Travel Magazine - The pleasure of traveling | Italy
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The attractions of the capital of the Renaissance need no introduction. The dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, Giotto’s bell tower, the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio are just some of the treasures that ensure Florence is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and certainly one of the most famous. Every corner of its historic centre oozes charm and romance, with the exceptional artistic heritage sitting side by side with stylish boutiques and trendy bars and restaurants serving gourmet Tuscan cuisine.
In keeping with its standing as a major tourist destination, the city abounds with top-class hotels that attempt to reflect the mood of the city in the hospitality experience they deliver. The selection below includes some of the best boutique hotels available.
Riva Lofts Florence
From €115/ night
Facing a park that lies on the other side of the River Arno, Riva Lofts Florence is situated in a residential area of the city. The hotel comprises ten studios, all air-conditioned and accessible via their own private entrance. The studios’ amenities includes a kitchenette, gym gear and a yoga kit, while bicycles are available to guests too. The main attractions of the city centre are just a mile away, but in good weather the garden and swimming pool are also a tempting option. The hotel provides a range of experiences that allow guests to explore different aspects of Florence, including cooking classes, shopping sessions and wine tasting.
Housed in a 14th-century building, Hotel Milu brings together classic design, elegance and modern comforts. The rooms range form superior single to deluxe with balcony, all featuring modern design, top-quality finishes, minibar and espresso machine. A rotating collection of artworks is scattered across the hotel, while the top floor is home to a library and a terrace boasting spectaculars view over the city. Located in the heart of the historic centre, Hotel Milu is just minutes away from all of the main attractions of Florence.
Hotel Brunelleschi is truly a piece of Florence’s history. One of its buildings, the 6th-century Torre della Pagliazza, is probably the most ancient structure existing in the historic centre of Florence, and today is home to a ‘tower suite’, a meeting room and two restaurants. Next to the tower is a former Medieval church, recently renovated and featuring a range of rooms fitted with elegant furniture and contemporary design. Overlooking the architectural marvels located in Piazza del Duomo, Hotel Brunelleschi also comprises a private museum displaying artifacts and historic relics.
Minutes away from Santa Maria Novella train station, Palazzo Castri 1874 is a refined boutique hotel in the centre of Florence. The grounds comprise a 1,000 square metre garden complete with lush greenery and Jacuzzi pool, which adds to the well-being treatments offered by the in-house spa. The room options available range from classic rooms to exclusive suites, including a ‘Brunelleschi Suite’ overlooking the iconic dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. In addition to its simple yet refined seasonal menu, the Florentia Café serves ‘Aperitivi’ and afternoon tea.
Though housed in a centuries-old building, Rodo Hotel Fashion Delight is characterised by contemporary design and refined décor. The rooms and suites reflect this fusion of historical and modern taste, individually furnished to offer a vast assortment of styles and atmospheres. Modern comforts are included in all the rooms, while some boast a view over the Duomo. In the communal areas there’s an elegant terrace overlooking the central streets of Florence, and breakfast includes a wide range of gluten-free options.
The Vatican; a small city-state, surrounded by the city of Rome, that holds some of the finest examples of architecture and art in the world. Without doubt one of the finest collections of religious art exists in the Vatican Museums and religious buildings, associated with household names like Michelangelo, Raphael and Botticelli, who contributed some of their finest work there.
While it is possible to visit places like the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica on your own, these marvellous places are so densely packed with art and creative flourishes that it can be overwhelming, and much can be missed. However, an expert guide can help point out the more noteworthy features, while also providing valuable time-saving solutions to the popular tourist spots like fast-track entry.
Skip-the-line Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Tour
FROM: €58/per person
Passing through the no-wait entrances to sites like the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums can end up saving you hours, and a skip-the-line pass on this tour is a worthwhile investment on its own. While tour groups can reach up to 20 people, each person is provided with a headset so it is easier to hear your guide, who will help shed light on such highlights as the Hall of Maps and Pinecone Courtyard. Background information on what kind of effort it took for Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel adds interest to the remarkable sights on offer.
There is much to appreciate in the Vatican outside of the marvellous structures. The Vatican Gardens contain pristine flower beds and their own sights like Our Lady of Lourdes grotto. The walking tour then passes into the Vatican Museums to see some of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance, such as The Last Judgement by Michelangelo. Tours start at around 8am in order to reach the Sistine Chapel before closing time, lasting approximately five hours in total. While that may sound quite tiring, there is much to see and this tour does a great job of highlighting the best bits.
Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Fast-Track Entry
From €28/ per person
For those who would prefer to explore the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel at their own pace, this fast-track entry pass is a great way to cut down on queuing time to maximise the experience of the sights that matter. The fee includes an audio guide, available in many languages, as well as an escorted entry into the sites so that you can skip the lines. That way you can spend as much time as you’d like absorbing frescos like The Creation of Adam, before taking a quick break in the Borgia Apartments.
Perhaps the pick of the bunch, this exclusive tour is limited to just 12 people and allows early access to the UNESCO-listed area a full hour before the doors are opened to the public. As such, the tour begins at 8am, exploring the extensive museums, laden with renowned works of art, before the space gets filled with other visitors. Naturally, by the time the tour ends three hours later, it will be much busier, but the chance to glimpse the works of Raphael and Michelangelo in relative peace and quiet is hard to beat.
