The Complete Guide To: Palatial Italy

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Historic palaces across the country have opened their doors to guests – and you don't need a princely budget to experience some atmospheric Italian splendour.

Must I be at least a minor royal?

No. Italy has a panoply of palaces, but many are no longer associated with crown or church. Accordingly, many of these majestic buildings have been turned into upmarket villas, luxury hotels and boutique B&Bs.

The city with the widest choice is Venice – and, appropriately, the place you can arrive in the finest style, as a passenger on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (0845 077 2222; orient-express.com). There will be 28 departures this year on the core route from London via Paris to Venice's Santa Lucia station.

The journey begins around 11am with a Pullman train run from London to Folkestone and a transfer to Calais, where restored Wagons-Lits rolling stock awaits for the train to Paris and the Swiss Alps, arriving at Venice before 6pm on day two; one-way fare £1,550, based on two sharing.

Home to almost as many palaces as canals, Venice is the obvious jumping-off point for a tour of the country's most palatial accommodation. Most of its palaces are at the luxury end of the scale, however, and priced accordingly.

Grandest of all, perhaps, is the Ca' Sagredo, a five-star hotel housed in a fabulous 15th-century palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal at Campo Santa Sofia 4198/99, Ca' D'Oro (00 39 041 2413111; casagredohotel.com).

Once home to the Sagredo family, the building is now a national monument. It features opulent sleeping quarters such as the library suite, set, as the name suggests, in the property's early 18th-century library.

Most rooms overlook the water; some of the top-floor ones come with little wooden terraces that are perfect for lazy sightseeing. Double-room rates start at €220, including breakfast.

Something modern?

The fashionable Palazzo Barbarigo, at Sul Canal Grande, San Polo 2765 (00 39 041 740 172; palazzobarbarigo.it), is a more contemporary option – and a member of the Design Hotels brand. The 18 art deco-inspired rooms at this hip Venetian retreat may have been fashioned from a 16th-century palazzo but they now feature internet, power showers and flat-screen TVs, as well as some sexy, softly lit styling. Rates here also start at €200 double, including breakfast.

If you like the sound of that, keep an eye out for the Palazzina Grassi, a sleek 32-room hotel set in a 15th-century palazzo at San Marco 3247 (00 39 041 528 4644; palazzinagrassi.it); it is scheduled to open imminently alongside the Grand Canal, and is also a Design Hotel.

A room with a view of Florence?

The Four Seasons, for a start, in the "centro storico" area of the city at Borgo Pinti 99 (00 39 055 262 61; fourseasons.com). It is set in the 15th-century Renaissance Palazzo della Gherardesca and a neighbouring convent.

After a seven-year renovation it opened last summer. One architectural highlight is the collection of 12 bas-reliefs by Flemish Mannerist, Jan van der Straet, which was commissioned by Alessandro de Medici in 1555. Rates for its 117 individually designed rooms start at €327 double, without breakfast. There's also an outdoor pool, spa and extensive gardens to enjoy.

Even newer is the Palazzo Vecchietti, a glamorous if slightly more understated option, which opened in the city centre in December, close to Piazza della Repubblica at Via degli Strozzi 4 (00 39 055 230 2802; palazzovecchietti.com). Part of the Town House chain, which also has properties in Turin and Milan, it comprises a collection of 12 serviced apartments hewn from a 15th-century palace. Each is named after an Italian artist or architectural icon (the largest is Leonardo da Vinci) and all come with comprehensively equipped kitchenettes and Wi-Fi. Doubles start at €407 double, including breakfast.

The Relais Santa Croce is now part of the swish Baglioni hotel group. This property is set in the heart of the city, in the Palazzo Ciofi-Jacometti at Via Ghibellina 87 (00 39 055 234 2230; relaisantacroce .com). A restoration has smartened this popular palace hotel, reviving its original frescoes and creating an appealing combination of period furnishings and modern elegance. Doubles from €198, with breakfast.

