‘Our host was an actress, her husband a charmer...’
Cities are hectic places these days, where the natives themselves often feel lost among strangers. To create some calm and sense of place I always retreat to B&Bs. The owner’s suggestions can be invaluable: where to dine, how to avoid the crowds, where to find that ancient Roman fish market.
Our Roman B&B looked down on a tiny piazza in Rome’s Trastevere district. Our host was a beautiful actress, her husband a charmer. We dawdled over coffee, drank their sweet after-dinner wine, and followed their suggestions. We never clashed with those crowds of strangers, only with the two other people waiting to spy the Vatican dome late at night through a keyhole. I will keep it a secret for my host to reveal to others.
Baroquely beautiful Lecce, one of the delights of Puglia, was another place that might have been confusing for a one-night visit. Our host was there to guide us through the thicket of surprises. Our 20ft high bedroom, decorated with old murals and modern art, immersed us in the grandeur of the town. No hotel could have competed for informal splendour. We lived like princes.
Naples, too, was made easier by our urbane host. He lent me his richly stocked library – and a bicycle. The hectic streets stretch between palaces of ravishing antiquity and museums awash with Roman artefacts; confusion lies in wait for the uninformed visitor. Not only did we have a friendly guide, but we had Paulo’s perspective on a complex and exciting city.
Italy has too much history and beauty to bear on your own; you need support from Italians who want to look after you – and they are often such fun. Better still, staying with them ensures that your money stays there and circulates in the community. So here is my selection of 20 of the best city B&Bs in Italy.
Prices are for double room with breakfast included. In a Sicilian city awash with grand palazzi and baroque churches are the renovated stables of the Palazzo di Federico. Annalisa and her daughter’s passion for decoration shows in every detail. The building stands on a narrow street in the heart of ancient Ballarò, close to Palermo’s oldest market and cathedral. This family’s home is yours to enjoy, from the roaring fire in low season to the courtyard garden where outstanding breakfasts are served among citrus trees and palms: the dreamiest B&B.
From €120 (£104) per night (0039 0912 12215; sawdays.co.uk/ ilgiardino diballaro). This villa with views of Mount Etna over the rooftops of Taormina oozes history. Over the years it has played host to many great literary giants and artists – Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell, Dalí and Picasso, who gives his name to the main suite, were all guests of its aristocratic English owners. Guests enter a library/reception area, and the five light-flooded bedrooms are all upstairs; the two in the towers have huge terraces and spectacular vistas; all have antique furnishings, watercolours on pastel walls and brand-new beds. Each morning breakfast – fresh fruits, homemade cakes and breads – is laid out on the top floor as you gaze out over the Bay of Naxos and plan your day touring Sicily.
From €150 per night (0039 0942 28725; sawdays.co.uk/casacuseni). Lecce, the “Florence of the South”, is an architectural treasure. Each apartment at Roof Barocco suite has its own terrace – flower-filled oases on which to laze and gaze at the wonders of the city. Peaceful rooms are traditionally furnished with a few modern touches, bathrooms are spotless, little kitchens have welcome hampers. Breakfast – a treat – is left at the door in a basket: freshly squeezed juice, a tin of warm croissants, a little glass pot of yogurt and fruits and jams from Elisabetta’s country house. Just wonderful.
From €90 per night (0039 331 7585 656; sawdays.co.uk/ roofbaroccosuite). This exquisite 17th-century B&B is set in a sun-blanched fishing town just down the coast from Bari, in Puglia. Deep in its winding, cobbled streets, you step through a painted arch and a door within a door, up marble stairs worn shiny over centuries… and you’re in a beautifully restored palazzo. Five soothing bedrooms have restored furniture, fluffy towels, balconies; the two upper rooms, reached by courtyard stairs lined with orchids and vases, can join to make a family apartment. Between Bari and the Roman road to Brindisi, on a coastline of sandy bays and fishing villages, Monopoli is one of Puglia’s seaside treasures – and the palazzo a gem within it.
From €110 per night (0039 080 887 6983; sawdays.co.uk/ palazzobregante). one of the classiest streets of Naples, and you’re within walking distance of everything: the Royal Palace, the Opera, the Castel, and the stunning modern metro Toledo. Owner Stefania is a delightful host with a passion for her city, happy to advise you from breakfast until 4pm. You could explore the teeming streets of the Spanish Quarter, track down the best pizzas in Naples (Da Sorbillo is minutes away), or stroll down to the Porto Beverello and catch a ferry to Capri.
From €65 per night (sawdays.co. uk/atticopartenopeo). Right by the Colosseum, in one of Rome’s largest squares where pieces of the ancient city are scattered on all sides, is this newly restored, wellorganised apartment. Here you’ll find a delightful combination of youth, dedication and family tradition with a fresh sense of hospitality and great sensitivity to travellers’ needs. Breakfast is brought to you in your room – at a time that suits you. The magnificent Basilica of St John Lateran, Rome’s first church, is just around the corner. On Sunday, hire a bike and ride the lovely Appian Way.
From €90 per night (0039 338 984 7330; sawdays.co.uk/ adelinaguesthouse).
From €135 per night (0039 055 2340 586; sawdays.co. uk/1865residenzadepoca).
A great find, this very old “terratetto”, nestled between its neighbours on a small street off the Piazza Santa Croce, is perfect for those who want to stay in the historic centre. There’s attention to detail at every turn; everything has been thought through beautifully. The four elegant rooms, one with a four-poster, aren’t large but are beautifully presented, each named after famous Florentine bells, each with its own refined identity; they provide sanctuary from the heat of the city, while the jasminegarlanded breakfast terrace is the perfect place from which to enjoy Mariangela’s exceptional baking. Your charming host runs her own highly acclaimed Tuscan cookery courses, so make sure you book a lesson during your stay.
From €145 per night (0039 347 2593 010; sawdays.co.uk/ lastanzedisantacroce). This peaceful 1900s villa is a 15-minute walk from Piazza San Marco – and has parking. Off a leafy residential square, close to restaurants, antique shops, botanic gardens and a Russian Orthodox church, Villa Antea is a friendly Italian-family concern, a lovely little find. Enjoy continental breakfast with fruits – and perhaps homemade bomboloni (mini doughnuts) – served at tiny round tables in the elegant dining room. Up the white stone stairs are big, airy bedrooms
Relais Villa Antea, main; Palazzo Bregante, inset
Enjoy hectic streets and ravishing antiquity