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3 of Italy's Best Hotels for Avoiding the Crowds While Staying Near Top Attractions

rome

Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Ahhh, Italia! There is a reason Europe’s boot remains one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations; many, many reasons, in fact. From sprawling museums displaying art that spans several millennia to fabulous fashions, incomparable food and wine, dynamic cities and picturesque towns and not to mention friendly people, Italy truly is a traveler’s paradise.

But with that popularity comes the tourist hordes, and though a day spent wandering the Vatican or while gallery gazing at the Uffizi that involves threading through thongs of other travelers can still be pleasant, at the end of the day, you want to come back to a sanctuary away from the crowds. Luckily, these hotels in three of Italy’s top tourist destinations deliver just that.

Gran Meliá Roma
Photo Courtesy of Gran Meliá Roma

Gran Meliá Roma

While most of Rome’s grand hotels and tourist sites tend to cluster around the Via Veneto on the Tiber’s east bank, the Gran Meliá Roma feels a world away set among several acres of bucolic gardens across the river near St. Peter’s in the sleepy but central Gianicolo neighborhood. The location is, in fact, of historical significance in its own right since it occupies the site of the Villa Agrippina, home to infamous Emperor Nero’s mother.

The hotel pays homage to this indomitable woman with that larger-than-life bust of hers that greets guests at reception as they walk in the door. Though the property might be ancient, the Spanish hotel chain has embraced a contemporary interior look with a mostly neutral black-and-white palette accentuated with a bold slash of color here and there, including a warm combination of red and purple that reflect the hotel’s distinctive rosy pink façade.

Gran Meliá Roma
Photo Courtesy of Gran Meliá Roma

The former chapel (the property became a convent in the Middle Ages), for instance, is now the library (well, more like an ultra-chic parlor) with art volumes scattered about on shelves here and there, and a variety of semi-private seating areas with updated club chairs and plush velvet armchairs and loveseats for guests to relax in.

The 116 guestrooms and suites are a technophile’s dream with control of a constellation of light fixtures all at the touch of a button, as well as the requisite Nespresso coffee machine for those early morning starts. The art aficionados will find something to love as well in the bed headboards, which feature magnified details from famous Italian paintings. The other showstopper is the bathroom, which features a glassed-in shower suite with deep soaking tubs, and dual vanities stocked with Clarins products (there is no door, so share the room with someone you know well!).

Gran Meliá Roma
Photo Courtesy of Gran Meliá Roma

Among the other amenities are a YHI Wellness Spa with treatments inspired by Indian healing techniques, and the Vivavoce restaurant helmed my Michelin two-star chef Alfonso Iaccarino.

What really sets the hotel apart, however, is both its location and the retreat it provides from Rome’s bustle. It sits literally a five-minute walk (downhill, no less) from St. Peter’s Square and a 15-minute stroll to trendy Trastevere or the always-delightful Piazza Navona. But when Rome’s streets become too much for you, you can always retreat to the wicker lounge chairs and cozy cabanas surrounding the outdoor pool (a true rarity in Rome) for an afternoon of swimming and sunbathing to recover from a day of museums and sightseeing. Have an Aperol Spritz while you’re at it.

Hotel Lungarno
Photo Courtesy of Hotel Lungarno, Florence

Hotel Lungarno, Florence

Over the past few years, the Ferragamo family has quietly expanded its fashion brand into hotels, and it started with this little gem just a stone’s throw from the Ponte Vecchio (though now the group boasts four properties in Florence).

The Hotel Lungarno is a cozy hideaway tucked along Borgo San Jacopo along the Oltrarno side of the river. Its location means it sits right on the riverbank with prime views of the Arno, and a front deck for snacks and drinks that has picture-perfect views of Florence’s most famous bridge.

Hotel Lungarno, Florence
Photo Courtesy of Hotel Lungarno, Florence

Inside, the hotel feels like a home-away-from-home—that is, if you could decorate your home with Picasso and Cocteau prints—with a reception lounge filled with overstuffed white armchairs and sofas accented by white-and-blue throw pillows welcoming guests to sink into them and take a load off after a day at the city’s museums or climbing the Duomo.

