Where To Stay In Italy: Practical Information
People come from all over the world to visit Italy and most Italians spend their vacations here as well, particularly in the mountains or by the sea. This means that there is a dazzling range of accommodation options, from splendid hotels in old palazzi and historic residences, to simple family-run pensioni and hostels.
Most major cities also offer upscale B&Bs. Those who want efficiency accommodations are also well served with everything from stately villas in Tuscany to vacation apartments in, or near, seaside resorts. Italian hotels are notorious for being expensive and short of services but you can still find excellent value in all price ranges.
Albergo della Regina Isabella, Ischia, Italy by Francesco
Hotels in Italy are graded with one to five stars. Grading depends on facilities offered rather than atmosphere and each region awards stars according to slightly different criteria. Sometimes a hotel has a lower rating than it deserves. This may be because the local tourist office has not upgraded it yet or the hotel itself has opted to stay in a lower category to avoid higher taxes.
Albergo is Italian word for hotel but the term tends to refer to the upper categories. Room sizes vary considerably: in city centers even expensive hotels can have far smaller rooms than their counterparts in other countries, whereas outside the city your room may be more like a small suite. In general, alberghi will have private showers in all rooms and the more luxurious have baths.
Although the term pensioni is no longer in official use, it still describes one and two star hotels, most of which are small and family run. On the whole you will meet immaculate standards of cleanliness and friendly, helpful service with basic, although perfectly functional, rooms. However, as pensioni are often in old buildings, historic charm may be paid for with noisy, erratic plumbing and dark rooms.
Many do not have public rooms other than a sparsely furnished breakfast room. Most will offer at least some rooms with a private shower although rarely a bath. If you intend being out late, check that you’ll be able to get back into the pensione. Not all of them have night porters after midnight or 1am, but most will at least be able to provide a key to the main door. If you are planning to stay in a pensione in winter, check that it has central heating. Not all of them do and, even in the south, temperatures are low from November to February.
A locanda was traditionally an inn, offering cheap food and a place to sleep for the traveler. The word is still in use, particularly in central and northern Italy, but is now synonymous with pensione and may be more of an affectation for the benefit of the tourist.
There are various Italian chain hotels at the upper end of the market, as well as the usual big internationals. Jolly hotels appeal to the business traveler and there are one or two in most large cities; Starwood Westin and Best Western are more akin to international luxury chains, while Notturno Italiano cater for the more modest budget. Relais & Chateaux run charming hotels in historic castles, villas, and monasteries with facilities to match.
MEALS AND FACILITIES
Italian hotels tend to offer fewer special facilities than those in many other countries. In spite of the hot summers, for example, air-conditioning is not always available and neither is 24-hour room service.
Some hotels may insist on full board (pensione completa) or half board (mezza pensione) in peak season. Avoid this if you can: unless the hotel is very isolated, there will almost certainly be a good range of places to eat nearby. Most hotel rates include breakfast, which in four- and five-star hotels will consist of a large buffet; the pensioni breakfast will probably consist of coffee and cookies or brioches with butter and jelly. A good alternative is to have breakfast at a local bar and take part in an enjoyable Italian institution. For a double room, state if you want twin beds (letti singoli) or a double bed (matrimoniale). Bathrooms are in all of them but the most expensive hotels will have showers rather than baths.
Italians accept children as an ordinary part of life and, although there may not be many special facilities, they are always welcome. Some of the cheaper hotels may not be able to provide cribs. However, virtually all hotels, from the simplest to the grandest, will be happy to put a small bed or two into a double room for families traveling together. The price of this is usually an extra 30–40 percent of the double room rate per bed. Most of the large hotels will also offer a babysitting service.
As a rule hotels in Italy are not cheap, although prices vary considerably between places and seasons. Prices, which include tax and service and are quoted per room, start from around €50 for a double room without a bathroom, and can rise to at least €65 with a bath, even for a very basic hotel. A single room will cost about two thirds of a double. Outside the big cities, €100 will get you something comfortable and often picturesque, although not particularly luxurious.
For €210 and upward you can expect a good range of facilities, a pleasant or central location, and often a lot of local or historic charm. Hotels in the major cities and resorts are likely to be more expensive.
In larger hotels there is often a considerable difference in quality between standard and more luxurious rooms, and this is reflected in the price. Rooms with a view or a terrace are also more likely to command higher rates, though for those who prefer peaceful nights, it is generally best to avoid rooms facing the street in busy city centers.
By law hotels have to display their rates in every bedroom. Variation between high and low season can be as much as 100 percent or more in resorts. Also, beware of extra charges: the minibar can be very expensive, as can charges for parking facilities, laundry, or for making telephone calls directly from your hotel bedroom.
