When the futuristic building that is now the T Hotel first appeared on the Cagliari skyline in the Seventies, it was more derided than admired: especially when the telecoms company who commissioned it pulled the plug on its completion.
No one could decide what to do with it, and the unfinished 15-storey steel and glass round tower - sneeringly known as il mattitone (the pencil) - was in danger of becoming an embarrassing, permanent folly. Then a local construction company took the gamble of turning it into the city's first designer hotel - in a no-nonsense part of Italy where substance is more important than style.
World-renowned architect Marco Piva was summoned from Milan, and, like many northern Italians, drew inspiration from the colours of the south. These are reflected in the hotel's dramatic interiors, in bold shades of red, orange, green and blue that would look out of place in the north. The colour combination is repeated in the bedrooms, without detracting from the overall sense of space and light.
The owner's wife, with no experience of the business, project-managed the two-year transformation, and the gamble appears to be paying off. Piva's 207-room confection opened in October 2005, and is now a source of great civic pride.
The T's clientele is a mix of business travellers, tourists, and local people taking advantage of its ultra-modern, circular bar and minimalist bistro, or popping in to view the frequent art and fashion exhibitions in the central lobby. The bistro is a particular delight. In winter, its giant windows look on to a garden and ornamental pools. In summer, the windows slide back to transform it into an al fresco space, with the tables and chairs arranged on "islands" between the pools and water features, which are stunningly illuminated at night.
The bistro, where the cuisine is as stylish and minimalist as the décor, has become one of the city centre's most popular meeting places, especially for Sunday lunch. Another attractive amenity - newly opened - is the hotel's beauty and fitness centre, which has an indoor pool.
T Hotel, Via dei Giudicati, Cagliari (00 39 070 474 001; www.thotel.it).
Time to international airport: Cagliari airport is 10km/20 minutes away; taxis cost about €20 (£14).
The colours of the walls, bedding and bold-striped carpets pick up the warm, Mediterranean mood that defines the whole establishment (although 20 of the rooms have no carpets, to cater for people with dust allergies). The contrast comes in the simple, white bed-linen and pillows. You can choose between a room with a bath or a walk-in shower. All the rooms are soundproofed and air-conditioned, and those in the tower, being segments of a circular edifice, have a pleasing curve to their walls, windows and shelving.
The upper floors of the "pencil" are among the highest vantage points in the hilly city, affording wonderful views of the medieval walls, modern port, and the sea and mountains in the distance.
Freebies: a generous selection of own-brand toiletries, packaged in the hotel's trademark colours of red, orange, green and blue.
Keeping in touch: satellite TV, direct-dial telephones and broadband internet in all rooms. Free access to Wi-Fi if you have your own laptop, two computer terminals on the ground floor if you don't.
THE BOTTOM LINE
During summer, when demand from business travellers drops off, double rooms start at €99 (£70), including continental breakfast.
I'm not paying that: Bed and breakfast for two is €75 (£54) at the functional and comfortable Hotel Italia (via Sardegna 31; 00 39 070 660 410; www.hotelitaliacagliari.com) in Cagliari's bustling Marina district.
ITALY: GETTING THERE
Two contradictory trends have applied to UK-Italy flights over the past decade. The "legacy" airlines, Alitalia and British Airways, have drastically pruned their network of flights; both now serve only Milan and Rome from Heathrow, though BA has a scattering of other destinations from Gatwick. BMI serves only Naples and Venice from Heathrow.
At the same time, low-cost airlines have launched dozens of new services from airports across the UK. The result: much of Italy is far more accessible at far lower prices in the summer of 2007. It will be the best yet in terms of air links to Italy - and intense competition should mean that average fares are lower than ever, too.
The low-cost links to the main cities include Rome Fiumicino, served by Jet2 from Manchester and Leeds/Bradford, and by Bmibaby from Birmingham. The capital's main no-frills airport is Ciampino, with links from Stansted, Luton, Nottingham, Liverpool and Prestwick, and on easyJet from Gatwick, Nottingham, Bristol, Newcastle and Belfast.
Venice's Marco Polo airport sees easyJet arrive from Nottingham, Bristol and Gatwick; Jet2 flies from Leeds/Bradford and Manchester; and Thomsonfly competes from Manchester and Gatwick. Ryanair flies from Stansted and Liverpool to Treviso, with a connecting bus to Venice.
To Milan's Orio al Serio airport, Jet2 has services from Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford, Manchester and Belfast, while Ryanair arrives from Stansted, Luton, Nottingham, Newcastle, Liverpool and Prestwick.
From Stansted, Ryanair also serves Lamezia, Brindisi, Pescara, Perugia, Ancona, Rimini, Bologna, Trieste, Brescia, Genoa, Turin, Parma, Palermo and Alghero - making it by far the leading airline between the UK and Italy, even though it is Irish.
The real battleground this summer, though, will be Pisa. The gateway to Tuscany is served by Ryanair from Stansted, Bournemouth, Nottingham, Doncaster Sheffield, Liverpool and Prestwick. Jet2 flies in from Edinburgh, Leeds/Bradford, Newcastle, Manchester and Belfast, while Thomsonfly has links from Glasgow, Doncaster Sheffield, Manchester, Coventry, Bournemouth and Gatwick. Indeed, the competition at Gatwick looks murderous, with easyJet launching a new route for the summer in what is seen as an attack on BA's existing service.
By rail, options are even wider - in the sense that you can choose to travel via Genoa, Turin or Milan (the main gateways) to anywhere in Italy - but fares are likely to be much higher. The fastest route is via Paris and the high-speed international service to Milan, a journey of just 11 hours. And from Milan, you can continue to Florence, Venice Rome and Naples using a variety of premium services of varying speeds.
Simon CalderReuse content