Three Italian Villages Where You Can Buy a House for Less Than A Cup of Coffee

Gangi, Sicily

The Daily Mail reports on three depopulated Italian towns — Gangi (Sicily), Carrega Ligure (Piedmont), and Lecce nei Marsi (Abruzzo) — that are offering real estate for about €1 down…plus a commitment of €25,000 in renovations and upkeep.

They are set in villages which are just a hairs-breadth away from becoming one of Italy’s fabled ‘ghost towns’ – places where natural disaster, lack of jobs and even pirates have driven locals from their homes in search of a better life.

Source: Buy a house in the gorgeous Italian countryside for just £1: Village homes being ‘given away’ to stop blight of ghost towns (but you’ll need to promise £18,000 to do them up) | Daily Mail Online

Best Places to Stay on a Roman Holiday

Mood 44 - Hotel in Rome

I recently wrote about some of the best hotels in Rome for travelchannel.com. There really are so many more places I could have included. So stay tuned here for more suggestions.

Where to Stay on a Roman Holiday

Veneto Spa Hotel Has the World’s Deepest Thermal Pool

Diver in y-40 pool

About half an hour by train from Venice and even closer to Padua is Hotel Millepini Terme, a spa hotel that has the Guinness World Record for the world’s deepest thermal pool. The Y-40 The Deep Joy is 137-feet deep (40 meters) at its deepest, with four underwater grottos along the way. There’s a viewing tunnel at about the 5-meter mark. Fed by the warm waters of the Terme Euganee, one of the most popular thermal spa complexes in Italy, the Y-40 maintains a constant temperature of 30-32 degrees Celsius (about 90 degrees Fahrenheit).

Illustration of the Y-40

The Y-40 was designed for free-divers and scuba enthusiasts, who can book time at the concept pool separate from staying at the hotel. But pro divers and amateurs can stay at the hotel and take advantage of several dive and relax packages, including ones for families and beginners.

H/t Laughing Squid; Photos: Hotel Terme Millepini

See the Shirt John Paul II Wore On Day He Was Shot

Visitors to a small convent in Rome’s Prati neighborhood can now have a look at Rome’s newest relic – the blood-stained shirt that Pope John Paul II was wearing on the day Mehmet Ali Agca attempted to assassinate him in St. Peter’s Square in 1981. The relic is housed in the convent of the Figlie delle Carità di S. Vincenzo de Paoli, Via Ezio 28, near the Lepanto Metro stop. RomeReports.com offers the full story of the relic and how it came to reside in the convent.

If you want to make sure you don’t miss this relic on your next visit to Rome, the Figlie della Carità offer rooms for budget travelers who don’t mind staying at a place with a curfew. According to Santa Susanna, the American Catholic church in Rome, room rates at the sisters’ Casa Maria Immacolata start at €40 single/€75 double and include breakfast. Curfew is at 11pm.

My September 11th in Florence

Every year, as we approach the anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, I think back to what I was doing that day. In fact, I was in Florence. So this year I thought I would share my recollections of the event from the perspective of a tourist in Italy. This may not be all that interesting to you, but I felt it important to get it down on paper/screen before I forget.

The thing that I remember most about 9-11 was that it was a beautiful fall day in Florence. I was in Italy to do research for The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy, but was spending a good chunk of my time in Florence, staying in a different hotel almost every night and day-tripping to other towns. That Tuesday morning, I woke up early at the suburban hotel I had tested out for the evening, re-packed my bags, and hopped on a bus north to Florence, where I checked in at the Hotel Botticelli, a nice boutique hotel near the San Lorenzo Market (Mercato Centrale). I left my luggage in my room and went out to explore some more of Florence before I picked up my sister, a photographer, at the airport later that day.