Book as soon as possible, particularly if you have special requests such as a room with a view, off the street, or with a bath. Two months should be ample, but be aware that, during the high season, popular hotels can be fully booked as early as six months in advance.
August tends to be very busy at beach resorts and February at mountain resorts. The same goes for cities and towns depending on their particular cultural calendars. You will be asked for a deposit when you book; this can usually be paid for by credit card (even in hotels that do not accept credit cards for final payment); otherwise by international money order.
Under Italian law the hotel must issue you with a receipt (ricevuta fiscale) for final payment which you must keep until you leave Italy.
CHECKING IN AND OUT
On arrival the management will take your passport to register you with the police. This is a mere formality and it should be returned within an hour or two. You will also have to authorize the hotel to transfer calls to your room.
Checking-out time is usually before noon and may be earlier in small hotels. The room must be vacated but most hotels will allow you to leave luggage in a safe place to be collected later in the day.
APARTMENTS AND AGRITURISMO
If you intend to be based in one area, efficiency accommodations often enjoy a marvelous location and is generally of a high standard. Across rural Italy there are more than 2,000 farms, villas, and mountain chalets offering reasonably priced apartments or hotel-style accommodations as part of the Agriturismo scheme.
Facilities range from those of a first-class hotel in beautifully kept villas or ancient castles to basic rooms with the family on a working farm. Some have excellent restaurants which serve farm and local produce, others can arrange riding, fishing, or other activity holidays. There may be a minimum stay requirement, especially in peak season.
The booklet Guida dell’Ospitalità Rurale can be found in the central office in Rome or the regional offices. Other efficiency options can be arranged through specialized agencies such as Hometours International or Grand Luxe International before you leave for Italy, but again, make sure you call in advance; they can be booked up for months.
There are also so-called residenze, found in the ENIT (Agenzia Nazionale del Turismo) accommodations lists. Midway between a hotel and efficiency apartments, these often offer cooking facilities and some sort of restaurant service and usually pool.
For stays of several months or more, accommodations agencies for apartments in the city center as well as the near-by countryside can be found under Immobiliari in the Pagine Gialle (Yellow Pages).
As well as the International Youth Hostels Association (AIG in Italy), tourist offices in the major cities have lists of privately- run hostels. Prices, at around €12 per person per night, are considerably less than even the cheapest pensioni but accommodations are in single-sex dormitories and washing facilities may be overstretched.
A room in a private house is another cheap option, offering often small but clean rooms. Such rooms, apartments or even houses and villas can be found at Airbnb.com. Bed-and-breakfast accommodations are increasing rapidly but are of variable quality, so only rely on trustworthy recommendation.
The Centro Turistico Studentesco can help students find rooms in university dormitories across Italy. This is not limited to students taking courses, particularly in the summer when resident students are on holiday.
A peaceful alternative is to stay in a convent or monastery with guest accommodations. The rooms are clean, if a little spartan, and they are usually in a secluded area or behind cloister walls. However, strict rules may be a price to pay: most have early curfews and many will not admit members of the opposite sex even when with their spouses. There is no central agency dealing with these but they are included in the ENIT accommodation lists for each region.
MOUNTAIN REFUGES AND CAMPSITES
Basic accommodations in huts and refuges is available in mountainous areas where there is hill-walking and hiking. Most of these huts are owned and run by the Club Alpino Italiano whose headquarters are in Milan.
Campsites abound in the mountains and around the coastal regions. Many of them offer basic accommodations in family-sized cabins (bungalow) as well as spaces for tents, campers, and trailers, with basic facilities such as water, electricity, and washing.
There is usually a restaurant and, especially in campsites by the sea, there may also be sports facilities such as swimming pools, boat and water sports equipment rental, and tennis courts. The Touring Club Italiano publishes a good list of campsites with details of facilities for each one, as does Federcampeggio. This is my favorite accommodation option as you can enjoy being outside all the day and night as well and there are really great campsites in Italy offering first-class services.
In many cases, however, hotels without special facilities will do all they can to accommodate people in wheelchairs by giving them downstairs rooms (when available) and help with elevators or stairs.
The Italian state tourist office (ENIT) has accommodation lists for every region. They are reprinted annually but may not be updated and prices may have changed. Rooms can also be booked at the local APT (Azienda Provinciale per il Turismo).
If you are planning your next trip to Italy book hotels, flights, rental cars at best price guaranteed!
Airbnb.com – a site where you can find lots of private accommodation not only in Italy.
hospitalityclub.org – here you can find some free accommodation in Italy and abroad.
booking.com – most popular booking site worldwide
hotelscombined.com – compare hundreds of booking sites
immobiliare.it – for those who want to stay in Italy for longer time, e.g. 5 and more months
casevacanza.it – private homes and apartments to rent on your holidays