While native Italians have nonna’s place in the country to use as a bolthole, the rest of us will have to settle for the next best thing – chic, rural hotels, all with a genuine rustic flavour. Located in some of the most beautiful regions of the country, from Calabria in the south to Tuscany in the northwest, our pick of the best offers that laid back, elegant charm that’s as Italian as fine wine, fabulous food and effortless style.
An ancient village brought back to life is the setting for Tuscany’s Hotel Monteverdi–an ambitious project to re-create traditional rustic living in the 21st century. Check out the Eremito Hotelito del Alma, a monastic-style retreat hidden away in Umbria. On the Adriatic coast, Puglia’s Borgo Egnazia also takes village life as its cue, but upscaling it to make a five-star, family-friendly resort. Calabria’s Praia Art Resort goes to the other extreme – low-key, laid-back and made for lazy days spent with family and friends. Molto bene!
CASTIGLIONCELLO DEL TRINORO, TUSCANY
The lowdown A boutique hotel and villas, sited in a 900-year-old village.
Best for Foodies with a passion for art and culture.
This may be one of the most beautiful Italian resorts you’ll ever have the pleasure to visit, but it took good ol’ American gusto to get Monteverdi up and running. Lawyer Michael L Cioffi came to the village to celebrate his birthday, staying at a restored villa. He was so impressed by its molto autentico-meets-minimalist design that he commissioned its creator, Ilaria Miani, to remodel one he bought nearby. Since then, he’s acquired much of the village, converting its buildings into a hotel, villas and even an art gallery.
The hotel itself has seven rooms, each dressed in luxe, rustic style, while its spa is fed from thermal springs.
We enjoyed many a passeggiata around the village, taking in its award-winning Oriade restaurant, the wine bar in the piazza and its church, the venue for classical recitals.
Calling what’s been achieved here a renaissance doesn’t do it justice...
EREMITO HOTELITO DEL ALMA
The lowdown A monastic-style retreat with its own take on luxury.
Best for Anyone up for a spiritual escape or digital detox.
We have to admit to feeling a little twitchy on hearing there’d be no TV, phones or Wi-Fi and precious little mobile reception at remote Umbrian retreat Eremito. But we quickly came to relish being out of the loop. The creation of former fashion designer Marcello Murzilli, Eremito is situated deep in a forest and is the perfect place to work at finding inner peace.
With just 14 single celluzze, this is monastic living at its best – hemp yarn sheets dress wrought-iron beds and while we’re normally huge fans of a squishy sofa, we loved our nook, with its stone desk and bench.
A bastion of contemplation, Eremito promotes ‘silent dining’, which sounds pretty austere, but is all about making sure you appreciate the home-grown veggies.
Activities-wise, the focus is on life’s simple pleasures, with yoga, meditation, Gregorian chanting and horse riding on offer. Livingetc loved the peace and tranquillity and the natural world’s epic surround sound...
SAVELLETRI DI FASANO, PUGLIA
The lowdown An ultra-luxe beachside resort dripping with glamour.
Best for Gourmet cuisine and high-end pampering.
About as far from monastic living as you can get, Borgo Egnazia is full-on, five-star glitz. Hewn out of white stone and modelled on a traditional Puglian village, complete with olive groves and curvy alleyways, this place is huge, with 184 rooms and villas decked out in contemporary Mediterranean style, two beach clubs, six restaurants (including the innovative ‘eat while you play’ kids’ joint Da Puccetta), three bars, an awesome spa – more on that later – and countless activities on offer.
Such is its appeal that it caters to both the fashion crowd and families who like their luxury served with a warm Italian welcome – the children’s club is a must for energetic little ones.
We made the most of the wicked choice of cuisine, with dishes spanning from the freshest fish to traditional pasta.
The celebrated 1,600 sq m Vair spa, meanwhile, is well worth chilling in, with everything from the divine-smelling well-being products to the staff ‘made in Italy’, a full-on Roman bath and a host of natural therapies and massages.
We left feeling totally spoiled and utterly blissed out.
PRAIA ART RESORT
ISOLA DI CAPO RIZZUTO, CALABRIA
The lowdown A secluded beachside oasis, just 20m from the ocean.
Best for Sun-worshippers keen to escape the crowds.
There’s no need to pack a cardie when visiting Praia Art Resort, a five-star boutique hotel tucked away in a remote spot in the ‘toe’ of the country.
With guaranteed sunshine throughout the year, this place is made for those who love to stay by the sea all day, then dress in minimal style at night, when it’s still warm and drinks are served by the pool. You don’t even have to take your flip-flops or robes – all were laid out for us when we arrived.
Art here doesn’t just mean paintings – though there’s plenty of artisanal craft on show around Praia’s 13 rooms, restaurant and spa – more an artful way of living...
Wines and food are local, with salads, freshly caught seafood and garden-grown herbs spiced up with Calabrian hot pepper and the rooms, each with private terrace, cluster amid pine trees overlooking the Ionian sea.
If you can drag yourself away from the lounger for an hour or two, check out the local attractions – from the Capo Colonna archaeological park to the wild beauty of Valli Cupe’s waterfalls – all of which are thankfully free of tourist parties and accompanying tat.