

2. Le Grotte della Civita, Matera, Basilicata

Matera, in the southern province of Basilicata, is one of Italy's most beautiful and underrated cities, with labyrinthine medieval streets and ancient cave dwellings that overlook a deep ravine. This 18-room hotel opened two years ago in partnership with the local authorities to preserve the character of the caves. Rather than being set in one building, the rooms are spread across several - it's called albergo diffuso ("diffused hotel"). The look is one of spare, religious minimalism, with simple wooden furniture, beds covered in plain linen, white candles and basins and baths fashioned from old animal troughs. There are no televisions, telephones or other gadgets. The luxury of staying in these beautiful stone spaces is the simplicity and silence they offer, and their humbling sense of history.

Doubles at Le Grotte della Civita (www.legrottedellacivita.com, 00 39 835 332 744) cost from €110 (Dh501) per night, excluding breakfast

3. The Excelsior Vittoria, Sorrento

The great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso used to holiday at this hotel and, more than a century later, you can still see why. Italy's oldest family-owned hotel (run by the Fiorentinos since it opened in 1834) offers 21st-century comforts without losing sight of its 19th-century heritage. The hotel is in the heart of Sorrento, one of the most popular towns on the Bay of Naples, and looks straight out to sea and across to Vesuvius. It has gardens filled with citrus trees and a big pool. The large, elegant salons are like a set from an Edwardian costume drama. Barbra Streisand and Pierce Brosnan have been recent guests in the top suites, but even the standard sea-view rooms in its newer wings won't disappoint. There is excellent fine dining in the restaurant, or fill up on pizzas in the poolside restaurant - they are out of this world.

Double rooms at the Excelsior Vittoria (www.exvitt.it; 00 39 081 877 7111) cost from €299 (Dh1,362) per night

4. Palazzo Margherita, Bernalda, Basilicata

Seven years ago, the Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola bought a decaying palace in the small town of Bernalda, in the little-visited Basilicata. More than a century ago, his grandfather Agostino emigrated from Bernalda to the US, never to return. Coppola has restored the building to re-establish a family home, which is also open to guests. There are nine suites, some with frescoes or terraces overlooking perfumed gardens. The look, which has a North African touch, was a collaboration with the interior decorator Jacques Granges, who designed Yves Saint Laurent's house in Marrakech. A brick-vaulted kitchen serves local dishes. The empty beaches of the Ionian coast are a 15-minute drive away.

Double rooms at Palazzo Margherita (www.palazzomargherita.com; 00 39 0835 54 9060) cost from €500 (Dh2,278) per night, including a complimentary cookery lesson

5. Grand Hotel Timeo, Taormina, Sicily

First things first: the view. Few vistas equal the one you get from the Timeo's Literary Terrace. There's the Bay of Naxos, the twinkling lights of Taormina, gardens of olive, magnolia and cypress trees, and Mount Etna, an active volcano. Turn around and the walls of Taormina's ancient Graeco-Roman amphitheatre rise behind you. The Timeo opened in 1873, when the town attracted Europe's literary and aristocratic set. It has hosted everyone from D H Lawrence and Winston Churchill to Robert de Niro. The Italian travel specialist Orient-Express took over the hotel two years ago, and tired rooms were brightened up without losing their elegance. Film buffs will adore the villages of Savoca and Forza D'Agro, where The Godfather was shot. Hire a cute Fiat 500 through the hotel and try a self-guided tour.

Double rooms at the Grand Hotel Timeo (www.grandhoteltimeo.com; 00 39 0942 627 0200) cost from €696 (Dh3,224) per night

6. Il Salviatino, Florence

This magnificent Renaissance palace is in the hills near Fiesole, with panoramic views over Florence and the great dome of Brunelleschi's cathedral. It opened two years ago, with a style of service inspired by the best Asian hotels (all guests have their own butler). Inside, the hotel's cavernous wood and stone interiors give it an understated, almost monastic feel, but there's no compromise on luxury. Attention to detail is noticeable: top-quality silk, wool and linen furnishings, Bose speakers embedded in the ceilings, sunken baths and a generous array of beautiful toiletries. There's a spa, pool, terrace bar, a fine restaurant serving Tuscan food and a cookery school. The city centre is 15 minutes away by shuttle bus, but in the warm months you'll be relieved you can escape back to these cool, quiet hills and drink in the view from the formal gardens.