If you would like to have a combination of the queue jump passes, a knowledgeable guide who can illuminate some of the most noteworthy creations, and fewer people on the tour, then this private trip is the solution. The itinerary focuses on the main highlights of the Vatican Museums because over the course of the three-hour tour it would not be possible to see everything. Highlights include the Candelabras and Tapestry galleries, the Sistine Chapel and the enormous expanse of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Culinary treats, ancient shops, local history, unexpected finds and dreamlike settings along the lake. Here we list seven unique things to do in and around Como.
The Duomo di Como (Photo: Pedro via Flickr)
Located at the south-western edge of the world-famous lake that takes its name, Como offers visitors impressive monuments, architectural gems, handicraft traditions and a rich local history. While exploring them, the stunning views over the lake are both a charming backdrop and a constant temptation to get out of the city and discover the surrounding lakefront.
Walk through town with a local guide
Among the many tours available in Como, a guided walk in the historic centre will be the best way to get acquainted with the town. The tour operated by Mondo Turistico starts from the lakefront and follows an itinerary where visitors learn all about the history of the city, its architecture, the beautiful Cathedral and the treasures it contains, and the scientist from Como who invented the electrical battery. Mondo Turistico also runs many other tours, which are held by certified guides and available in many languages.
Meeting point – Piazza Cavour (by Hotel Barchetta), Como 22100
The view from Brunate, connected to Como by a funicular railway (Photo: Mondo Turistico)
Surround yourself with luxury at Villa Serbelloni
Blissfully located in Bellagio, where the two branches of Lake Como come together, Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni has been delivering the highest standards of hospitality for over a century. The villa was turned into a luxury hotel in 1873 and then purchased by the Bucher family, who celebrate 100 years of management in 2018. In addition to the award-winning hotel, Villa Serbelloni has a Michelin-starred kitchen specialising in molecular cuisine and a more informal restaurant inspired by the lake’s boats. Plan a stay at the hotel to be pampered by lakeside luxury and impeccable service, or book a table at one of the restaurants for a quicker visit.
Via Roma 1, Bellagio (Como) 22021
Lakeside luxury (Photo: G.H. Villa Serbelloni)
Find your silk souvenir in a historic shop
If silk is one of Como’s prides, A. Picci is where it is finely presented in the form of hand-sewn ties, scarves, throws, handkerchiefs, sarongs and other accessories. This family-run shop was opened in 1919 by Anna Brambilla and Luigi Picci, the grandparents of current owner Fabio. Three generations later, it still represents the encounter between the finest fabrics and the local textile expertise, where tradition and innovation go hand in hand. Nominated ‘historic shop’ in 2012, A. Picci is the place to go for a truly made-in-Como souvenir.
Via Vittorio Emanuele II 54, Como 22100
A. Picci was nominated historic shop in 2012 (Photo: A. Picci)
Try the local taverns
Locally-known for its rustic yet elegant ambience, Crotto del Sergente offers a fine dining experience rooted in the tradition of the Como area. It’s an ancient tavern dating back to the 18th-century, where vintage interiors and decor add character to the warm and informal atmosphere. The menu changes constantly, revealing a creative approach that seeks to enhance local produce and recipes with a modern touch. The wine cellar features wines from all over Italy, although the focus is on the local area.
Via Crotto del Sergente 13, Como 22100
The rustic interior of Crotto del Sergente (Photo: Crotto del Sergente)
Discover the local museums
The Educational Silk Museum honours the heritage of the textile industry that once thrived in this area, making Como known as the “city of silk”. Cycling is also rooted in the local culture, and the Ghisallo Cycling Museum (a 50-minute drive from Como) tells the story of this sport and its connection with the local area. The lakeside village of Dongo (a one-hour drive from Como) is where Benito Mussolini was captured on 27 April 1945, a day before being executed; today it is home to the End of War Museum, an interactive journey through the liberation of Italy from Nazi-Fascism.
Educational Silk Museum – Via Castelnuovo 9, Como 22100
Ghisallo Cycling Museum – Via Gino Bartali 4, Magreglio (Como) 22030
End Of War Museum – Piazza Paracchini 6, Dongo (Como) 22014
Visit a contemporary artist’s studio
Mr. Savethewall (Pierpaolo Perretta) is a local artist who works with urban material and consumer goods to address themes and contradictions related to contemporary society. The pseudonym comes from the beginnings of his artistic practice, as his early works used to be attached to the walls of Como with yellow tape (hence ‘save the wall’, rather than ‘paint the wall’). Passersby were free to take them, drawing attention to the artist’s method, techniques and topics. Eventually his irreverent and original art entered galleries, shows, exhibitions and public spaces. His studio is located in the centre of Como.
Via Giovio 5, Como 22100
Visit a tea emporium
Tea might not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about Como, but unusual gifts and souvenirs are always the most appreciated. Tea World Shop showcases over 200 varieties of tea, cherry-picked from across the globe. They import directly from carefully-selected producers, often visiting them in person and always seeking to leave middlemen out of the process. In addition to tea, the shop features an original selection of infusions, coffee and delicacies. Have a look at the tea accessories if you’re looking for a peculiar souvenir to bring back home.
