In Rome, Hoteliers In Revolt Over State of the City

On Tuesday, coincidentally Rome’s 2,768th birthday, more than 200 city hoteliers wrote an open letter to Mayor Ignazio Marino about the “embarrassing situation” that the capital is facing.

As reported in La Repubblica, the members of ADA Lazio, headed by Roberto Necci, said that the city is in a state of “filth and degradation” and is not ready for the Holy Jubilee of Mercy, which Pope Francis announced would begin on December 8, 2015. There should also be an influx of tourists traveling south after visiting the Milan Expo, which begins on May 1.

A rough translation from La Repubblica:

“Italians and foreigners who come to town hoping to experience a stay in the style of La Dolce Vita do not find Rome of Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty,” but a capital invaded by illegal stalls of street vendors, mountains of waste in front of the bins and touts offering scams of all kinds. ‘We are very concerned,’ explains Roberto Necci, president and director Ada Lazio Savoy hotel (4 stars), just a few steps from Via Veneto. ‘The image of Rome in international newspapers and websites continues to be associated with degradation and facts such as the chaos of the transport strike in recent days.'”

Continue reading In Rome, Hoteliers In Revolt Over State of the City

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

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.

Dining in Rome: Rooftop Restaurants and Special Occasions

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Refined Rooftop Dining from Rome’s Hotel 47

In the first installment of “Ask the Italy Expert,” a feature in which I ask Italy travel specialists to help me answer reader inquiries, Stefania Troiani of Rome Shopping Guide about outlet shopping and pastry shops in Rome. This week’s questions are also about Rome and eating. What can I say…? Those are two topics I get asked about the most!

So, I called in another Rome expert. This time it is Erica Firpo behind the gorgeous travel blog Moscerina, to which she has been posting anecdotes about life in Rome since 2005. If you follow Italy travel news on Twitter, you may know Erica as @moscerina or @NG_Rome. The “NG” in the latter stands for Nile Guides, for which Erica is the local expert in Rome. After contacting Erica, I also learned that she wrote the Rome Little Black Book, a dining and entertainment guide for the Eternal City. Once again, I knew I had called on the right Italy expert for the job!

Following are the questions submitted by real Italofile readers and Erica’s expert advice.

Question 1: Rooftop Restaurants
Hi, Melanie! Can you recommend the best restaurants in Rome? Non- touristy and relaxing? ;). I am looking for a client. I’m not sure where she is staying, she has not set a budget- just wants great food and nice atmosphere- any rooftop restaurants with views maybe? Thanks, Laura

Rooftop restaurants in Rome are almost always, as a rule of thumb, atop hotels, which can mean they are touristy and perhaps a little too stuffy. Since a Roman sunset is a sight not to be missed, my advice would be to have a champagne toast on a rooftop– St. George Hotel (panorama of all the domes of Rome), Hotel Raphael (above Piazza Navona), Grand Hotel de la Minerve (view of the Pantheon’s dome), or Forty-Seven Hotel (looking toward the Tiber to the Temple of Fortunus), and then make your way around the neighborhood to a fabulous dinner. My favorite restaurants? Santa Lucia and San Teodoro — both are nestled in piazzas, away from the hubbub, and have delicious menus. Santa Lucia’s specialty is fish, while San Teodoro is creative interpretation of Roman cuisine.

(I also recommended San Teodoro in this post about Restaurants Near the Roman Forum.)

Question 2: Special Occasion Restaurants in Rome
Hi, Melanie. I wonder if you can help please. It will be my daughter’s 21st birthday on the 15th July. As a surprise, we are looking to take her (and her sister who is 26) to Rome for a few days. On her actual birthday, I would like to go to a nice restaurant (but maybe somewhere that’s more fun than posh) and as part of that, I would like to arrange a special birthday cake (which they would bring at the end of the meal). Would it be possible to arrange something like this in Rome and have it booked in advance? Any ideas appreciated! Thanks, Linda

Most restaurants will ask that you choose from their desserts, or if desiring a cake, choose from their pastry chef of choice. Casina Valadier, which may be more posh than fun, has an excellent pastry designer whose cakes are fantasies in marzipan. La Pergola‘s pastry chef is perhaps Rome’s most creative: his chocolate creations are unique to the world. [La Pergola is also Rome’s most coveted restaurant with 3 Michelin stars for cuisine, service, and price.] For a fun evening of eating (and less taxing on the wallet), Felice a Testaccio has excellent Roman cuisine and a fun, hip atmosphere. I just asked about birthday cakes since I’ll be celebrating there- the chef suggested a pick from his desserts, and order one in advance especially for the evening.

