Welcome to the family… Italian style: Venturing off the beaten track to discover the privately owned villas and hotels that remain out of the clutches of the corporate giants
- There are increasing numbers of Italian aristocrats and wealthy families opening their homes to guests
- Stay at the 19th-century Villa Lena in Tuscany, where a local wine-maker gives tours of the villa’s vineyard
- You’ll find medieval frescoes, four-poster beds and ivy-covered balconies at Lombardy’s Palazzo Castiglioni
For those who prefer character and style to the bland uniformity of the corporate chains, staying in a beautifully restored villa, palazzo or hotel that’s family-owned and run is the perfect way to experience la dolce vita.
And with increasing numbers of Italian aristocrats and wealthy families opening their palatial homes to guests, the choice of historic, character-filled accommodation has never been greater, or grander…
Italy is home to plenty of beautifully restored villas, palazzos and hotels that are privately-owned and run. One example is Villa Lena, pictured, a Tuscan retreat that oozes unpretentious luxury
The 19th Century Villa Lena had fallen into disrepair before art collector and curator Lena Evstafieva bought the estate and set to work restoring its fine frescoes and grand rooms
At Villa Lena you’ll stay in converted agricultural buildings, hunting lodges and self-contained apartments
Regular artist-in-residence programmes give Villa Lena a youthful, creative buzz
Perched high among the lush, rolling hills of rural Tuscany, Villa Lena oozes unpretentious luxury.
Built for local aristocrats from the nearby town of Palaia, the 19th Century villa with its distinctive twin towers had fallen into disrepair before art collector and curator Lena Evstafieva bought the estate and set to work restoring its fine frescoes and grand rooms.
Regular artist-in-residence programmes give the villa a youthful, creative buzz – you can sign up for painting, sculpture or pottery classes hosted by professionals, or simply watch the maestros at work.
You’ll stay in converted agricultural buildings, hunting lodges and self-contained apartments on the 500-acre estate, and as the sun sets over the gently rolling hills, you can sip an Aperol Spritz by the pool.
There are daily yoga sessions, and local wine-maker Alfredo gives weekly tours of the villa’s vineyards.
After a buffet breakfast, hike to the abandoned village of Toiano, one of several ‘ghost towns’ dotted around Umbria and Tuscany.
A mass exodus from the countryside after the Second World War left many hilltop villages empty of life.
The deserted streets are wonderfully atmospheric and the 360-degree views breathtaking.
Back at Villa Lena, chef Marco Baldeschi conjures up spectacular dishes using organic produce from the gardens. Rooms from £220 per night (villa-lena.it).
Castello di Reschio
Count and Countess Bolza purchased Castello di Reschio in 1984 and immediately set to work transforming the Umbrian estate into a stunning country retreat
Ruined farm buildings have been turned into charming villas decorated with local antiques
Beneath Castello di Reschio’s ancient vaulted wine cellar lies the Bathhouse, an otherworldly retreat containing a cavernous salt-water Roman bath
The castle’s restaurants offer seasonal menus prepared with produce from the estate’s organic kitchen gardens and vineyards
Rooms at Castello di Reschio are from £667 per night
Count and Countess Bolza purchased Castello di Reschio in 1984 and immediately set to work transforming the 3,700-acre Umbrian estate into a stunning country retreat. With the help of their architect son, Count Benedikt, and his wife Donna Nencia Corsini, the family have turned ruined farm buildings into charming villas decorated with local antiques and artwork sourced from across Italy.
The 36-room castle has two restaurants offering seasonal menus prepared with produce from the estate’s organic kitchen gardens and vineyards.
Beneath the castle’s ancient vaulted wine cellar lies the Bathhouse, an otherworldly retreat containing a cavernous salt-water Roman bath, hammam, sauna and treatment room. Rooms from £667 per night (reschio.com).
Torre di Bellosguardo
Torre di Bellosguardo (pictured), which lies south of Florence, has an air of low-key luxury
Some say Torre di Bellosguardo, nestling in the hills south of Florence, has the best view of the Renaissance city, and it’s easy to see why as you gaze from the terrace.
The grandmother of owner Baron Amerigo Franchetti bought the edifice with its 13th Century tower in 1913.
The baron still lives on the property and has made sure the hotel retains an air of low-key luxury. Standing within its own secluded park, it remains a stunning example of Tuscan medieval and Renaissance architecture.
Rooms from £259 per night (torrebellosguardo.com).
Borgo Santandrea epitomises the romance of the Amalfi Coast. Above is an infinity pool at the hotel
There are 29 rooms and 16 suites at Borgo Santandrea, as well as three beautifully positioned restaurants and a private beach
Borgo Santandrea (the white building) is perched on a dramatic cliff overlooking the pretty fishing village of Conca dei Marini
Borgo Santandrea so epitomises the romance of the Amalfi Coast that you half expect Audrey Hepburn to waft across the marble reception area.