Via Odescalchi 8, Como 22100
Tea accessories at Tea World Shop (Photo: Tea World Shop)
A maritime republic during the Middle Ages, Pisa is today known mainly for its Leaning Tower, one of the most iconic attractions in Italy. Tourists flock there everyday to get creative while posing for photos with the tower, but waking up to a view over the legendary landmark adds even more flavour to a holiday. Nonetheless, location is not all that these hotels boast, as each of them also offers its own unique take on Tuscan hospitality.
From €44/ night
Housed in a recently restored historic building, Hotel Francesco is only 100 metres away from Piazza dei Miracoli. The view over the Leaning Tower is best enjoyed from the terrace, which provides a quiet and relaxing space within the hotel. The rooms are equipped with air conditioning, minibar and coffee maker, while breakfast includes a vast assortment of sweet and savoury options. Other attractions of Pisa are located in the hotel’s immediate surroundings, such as the university campus.
An elegant palazzo is the setting for this 4-star hotel in the historic centre of Pisa, just a twelve-minutes walk from the tower. In a warm and refined atmosphere, Hotel Bologna seeks to offer its guests a top-notch service, which includes take-away breakfast, bike and scooter rentals, guided tours, a rich Aperitivo and free shuttle to the airport. Popular attractions like Chiesa della Spina and the Arno riverside are just down the road from the hotel, as well as the shops lining Corso Italia.
With many of its rooms looking out over the Duomo and the Leaning Tower, Hotel Roma boasts an excellent location, surrounded by the city’s most popular attractions. Ranging from singles to triple, the rooms are bright and informal, each equipped with air conditioning, satellite TV and private bathroom. The common spaces include a bar and a garden, while private parking, breakfast and 24-hour front desk are some of the services offered.
One of two buildings that comprise Hotel Di Stefano is a historic tower-house dating back centuries, still showing typical architectural elements such as stone walls and exposed beams. It is home to a hall for breakfast and ten spacious deluxe rooms, some of which are equipped with a Jacuzzi. In addition to this, the hotel offers standard rooms and a splendid rooftop terrace with views over the tower, which is just 500 metres away. The services offered include a shuttle to and from the airport and train station.
Hotel Amalfitana is one more option in close proximity to Piazza dei Miracoli, the Leaning Tower, and all the other attractions located in the centre of Pisa. Following a recent renovation, the rooms boast modern furniture and tiled floors, while the comforts include air conditioning, Wi-Fi and hairdryer. A bar and a restaurant are also on-site, while the front desk is open 24 hours a day.
A city of many faces hides behind the gentle skyline of Turin. Its arisocratic pose recalls its history as capital of the reign of Italy’s genesis. A vibrant, youthful nightlife is provided by modern wine and cocktail bars, and the city’s cultural life comprises internationally-known institutions such as the Cinema, Automobile and Egyptian museums. What’s more, Turin has a mysterious side which has given it the reputation of being an esoteric city, home to magical myths and legends.
Whatever aspect of the city one seeks to explore, this selection includes some of the best accommodation options in Turin city centre.
Hotel dei Pittori
From €78/ night
Housed in an art nouveau villa dating back to 1897, Hotel dei Pittori is an elegant option in Turin city centre. It is located in one of the city’s historic districts, Borgo Vanchiglia, within walking distance of notable attractions including Mole Antonelliana, the Cinema Museum and Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Each individually designed, the 12 rooms available are inspired by art nouveau paintings and equipped with 3D TV, minibar and whirlpool shower. Throughout the hotel, the interiors strike an ideal balance between elegance and modern comfort. The on-site restaurant is well known in Turin too.
Hotel Chelsea is a family-run residence conveniently situated in the heart of Turin, only 50 metres from Piazza Castello. Its 15 rooms feature classic design and modern amenities, all of them providing modern comforts such as minibar, safe, air conditioning and free Wi-Fi. The hotel services offered include private parking, a hearty breakfast and a meeting room. The hotel’s restaurant, La Campana, mixes local dishes with authentic flavours and recipes from the southern region of Puglia, and a wide range of gluten-free options are also available.
Said to be the oldest hotel in Turin, Hotel Dogana Vecchia counts among its illustrious guests the likes of Mozart and Giuseppe Verdi. The hotel’s 300=plus years of history are displayed in vintage collections, classic décor and elegant spaces, such as the high-vault hall where breakfast is served every morning. With around 60 rooms available, guests can choose between standard, comfort and deluxe options, which feature both modern and classic décor. Some of Turin’s main attractions are located less than 500 metres away.
The same family has been running Hotel Roma e Rocca Cavour since 1854. Next to Porta Nuova train station, the hotel faces Piazza Carlo Felice and Sambuy Garden, while some of the rooms overlook the quiet back garden. Vintage furniture, high ceilings and bright spaces are scattered throughout the interiors, which comprise a meeting room, a pop-up exhibition space and an educational room. The rooms range from tourist to suite, and breakfast includes fruit, pastries, boiled eggs and cheese.
Sustainability is key at Eco Art Hotel Statuto. Solar panels and district heating systems run throughout the hotel, while specific services aimed at cyclists seek to promote cycle tourism. The hotel is also committed to local art and artists, many of which have decorated the rooms and common spaces with their work. Rooms range from standard to VIP, with some coming with a balcony overlooking the garden. The hotel is located around the corner from Porta Susa train station.