Double rooms at Il Salviatino (www.salviatino.com, 00 39 055 904 1111) cost from €555 (Dh2,528) per night

7. Castello di Casole, Tuscany

This renovated castle, dating back to the 10th century, is part of a 1,700-hectare estate - one of Italy's largest privately owned landholdings. During the 1960s, it was home to Italy's greatest filmmaker, Luchino Visconti, who threw lavish, star-studded parties there. Today it has 41 suites and nine private villas. There's lots to do: a game reserve where you can hunt wild boar in season, vineyards, a spa inspired by a Roman bath house, a pool, two restaurants, the elegant Visconti bar and gardens where you can take yoga or Pilates classes. An old amphitheatre hosts concerts in the summer. Interiors are well appointed, but the use of stone, wood and shades of amber and terracotta maintain a sense of connection to the castle's history. Florence, Siena and San Gimignano are within reach.

Double rooms at Castello di Casole (www.castellodicasole.com, 00 39 0577 967511) cost from €630 (Dh2,870) per night

8. Armani Hotel, Milan

Armani's latest hotel in Italy's fashion capital encapsulates the master designer's restrained good taste. The 95 rooms are decorated in taupe, cream and beige, with top-notch furniture and fittings that have a hint of art deco styling (we love the taps in the bathrooms). Warm, discreet lighting ensures a calm, serene feel to the interiors. There's a gym, pool, a spa using Armani products, and a chic restaurant and bar with views of Milan's rooftops - including its magnificent Gothic cathedral. The experience is formal and grown up, as you'd expect from Armani, so the hotel is more suited to couples and business travellers than families looking to kick back and relax. It's centrally located, just a 10-minute walk from the cathedral and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milan's beautiful 19th-century, glazed shopping arcade.

Double rooms at the Armani Hotel Milano (www.armanihotels.com, 00 39 (0) 2 8883 8888) cost from €605 (Dh2,778), excluding breakfast

9. Masseria Coccaro, Puglia

Masserias are old fortified farmhouses found in Puglia, a poor, sun-parched region famous for its fields of gnarled olive trees, strange conical trulli dwellings and clean beaches. Crunch up the white gravel drive at Coccaro and you'll enter a romantic limestone courtyard bordered by pretty wild flowers. There are 39 whitewashed rooms, plenty of nooks and crannies where you can relax in the sun and a top-notch restaurant specialising in hearty Puglian food. Guests can share facilities with its sleeker sister hotel, Maizza, which is a five-minute walk past some stables and through an olive grove. The beach is a scenic cycle ride away, or try a round of golf on a course that has been designed around the estate's numerous olive trees, many of which are 500 years old. Coccaro offers a sympathetic restoration of a traditional property where you can experience the rustic, rural charm of Puglia without having to forgo any comforts.

Double rooms at Masseria Torre Coccaro (www.masseriatorrecoccaro.com, 00 39 80482 9310) cost from €422 (Dh1,922) per night

10. Monteverdi, Tuscany

A few years ago, Castiglioncello del Trinoro, a small hamlet between Florence and Rome, was an abandoned village. Michael Cioffi, an American lawyer and frequent visitor to Tuscany, saw it, fell in love with it, bought the whole place and began restoring it. There are three villas to rent, or you can stay in the chic seven-room hotel. The interiors have been designed by Ilaria Miani, who is known for her understated style that uses local artisans and natural materials. The head chef Paolo Coluccio and his team can prepare Tuscan meals in your villas, or informal snacks and meals at the village cafe (a restaurant will open next year). You can also observe an archaeological dig taking place in the village, which is rich in Etruscan antiquities.

Double rooms cost at Monteverdi (www.monteverdituscany.com; 00 39 0578 268 146) from €250 (Dh1,139) per night. A villa for four costs from €4,000 (Dh18,221) per week, including breakfast, laundry and housekeeping


Updated: August 31, 2012 04:00 AM



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