Perched on a dramatic cliff overlooking the pretty fishing village of Conca dei Marini, this has to be one of the coast’s most breathtaking locations.
Owners the Orlacchio and De Siano families have fused mid-century designs with classic Mediterranean style to produce a vivid blue and white colour scheme that matches the sea views.
There are 29 rooms and 16 suites, some with infinity pools and terraces, and three beautifully positioned restaurants and a private beach.
Rooms from £1,605 a night (borgosantandrea.it).
L’Albereta Relais & Chateaux
From L’Albereta’s elegant dining terrace, you can see Lake Iseo and the misty mountains beyond. Owner Carmen Moretti employed her sister, star architect Valentina Moretti, to give the old homestead a makeover while retaining the essence of what makes this place so simple but elegant.
There are three restaurants serving fine local cuisine and vino-lovers can head to the family run Bellavista winery next door.
Alberta means a ‘gathering of trees’ and you’ll find dozens of fine specimens in the grounds which also include an impressive sculpture garden with several pieces by the late actor Anthony Quinn’s son Lorenzo.
For those who want to arrive in style, there’s a handy helipad. Rooms from £373 per night (albereta.it).
Popular with Italians keen to escape the heat of the mainland, San Montano (pictured) is a hilltop retreat on the north coast of cool Ischia
The two-storey suites at San Montano have their own infinity pools with solariums
Once a haven for hippies, the island of Ischia is now very much Capri’s cooler cousin, a rugged paradise where the yoga set come to be inspired.
Popular with Italians keen to escape the heat of the mainland, San Montano is a hilltop retreat on the north coast of the island.
The owners, the Orlacchio and De Siano families (of Borgo Santandrea fame), have created a haven of relaxation and wellness – from the fragrant gardens planted with more than 600 lemon trees to the eight thermal pools and outdoor spa overlooking the bay of San Montano.
The two-storey suites have their own infinity pools with solariums; or there are family-size villas surrounded by olive groves and views of Vesuvius. Rooms from £380 per night (sanmontano.com).
High class: Breakfast at Palazzo Belmonte is served on a terrace overlooking the Amalfi Coast
This verdant palazzo has been in the Belmonte family for more than 400 years. Above is one of the guest rooms
If the heat gets too much, retire to the palazzo’s shady courtyard replete with ancient vines and colourful bougainvillea
The Belmonte family have roots here going back 1,000 years when the current owners’ ancestors invaded Salerno, an ancient port south-east of Naples. This verdant palazzo has been in the family for more than 400 years.
Back in the 1970s, Princess Sarah Granito Pignatelli di Belmonte began converting part of the building into apartments.
The current prince still lives in one of the wings while his diligent daughters, Francesca and Sofia, run the hotel, watched over by their spaniels Trouble and Mischief.
Stay in an adjoining overseer’s house where some of the rooms have balconies, or there’s a separate villa in the garden with suites designed for families. Breakfast is served on a terrace overlooking the Amalfi Coast.
If the heat gets too much, jump in the pool or retire to the palazzo’s shady courtyard replete with ancient vines and colourful bougainvillea.
Don’t miss the remarkably preserved Greek temples at nearby Paestum. Rooms from £152 per night (palazzobelmonte.com)
Thirteenth Century palaces don’t come much grander than Palazzo Castiglioni, pictured in the foreground
Palazzo Castiglioni is run by Luisa Castiglioni and her brother Guido, who hail from one of Lombardy’s most illustrious families – they are very much hands-on when it comes to welcoming guests
You’ll find medieval frescoes, four-poster beds and vast French windows opening on to ivy-covered balconies at Palazzo Castiglioni
Rooms at Palazzo Castiglioni are from £458 per night
Thirteenth Century palaces don’t come much grander than Palazzo Castiglioni. Just don’t call it a hotel – not in front of the aristocratic owners, at least. Luisa Castiglioni and her brother Guido hail from one of Lombardy’s most illustrious families who can count Popes, cardinals and senators among their ranks, and they are very much hands-on when it comes to welcoming guests.
There’s no reception meaning you have to ring or email Luisa directly. She will then help you decide which of the immense rooms to choose.
When you arrive, Guido greets you at the grand palazzo gates and shows you to your room. You’ll find medieval frescoes, four-poster beds and vast French windows opening on to ivy-covered balconies. The most spectacular room sits high up in the palace’s medieval tower with a 360-degree view of Mantua, one of Italy’s great, undiscovered medieval towns.
Breakfast is served at the cafe next door, but for all other meals you’ll need to book a table at one of the excellent restaurants in town. Luisa will happily give you a tour of the family’s grand living quarters, or ‘piano noble’, with reception rooms hung with portraits of Popes and other family dignitaries. The tour offers a fascinating insight into Italian aristocratic life.
Rooms from £458 per night (palazzocastiglionimantova.com).
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