Although the Dolomites are often regarded as Europe’s most spectacular slopes, the rest of the Italian Alps are home to plenty of rewarding destinations for ski enthusiasts. From ancient market towns to remote villages, these charming ski resorts offer an opportunity to enjoy the winter season while discovering local hospitality.
Livigno sits on a vast plateau known as the Alps’ ‘Little Tibet’ (photo: Euvgeniy Isaev via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)
The Italian Alps are formed by a diverse range of mountain landscapes which leaves one spoilt for choice when it comes to picking the best ski areas, but thrilling runs are not the only attraction to look out for. Known for their fabulous scenery, cultural offerings, shopping opportunities and regional gastronomy, these charming ski resorts provide plenty of things to do off the slopes, as well as on them.
Once known mainly for the party, Sauze d’Oulx has revamped its reputation as a charming mountain village. It remains the most popular destination in the Vialattea Ski Area, boasting record sunshine hours and wide slopes best suited to intermediate skiers. Located near the motorway, it is easily reached both from Milan and Turin, and in 2006 it hosted the Freestyle competition during the 2006 Turin Olympics. A rich nightlife still livens up the village’s small hours, while earlier in the evening, visitors can choose from a plethora of bars and restaurants scattered around its cobbled centre.
Located 80km from Turin, Sauze d’Oulx is easily reached both by car and train. It’s a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Turin airport.
Corvara is the main hub of Alta Valle Badia, which comprises some of the most famous mountains of the Dolomites. This blessed location at the feet of the Sassongher Mountain has made it a popular destination for tourists, excursionists and researchers since as early as the 18th century. Today, its claim to fame is the fine balance between a quiet, intimate resort and an upscale tourist destination, where high-end restaurants, nightlife and fashion brands meet local traditions. The slopes have modern infrastructure and highly regarded pistes (the ‘Boé’, to name one), while other popular locations such as Colfosco, Val Gardena and Arabba are within easy reach.
Corvara was one of the first popular tourist destinations in the Alta Valle Badia region (Photo: Freddy Planinschek / Alta Badia)
Smaller than neighbouring Corvara, Arabba is more of a haven for expert skiers. Its modern lifts and pistes range from 1,600 to 2,500 meters in altitude, winding through mountain scenery that will make one linger awhile before heading downhill. ‘Porta Vescovo’ is the slope to look out for, a thrilling mix of black and red runs flanked by rocky slopes and dense coniferous forests. Ski mountaineering is also popular, and Arabba’s trails are part of the Sellaronda Skimarathon. The village, located in the Fodom Valley, is a typical Dolomites gem known for its hospitality and landscapes.
Both Corvara and Arabba are located around 140km away from Innsbruck airport (Austria). Treviso, Venezia and Verona are the closest Italian locations to fly to.
Arabba by night (Photo: Arabba Fodom Turismo)
The Alps’ “Little Tibet”, Livigno is a remote and vast plateau located near the Swiss Border. The village stretches along the course of the Spöl creek, an indirect tributary to the Danube, offering pristine nature and postcard landscapes. What’s more, a special duty-free allowance makes shopping here particularly convenient. The adjoining slopes are marked by 110km of pistes and 30km of cross-country trails peaking at 2,900 meters, while the Mottolino Snowpark is consistently listed among Europe’s best. The local parish also claims to be the highest permanently-populated hamlet on the continent (Trepalle, 2,069 to 2,250 meters).
Located next to the Swiss border, Livigno can be reached from Milan both by train and by car (a three-and-a-half-hour drive). The closest airport is Innsbruck (Austria), 180km away.
Livigno town centre (Photo: Euvgeniy Isaev via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)
The 2,275-meter peak of the Plan the Corones watches over the Medieval town of Brunico. The town’s Christmas market is one of the most famous of the Alto Adige region, but the pretty Via Centrale welcomes visitors throughout the year with a rich display of majolica, woodwork, loden fabrics, ironwork and other artisanal products. The slopes around Brunico include some of the most challenging runs in the Plan de Corones ski area (‘Sylvester’ and ‘Herrnegg’), but easier pistes are also available.
In addition to Italy, Brunico can be reached from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Innsbruck airport (Austria) is around 100km away.
The Messner Mountain Museum, not far from Brunico, was designed by Zaha Hadid (Photo: Harald Wisthaler / Tourist Board Kronplatz)
The Ayes Valley, in northwestern Italy, is surrounded by imposing 4,000-meter peaks. Among the villages nestled here, Champoluc is known for its quaint and relaxed atmosphere disturbed only by the stream of the Evançon Creek. Glorious forests of pines and larches stretch out in the surroundings, while the neighbouring hamlet of Antagnod is home to remarkable traditional buildings and the 15th-century Parish Church of San Martin. A gondola links the centre of Champoluc to Crest, 400 meters up, providing an excellent access to the Monterosa ski area.
Champoluc is one of the three main resorts in the Monterosa Ski area (Photo: Monterosa Ski)
Gressoney-La-Trinité and Gressoney-Saint-Jean are also part of the Monterosa ski area. La Trinité is a modern skiing hub which hasn’t lost the charm of the remote mountain village it once was, conveniently located in the middle of the Monterosa’s three valleys. Saint Jean is a delightful composition of evocative landscape and quaint barns, where the main attractions include the ancient Saint John the Baptist Church, Savoy Castle and its botanic garden, 19th-century villas and the regional museum of alpine fauna. This area’s language, architecture and traditions are influenced by the Walser culture, a Germanic population that settled here nearly a thousand years ago.
