AT THE TOP OF EVERY LIST OF NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS should be the following: Visit Italy...again. These properties, ranging from three to five stars, are the ones we love going back to.
Hotel Rufolo, Ravello
Why? With the most romantic view on the Amalfi coast, it makes you believe there is a heaven on earth. We ask for a seaview room and have breakfast overlooking the Mediterranean. In the summer, there are concerts at the Villa Rufolo next door, and the music wafts up to our balcony. Though we can go down to the beach at Amalfi, just over four miles away, we enjoy sitting at the Rufolo's pool and surveying the coast from far above the traffic. The four-star Hotel Rufolo (www.hotelrufolo.it/hotelrufolo_eng.htm) is also conveniently located if guests wish to wander the town on foot.
Contact: [email protected], telephone 011-39-089-857-133, fax 011-39-089-857-935.
Albergo Il Monastero, Ischia
Why? The island of Ischia is bigger than nearby Capri, and we like its wide choice of wonderful spas. There is no beauty treatment as good as a volcanic mud facial, and soaking in steamy mountain waters while gazing at the view is priceless. The three-star Il Monastero (www.castelloaragonese.it) sits atop the spectacular Castello Aragonese, the most striking monument on Ischia. Actually, the former monastery is an island about an eighth of a mile offshore, reached by a narrow causeway. There 22 simple and comfortable rooms, some with terraces. After 7:30 p.m., the Aragonese is closed to tourists and hotel guests are given their own key to the castle. Within the cavernous stone battlements, there is a modern elevator that whisks guests up to an amazing sunset view from the hotel terrace.
Contact: [email protected], telephone 011-39-081-992-435, fax 011-39-081-991-849.
Palazzo at Hotel Cipriani, Venice
Why? This restored 15th-century palace on the grounds of the luxurious Cipriani, fulfills every Cinderella dream. After all, Casanova was known to bring his ladies here for romantic trysts. The Palazzo Vendramin (www.hotelcipriani.com) has three doubles with whirlpool baths, six suites and two junior suites, all with butler service. Our choice is Suite 76, which faces a postcard view of Venice. We like being on Guidecca Island, which is quieter than the St. Mark's area yet only five minutes away by boat.
Contact: [email protected], telephone 011-39-041-520-7744, fax 011-39-041-520-3930.
Il Palazzetto, Rome
Why? It's right on the Spanish Steps and has only four rooms; in such a huge city, it's nice to have a more intimate place to stay. Il Palazzetto (www.ilpalazzettoroma.com)—owned by the nearby five-star Hassler hotel—is the headquarters of the International Academy of Wine (www.wineacademyroma.com), where we love the vertical wine tastings followed by sumptuous wine dinners. Both hotels are at the top of Via Condotti, Rome's best shopping street. Contact: [email protected] or [email protected], telephone 011-39-06-699-34-428, fax 011-39-06-699-41-607.
Villa Milani, Spoleto
Why? It's a gorgeous and elegant residenza d'epoca—the official Italian designation for a historic house—on 20 acres of hills and woodlands above Spoleto, in central Italy. Milani's (www.villamilani.com) public rooms are simply lovely, filled with original furnishings, and the tower bedroom has a 360-degree view. Otherwise, ask for a bedroom with private terrace. The best way to start a day of sightseeing is to eat breakfast outside, overlooking Spoleto and the magnificent Rocca fortress; we have at least two cornetti (similar to croissants) and cappuccinos apiece, since we always walk it off in these Umbrian hill towns.
Contact: [email protected] , telephone 011-39-0743-225056, fax 011-39-0743-49824.
Bulgari Hotel, Milan
Why? Because the giant bathtub, with scented Bulgari amenities and cushy towels, awaits a sore body after a day of shopping. The bathroom runs down the entire side of the room, and there's a huge glassed-in shower, with showerheads coming from every direction. The bedrooms in this five-star hotel (www.bulgarihotels.com) offer all kinds of great extras, like iPod docks and fabulous boxed lunches for the plane. The terrace is a hopping place for breakfast before hitting the fashion shows.
Contact: [email protected] , tele-phone 011-39-02-805-8051, fax 011-39-02-805-805222.
Villa d'Este, Lake Como
Why? Because we didn't ever want to leave. Set within a private, gated 25-acre park facing what may be the most beautiful lake in the world, the deluxe Villa d'Este (www.villadeste.it) is just about perfect. The rooms are beautifully done, as befits the former residence of a cardinal, and the "beauty farm" (as some Europeans call a spa) is one of the most relaxing in the world: deep green, with subtle lighting and whispered conversation. We swear we weren't looking for George Clooney, but they say he comes for dinner once in a while.
Contact: [email protected], telephone 011-39-031-348-835 for individuals, 011-39-031-348-891 for groups.
Eremo della Giubiliana, Sicily
Why? We love Baroque Sicily, where the combination of intricate architecture and pale local stone glows in the southern sunlight. Eremo della Giubiliana, a restored 15th-century country house (www.eremodellagiubiliana.it), offers five-star service, including its own landing strip, private beach and custom-designed hospitality for traveling dogs. Located on a plateau, it has a view of the Mediterranean in the distance. We really enjoy seeing Sicily and the nearby small islands from the Eremo's private plane.
Contact: [email protected], telephone 011-39-093-266-9119, fax 011-39-093-266-9129.
Real Fini San Francesco, Modena
Why? You can't be a foodie and not adore Modena. We had a first taste of the city at a dinner hosted by native son Luciano Pavarotti and love going back. The Fini family opened their unparalleled Premiata Salumeria San Francesco food shop in 1912; almost a century later came the five-star Hotel Real Fini San Francesco (www.hotelrealfini.it), located in the same colonnaded palazzo. Between the two is the elegant Ristorante Fini, which dishes out freshly made tortellini and specialties of the Emilia-Romagna region, plus more than 500 wines.
Contact: [email protected], telephone 011-39-059-205-7511, fax 011-39-059-205-7590.
Hotel Elephant, Bressanone
Why? There is something delightful about Christmastime in Bressanone, in the Austrian-influenced part of Italy, near the Brenner Pass. After shopping at the bustling Christmas market or partaking in winter sports, we come back to the Old World atmosphere of the four-star Elephant (www.hotelelephant.com) and settle in front of a roaring fire. In summer, we go hiking in the mountains or visit the vineyards for a taste of the wines of the Alto Adige. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, and the restaurant has a tasty South Tyrol menu.
Contact: [email protected] , telephone 011-39-0472-832750, fax 011-39-0472-836579.
Hotel Della Signoria, Florence
Why? We found the little three-star Hotel Della Signoria (www.hoteldellasignoria.com) by accident 10 years ago, and we keep returning because the combination of location, comfort and price is unbeatable. It's close to the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi and the Leather Market, not to mention Ferragamo's flagship store—a great hotel for shopping and museum trips. There is a little terrace for breakfast, and the 27 rooms all have big baths. Once we stayed for three weeks alone and felt safe, sound and right at home.
Contact: [email protected], telephone 011-39-055-214-530, fax 011-39-055-216-101.