Laura and Linda, I hope these answers will help you plan the perfect Roman holidays for your client and your daughters. Thank you so much, Erica, for your extremely useful answers.

If you’d like to submit a question or if you are an Italy expert who’d like to offer some advice, contact me. Hopefully, we can collaborate on the next installment of Ask the Italy Expert!

Photo © 47hotel.com

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

The Top 25 Hotels in Italy

Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli: One of Italys 25 Best
Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli: One of Italy's 25 Best

While it’s true that the travel industry is taking a hit in light of the world financial crisis, there are still plenty of people making trips to Italy. And, with the dollar improving against the euro (at least for the time being), some Americans are looking to do Italy in style.

Luckily, thanks to USA Today/Forbes Traveler, there’s now a list of Italy’s 25 best hotels. Compiled by Forbes, this is a grouping of the most luxurious and elegant lodgings “ranging from urban grande dames to breathtaking coastal villas.” Forbes Traveler has also created a nifty little slide show to showcase each of the 25.

We’ve certainly mentioned some of these hotels in The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy and/or on this site. But here are the links if you want to check them out yourself:

Italy’s 25 Best Hotels According to Forbes Traveler

Rome
Hotel de Russie
Hotel Eden
Hotel Hassler Roma
Portrait Suites
St. Regis Grand Hotel

Florence
Hotel Lungarno
Hotel Savoy
Villa La Massa
Villa San Michele

Tuscany
Il Pellicano Hotel (Porto Ercole)
Relais Il Falconiere (Cortona)

Milan
Bulgari Hotel Milano
Four Seasons Hotel Milan

Venice
Bauer Hotel
Luna Hotel Baglioni

Capri
Capri Palace Hotel and Spa (Anacapri)
Grand Hotel Quisisana

Lake Garda
Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli (Gargnano)

Amalfi Coast
Hotel Caruso (Ravello)
Hotel Santa Caterina (Amalfi)
Il San Pietro (Positano)
Le Sireneuse (Positano)
Palazzo Sasso (Ravello)

Cinque Terre
Hotel Splendido (Portofino)

Lake Como
Villa d’Este (Cernobbio)

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…

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!

Tuscan Wine Picks

One of the pleasures of visiting Tuscany is having the chance to drive the fertile hills of wine country, sampling reds and whites along the way. Most travelers really only think of Chianti, a mini-region within Tuscany, when thinking about Tuscan wine. But another vino hotspot is Montalcino.

Montalcino is the home of Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s most celebrated vintages. According to this month’s Tasting Notes newsletter from Epicurious.com, Montalcino produces other tasty wines, too. One of Epicurious’ resident wine gurus Leslie Sbrocco particularly likes products from Castello Banfi, a wine estate and luxury inn just outside of Montalcino.

While the inn looks enticing, you don’t have to go all the way to Tuscany to enjoy Castello Banfi. You can buy many wines by the bottle or case from the winery using their online store. Or, you can check your local wine seller or wine.comicon for Castello Banfi reds and whites.

By the way, in case you didn’t know, food site Epicurious is a great resource for wine lovers, as well. Sign up for their Tasting Notes newsletter or visit the site to watch tasting videos. For more on Tuscan wines, check out this recent article on the Top 5 Affordable Super-Tuscan Wines by Linda Murphy. The article also includes links to recipes for the perfect wine and food pairings.

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.

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.