Gressoney and Champoluc can be easily reached from Turin and Milan. It’s roughly a one-hour-and-a-half drive to Turin airport.
Santissima Trinità Church in Gressoney-La-Trinité (Photo: Gressoney Monterosa)
A market town, Ortisei is an elegant resort of the Val Gardena. The typical religious wood sculptures made it famous long ago, establishing the town as an internationally-known hub for the woodcarving trade. Pastel-colour buildings adorn the town centre, as well as rich churches and chapels such as Saint Ulrich, Saint Jacob and Saint Anne. The adjoining slopes suit mainly beginner and intermediate skiers, while more challenging runs can be easily reached through a direct link with the Dolomiti Superski and Sellaronda ski areas. Ortisei is also regarded as an excellent shopping hub.
Not far from Corvara and Arabba, Ortisei is located 115km away from Innsbruck airport.
The winter landscape in Ortisei, a gem of the Val Gardena (Photo: Associazione Turistica di Ortisei)
Bormio’s town centre has distinguishing art and architecture, which reflects its storied history. Churches, historical buildings and beautiful towers are scattered across the town, while a peculiar covered amphitheatre (Kuerc) is perhaps the most symbolic feature. The famous thermal baths are no less attractive, immersed in nature at Stelvio National Park. The resort offers 50km of slopes, and the Stelvio Glacier welcomes skiers also during summer. Every year, the ‘Stelvio’ slope plays host to the Ski World Cup.
Bormio is easily reached from Milan, Bergamo and Brescia. Milano Malpensa and Bergamo Orio Al Serio are the two closest airports.
Although not considered a proper ski resort, Lagazuoi is a 2,835-meter mountain with a refuge on top. One of the two pistes available here, the Armentarola, is alone worth a trip to the Dolomites: a 7,300-meter track winding past spectacular rocky walls and frozen waterfalls, made of steep and gentle slopes which are suitable for experts and intermediates alike. At the end of the run, a horse-drawn carriage takes skiers to the Armentarola ski lift, with links back to the Lagazuoi cable car or to the Alta Badia ski area. To better enjoy this thrilling skiing experience, the Lagazuoi refuge provides accommodation and offers authentic local hospitality surrounded by stunning views over the Dolomites.
The cable car that reaches Mount Lagazuoi operates only during high season. It starts in Passo Falzarego, 17km west of Cortina D’Ampezzo.
The view from Rifugio Lagazuoi (Photo: Diego Gaspari Bandion / Lagazuoi 5 Torri)
Milan is Italy’s most outward-looking city, where business and innovation speak an international language. A cultural hub, it attracts visitors with its monuments, grand architecture, theatres and museums, not to mention its long-standing reputation as the world’s fashion capital. Milan’s style is also reflected in its culinary offerings, which ranges from the impeccable saffron risotto to unbeatable Aperitivi.
In keeping with this reputation, the best accommodation options in Milan are infused with elegance, sophistication, design and culture, all intended to provide a hospitality experience inspired by both the city’s history and its future.
From €72/ night
Conveniently located next to a metro station, NU Hotel is just a five-minute drive from Linate Airport. The hotel’s style is distinctively contemporary, blending together design, art and technology. Each room comes with air conditioning, IP TV, Wi-Fi and digital newspapers, and the hotel also offers free parking and a 24-hour front desk. Looking out over Milan, the panoramic rooftop restaurant serves modern Italian cuisine, while the lounge bar on the ground floor is focused on sushi and other Japanese dishes. NU Hotel also provides well-equipped spaces for business meetings and events.
Situated in the historic centre of Milan, this exclusive hotel boasts a fairytale-like atmosphere mixed with top-notch elegance. Parquet floors, period furniture and grand salons create a romantic setting, while the decoration of each room is inspired by popular fables or operas such as Cinderella, Turandot and The Nutcracker. The 77 rooms available include superior, deluxe, executive and suite options, each equipped with modern comforts. The hotel’s spa offers luxury treatments and includes a private Spa Suite. Château Monfort is also home to a wine bar, a late-night lounge bar and a gourmet restaurant.
Senato Hotel Milano seeks to provide a quintessentially Milanese hospitality experience. The ambiance is elegant and discreet, enriched by a contemporary design. Fishbone parquet and Carrara marble feature in each room, while in-room amenities can include vistas over the Duomo, a Jacuzzi, and a private terrace. A gym and a solarium are available to those who wish to keep fit during their business or leisure trip, while sophisticated drinks and culinary excellence complete the experience. Senato Hotel Milano is located in the historic district of Brera, 5 minutes from the shopping hub of via Montenapoleone.
Hotel Milano Scala takes its name from a landmark of Milan’s cultural life, the opera theatre ‘La Scala’ located just 350 metres away. Fittingly, the rooms’ design is inspired by music and famous operas such as Don Giovanni, Aida and Madame Butterfly. Some rooms look out over the courtyard like theatre balconies overlooking the stage, while others provide vistas over Sforza Castle. A lounge bar, a restaurant and a rooftop bar are also here, as well as three meeting halls. Furthermore, Hotel Milano Scala is a zero-emission hotel committed to sustainability and green philosophy.