Like any true boutique hotel, the 57 rooms and 12 suites here can vary. They range from mid-size categories (by European standards, at least) with street or river views (try your best to score a river view one for the ultimate Florence feel) to multi-level suites. There is also a suite in a medieval tower that includes not just a roomy main floor with a king-size bed, work desk, television and kitted-out espresso maker, but also a loft area with a sofa bed and work desk of its own. All rooms come with marble baths with dual vanities, toilets and bidets, and classic shower-tub combos that are stocked with signature Ferragamo Tuscan Soul products.

Hotel Lungarno, Florence
Photo Courtesy of Hotel Lungarno, Florence

One of the things that sets this hotel apart from others is the level of service. They’ll take care of everything from arranging skip-the-line tickets at the city’s busiest museums to giving detailed directions to their own favorite restaurants throughout the city or delivering that glass of San Pellegrino you did not even know you were thirsty for, all without you having to ask.

The other valuable commodity here? Location. The hotel is literally a minute’s walk from the Ponte Vecchio, five minutes from the Pitti Palace, and a comfortable stroll from the main sights on the other side of the river including the Signoria and the Piazza del Duomo. Just be sure to make time to enjoy a cocktail at the hotel’s sister property across the river, the Continentale, which boasts an intimate rooftop deck with postcard views of the city and a hip crowd that is a mix of visitors and Florentines alike.

Bauer's Palladio Hotel & Spa, Venice
Photo Courtesy of Bauer's Palladio Hotel & Spa, Venice

Bauer's Palladio Hotel & Spa, Venice

The Bauer name is among the most vaunted of Venice hotel families, and the group now includes four distinctive properties in the heart of the city including the flagship Il Palazzo, the mid-century L’Hotel, and the ultra-exclusive residence-style Villa F.

But it is perhaps its most historic property, Bauer's Palladio Hotel & Spa, that is its most intriguing. The hotel, as its name suggests, is located partly in a building designed by the city’s famous Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. It is on the city’s garden island of Giudecca in what used to be a convent and home for wayward girls (the nuns here took in young ladies in danger of turning to prostitution; how Venetian!).

Bauer's Palladio Hotel & Spa, Venice
Photo Courtesy of Bauer's Palladio Hotel & Spa, Venice

The Bauer group’s owner, Venice native Francesca Bartolotto Possati, bought the property and renovated it with an eye to its history and Renaissance style before opening the hotel in 2006. At the same time, she and her team rehabbed the gardens and planted them with the flora that would have been grown here in the convent’s heyday. Today, guests can book rooms set among them, stroll their paths, and enjoy daily breakfast out on a patio overlooking the lawn and flowerbeds (that is, if you don’t want to enjoy the palatial garden-themed dining room and its frescoed walls). The public spaces are at once grand yet intimate, with a sunny interior courtyard anchoring the main building and ringed by terrazzo-floored hallways. The hotel also features one of Venice’s largest spas, complete with a Turkish hammam.

Bauer's Palladio Hotel & Spa, Venice
Photo Courtesy of Bauer's Palladio Hotel & Spa, Venice

The 58 rooms and 21 suites here range from modest garden-view standards in the old Conventino wing to stunning suites with views of the lagoon and St. Mark’s in the main building. The style pays homage to the Renaissance structure with thick carpeting and wall hangings along with enormous high-set windows. In the baths, guests will find all-natural beauty products made from plants and herbs grown and harvested on Giudecca. A project Possati is involved in called Santa Maria degli Angeli, employs organic chemists to train local female inmates to make these products by hand, and they supply the hotels with their bath amenities.

Though the hotel is on the city’s only major island not connected to the others except by boat, the hotel offers convenient twice-hourly private boat service from the dock fronting it across the canal to the Il Palazzo property dock (the ride takes about three minutes). Il Palazzo sits right at the mouth of the Grand Canal a short distance to St. Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace. That means Palladio guests can be in the heart of historic Venice within minutes but can still enjoy a garden oasis away from the crowds whenever they like, making this a true Venetian getaway.

Eric Rosen

Eric Rosen lives in Los Angeles and writes about food, wine, travel and adventure... usually in some combination of the four. He regularly contributes to Los Angeles Confidential Magazine, Condé Nast's HotelChatter and Jaunted, TravelAge West, Palate Press, Frontiers, Edge and Wandermelon. His work has also appeared in the L.A. Times. When he is not exploring the Los Angeles dining scene, Er...(Read More)

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