Living La Dolce Villa

Luxury villa vacations in Italy are becoming increasingly popular, as the well-traveled look for lifestyle experiences on the highest end. Why not suggest clients vacation in the former house of a prince, the tower of a bishop, or a winemaker's villa?  Villa Arienzo near Positano, Amalfi Coast

Like other high-end rental agencies, Florence, Italy-based Sanctuary Villas is committed to "smoothing the process" for their guests. Every group is assigned a "Poppin" (pop-in)—a kind of fairy godperson who shows them the villa, stocks the refrigerator, books day trips and tours, takes them to the local village for an orientation tour and generally is there to bridge the gap between the villa and hotel experience.

Villas Executive Gaia Anichini de Bueger ([email protected]) showed us a luxury property in Sanctuary's 2007 catalogue, the recently restored Villa de Panzano in Tuscany, owned by an old noble wine family. Just 18 miles from Florence, the house is 10 minutes from the village of Greve in Chianti. There are four bedrooms and four bathrooms in the main stone house, with three outside en suite guest suites; all are air-conditioned. Of the exterior suites, the Dante is the one to request.

The house has an enormous pool lined with travertine marble, perfect for spending a quiet afternoon reading or admiring the view.

The pool at Villa de Panzano in Tuscany

Homebase Abroad represents 40 Italian properties at the high end, all with options for full service. According to President Mara Solomon ([email protected]; 781-545-5112), it's important to realize that, for some clients, luxury equals privacy, while for others, decompression means being waited on hand and foot.

One of Homebase Abroad's listings, the Villa Arienzo, is a fully staffed luxury villa near Positano on the AmalfiCoast. With seven levels of terraces overlooking the Mediterranean, the house has five bedrooms and five-and-a-half bathrooms. There is moorage for private yacht anchorage and Homebase Abroad can arrange for a yacht rental for those who wish to sail away for a few days. Guests may arrive via plane into Naples and be transported to the house by car and driver or by private motorboat or sailboat with skipper, both of which are available throughout their stay.

More private and rustic is their Borgo di Bastia Creti in northern Umbria near the Tuscan border. (The property may be seen at For VIP reservations, contact Roberto Wirth, owner and GM of Rome's legendary Hotel Hassler ([email protected], 39-06-699-34-724), or the travel agency owned by Renato Rondina, which exclusively represents the Borgo. Contacts who speak English are Anna Pantaleone (39-339-217-4412) and Mirco Rondina ([email protected], 39-075-941-0462).

Offering Hassler-style service and luxury in the country, Borgo di Bastia Creti is in a medieval village dating to 1200 and including a monastery. There are five beautifully restored houses of ancient stone on the property, sleeping from two to six, including the Cipressi and Ginestra, which face each other across a flowered courtyard and are ideal for a larger group traveling together.

The grounds comprise an expansive six acres, with large swimming pool and tennis court, and tables set under the oaks. The atmosphere is that of a quiet, private village, which is exactly what it is—it's so private and tricky to find, in fact, that the owners recommend guests arrive by car and driver, if possible, and will assist in making those arrangements. The property is 18 miles from the airport near Perugia, where private aircraft, as well as commercial jets from Milan, can land.

In central Umbria, in view of the ancient spires of Todi, is the magnificent Torre Almonte, one of a chain of castles built around the city for protection in the 13th century. Owner Raffaela Gabbetta ([email protected], 39-333-492-9586) has restored and decorated the tower in a fresh and distinctive manner, mixing Milanese contemporary design with thousand-year-old Umbria stone.

Torre Almonte features two apartments, each of which takes up an entire floor (more than 1,200 square feet) and comprises two double bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, dining area and living room with a massive fireplace. The apartment on the fourth floor has more comfy sofas, but both are very well designed. Prospective guests who appreciate contemporary design should look at photographs of the rooms before choosing an apartment to make sure their preference is met. A third, smaller apartment has one double bedroom and one bath, along with a living room. The tower is also available in its entirety for larger groups. On the ground floor is a large dining room and serving area, as well as a contemporary living room, perfect for pre-dinner cocktails. On the roof, there is a terrace with panoramic views of rolling hills, olive orchards and vineyards.

Fifteen minutes along LakeComo from Bellagio is the Villa La Corte del Lago, near the village of Limonata. Located in a serene park on the quiet side of the lake, the villa has a chef, but is also a five-minute walk from a Michelin-star ristorante. This part of the lakeshore is elegant and private, accessible by boat, seaplane or car. The shops of Bellagio are 15 minutes away; the towns of Como and Lecco, as well as other towns that dot the coast, are easy to reach for day trips or dinner.

This villa, with its frescoed ceilings and glittering chandeliers, has seven bedrooms, seven bathrooms and a fully modernized kitchen. A lakeside terrace wraps around the house, which was built in the 19th century. The house is managed by IC Bellagio. Contact Program Director Emanuela Molinari ([email protected], 39-031-95-2059 ext. 20, or 39-334-675-9394).