Capital options?

The Hotel d'Inghilterra in Rome is part of a trilogy of sister palace hotels, with siblings in Florence and Siena. Its location in the capital is Via Bocca di Leone 14 (00 39 06 699 811; royaldemeure. com), close to the Spanish Steps and within easy walking distance of the chic shops of Via Veneto, Condotti, Borgognona, Frattina and del Corso. The hotel is set in a 15th-century palace that was originally designed as a guesthouse for visitors to the nearby royal palace, though it's been run as a hotel since 1845. The Anglophile name stems from the fact that Keats, who lived in nearby Piazza di Spagna, invited so many English visitors to stay. It has undergone a big refurbishment and now features 97 stylish guest rooms, plus a celeb-heavy bar. Doubles start at €243, room only.

Northern Exposure?

For more old-school glitz, the Palace Hotel in Merano is worth considering. Merano sits right on the edge of idyllic mountain terrain in the north of the country, and there are lovely open views from the hotel grounds as well as easy access to great walking. The hotel, at Via Cavour 2 (00 39 047 327 1000; palace. it), has one of the most highly regarded spas in Italy. It specialises in one-week detoxing and weight-loss programmes, and also offers indoor and outdoor pools, steam rooms and plenty of other facilities for guests who want to relax. Doubles start at €320, including breakfast.

A sea view?

Head south, to the Amalfi coast. The Palazzo Sasso is the colour of sugar mice but there's more to this fairytale confection than grand, 12th-century architecture. Its location is Via San Giovanni del Toro 28 (00 39 089 818 181; palazzosasso.com), surrounded by palm-strewn gardens in the hilltop village of Ravello. Its 43 rooms and suites are perched on a clifftop, overlooking sparkling sea and some of the coastline's prettiest fishing villages. The hotel's two-star Michelin restaurant makes it especially popular with foodies. The décor is pretty impressive, too, with handmade Italian tiles and period furnishings juxtaposed with iPod docking stations and a glitzy spa. Double rooms start at €484, including breakfast.

Further south still, the Palazzo Belmonte doesn't so much come with a sea view as a toe in the surf. It is located at Via Flavio Gioia 25 (00 39 097 496 0211; palazzobelmonte.com) in the village of Santa Maria del Castellabate on the country's Cilento coast. This 18th-century former hunting lodge stands in extensive gardens, from which a gate leads directly onto the neighbouring (private) beach. Sophisticated double rooms (choose between the main palazzo andu otwo garden villas) start from €186, including breakfast.

Also in Italy's far south, consider the Palazzo Tre Cuori, outside Salve in Puglia. An art deco palace, it was restored last summer and features original art deco furniture, contemporary Italian design and its own walled garden. Rental costs from £1,740 per week and sleeps up to six people (020- 7401 1039; cvtravel.co.uk).

Island life?

If you crave personality as well as historic architecture, the Palazzo Federico in Palermo should fit the bill. Dating back to the 12th-century, it is stuffed with chandeliers, heirloom portraits and an antique weapon collection. A big selling point here is that the current count and countess are usually on hand to guide you around in person. A guest room, the Federico Suite, has been available for several years. In addition, the palazzo now offers new self-catering apartments, set in the old stables. Each sleeps two and rental rates start at €190 per night. You can book through Solo Sicily (020-7193 0158; solosicily.com).

Rural retreats?

Two of the best palazzo hotels in Italy are located in Umbria. L'Orto degli Angeli is at Via Dante Alighieri 1 (00 39 0742 360130; ortoangeli. com) in the village of Bevagna. It boasts 14 vast rooms and apartments, and a garden filled with wisteria, jasmine, clematis and roses. Doubles from around €220, with breakfast.

The alternative is the Palazzo Terranova, in the countryside outside Perugia (00 39 075 857 0083; palazzoterranova.com): more contemporary in style, though its eight elegant rooms are not without of period features. Facilities include a sleek pool. Doubles start at €305, including breakfast.