Best-Reviewed Hotels in Italy

Yesterday we linked to reviews of a Naples hotel on Tripadvisor.com. Sites like Tripadvisor, Virtualtourist.com, and others have really taken off in the past couple of years as more and more travelers sign on to rant or rave about hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc. Indeed, these review sites are really giving magazine and guidebook writers a run for their money because potential travelers can get and give recommendations in real time.

Today, Tripadvisor released Travelers Choice, a list that includes the best-reviewed hotels on every continent and in every category, from luxury to “hidden gems” (maybe not so hidden anymore!) and from family-friendly properties to hotels and timeshares with the best service. We’re happy to distill this into an Italo-centric list for you:

Top 100 Best Luxury – World
21. Locanda dell’Amorosa, Sinalunga (Siena), Italy
46. Villa Le Scale, Anacapri, Italy
62. The Westin Excelsior Florence, Florence, Italy
63. Sofitel Roma, Rome, Italy

Best in the 25 Most Popular Destinations – World
7. Sofitel Roma, Rome, Italy
12. Palazzo Sant’Angelo sul Canal Grande, Venice, Italy

Top 10 Best Hidden Gems – World
5. Residence Corte Grimani, Venice, Italy

Top 10 Best Hidden Gems – Europe
4. Residence Corte Grimani, Venice, Italy
10. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo, Venice, Italy

Top 10 Best Bargains – World
10. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo, Venice, Italy

Top 10 Best Bargains – Europe
4. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo, Venice Italy
5. Hotel Vecchio Asilo, San Gimignano, Italy

Top 10 Best Inns and B&Bs – Europe
1. Locanda Orseolo, Venice, Italy
7. Casa Portagioia, (Castiglion Fiorentino) Tuscany, Italy

Top 10 Best for Romance – Europe
6. Hotel Buca di Bacco, Positano, Italy
7. La Minerva, Capri, Italy
10. Locanda dell’Amorosa, Sinalunga, Italy

Top 10 Best Service – Europe
8. Relais La Suvera, Pievescola (Siena), Italy
10. The Westin Excelsior Florence, Florence, Italy

To read reviews of the above hotels or to find out more about Tripadvisor’s criteria for its awards, go to www.tripadvisor.com.

Renaissance Hotels in Italy?

I’ve been really digging the recent ad campaign by Renaissance Hotels in which famous Renaissance-era compositions are recreated with modern models and scenes. The one listed above, of course, is an homage to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery) and there is also one that is based on Leonardo’s Last Supper. You can check out the comparisons of the ads and the original paintings here.

Anyhow, this got me thinking: a company named Renaissance that uses inspiration from Italian masters surely must have tons of hotels in Italy, right? Wrong.

It turns out that Renaissance Hotels has only one property on the peninsula: the Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo. According to the reviews on TripAdvisor, it seems like a fine hotel and is currently rated #37 out of 195 hotels listed on the ratings site. I have to admit, however, I am a bit disappointed with this finding.

I’m not advocating that there should be more corporate-owned hotels in Italy. But, it almost seems like false advertising using well-known Italian Renaissance painting scenes to hype up your hotel in Orlando. At any rate, if any of you are looking for a hotel in Naples that is “great for a day trip to Capri,” “near great shopping on Via Toledo,” and has stunning views of the Bay of Naples from the breakfast terrace, then this may be the hotel for you.

You’re welcome.

Tuscany with Kids

Think Tuscany is just for lovers and/or divorcées (a la Frances Mayes)? In fact, Tuscany is also a great place to bring the kids. Check out my family travel article on Babble.com for details.

And, benvenuto Babblers! Please let us know if you have any questions or tips for traveling in Italy with kids. E-mail us at [email protected].

New Hotel in Capri

According to Elle magazine (and several other luxury travel watchers), there’s a new hotel in Capri. The first hotel built on the isle in years, the J.K. Place Capri overlooks the Marina Grande and has 20 rooms with a view of the sea and harbor (and two rooms that do not have a sea view). Rates run from €330-900. J.K. Place opens March 30, 2007.

Photo from J.K. Place Capri