I recall doing a number of hotel and B&B inspections that day, as well as some shopping and touring around the San Lorenzo district. It was a carefree day – remember, the time difference was six hours. I bought some boots and this corduroy number that seemed pretty chic at the time. I ate gelato. I strolled over to the Duomo, snapped photos, dodged motorini, and just enjoyed the sunny cool breezes and other autumnal goings on the city. There were certainly many tourists in Florence in mid-September, but fewer than I had spotted a year before during the summer. Life was good.

At about 2pm, I hopped in a cab and headed to Peretola Airport, where I was to pick up my sister when her flight arrived at 3pm (approximately 9am New York time). I hung out in the terminal, had an espresso. Her flight arrived about 15 minutes late. We hugged each other and proceeded to get in another cab to head back to Hotel Botticelli.

On the taxi ride back, the driver kept fiddling with the radio. We were hearing bits and pieces of English coming out of the radio…”World Trade Center”…”terrorism”…but couldn’t tell what was going on. The driver was obviously trying to find a station that wasn’t broadcasting the news, which was being translated simultaneously, thereby allowing bits of English to come through. My sister asked me what was going on in the news as she had been on a flight for hours and felt out of touch.

“Oh…I don’t know,” I said. “Last night I was watching the Miss Italia contest. Then there was something about the head of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan being assassinated. I don’t really know who that is but it was a big headline in the news over here.”

“Well, it sounds like something is going on at the World Trade Center in New York,” she said.

“Oh…I think that they’re just playing back the broadcast from when it was bombed in ’93. I think that Sheik’s trial is coming up or something.”

“No,” my sister said. “I think there’s something going on right now at the World Trade Center.”

By the time we thought to listen to the radio more diligently, we were already at our hotel. The driver, wiping sweat off his brow, eagerly helped us with our bags, took our money, and sped away.

As we entered the hotel, everyone was standing around the television in the lobby. The manager said to us, “I am so sorry. One of your towers is about to fall.” We didn’t understand what he meant until we watched the TV for ourselves. Sure enough the first tower did fall. After gawking silently for a good half-hour with the rest of the hotel’s clientele and nearby shopkeepers, we headed up to our room, plopped down on the bed, and turned on the TV, unable to move for hours.

But, we had to go to dinner eventually. Bleary-eyed from watching hours of the same footage and the new scroll ticker on CNN International, we slowly made our way out of the hotel to look for food. We ended up at Trattoria ZáZá, a congenial spot just steps from the hotel that specialized in Florentine and Tuscan home cooking. I remember I had the pappa al pomodoro (bread and tomato soup). ZáZá was the perfect speed for us that night – mostly heavy on other tourists, but extremely friendly. Our minds were focused on the food and service for a brief moment in time. Then we had to walk back to our hotel, where we watched another couple hours of TV before passing out into an uneasy (and, for my sister, jet-lagged) sleep.

La Nazione Headline on September 13, 2001
La Nazione Headline on September 13, 2001, the night after the candlelight vigil in Piazza della Signoria

The next morning, we scrambled to the newsstand to see if we could get an English-language newspaper. There was one USA Today left and we devoured it from cover to cover as we sipped cappuccinos at some unknown caffè. We became popular with other tourists, too, who wanted to borrow our paper or just chat with us about the day before’s catastrophic events.

I felt a definite camaraderie with my fellow Americans on September 12. In addition to feeling dumbstruck, all of us also felt a little guilty for being away from the U.S. and for being on vacation. We felt guilty about proceeding to go on our tours. And most of all, we were frustrated that we were unable to reach loved ones. Phone lines were clogged and it was almost impossible to get a terminal at an internet café.

The Italian people were incredibly gracious and warm on September 12, too. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. But it did my heart some good to see signs posted in English on the storefronts along the Ponte Vecchio that read, “We stand with our American brothers and sisters.” There was an incredible outpouring of sympathy from everyone we met, even though nothing had actually happened to us personally. Although I was far away from home, I felt comfort being in Italy. (I don’t think many American travelers realize it, but Italians and Americans have a special bond. It’s rare when I meet an Italian who doesn’t have a brother or a cousin living in the States.)