Some privacy, please

One of the most talked-about openings of recent months is the Palazzo Tornabuoni in Florence, a private members' club at Via Tornabuoni 16 (0870 609 8555; palazzotornabuoni.com). It offers those with the wherewithal the chance to buy a share in a residence in this decadently refurbished 15th-century palazzo – once home to Pope Leo XI of the Medici family and now managed by the Four Seasons hotel group. Rates start at €218,000 for a studio apartment.

If you have plenty to spend, Bellini Travel is a company to contact (020-7602 7602; bellinitravel.com). Though it can organise tailor-made stays in a wide range of Italian accommodation, Bellini is known for arranging accommodation in more rarefied properties, including suites in private palazzi.

Currently on its books is the Palazzo Bartolommei in Florence, a five-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a family-owned property right by the Piazza della Signoria that has recently been renovated, in contemporary style, by interior designer Ilaria Miani. Prices start from €1,000 per night and additional services such as a private chef can be catered for. The same company can also arrange exclusive guided tours of other private palazzi.

Budget palaces

Plenty of publicly accessible palazzi are worth a visit. The Medici Riccardi Palace in Florence, once home to the infamous Medici and housing a tiny Magi chapel decorated with exquisite 15th-century frescoes is one of the city's must-sees. It is located at 3 Via Cavour (00 39 055 276 0340; palazzo-medici.it) and opens 9am-7pm daily except Wednesdays, admission €7.

Further north, almost every museum in Venice is housed in a palazzo. The Doge's Palace (00 39 041 271 5911), the official residence of the Venetian dukes from the ninth century until the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797, is one of the city's most iconic buildings. It also includes the Bridge of Sighs, named because condemned prisoners were said to have sighed as they walked across it and saw the outside world for the last time. It's currently open from 9am to 5pm daily and entrance costs €17. Then there's the Palazzo Venier Dei Leoni, a half-finished 18th-century palazzo at Dorsoduro 701 (00 39 041 240 5411; guggenheim-venice.it) on the Grand Canal. It is home to one of the world's greatest collections of contemporary art: the palazzo was bought by Peggy Guggenheim in 1949 and turned into a gallery after her death. Open 10am-6pm daily, except Tuesday, admission €12.

The talk of the town at the moment, though is the Palazzo Grassi, a recently opened art gallery set in a lavish 18th-century palace at Campo San Samuele 3231, Venice (00 39 041 523 1680; palazzograssi.it). It was originally designed by architect Georgio Massari, and has been renovated by architect Tadao Ando at the behest of its current French owner, the art collector Francois Pinaulf. It opens 10am-7pm daily, except Tuesdays, admission €10.

If you fancy a palazzo but don't have a princely budget, there are some alternatives to the high-end hotel option. BB22 in Palermo, Sicily, is a boutique B&B set in a restored 15th-century palazzo, with six sophisticated guestrooms and a small roof terrace. Doubles start from €€110, including breakfast (Largo Cavalieri di Malta 22; 00 39 091 611 1610; bb22.it).

In Florence, Johlea and Johanna Residences offers comfortable B&B accommodation in five different palazzi in a quiet residential area just north of the Duomo. The atmospheric, homely decor is well pitched and the rooms are good value, with doubles from €90, including breakfast (00 39 055 481 896; johanna.it). Johlea and Johanna is one of several palazzi listed on i-escape.com. Another of its cheaper finds is Ca' della Corsa, off Dorsoduro in Venice, a family-run B&B in a 16th-century palazzo with rates starting at €80 for a double.

Or, look at booking a package. In Sardinia the palatial Villa Las Tronas (above) is set right on the sea. Once the summer home of the Italian royals, it now serves as a five-star hotel with spa and pool.

Seven nights here cost from £695 per person, including flights, transfers and B&B accommodation (01694 722 193; long-travel.co.uk).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition