Hotels in Italy are becoming increasingly distinctive. Palazzi, villas, and monasteries have been restored as luxurious lodgings, while retaining their original atmosphere, and small hotels are revamping historic buildings with contemporary decor. Famed Italian wineries are offering rooms and apartments for three-day to weeklong stays.
The lodgings we list are the cream of the crop in each price category. Properties are assigned price categories based on the rate for two people sharing a standard double room in high season, including tax and service.
Apartment and House Rentals
Renting a vacation property can be economical depending on your budget and the number of people in your group. Most are owned by individuals and managed by rental agents who advertise online; and because many properties are represented by multiple agents, one may appear on different sites under different names (hence "Chianti Bella Vista," "Tuscan Sun Home," and "Casa Toscana Sole" could all refer to the same villa). In some cases rental agents handle only the online reservation and financial arrangements; in others, the agent or owner may meet you at the property for the initial check-in.
Issues to keep in mind when renting an apartment in a city or town are the neighborhood (street noise and ambience), the availability of an elevator or number of stairs, the furnishings (including pots and linens), what's supplied on arrival (dishwashing liquid, coffee or tea), and the cost of utilities (are all covered by the rental rate?). Inquiries about countryside properties should also include how isolated the property is (do you have to drive 45 minutes to reach the nearest town?). If you're arriving too late in the day to grocery shop, request that provisions for the next day's breakfast be supplied.
Doorways Villa Vacations. 610/520–0806; 800/261–4460; www.villavacations.com.
HomeAway. 512/493–0382; www.homeaway.com.
Hosted Villas. 800/374–6637; 416/920–1873; www.hostedvillas.com.
Interhome. 800/882–6864; www.interhome.com.
Italy Rents. 202/821–4273; 06/99268007; www.italyrents.com.
Parker Villas. 800/280–2811; www.parkervillas.com.
Rent A Villa. 877/250–4366; 206/417–3444; www.rentavilla.com.
Summer In Italy. 800/509–8194; 089/8426126; www.summerinitaly.com.
Tuscan House. 800/844–6939; www.tuscanhouse.com.
Villas & Apartments Abroad. 212/213–6435; www.vaanyc.com.
Villas International. 800/221–2260; 415/499–9490; www.villasintl.com.
Villas of Distinction. 800/289–0900; www.villasofdistinction.com.
WIMCO. 800/449–1553; 401/849-8012; www.wimco.com.
Convents and Monasteries
Throughout Italy tourists can find reasonably priced lodging at convents, monasteries, and religious houses. Religious orders commonly charge about €30–€60 per person per night for rooms that are clean, comfortable, and convenient. Many have private bathrooms; spacious lounge areas and secluded gardens or terraces are standard features. A continental breakfast ordinarily comes with the room, but be sure to ask. Sometimes, for an extra fee, family-style lunches and dinners are provided, too.
Be aware of three issues when considering a convent or monastery stay: many have a curfew of 11 pm or midnight; you need to book in advance because they fill up quickly; and your best means of booking is usually email or fax—the person answering the phone may not speak English.
Hospites.it. Information and listings for religious housing facilities throughout Italy are provided. www.hospites.it.
Farm Holidays and Agritourism
Rural accommodations in the agriturismo category are growing in popularity among both Italians and visitors; you may have to look a little harder, though, to find an actual working farm or vineyard. Accommodations vary in size and range from luxury apartments, farmhouses, and villas to basic facilities. Agriturist has compiled Agriturism, which is available only in Italian, but includes more than 1,450 farms in Italy; pictures and the use of international symbols to describe facilities make the guide a good tool. Local APT tourist offices also have information.
Agriturismo.com. 800/911856; www.agriturismo.com.
Agriturismo.net. 050/8665377; www.agriturismo.net.
Agriturist-Farm Holidays. 0564/417418; www.byfarmholidays.com.
Turismo Verde. 06/3240111; www.turismoverde.it.
With a direct home exchange you stay in someone else's home while they stay in yours. Some outfits also deal with vacation homes, so you're not really occupying someone's full-time residence, just their vacant weekend place.
Italians have historically not been as enthusiastic about home exchanges as others; however, there are many great villas and apartments in Italy owned by foreigners (Americans, English, and others) who use home-exchange services.
Home Exchange.com. Membership is €130 per year 800/877–8723; 310/798–3864; 02/94752664 ; www.homeexchange.com.
HomeLink International. Membership is $95 for one year, $152 for two. 800/638–3841; 954/328–1643; 0422/815575; www.homelink.org.
Intervac Home Exchange. One-year membership is $99. 800/756–4663; www.intervac-homeexchange.com.