My sister and I spent September 12 getting on with our travels of Florence. To take our minds off of things, we hiked up to the beautiful church of San Miniato al Monte, where there is a spectacular view of the Duomo and the rooftops of Florence.

That evening, a candlelight vigil in Piazza della Signoria drew thousands. I can’t remember much of the service other than that the head of the Jewish community in Florence spoke. Some woman from the English community sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” It seemed as if the whole city was in mourning that night and were gathering around travelers and expats for support.

Romantic Hotels in Tuscany

Tuscany is, without doubt, one of the foremost locations in the world for your honeymoon. Whether you wish to visit the tiny, romantic, hilltop villages or simply watch the olive groves and cypress trees gently sway in the wind, Tuscany offers some of the most romantic hotels that you are likely to come across and allows you the opportunity to enjoy a perfect honeymoon. Here are a few romantic hotels in Tuscany available for booking from Escapio.com by guest blogger Holly Maguire.

Monsignore della Casa Country Resort Tuscany Hotel
Monsignore della Casa Country Resort
, situated in Borgo San Lorenzo, is a four-star country house hotel with breathtaking views of the Mugello. Within 5 km of the resort are a variety of bars/pubs, discotheques, restaurants, cinemas, and shopping opportunities. The extensive grounds of the hotel offer fabulous gardens, a pool and spa area inviting to relaxation. This is ideal for couples happy to spend their honeymoon without lifting a limb, as every necessity and modest luxury is available on the hotel grounds. The hotel was named after Giovanni Della Casa, best known as the official secretary of Pope Paul IV. (Melanie: nothing says romance like the Pope’s personal secretary!)

UNA Palazzo Mannaioni Tuscany Hotel
UNA Palazzo Mannaioni
, located in Montaione, is an enchanting castle hotel with a distinct historic character encompassing 400 years of romance and history. Montaione has forged a reputation as one of the most spellbinding areas of Tuscany. It is also home to the much celebrated Montaione Castle. The original building was constructed in the year 1500, and over the years the hotel has undergone many renovations, most recently in 2006. The local area sings with vineyards, olive groves, oak and lemon trees – perfect for hand-in-hand strolls, or even one of Tuscany’s many bicycle tours. You can also take advantage of the many in-house facilities that this sublime hotel has to offer. The De’ Mannaioni restaurant in the old mill will cater to candelit dinners after days sunbathing and sipping exotic cocktails by the outdoor pool.

San Biagio Relais Tuscany Hotel
San Biagio Relais
is an old patrician mansion which was converted into an intimate 41 room hotel in 2006. Situated in Orbetello, the hotel’s muted modern décor inside historic walls guarantees a unique experience, and this may well be the perfect place for star-crossed lovers to retreat. Take in the spectacular views of the Monte Argentario mountains from the stylish rooms and savor breakfast and outstanding cuisine in the Ristorante Wine Bar. Rooms offer large comfortable bed, stylish furniture, and wonderfully crafted historic arched ceilings. While romantic couples will find everything they need in the hotel, they can also enjoy the Orbetello peninsula, which has a lively nightlife district full of bars and restaurants.

Mediterranea Hotel Tuscany
Mediterranea Luxury House
is a small bed and breakfast offering four star luxury in a beautiful, romantic setting in Quercianella. Quercianella, known for its macchia – the evergreen Mediterranean vegetation enveloping the landscape – is a nature lover’s paradise and is just a stone’s throw from the sea. Mediterranea Luxury House is a private retreat which affords stunning views and personal service. This exquisite bed and breakfast serves up local hams, cheeses and home-grown tomatoes as part of the renowned morning fare. Owners Roberto and Vania will ensure your stay at this white villa is a memorable one, and can help you with recommendations for nearby activities including mountain climbing, sailing, surfing, and fishing.

Villa Campestri Hotel Tuscany
Villa Campestri
,  a 13th century country home, is set in the awe-inspiring natural surroundings of the village of Campestri, not far from the magic of Florence. Villa Campestri pampers honeymooners with homegrown fruits, vegetables, and finely tuned cuisine; enjoy regional specialties and vegetarian options accompanied by a glass or two of the local Oleoteca wine. From the outdoor pool, couples can enjoy views of vineyards, olive trees, forests, and meadows stretching out to the horizon. In addition to the attractions of Florence, the Medici fortress at San Piero a Sieve is a great day trip from here. This beautiful hotel offers high-flyers a helipad should they wish to arrive in style and horse-drawn coach rides are an opportunity to lap up romance and style with a timeless touch.

Contributed by Holly at Escapio.com. These are just a selection of the luxury, design and boutique Tuscany hotels available for booking. All photos courtesy of Escapio.

Five Favorites: Reasons to Rent a Villa in Italy

Rent a Villa in Italy
Have you ever wanted to rent a villa in Italy but didn’t know where to start? Or, are you having trouble being convinced of the value and/or utility of renting a villa over booking a hotel? This excellent guest post, from Linda Dini Jenkins, author of Up At the Villa: Travels With My Husband, provides five great reasons how renting a villa can work with your travel lifestyle and budget. And, if Linda’s five reasons don’t spur you to action, her fun photography, featured throughout this post, should have you wanting to research Italian villas right away.

Are you ready to start planning your Italy villa vacation? Let’s get started!

Five Favorites: Reasons to Rent a Villa in Italy
Door Knocker - Rent a Villa in ItalyThere’s nothing I like better than gathering up six of my friends and my husband and heading off to Italy for a villa vacation. The first time I did this, I was a villa newbie and didn’t know what to expect. But since that first world-changing trip in June of 2000, I’ve gone almost every year and the experience just gets richer and richer.

Most villa rentals are offered for a week at a time, with a Saturday afternoon arrival and a departure the following Saturday morning. But check around — I know some offer more flexibility, with shorter stay options; it’s up to the owner and/or rental company. But why, with all the affordable hostels (if you’re young) and wide range of hotels (if you’re older, like me) would I opt to stay in a stranger’s home for a week or two? Let me count the ways . . .

Hand Doorknocker1. Unpack once. Maybe twice.
Packing and unpacking are not the highlights of anyone’s holiday. So even if you’re visiting two regions over a two-week period (one year, for instance, we stayed one week on the Italian Riviera in Pieve Ligure and one week outside of Rome, in Frascati) you can stay put for a week at a time and only have to re-pack once. That means you can focus your attention on the village or city you’re staying in, and not whether your underwear is dry enough to put into the bag today.

2. Live like a native.
You start to feel like this is your home. You relax a little, maybe get to know some townspeople or at least the keyholder or caretaker. You can practice your Italian. Frequent the local trattorias and caffés. Haggle with the natives over the gorgonzola or a colorful scarf at the weekly mercato. Take a rest in the afternoon. Stroll through the piazza, arm-in-arm, after dinner with the villagers. You can even do laundry in most villas (washing machine are common; dryers are a luxury, but your clothes will smell amazingly fresh from drying outside in the sun all day). Renting a villa lets you enjoy an authentic Italian experience away from the touristy fast lane that hotel living usually implies.

3. Eat like a local.
If you’re like me, trying out different restaurants on holiday is half the fun. I love exploring the side streets and finding out where the Italians eat with their families. And I also love going all-out once or twice during my stay and eating in a place that I’ve read or heard about. But during the course of a week or two, this can get expensive. What I really like is meandering down to my very own kitchen in my bathrobe in the morning and putting on a pot of espresso, then opening the bag of cornetti and letting the aromas wake everybody up. A little Italian yogurt (it’s so creamy over there!) and some fruit is all you need at the table to help everybody wake up and plan the day. No “I’ve got to get out of the room so they can clean” or “Where can we all go to get a cup of coffee this morning? (and will we all have to stand up?)”. It’s your house. Get started when you want to. And be sure to buy some food at the local supermercato and try cooking dinner once in a while. And eat it al fresco on the patio that no doubt comes with the villa. Watch the scenery go by as you sip a glass of local wine that’s still so cheap you can’t believe it, and mamma mia — you’ll wonder why you waited so long to do this!

