There is an infinite variety of accommodation in Italy: mountain monasteries, boutique hotels, youth hostels, self-catering villas, family-run B&Bs and rural farmhouses. While rarely particularly cheap, standards are fairly reliable and accommodation is strictly regulated.
In popular resorts and the major cities booking ahead is advisable, particularly during July or August, while for Venice, Rome and Florence it’s pretty much essential to book ahead from Easter until late September and over Christmas and New Year. The phrases should help you get over the language barrier.
Italy has some of the most memorable hotels in Europe, ranging from grand hotels oozing belle-époque glamour to boutique hotels on the cutting edge of contemporary design. As is commonplace throughout Europe, Italian hotels are given an official rating of between one and five stars based on facilities and services, such as the number of rooms with en-suite bathroom or telephone, whether there is a restaurant on site, and whether there is 24-hour service. This means that the star rating is no guide to a hotel’s subtler, more subjective charms, such as the style of decor or the friendliness or helpfulness of staff.
In very busy places at peak times of the year it’s not unusual to have to stay for a minimum of three nights, and many proprietors will add the price of breakfast to your bill whether you want it or not; try to ask for accommodation only – you can always eat more cheaply in a bar. Be warned, too, that in major resorts you will often be obliged to take half- or full board in high season. Note that people travelling alone may sometimes have to pay for the price of a double room even when they only need a single, though it can also work the other way round – if all their single rooms are taken, a hotelier may well put you in a double room but only charge the single rate.
Bed and breakfasts
Bed and breakfast schemes are becoming a very popular alternative form of accommodation. The best ones offer a real flavour of Italian home life, though they’re not necessarily cheaper than an inexpensive hotel, and they rarely accept credit cards. Some places going under the name are actually little different from private rooms, with the owners not living on the premises, but you’ll invariably find them clean and well maintained. The most recent trend is for boutique B&Bs, often in stylishly revamped old palazzi. Check out w bbitalia.it, w bbplanet.it and w bed-and-breakfast-in-italy.com.
There is a good network of private and HI hostels throughout the country – from family-friendly institutions on the edge of large cities to sociable town-centre backpacker-focused options. Rates at official HI hostels in Italy are around €18 per night for a dorm bed, while private city-centre establishments are usually closer to €25. You can easily base a tour of the country around them, although for two people travelling together they don’t always represent a massive saving on the cheapest double hotel room. If you’re travelling on your own, on the other hand, hostels are usually more sociable and can work out a lot cheaper; many have facilities such as inexpensive restaurants and self-catering kitchens that enable you to cut costs further.
HI hostels are members of the official International Youth Hostel Federation, and you’ll need to be a member of the organization in order to use them – you can join through your home country’s youth hostelling organization (see Monasteries and convents) or often at the hostel on arrival. You need to reserve well ahead in the summer, most conveniently by using w hostelbookers.com or w hostelworld.com.
In some cities, it’s also possible to stay in student accommodation vacated by Italian students for the summer. This is usually confined to July and August, but accommodation is generally in individual rooms and can work out a lot cheaper than a straight hotel room. Again you’ll need to book in advance.
Monasteries and convents
You will also come across accommodation operated by religious organizations – convents (normally for women only), welcome houses and the like, again with a mixture of dormitory and individual rooms, which can sometimes be a way of cutting costs as well as meeting like-minded people. Most operate a curfew of some sort, and you should bear in mind that they don’t always work out a great deal cheaper than a bottom-line one-star hotel. Information can be found in the local tourist offices.
An online agency, Monastery Stays (w monasterystays.com), offers a centralized booking service for over 250 convents and monasteries around Italy. There are no restrictions on age, sex or faith, all rooms have private bathrooms and few places have early curfews.
Self-catering is becoming an increasingly feasible option for visitors to Italy’s cities. High prices mean that renting rooms or an apartment can be an attractive, cost-effective choice. Usually in well-located positions in city centres, and available for a couple of nights to a month or so, they come equipped with bedding and kitchen utensils, and there’s nothing like shopping for supplies in a local market to make you feel part of Italian daily life.
If you don’t intend to travel around a lot it might be worth renting a villa or farmhouse for a week or two. Most tend to be located in the affluent northern areas of Italy, especially Tuscany and Umbria, although attractive options are also available on Sicily and Sardinia and other rural locations too. They don’t come cheap, but are of a high standard and often enjoy marvellous locations.
Villa and apartment companies
Bridgewater UK t 0161 787 8587, w bridgewatertravel.co.uk. A company with over 25 years’ experience sourcing apartments, agriturismi and country hotels.
Friendly Rentals UK t 0800 520 0373, w friendlyrentals.com. Well-run company offering stylish properties in Milan, Florence, Venice and Rome to suit most budgets.
Holiday Rentals UK w holiday-rentals.co.uk. This site puts you in touch directly with the owners of over a thousand Italian properties.
Ilios Travel UK t 0845 675 2601, w iliostravel.com. High-quality selection of country mansions and villas, in various parts of the country.
Italian Breaks UK t 020 8666 0407, w italianbreaks.com. Accommodation for a range of budgets.
Italian Connection UK t 01424 728900, w italian-connection.co.uk. Major upmarket operator with an array of villas and smart apartments throughout the country.
Italian Homes UK t 020 3178 4180, w Italian-homes.com. Apartments in Rome, Florence and Umbria.
Livingitalia Italy t 39 06 3211 0998, w livingitalia.com. Apartments in Florence and Rome.
Owners Direct UK t 020 8827 1998, w ownersdirect.co.uk. User-friendly website advertising thousands of villas and apartments across Italy, booked direct through the owner.
If you’re planning on hiking and climbing, check out the rifugi network, consisting of about five hundred mountain huts owned by the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI; t 02 205 7231, w cai.it). Non-members can use them for around €10 a night, though you should book at least ten days in advance. There are also private rifugi that charge around double this. Most are fairly spartan, with bunks in unheated dorms, but their settings can be magnificent and usually leave you well placed to continue your hike the next day. Note that the word rifugio can be used for anything from a smart chalet-hotel to a snack bar at the top of a cable-car line. We’ve indicated where this is the case.
Camping is popular in Italy and there are plenty of sites, mostly on the coast and in the mountains, and generally open April to September (though winter “camping” – in caravans and camper vans – is common in ski areas). The majority are well equipped and often have bungalows, mainly with four to six beds. On the coast in high season you can expect to pay a daily rate of around €12 per person plus €10–15 per tent or caravan and €8 per vehicle prices in the Guide are for two people. Local tourist offices have details of nearby sites, or visit w camping.it.