Five of the most unique places to stay in Italy – words Lee Taylor
I’ve stayed in so many hotels over the years through editing Flux Magazine and on holiday myself. Most perform their function, somewhere to sleep and store your luggage as you travel. Then you immediately forget about them.
Some hotels though are different. They stand out. They have something unique about them that pins them down in your head.
Sometimes this is for all the worst reason of course but let’s forget about them for now. I’m thinking of the exceptional hotels, that stand out for all the right reasons. The ones that go that extra mile to serve or have a location to die for. I’ve probable stayed in more hotels in Italy than any other country. Most have now been erased from my mind but some exceptional ones are like beautiful memories and get better with age. These are hotels that lure you back. I want to give a shout out to the best – so here are my five most unique places to stay in Italy.
Royal Continental Naples
Smack bang in the centre of the bay of Naples the Royal Continental sits in a special place. Facing the imposing Castel dell’Ovo and with Mount Vesuvius smouldering in the background sipping a drink as you sit on your own private terrace is a must if you visit Naples.
The service is relaxed and courteous as they guide you to your room. The more expensive suites are worth the extra money as the space and terraces are truly sublime. Our suite was stylish with lots of wood and space.
The uniquely shaped rooftop pool is a great thing to behold too. Designed by Gio Ponti in 1954. The seawater pool is more like shaped like an oyster shell and has a character and joie de vivre all of its own.
“I hate rectangular pools. Are lakes and rivers rectangular?” – Gio Ponti
This place has long been seen as a must visit hotel by the international jet set going back to the late nineteenth century including figures such as Oscar Wilde. This unique hotel was rebuilt and redesigned in 1954 in a quintessentially modern style on the original footprint of its earlier incarnation. You can get a boat to Capri, Ischia and even the Amalfi Coast and make it back in time for pizza. Vesuvius itself is on your doorstep as is Pompeii and Herculaneum. It’s an experience that will live on in your memory.
For more information go to www.royalgroup.it/royalcontinental
Monastero Di San Girolamo, San Gimignano
San Gimignano stands on a hill overlooking the rolling Tuscan landscape it’s many towers rising incongruously like mini medieval skyscrapers. It’s a stunning and evocative place to visit. and one of the most beautiful places in Italy. There are many expensive and opulent places to hole up but this one is truly different. It makes for a memorable stay.
You can sleep in one of the monk’s cells in this monastery on the edge of town. It’s an incredible place to stay. We arrived later in the day and had to knock on a massive oak door. After a long while it creaked open and a nun ushered us in.
We were then led through ancient hallways to our room. They are tastefully but simply furnished but many now have private bathrooms. You can choose one that overlooks the verdant countryside or one that face into the internal gardens. You might be sharing breakfast with a monk or two. This is the charm of this place. This has to be one of the best places to stay in Italy on a budget. The atmosphere at night when all the tourists have been locked out is simple breath-taking.
For more information go to www.monasterosangirolamo.it
Verdura Resort, Sicily
If you are after the height of luxury for your holiday experience then this might be the place. Verdura Resort is the real deal. Set in its 230 hectares with two kilometres of its own private Mediterranean coastline this is as exclusive as it gets.
Everything sings luxury. Within the extensive grounds you’ll find a 60-metre infinity pool, six clay tennis courts, a world-class spa, four restaurants, five bars and much more. If you like to swing then there even three Kyle Phillips golfs courses.
The private suites here are stunning. It’s all slick stone and glass with some having wide terraces looking towards the sea. It’s all very minimalist and very current but fantastically done. Some of the food served here is truly sublime. Yes, it might cost a pretty penny but as a base to explore the glories of southern Sicily this is an extraordinary place. The UNESCO archaeological sites nearby are some of the best in Italy. If you’re feeling really James Bond you can arrive by Helicopter and land on its own resort helipad. That’s the way to arrive.
For more information go to www.roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/verdura-resort
Castello Aragonese – Il Monastero hotel, Ischia
The Island of Ischia just of the bay of Naples really is a joy to behold. With its sandy beaches and hot springs, it makes a great holiday destination and one the must see places in Italy. Basically, a dormant volcano the main tourist draw is the Castello Aragonese that juts dramatically across on its own island across from the main town. What is really special though is that part of the castle has been turned into a small but perfectly formed hotel. We got the chance to stay there and we were not disappointed.
Walking across the raised narrow causeway with the castle rising above us was quite a site. You have to go up life inside the bowel of the rock itself and you arrive at the hotel which is at a dizzying height with seabird flying below you.
We stayed in the Suite l’Altana which the only one available and the most expensive and spacious. It was truly breath taking with 2 larger terraces overlong the island and bay. It was a tastefully furnished suite with acres of space and 2 bedrooms. The restaurant has its own terrace and you can see the world stretched out below you as you eat. A truly memorable stay in a unique hotel.
For more information go to www.albergoilmonastero.it
Hotel de Russie – The Secret Garden in the heart of Rome
This icon of the Rocco Forte hotel group is situated in the heart of Rome (one of the best cities to stay in Italy) between the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo. The approach to the luxury 5 star residence is along the Via del Bambuino – a paradise of high end boutiques, antique stores and art galleries.
You could almost hear the fanfare as we stroll into the glorious ‘Secret Garden’. A multi-tiered affair that cascades down towards you and takes your breath away at first sight complete with palm trees, water features galore and even a grotto straight out of a fairy-tale.
The rooms are suitably sumptuous with plenty of space for you to enjoy. Again they use muted lighting and soft colours which makes for a contemporary relaxed ambience. We were given a generous and comfortable suite that overlooked the tiered garden.
Understandably everything about the hotel revolves around the central gardens. This is a built up area of Rome and to have such a paradise to escape from the summer heat is unique. The hotel building itself is wrapped around the gardens and so many rooms get their own view of this so rare of green spaces. The garden hosts the hotel’s restaurant, Le Jardin de Russie. It is also houses the Stravinskij Bar in the spring and summer where you can have a quiet drink or catch DJ sets at weekends.
A century ago the hotel was loved by modernist artists and poets and keeps that link with Mapplethorpe photography adorning its walls, although nowadays you’re more likely to spot one Hollywood’s finest hiding out amongst the palms.
We ate out in the evening and arrived back at the hotel with the kids armed with some of Rome’s finest ice-cream.
For more information go to Hotel de Russie
Five of the most unique places to stay in Italy – words Lee Taylor