Italy is my favourite place on the planet! And who wouldn’t be dreaming about an Italian summer holiday and everything that implies.
And this little article is the opposite of those “how to do Italy on $10 a day” type things. It’s more…
How to blow the budget and have the best trip to Italy of your life!
Long lunches, beautiful country side, gorgeous gals and guys and even more beautiful cars!
If you want an Italian authentic experience you don’t need to spend a lot of money, in fact the more you spend the less authentic the experience is going to be.
But because you’re on a trip of a lifetime you’ll want it to go smoothly and easily, which cannot be expected when you are looking for something “authentic”.
Also, you really need to be able to speak a little of the language if you want to get by in the smaller boutique hotels. It’s not as stuffy as France where they can speak English but don’t bother and the younger staff always are able to speak English, more that they respect people who can converse in Italian more and therefore you get more out of them if you can.
Having said that the Italians are very sensitive about “pushy” people (they think all Americans are pushy) so a lot of politeness goes a long way if you are going to be booking direct with the hotel.
Be careful of category creep!
If you are booking through a consolidator be very careful with the “room category”.
There is also no such thing as a “room category” in boutique European hotels so don’t get trapped there. You need to select the exact room and be VERY specific about your requirements and get them to confirm in writing.
One of the things to keep in mind when booking, particularly where a hotel stipulates “full board” or “half board” – very common in Italy, especially at busy times of year, is the better the room the better the table in the restaurant, and generally the better service you will receive as a guest.
So here are my tips for a most fabulous northern Italian holiday!
Rome is not a large city.
Just about all the sites can be reached by taxi in more than 20 minutes from a central hotel.
But it is also important to be walking distance from important things as well as it is very much a city that you perambulate around in the evening.
Personally, I believe it is best to be located around The Spanish Steps. It is in the heart of the old district of Rome, near the best shops and restaurants and within walking distance of most of the key sites in the central city.
This is my favourite hotel in Rome is the Hotel Hassler.
It’s at the top of The Spanish Steps, most of the rooms have great views (very rare in Rome). The best shopping is at the bottom of the steps and it has a really good restaurant.
I have stayed in the Presidential Suite Trinita Dei Monte which is lovely and the San Pietro (Peter’s room :)) which has a really nice terrace. I have also stayed in the Hassler Suites but be careful to ensure you get the good view!
I used to stay at The Inn at the Spanish Steps before I moved “up” to the Hassler
It’s a little more boutique and whilst it has amazing views of the steps themselves does not see out over Rome.
I would recommend the “Suite with a View” as a minimum in this hotel.
The Residenza Napoleone, a little boutique is really quirky but totally amazing:
A little bit of Italian helps here and you have to walk up steps (there’s no elevator) and the bathroom is tiny (compared to the rest of the place) but they fall over themselves to help and it is quite a genuine Italian experience.
If you were going for something a bit funkier I would suggest the edgy and arty The First Hotel. And it’s not often you get a jacuzzi in Rome!
I must say also that Rome sounds romantic but it is a very touristy city and, particularly at busy times of year, will be very busy and very hot. It is not my favourite Italian city and you may do well spending some time elsewhere. Personally, I wouldn’t spend more than 3 nights there.
One of the best drives in the world…
One of the great drives of the world is from Rome to the Amalfi coast – Rome is only for the most experienced of international drivers but renting a Ferrari or Lamborghini or other great car and driving down to Positano is an experience of a life time.
And Positano is home to one of my absolute favourite hotels in the world, Le Sirenuse.
Do not skimp here – go straight for one of the better rooms!
Most people would rank Il San Pietro (Peter’s hotel, LOL) as being better than Le Sirenuse (as in a higher degree of perfection) so if you were to do this trip I would consider it as an option but it is a little ways out of town and I prefer Le Sirenuse because its right in the middle of the “action” and you can walk everywhere from there.
Another worth looking at in Positano is The Covo Dei Saraceni. If you got any closer to the water you’d be wet.
It is next to the wharf where all the boats come and go and 20m to the beach. Actually getting to the hotel is a bit of a novelty as well. You park your car in a garage at the top of the hill with attendants so rude and dodgy looking you wonder if you’ll ever get it back (you do) who take your luggage down to the hotel on little tractors over the back drains! Funny.
THE LAKES DISTRICT
Lake Como is lovely. Como the town is a little ordinary, but everything about the lake is boat oriented anyway so it’s best not to actually stay in the town.