Steps away from the Duomo, Room Mate Giulia is surrounded by the shops, museums, restaurants and elegant corners of Milan’s city centre. This design hotel is housed in a 19th-century building, offering rooms and suites in which a vintage touch meets modern furnishing designed by Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola. Some rooms come with a private terrace, and air conditioning, WiFi and minibars come as standard. Wellbeing and fitness are provided in the hotel’s spa, sauna and 24-hour gym, while a Milan-style Aperitivo is served from Thursdays to Saturdays.
When it comes to Christmas markets in Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige is the place to go. Here, the festive atmosphere blends in perfectly with the region’s ski resorts, historic towns, mountain villages and local traditions.
Opening of the Christmas market in Trento (Photo: Daniele Mosna / Archivio APT Trento, Monte Bondone, Valle dei Laghi)
Originally an aspect of German cultural heritage, Christmas markets have long been a tradition in Italy’s northern region of Trentino-Alto Adige. Villages and town centres are dressed in festive decorations, nativity scenes and advent calendars. Rich displays of traditional arts and crafts are featured in the stalls, while the gastronomic offerings blend the tastes of Central Europe with the Mediterranean.
Here are some of the best Christmas markets scattered across the two sub-regions that form this part of Italy – Trentino and South Tyrol – and their programmes run from November or December until the first week of January.
Cut through by the Passirio creek, Merano is a spa town known for its mild climate. Its Christmas outfit is made of decorated trees and wooden stalls, lined up beside the river, each featuring local cuisine and artisanal crafts. The facade of the Palais Mamming Museum serves as a huge advent calendar, while entertainment events include concerts, street art shows and creative workshops. Aside from the Christmas market and the wellness attractions, Merano is known for its Art Nouveau buildings.
Merano’s Christmas market flanked by the Passirio river (Photo: Hannes Niederkofler / Kurverwaltung Meran)
With a backdrop of the Plan de Corones ski area’s lofty peaks, the medieval town of Brunico makes for a charming setting to enjoy the Christmas season. More than 30 stalls make up the market, promoting local products such as loden fabrics, wood-carved decorations and artisanal toys. To fuel up after a day spent on the slopes, the gastronomic scene features mountain classics ranging from canederli (boiled dumplings) and spätzle (egg noodles) to apple fritters. Historical nativity scenes are also on display, with the intention to help visitors forget, for a while, the more commercial side of Christmas.
Wool products in Brunico (Photo: Alex Filz / Kronplatz)
In Bolzano, the parade of regional products takes place in Piazza Walther at 80+ stalls that crowd the square. Local arts and crafts are sold by the artisans themselves, with live performances held daily. The weekends see a profusion of music events, with the programme of concerts exploring themes like local folklore, performed by bands dressed in traditional costumes. Additionally, visitors can choose from a range of guided tours to experience the Christmas atmosphere while discovering the city’s landmarks, museums, churches and other attractions.
Piazza Walther is the core of Bolzano’s Christmas market (Photo: Azienda di soggiorno e turismoBolzano)
The stalls in Bressanone display an array of Tyrolese gift ideas including wood carvings, handmade pottery and painted glass baubles. Also widely featured is the local cuisine, with a particular focus on delicacies typical of the Isarco Valley. The supporting events and attractions include the light musical show ‘Natalie’, as well as traditional Christmas features such as a steam carousel and horse-drawn carriage rides. The Diocesan Museum hosts a particularly rich display of historic nativity scenes, accounting for a tradition which in Bressanone goes back centuries.
Piazza del Duomo in Bressanone (Photo: Alex FIlz/IDM)
One thousand meters above the sea level, Vipiteno is a late medieval town known for its history as a mining hub. Decorated by Christmas lights, the famous Torre delle Dodici presides over the market stalls gathered in Piazza Città, while a window of the advent calendar is opened every day across the town centre. Among the many food specialties to be discovered, the bergwerksgröstl is a dish of potato, meat and onion, made according to an old miners’ recipe. Further culinary insight is provided by cooking classes focused on the making of mulled wine, canederli dumplings and Christmas sweets.
Trento’s Christmas market has grown considerably since it launched in 1993. Two of the city’s central squares host over 90 exhibitors, some of which have been invited every year since the first edition. But artisanal and gastronomic stalls are not the only attractions during this time of the year, as a rich programme of events starts in late November adding to the Christmas atmosphere. These include the “Nights of the alembics”, an itinerant show exploring historic distilleries in the Valley Of The Lakes.
In 2018, Trento celebrates the 25th edition of the Christmas market (Photo: Romano Magrone / Archivio APT Trento, Monte Bondone, Valle dei Laghi)
Every day at sunset, the tolls of the ‘Maria Dolens’ bell are heard across Rovereto a hundred times, remembering the dead of all wars. This reverent streak is also reflected in the city’s Christmas celebrations, symbolised by the 18-meter tree standing in Rosmini Square. Up until Christmas Eve, over 50 market stalls dot the town centre showcasing artisanal crafts and food specialties (such as baccalà alla roveretana, a cod-based stew), while the supporting events and initiatives continue until early January. While in town, the local attractions to look out for include the Mart museum and Rovereto Castle.