Dining Room - Rent a Villa in Italy4. Gather together.
This one’s easy: you’re traveling in a group and you want some quality time together in addition to seeing the sites. Where the heck do you do that in a hotel? The lobby? Usually, too small or impersonal. The bar? Only for so long and only at certain times of the day. In a villa, you’re home. There are living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, sitting rooms, bedrooms . . . you can hang out anywhere. Take a walk through the piazza. Lounge in the garden or poolside, if there’s a pool. The kind of stress you sometimes feel in a hotel vacation just isn’t here. A villa is your home away from home. Relax and talk to one another. Tell stories. Write in your journal. Take photos. Plan for tomorrow. Somehow, it’s different in a villa. You’re in control of your time and itinerary.

Door Knocker - Rent a Villa in Italy5. Save money.
While this is the factor that gets most people to try villa vacations, experienced villa renters realize that, although price is very attractive vs. hotel stays, the other four “reasons why” are really much more important. That said, imagine if you wanted to go to Florence or Rome for a week with another couple, and each couple wants its own room. Reasonable hotels start at around $150 and go to more than $500 per night for two people (much more, of course, if money is no object). Say you found something for $200 per room . . . that’s $2800 for two rooms for one week. And all you’ve got is a room. You have to buy all your meals out (you might get a little breakfast, if you’re lucky). And every time you go in and out of your room, you’ve got to turn in your key, then get it back, etc. etc. It can be a pain. Now, if you were renting a villa, you and that couple plus one or two other couples could stay in a well-appointed country home or updated city apartment (maybe even historic) for that amount and divide it three of four ways. So instead of $1400 per week per couple, you could be down to $700. And you’ve got all the advantages laid out above.

Finding the right villa takes some time, admittedly. You need to figure out the number of bedrooms and bathrooms required, the location, whether you’ll be driving or relying on public transportation, how much you’ll cook, to pool or not to pool . . . but that’s part of the fun of planning. You can spend as little as a few hundred dollars a week for a cozy place for two or tens of thousands of dollars for a grand historic palazzo in the country for a wedding or family reunion. For me, it’s the only way to go! Buon viaggio!

Linda Dini Jenkins is a unabashed Italophile and the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband, which was named one of the “Ten Travel Books I’d Give My Girlfriends” in 2009 by Journeywoman.com. Linda is also strangely attracted to Italian doorknockers. She blogs about travel and travel writing at www.travelthewriteway.com.

All photos © Linda Dini Jenkins

Renting an Apartment in Italy

italykeyIf you’re going to Italy for longer than a week, you may want to consider renting an apartment. An apartment rental allows you to come and go as you wish without the feeling of being a tourist. You can make your own meals (or eat them at the local cafe or trattoria) and establish a home base – perfect if, say, you want to base your entire trip in Rome and take just a few day trips.

Sure, you may not have a hotel pool, room service, or an elevator at your disposal if you rent an apartment. But you do get a better sense of the daily goings-on of your chosen city. Apartment rentals are also ideal for traveling families; you have to worry a little bit less if your tots are running amok.

You can find many Italy apartment rentals by searching in Google. Slow Travel – Italy has a number of them. But I am particularly impressed by Halldis, a holiday rental company with properties in 13 Italian cities and several other European destinations like London and Paris. The current roster of apartment locations include Bari, Genoa, Catania, Lake Como, Bologna, Milan, Venice, Rome, and Florence, to name a few. They haven’t even BEGUN to make inroads into the Tuscany market, so I’m sure that Halldis’ list of properties will continue to grow.

Just for the record, I have no affiliation with Halldis at all. I came across their website while researching apartment ideas for a friend. For a little taste of Halldis before you click over to book your apartment, have a look at this video.

