(Bloomberg) -- For those of us who’ve spent the last year and a half mostly cooped up, laying eyes on the sun-dappled Tuscan hills is like rediscovering the entire range of the visible spectrum. Thanks to loosened border restrictions that allow entry by travelers from across the European Union, the U.S., and several other countries, it’s now possible to visit Italy freely, so long as you’re vaccinated or demonstrably Covid-free.
You’ll still find the cypress-lined landscapes, but they’re now dotted with new hotels that amplify all the qualities of La Dolce Vita that you’ve been missing during the pandemic. (Yes, that includes the food.) Whether you’re itching to get back to Italy as soon as possible or brainstorming a future trip, here are the new spots worth building itineraries around.
New Countryside Classics
Four languid spots with no shortage of space to spread out, all opening just in time for Italy’s summer rush.
Although he’ll tell you it was “a millennium in the making,” Count Benedikt Bolza and his wife took 26 years to restore this 3,700-acre estate in Umbria. That’s partly because the scope of the project—which includes 50 farmhouses and a 1,000-year-old castle—is massive, and it’s partly because Bolza, an architect, decided to design an entire line of custom-made furniture to fill its 36 wood-beamed guest rooms. A visit is like entering an Italian fever dream, with cotton candy sky and umbrella-shaped pine trees reflecting off a grass-lined infinity pool. Inside, the castle’s old wine cellars have been converted into Roman-style baths, and a dilapidated courtyard has been turned into the “palm court,” a glass-domed spot for tea or spritzes. The estate includes truffle-filled forests, olive trees, and an abundant farm to supply the restaurant. There’s also a stable housing purebred Spanish horses and a “boot room” to lace up before rides through the surrounding pastures. Rooms from $820.
Villa Igiea, Palermo
The family-owned brand Rocco Forte has been on a hot streak in Italy. Not long before the pandemic, the operator of the iconic Hotel de la Ville and Hotel Russie in Rome had celebrated the opening of Masseria Torre Maizza in Puglia, which was met with immense critical acclaim. Rocco Forte continues to impress in 2021, this time in Sicily, where Sir Rocco and his sister Olga Polizzi reopened the 100-year-old Villa Igiea on June 3, having infused its 78 rooms and 22 suites with their signature blend of streamlined classical design. The goal is to honor what was already there, which is why the pool deck was built around Sicilian ruins and the rooms all have French doors to allow in the cool sea breeze. But the family also does an impeccable job of playing host, employing thoughtful staff who know just when you need a Negroni vs. a fresh-squeezed OJ or who can take you to the market for a crash course on abundant local ingredients. Rooms from $765.
Four Seasons San Domenico Palace, Taormina
On the eastern side of Sicily—where there’s plenty to see but few great places to stay—Four Seasons has taken over a dramatic 14th century convent built into a cliff. In the building’s subsequent life as the San Domenico Palace hotel, it welcomed all sorts of cultural dignitaries including King Edward VIII, Audrey Hepburn, and Oscar Wilde. The current iteration adds a cocktail bar to the cloistered courtyard, fragrant gardens filled with jasmine and hibiscus trees, an impressive collection of restored frescoes, and a yacht for snorkeling trips near Grotta Azzurra, a famed sea cave with blue reflective water. Many rooms have private terraces for soaking up the sun, but it’s worth alternating between lazy days and leisurely walks to Taormina’s charming old town for some carefree shopping and outdoor day-drinking. Rooms from $970.
Casa di Langa, Piedmont
Piedmont is one of the last untapped regions in Italy for luxury tourism, which makes little sense considering its white truffles and velvety barolos and barbarescos. Enter Casa di Langa, which is harnessing that culinary bounty and putting it on an eco-friendly pedestal. Spread across 100 sustainably managed acres—including a working vineyard, hazelnut orchard, and cooking school—the hotel has just 39 rooms in muted, earthy tones. Culinary classes include visits to the garden and can be customized for families with kids. Truffle-hunting trips are done with the help of some very cute keen sniffers (Lagotto Romagnolo dogs), and an outdoor sculpture collection adds to abundant outdoor options. The nearest town, Alba, is 12 miles away (the hotel offers Vespa and bike rentals); it’s also easy to plan a trip connecting Casa di Langa with Turin, Milan, or Lake Como, just two hours east by car. Rooms from $620.
If you want to hit the ground running in a big city, look no further than these fabulous new boltholes.
Well before it was trendy, Hoxton invented contact-free room service with its breakfast bags, a signature of the brand that was created by Pret-a-Manger co-founder Sinclair Beecham in 2006. For about five bucks, you get a brown paper bag packed with a pastry, fruit, yogurt, and juice—all hung on your doorknob before your alarm goes off. You’ll find more lowkey genius like that at the new Rome outpost—the brand’s 10th location—with affordable, compact-but-stylish rooms within easy walking distance of the Galleria Borghese and its surrounding gardens. The all-day dining spot downstairs, Cugino, is run in partnership with the beloved local bakery Marigold; it’s an easy way to get signature pastries like orange- and cardamom-infused cinnamon swirls without the typical wait. Also convenient is the hotel’s “flexy time” policy, allowing you to customize your arrival and departure times—a perk that many five-star resorts struggle to deliver. Rooms from $130.
Ca’ di Dio, Venice
Venetians turned out in droves to protest the return of cruising to the city’s fragile shores, but nobody is complaining about Ca’ di Dio, opening July 1 with 66 rooms designed by Milan-based Patricia Urquiola. A former ecclesiastical compound, the hotel’s original boarders were Crusaders. That was in 1272. Now, it’ll be filled with art and culture lovers who’ll find themselves at the midpoint between San Marco Square and the Biennale grounds. Ca’ di Dio features Murano glass everywhere, from sconces, vases, and bedside lamps in every suite to the freeform chandeliers in the common areas and the custom line for sale in the boutique. But most importantly it’s everything that cruising is not. Its sustainability features include a thermal system powered by recycled lagoon water. There’s also an abundance of reclaimed materials salvaged from the site’s original church in the lobby. The sumptuous rooms simply inspire longer stays in the city rather than blink-and-you-miss-it excursions. Rooms from $450.
Grand Universe, Lucca
One of Tuscany’s most charming cities has never had a hotel to match, leaving most visitors to walk its ramparts and ogle its cream-toned buildings on daytrips from Florence. But after a three-year renovation, Grand Universe has opened as part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection in an old glassblowers’ atelier right in the center of town. Its rooms have beamed ceilings and herringbone floors, with tons of windows facing the pretty Piazza del Giglio. The 11th century bell tower of the St. Martin Cathedral is a few blocks away, though you can also see it from the rooftop bar, where cocktails are named for cultural and historic figures like Puccini who at some point called Lucca home. Rooms from $230.
Galleria Vik, Milan
Hoteliers Carrie and Alex Vik don’t do anything small scale: Their bold resorts in Uruguay have set them apart as some of the most creative, pie-in-the-sky hoteliers anywhere. That’s thanks to some degree because of their exquisite taste in art, which acts as the defining feature of the couple’s first Italian outpost. A cast of Rodin’s Thinker is in the lobby, along with a neomythological mural from Italian painter Alex Folla. No two of the hotel’s 89 rooms is the same, with each one doubling as a miniature art gallery. Much of the work was commissioned by the Viks for the space, created in collaboration with local artists, or came from their personal collections. The sheer quantity of pieces makes it feel like you’re sleeping in a private museum, albeit one that’s a few short blocks from the Pinacoteca de Brera. Rooms from $620.
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