The market stalls in Rovereto (Photo: Lorenzo Viesi / APT Rovereto e Vallagarina)
A half-an-hour drive east of Trento, Levico is a spa town overlooking the region’s second largest lake, Lago di Levico. A park dating back to the Hapsburg era provides a pleasant setting for the Christmas Market, where around 60 exhibitors showcase local handicrafts and food among decorated trees. The traditionally-made polenta is one of the specialties to try, as well as the malga cheese worked on the spot. Over a hundred nativity scenes are scattered across town, including a life-size presepe (nativity) of wooden sculptures carved during one of the market’s events.
Hailed as a fashion capital, Milan’s food and drink scene is wrongly overlooked. Whilst in other regions of Italy passions lie in wine, Milan has adopted a micro brewing culture and joined the cities of the north to revolutionise the country’s beer industry. Nowadays a wealth of local craft beer flow into the city’s bars alongside the rich selection of wines visitors would expect to sample. Pair these with Milanese classics of melanzane alla parmigiana and cotoletta alla milanese and the result is a rich gastronomic experience.
To ensure guests to the city don’t miss out on both the new and classic culinary offerings, we’ve put together a list of five of the best food, wine and beer tours; selected to offer alternatives for those on differing budgets and with different palates.
MILAN FOOD WALKING TOUR OF BRERA
FROM: €59/per person
Known as the artistic district of Milan, Brera’s creativity extends to its cuisine. Over 3-hours, navigate the intimate streets and markets, while learning about Milan’s gastronomic history from a local foodie. The tour will include six food-stops, where guests will sample authentic Milanese dishes. After filling up on popular treats, move on to sample the city’s craft beer, followed by a stop at a local bar for an aperitivo: a glass of wine accompanied by bitesize pre-dinner snacks.
The host for this experience, Aurora, invites a small group of culinary enthusiasts into her house in central Milan. The two and a half hour cooking session will see chefs collaborate with one another to create seasoned sauces, tender meat, perfectly shaped bread and sweet, creamy desserts: each meal authentic to a different region of Italy. The 4-course menu will be accompanied by wine or beer, selected by the host to compliment the each dish’s flavours. This experience gives guests culinary skills to take home with them, as each of the recipes are chosen specifically to ensure guests can recreate them in their home countries.
Craft beer and micro brewing are taking off in Italy, with more than 500 micro breweries in the country’s north. This 3-hour walking will navigate footbridges, canals and the Roman ruins of Colonne di San Lorenzo, stopping at local eateries to pair Italian delicacies with local craft beer – wine and craft sodas are on offer too. Wandering through the streets of Navigli district, the tour will include a visit to the local market to sample fresh produce: cheeses, meats and fish.
NAVIGLI CANAL EVENING WALKING TOUR IN MILAN WITH WINE AND FOOD
From €59/ per person
As the evening begins, enjoy a glass of wine with your guide and other guests. Starting in Porta Genova, the following two and half hours will introduce guests to the history of Navigli: learn about Leonardo da Vinci’s links to the areas, Napoleon’s time spent there and, of course, the local wine and food. The tour will stop off at an enoteca to sample locally sourced wine, cheese, meat and bread, whilst learning about their origins. Moving on, the tour will pass by many bars filling-up with locals for aperitivos: your final stop too. The guide will select a popular local bar, with an all-you-can eat aperitivo, for the tour to finish in.
Over one and a half hours, sample the delicious pairings of local wine with cheese, salumi, olives and fresh breads. In one of Milan’s central wine bars, your knowledgeable sommelier will provided insights into the winemaking and tasting process. The three wines and their accompaniments are selected to reflect the rich gastronomy of Italy. Beginner or expert, your sommelier will be able to introduce or educate guests on all wine related interests and curiosities.
Tuscany is so overburdened with beguiling destinations that to stop at just Florence and Siena is to do yourself a disservice. Instead, hire a vintage Fiat 500 and explore the galaxy of gorgeous towns enfolded in its rolling hills – here are seven of our most unmissable.
Head into the hills to find some of Tuscany’s most engaging sites
Known as ‘the Town of Fine Towers’, San Gimignano has a postcard skyline silhouette better suited to a modern metropolis than a medieval town. While only thirteen tower-houses remain standing, in its medieval heyday there were somehow a total of 72 crammed inside of its stone walls, each an ostentatious display of wealth by a powerful local family. This medieval ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ is a useful metaphor for medieval Italy as a whole, where wealthy city-states packed into the peninsula vied jealously against their neighbours. Walking San Gimignano’s ancient streets summons a sense of that past, and it’s little wonder the town, situated roughly in the middle between Siena and Florence, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for nearly thirty years.
This well-kept three-star (with an admittedly unfortunate name) is superbly situated on the main square of town. Friendly staff and well-kept rooms – most decked out in charming, slightly dated Florentine style – make for a great stay (if not the cheapest the town has to offer). Ask for a room with a balcony and a view of the hills, if available.
It’s hard not to like Montepulciano, a long strip of Tuscan stone perfection south of Siena containing a scattering of peaceful squares and ancient palazzi. Its positioning, at 600m, ensures textbook Tuscan views from your B&B balcony as you sip a glass of the eponymous Vino Nobile. While most of the towns on this list will probably act as brief visits or stop-offs en route to the next thing, Montepulciano offers a deeper trove of interest; besides the possible winery tours, the town offers much for the Renaissance admirer to nosy into (not to mention fans of vampire-romance slush, Twilight, which was partly filmed here). Montepulciano also acts as an excellent base for exploring the UNESCO Val d’Orcia countryside (essentially unfiltered Tuscany).