Photo by Kuw_Son

Hotel Award: Best Culinary Experience

Virtuoso Life, a magazine tailored to luxury living and travel, has just released the winners of its Best of the Best Awards for 2009. Not surprisingly, the worldwide winner for the best culinary experience was in Italy.

Rosellinis, a 2-star Michelin restaurant in the Palazzo Sasso hotel in Ravello, received the top prize for a hotel restaurant among 800 properties surveyed. I took a look at the restaurant online and found these items on the  sample tasting menu: Giant squid ravioli filled with crab & courgettes, creamed potatoes sauce and ricotta dumpling; Cod fillet crusted with Gaetas black olives, Sorrento beef tomatoes and anchovies sauce; and Lamb filet wrapped in rose crust & rose liquor with white asparagus tip, mirror potatoes and anchovies sun dried tomatoes sauce. YUM!

I’ve no doubt these dishes are lovingly prepared with the best ingredients. Rosellinis and its star chef Pino Lavarra have earned 2 stars from Michelin, too – not an easy feat. Then again, this award is for the best culinary “experience” so I’m guessing the setting – in a palace on the Amalfi Coast, with terraces “looking down on the fishing boats 1,000 feet below” – had a lot to do with the decision.

Either way, if you’re interested in dining at Rosellinis, book far in advance. Also note that the restaurant is closed from November through March.

Click here for more information about the Virtuoso Best of the Best Awards.

Photo from the Palazzo Sasso website

Venice for a Penny

I’d hate to be the employee who made this error:

The Crowne Plaza of Venice will be honoring a rate of 1-cent-per-night after mistakenly posting the rate on its website. According to BBC News, approximately 230 guests booked the hotel after seeing the unbelievable rate. The usual rate for the hotel, located about 10 miles outside the city, is €150.

Photo by Sicilian Italiano

Italian Fashion Designers and Their Hotels

Castiglion del Bosco

Fashion designers have known for a long time that it’s good to diversify. Not only have Italian fashion houses like Armani, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana ventured beyond clothing to include perfume, accessories, and restaurants among their branded items, they’ve also gone into the business of designing and/or maintaining luxury hotels and suites. This weekend, in the wake of the end of Milan Fashion Week, Sophy Roberts profiles Ferragamo’s Tuscan Estate Castiglion del Bosco for the Financial Times. As the writer points out, discussing this vast estate in today’s economic climate seems “absurd.”

The numbers involved in the project – by spring 2010 it will include 20 villas, 26 “hotel” suites, a Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course, spa, two restaurants, winery and stud – are clearly not for the credit-crunched. Nor are the sums easily accessible: Castiglion del Bosco has been set up as a membership club where fees are confidential. One source recently estimated it to be 120 memberships at €2m each.

Nevertheless, Castiglion del Bosco does allow non-members (“discerning guests,” according to its website) to stay at Il Borgo, the so-called heart of the 4,500-acre estate, for roughly €600-€3000 per night, based on availability. This latest Ferragamo venture is located in Val d’Orcia, but the Ferragamos also own other (more reasonably priced?) properties in Tuscany that are open to guests. Il Borro (not to be confused with Il Borgo, above), near Arezzo, has villa and farmhouse accommodations starting at $475 per night. In addition, the family also runs Lungarno Hotels, which includes several hotels in Florence and some suites in Rome.

Of course, the Ferragamos aren’t the only designers in the hotel game in Italy. The FT article also lists The Bulgari Hotel in Milan, the (Alberta) Ferretti’s Castello di Montegridolfo and Carducci 76 near Rimini, and the Bottega Veneta suite in Rome’s St. Regis Hotel.

If luxury and design are important criteria for you when choosing a hotel, you can also check out the Fashion Designer Hotels round-up from Forbes Traveler, which includes properties from around the world designed by Italians and other big names in the fashion world.