There are really only a couple of hotels to stay in and around Como the best being Villa D’Este.
I’m not even going to bother suggesting the other hotels I’ve stayed at here – there is a large gap between Villa D’Este and anything else in this area.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you don’t actually stay in Como but rather Bellagio which is much harder to get to but just lovely.
Villa Serbelloni is the only 5 star hotel in town and it was where Steve Wynn stayed when he got his inspiration for the Vegas hotel.
It’s all Italianate and whimsical.
My favourite is the Belvedere. It is only 3 star but “comfortable” doesn’t do it justice.
Venice is a magical place to stay…
And an even more magical experience in Venice is to stay at the Hotel Cipriani.
I prefer to stay in the part of the hotel called the Vendramin where you will discover unadulterated opulence.
These majestic luxury suites offer every comfort, fine art and uninterrupted views.
Regardless of where you stay in the hotel make sure you specify (and insist upon) a room with a view across to St Marks and the Doge’s Palace – no point going all the way to Venice and not getting that view.
The big selling point of the Cip (as it’s called) is it is a proper resort with pools etc. That never really interested me as I was always out and about in Venice itself but it IS a great retreat from the hustle and bustle of Venice.
The hotel is not actually not in Venice itself but rather on one of the surrounding islands and you transfer on and off by their motor boats (it’s about a 20-minute process), so it’s not mega convenient but it is a haven away from the crowds and at busy times of year Venice will be PACKED!!!
Interesting side note – Venice has a permanent population of only about 50,000 people – most of the houses on the island are owned as holiday homes so during the big events (Carnivale etc) this can swell to about 250,000, but, and this is a big but, there can be up to 500,000 (yup, you read correct) tourists a day visit in peak season – that’s a LOT of people to fit onto an island.
The good news with Venice is that most of the tourists leave around dark because they can’t afford to stay on the island. So, it becomes relatively peaceful at night and its very safe. Venice is all about wandering around and finding a restaurant or bar that you like, plonking yourself down and ordering real Italian.
However always smirk a little bit to yourself when you hear one of those stories where people talk about finding an authentic little Italian restaurant in a back street of Venice where only the locals eat etc, etc, etc! The locals eat at home! EVERY restaurant in Venice is for tourists!
Unless they have a specific reason to go there honestly there’s nothing to see in Milan.
It is the commerce and manufacturing hub of northern Italy so it is a very large city.
It is the home of all the fashion houses because they have their manufacturing bases there hence why all the shows are there etc – but that’s about it.
Also Italian cities are really hard to drive in. I love it personally but it freaks most people out.
My great contempt for Milan can best be explained by the fact that the ONLY hotel I would recommend is the Bulgari which is an ultra modern oasis of calm in an otherwise chaotic city.
If you want hot and full of tourists you should at least go to Florence! Seriously no trip to Italy would be complete without visiting this beautiful and cultured city.
It’s a MUCH prettier city and is in the middle of Tuscany which to me is Italy (well until you discover Umbria that is but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here).
Villa Mangiacane is where I held my “famous” 40th birthday party… Villa Mangiacane.
It is about 20 minutes out of town but looks out over Florence and is under an hours drive to everything that is wonderful about Tuscany.
I regard my time at Villa San Michelle as one of my best stays in a hotel ever… Although I will say that both times I stayed there I had a fight with the girl I was travelling with, sooooooo…
Also about 20 minutes out of town.
Just get in your convertible and drive. See Siena (my favourite and home to the Palio – check the dates – it might even be on while you are there).
See San Gimignano – the cutest little town ever and UNESCO heritage listed.
It’s an hour from Pisa.
Stop anywhere for lunch – anywhere!!!
And finally, while you are in the area I would suggest my favourite little fishing village in all the world…
And my favourite little hotel in all the world… The Splendido Mare
It’s the part of the larger and grander older sister hotel that is on the hill, which you can take advantage of all their facilities but at The Mare you are right in the heart of the little fishing village and you can sit sipping your espresso watching the fishermen lay out their nets for the day, or just bask in the glory that is Italy in the summertime.
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Written by Peter Spann
A journeyman since his earliest days Peter Spann has visited 538 cities in 57 countries with countless towns, villages, attractions, sites and everything else in between. He has spent up to 9 months of every year travelling, usually in the company of a beautiful travelling companion.
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