Where to Stay: Trattoria di Cagnano B&B (trattoriadicagnano.it)
Found on a street corner in the centre of town, this is a great value B&B for its location. Rooms are cheerful and clean with just enough frills, while the staff are friendly and the traditional trattoria situated downstairs makes for tasty eats with a side of good people watching (at the outside tables).
The view of Monteriggioni (Photo: Chris Allsop)
Famous for its intact medieval wall sprouting 14 guard towers, Monteriggioni sits on its strategic hill-top looking not entirely unlike a Da Vinci’s stab at a flying saucer. Circular and imposing, the town was originally built as a defensive fortress on the approach to Siena. Today it’s a UNESCO heritage site with its main Piazza Roma filled with tourists, artisan shops and gelato. Naturally the thing to do is walk the walls (the cost is €2.50) and imagine yourself as sentry trying not to be distracted by the pretty hills as the enemy approaches (currently only the north side of the ramparts can be walked due to renovations (check monteriggioniturismo.it for updates)).
Where to Stay: Agriturismo Ebbio (ebbio.it)
There is a perfect pleasant B&B overlooking Monteriggioni square, but with such stunning countryside visible from the walls it might be a missed opportunity not to stay at Ebbio agriturismo – a working organic farm about ten minutes-drive from the famous walls. With structures dating back to the 13th century, expect a warm welcome and elegant, rustic accommodation. The meals also cater for vegetarian-friendly travellers.
For the lover of Renaissance architecture, UNESCO-stamped Pienza – located in the Val D’Orcia about 15 kilometres from Montepulciano – is pretty pickings indeed. Pope Pius II ensured his local legacy when he converted the anonymous village of his childhood into a template for humanist urban reorganization (unfortunately for him, he died before the task was complete). There’s more than enough beautifully preserved Renaissance architecture here for a day’s visit, leaving a little time to idle along the romantically named streets (‘Via dell’Amore’, for example) or, if you’re defiantly single, pick up some of the renowned pecorino instead. Being of such cultural, architectural, and romantic importance, Pienza does become crowded on weekends.
Good value B&B with clean and comfortable rooms that can get a bit more lux if desired. Well positioned near the town’s historical heart, views from the windows include Pienza’s splendid renaissance buildings as well as the surrounding countryside. That all-inclusive panorama gets even better on the cosy rooftop terrace where you can take breakfast or, for sunset, your bottle of Montepulciano.
The view from Lucca’s Guinigi Tower (Photo: Chris Allsop)
Enclosed within massive and intact medieval walls, Lucca was made into one of the richest cities in Tuscany by its canny merchant class. While you’ll find a maze of unusual churches, high-end boutiques and inviting cafes at ground level, Lucca saves its best for slightly higher up. Hire a bike and cycle along the top of the wide medieval walls. Small, shady parks coalesce in the corners of these graceful fortifications, where locals play chess, work on laptops, or apparently profess passionate declarations of undying amour no matter how many families are picnicking nearby. Be sure to hike up Guinigi Tower (entry is only a few euros) as its panoramas at its arboreal summit are glorious.
Where to Stay: Hotel Palazzo Alexander (www.hotelpalazzoalexander.it)
Eye-popping décor and good value rooms are a winning combination at Hotel Palazzo Alexander, a family-run hotel located within Lucca’s centre and yet managing to feel somehow secluded. The staff are gracious and attentive, and on point with their local restaurant suggestions.
The view from Castellini in Chianti’s museum rooftop. (Photo: Chris Allsop)
Castellina in Chianti
A must for the wine drinkers, this handsome, sun-bleached town is – as the name attests – buried in the vine-stitched hills of the Chianti wine region. The wine, which became synonymous with cheap bulk production has since refined its act to become one of the most reliably tasty, good value drops in the world. Naturally the town has an abundance of genial wine shops offering tastings of Chianti Classico – just the thing to put you in the mood for a wander of its medieval defensive walls with expansive views of the hills. The town also has an interesting, if rather bijou, museum housed in a stout 14th century fortress covering some of Castellina in Chianti’s 3,000 year-old history.
Where to Stay: Villa Cristina (www.villacristinachianti.it)
A family-run B&B a short walk to the town’s historic, wine-filled centre, Villa Cristina offers light-filled doubles, splendid views, tasty cakes, and a swimming pool – all for one of the most competitive prices around.
As you approach Pitigliano, a town located near Tuscany’s southern border in the undeveloped region of Maremma, its stone buildings seem to rise organically from the volcanic plateau on which this 2,000 year-old town sits. It’s a breath-taking introduction to this off-the beaten track gem known as ‘Piccola Gerusalemme’ or Little Jerusalem for its long-standing Jewish community. Its warren of an old town is easily explored in a half day visit (longer if you get lost…). Fabulous views are found on the walkable defensive walls and be sure to explore the Jewish Quarter and its chequered history.
Where to Stay: Albergo Guastini (albergoguastini.it)
With something of a monopoly as the only hotel located in Pitigliano’s old town, you might think that Albergo Guastini could charge high and deliver low. Fear not – solid value rooms are backed up by quality service and a restaurant with awe-inspiring views of the town’s defensive walls.