Photo of Castiglion del Bosco

Italy’s Best Boutique and Luxury Hotels

Ironically, with all the hotel review and booking sites out there, it’s become almost impossible to find just the right place to hang our hats when we travel, especially for those of us that prefer smaller, independent inns or hotels with a bit of panache. We guidebook writers like to think that travelers will use the few suggestions that we provide, but we’re also realistic. That’s why I’d like to share a hotel site that I recently found: tablethotels.com.

Touted as a website with “hotels for global nomads,” tablethotels.com has a very simple site which allows you to choose accommodations by area, name, deals, and a few other criteria including “I just want to get away,” which is a select list of hotels categorized by destination, landscape, agenda (e.g., wine region, gambling), or hotel type (e.g., “traditional elegance,” “cutting edge”).

Tablet has listings for hotels all over the world, including Italy, and you can even click on a link called “TabletKids,” which lets you define specific kid-friendly criteria, such as a crib, connecting rooms, or a kid-friendly menu. We did this search for Italy with the above three requests and found some lovely looking lodgings from as far north as Lake Como to as far south as Puglia.

Sure, some people may find that the Tablet website is a bit too cosmopolitan for their tastes (indeed, you can download soundtracks for your trips and connect to them via twitter). But they do have hotels that start at under €100 per night. And, I love the pared down, almost bespoke approach Tablet has taken to create a hotel recommendations site.

Believe it or not, I don’t have any affiliations with Tablet; I just saw the site and liked it. So, go have a look…

Really Cheap Real Estate in Sicily

Here’s your chance to buy a really cheap house in Italy.

According to Italy Magazine, the Sicilian town of Salemi is selling homes in the town’s historic center which have been ravaged by earthquakes for the fair price of €1. The catch? Buyers must restore the homes “sympathetically” within two years.

Salemi (see this place on a map) is famous for having been the site where Giuseppe Garibaldi claimed Sicily for King Vittorio Emanuele on May 14, 1860, and for the earthquakes that shook the town in 1968. Mayor Vittorio Sgarbi and councillor Oliviero Toscani (of Benetton photo campaign fame) hope that this new scheme will bring Salemi a new kind of fame. Apparently, some Italian stars, such as Lucio Dalla and Inter Milan owner Massimo Moratti, are considering the Salemi real estate offer.

For more information, visit the Salemi website.

More Italy Hotels Available Online

Savvy travelers have long looked to venere.com, a hotel review and reservations website, to find accommodations on the beaten and not-so-beaten trails of Italy. With more than 26,000 hotel listings in Europe, it’s easy to find hotels from Piemonte to Puglia on the venere site. Now it may be even easier.

CNN reported yesterday that U.S.-based travel website Expedia will buy venere.com and begin adding approximately 1,000 hotels per month to its database. In other words, for Italy travelers, Expedia may just become a one-stop shop – airfare, hotel…and you’re done.

Authentic Accommodations in Abruzzi

Those who may have watched CBS Sunday Morning* yesterday probably caught the Allen Pizzey “Postcard: Abruzzi” piece, which profiled a castle in the village of Santo Stefano di Sessania, Abruzzo (or Abruzzi, if you will) that has been converted into “authentic” accommodations for those few tourists who wander off the beaten track to this area of Italy. Pizzey talked to the owner, Daniele Kihlgren, about his method of sustainable hospitality, which meant including very few amenities (no phone, no internet but updated bathrooms), providing locally made linens (some up to 100 years old), and making sure this “boutique hotel” was in keeping with village traditions.

One thing that Pizzey forgot to mention in the piece, of course, was the name of the hotel! But, have no fear – we have found it for you. Sextantio Albergo Diffuso, located in the province of L’Aquila, is located about an hour and 45 minutes from Rome. The website is very handsome, but as of now contains no English translation. So, check out this short profile from the UK’s Conde Nast Traveller. The Times of London, The Washington Post, and The Guardian have also done small write-ups on Sextantio. Note, however, that authenticity has a price – according to CNTraveller, doubles start at €140.

*7/22/08 – I guess we were a little quick on the draw reporting on this. Since then, the video piece has been added to the web. Here it is on truveo.com. Enjoy!

