‘Our host was an ac­tress, her hus­band a charmer...’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

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

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