Photo by Sextantio Albergo Diffuso

Dirty Weekends in Italy

The Times UK’s Stephen Bleach had a fun article about romantic getaways in Europe this weekend titled “The Dirty Weekend Guide to Europe.” Bleach argues that a “place of [one’s] own” makes or breaks a romantic holiday and highlights a “dozen of the slushiest, smoochiest and downright sexiest hideaways on the Continent.” No surprise to us, four out of the 12 are in Italy:

And, not a Tuscan villa among any of them. Be aware, however, that romance this luxurious comes at a price!

Luxury Lodging Links

Italy is not short on luxury accommodations, as is often highlighted by A Luxury Travel Blog. We have gathered several recent tips from that site for hotels that go the extra mile (or kilometer, as it were):

1) In the post Top Ten Small Luxury Hotels of the World, two Italy hotels are singled out: Le Sireneuse in Positano (Amalfi Coast, Campania) and Il Falconiere in Cortona (Tuscany).

2) Castello di Meleto in Florence recently received best accommodations honors from the 2008 Best of Wine Tourism awards.

3) And, reserving the Presidential or Diplomatic Suite at the Park Hyatt in Milan will get you a Porsche rental.

How to Stretch Your Budget in Tuscany

Il Cipresso, Tuscany
Renting a villa in Tuscany may actually be a budget-friendly option

You know we must be in a recession if the villa rental company Luxury Retreats puts out an article on How To Stretch Your Buck in Tuscany. But they do come up with some valid points, such as:

1) Rent a Bigger Place. “More bedrooms equal less money per suite, as a rule of thumb, so if you’re looking for a really good deal, gather more friends and family.”

2) Cook Your Own Meals. “When you’re renting a villa though, you’re blessed with an easy cost-cutter: your kitchen.”

3) Stay Far Away From the City. “There are deals to be had the further you venture outside of the main tourist towns, which are never more than a quick scenic drive away anyways.” (Though, with gas prices as they are, those scenic drives can end up being pretty pricey.)

Despite the name, the prices are (like they said) somewhat reasonable should you and a number of friends or relatives want a multi-room crashpad in Tuscany. We are liking Il Cipresso (pictured above) and Villa di Montelopio, a 5-BR Pisa-area villa that rents from $700 per night for up to 8 people.

Luxury Retreats has villas throughout the world; in Italy, they rent villas in 13 of the 20 regions, including Campania (the Amalfi Coast), Puglia, and Sicily. And, if you just can’t afford to stay in an Italian villa this year (or next), LR has a unique feature for armchair travelers: the wish list. Dream On!

From Mafia Villa to Agriturismo

This one comes from the U.K.’s Italy Magazine, which tells us that the Corleone villa of former Mafia boss Salvatore Riina has been turned into farmstay housing, a.k.a., an agriturismo. The Pio La Torre Cooperative, named for a martyred anti-Mafia activist, belonged to Riina before it was seized by the State after his 1993 capture. No word on when the cooperative will open, so watch this space…

Where the Fashion Forward Eat and Sleep in Milan

Nhow Hotel, Milan

Here’s a hotel and restaurant that we hope Jessica over at Italylogue will have a chance to check out while she’s in Milan.

Located in the hip Tortona district, Milan’s Nhow Hotel, which opened last year in a defunct General Electric power plant, has put a high-design touch on all of its rooms and common areas. There are bedrooms decorated to look like comic strips, a “crystallized” Swarovski chair, and a flowering Alexander Calder-type installations in the dining room. According to the Nhow brochure (PDF file), the hotel changes the look of the common areas every four months. So, it’s like staying at a gallery almost every time you visit.

If the Nhow’s minimalist design starts to bore you, then head over to Dolce & Gabbana’s Gold, the fashion design duo’s restaurant/bistrot/lounge bar. Like D&G’s, Gold is deliciously over the top. Though we wonder if anyone actually eats there.