Italy is our number one selling destination and one of my personal favorites. I lived as a young adult and have visited dozens of times since! It is a country that delivers on so many levels, but can be so much more rewarding when travelers have a chance to dig a bit deeper. This trip for me was an opportunity to stay and experience local life by staying at small family owned and managed Relais & Chateaux properties where guests can be welcomed to historic palazzos located in city centers, agricultural estates, small towns or medieval walled villages. Join me below as we travel from the island of Venice, mainland Veneto, the heart and outskirts of Florence, Tuscany, Umbria, and Rome. Please join me as I live La Vita “Local” with Relais & Chateaux!
With a fabulous location on the Lagoon, this boutique property has incredibly friendly and attentive service. The rooms are unique (I loved my suite – number 502) and boast views out to the Lagoon on one side and a gorgeous church on the other. How does a jacuzzi bubble bath with a bit of prosecco sound after a long flight? Dinner and wines from the Veneto were a treat – check out the menu!
Personal: Alain Bullo, the charming General Manager of the Londra Palace worked here as a youngster and his father grew up as a concierge there!
A day trip to Murano is a must to experience a family of glass blowers practicing their pain staking and back breaking art that has been done for generations in the same shop. Guests can select and even watch their custom pieces made before they are shipped to their homes.
Lunch at a local trattoria for fried fish and spaghetti with clams was the perfect way to compliment our visit to Murano and start our Italian adventure.
We left the gorgeous and well-known island of Venice to explore some special and often missed towns on mainland Veneto.
We arrived during the town’s Christmas market and immediately could sense the Alpine feel of the area. This is a great point for active guests who wish to cycle and hike! The area is famous for its cashmere, wool and silk production so shopping in in order. The town is located on the D.O.G.C. Prosecco route and I was lucky to try some of the most incredible proseccos I have ever had (forget everything you know about most proseccos on the market in the U.S.!)
Villa Abbazia is made up of a Villa and an adjacent Palazzo and is located right on the town square. I found the rooms in the Villa gorgeous.
Personal: This is a family run Palazzo owned and managed by the Zanon family. The pride and attention to detail passionately displayed by Giovanni Zanon and his two sisters is commendable. See Giovanni below escorting us into Villa Abbazia and showcasing his award winning prosecco!
The most famous foods in the region are radicchio, tiramisu, and prosecco. The beauty of staying at these small locally owned hotels is the passion that the owners feel for their local products, and they want to share this joy with you! Check out this menu including risotto with radicchio and a crepe with potato, local cheese, and radicchio. One of the sisters served the meal while Giovanni proudly showcased his proseccos, wines and local produce. We felt that we were truly being entertained in someone’s home. The Michelin star chef emerged for a hello after the lunch! It was a grand afternoon!
Located in the town of Mira only 30 minutes from Venice, this is an ideal stop combined with time in Venice. In fact, guests can travel by private boat from the Londra Palace on the Lagoon to the coast 10 minutes from where Villa Francheshci is located.
There is a local shoe museum with 17,000 designer shoes on show from all of the most famous Italian and global shoe designers. This is where the design and manufacturing houses of the most important Italian brands are located!
Mira is located 30 minutes from Venice and 30 minutes from Padua.
Personal: This is very much a family affair of the Dal Corso family with the father running the kitchen and two sons and mother running the hotel. Above you will see Alessandro Dal Corso and his brother welcoming us to the famous Bellini from the Veneto!
This incredible dinner started in the kitchen with the family and cooks tasting local delicacies from soft shell crab, to fried fish, to charcuterie and cheeses. The meal included exceptional potato creme with truffles from Norcia and a delicious risotto with radicchio.
The evening continued with a talk of the curator from Rossimoda (the local designer shoe museum with 17,000 pairs of shoes) who brought in rare and vintage shoes for us to admire over dinner and some beautiful music from a local Venetian tenor who before being discovered was a gondolier! Oh what a night!
Located in one of the very best locations in Florence next to the beautiful Santa Croce church where one can find the tombs of everyone from Dante to Machiavelli, the Relais is a stunning boutique property with character, charm, and class. It is a quiet hotel to relax away from the hustle and bustle but only a 5-10 minute walk to most of the city’s main attractions.
Personal – The intimate restaurant at Relais Santa Croce is excellent and serves 6-8 guests per night, but if you would like to experience a 3-star Michelin restaurant, the chef owner has Pinoteca Pinchiorri on the ground floor of the building and is a one of a kind experience! Daniele, the General Manager, insured that we and every guest are cared for!
Personal: We had the chance to meet the stunning, elegant owner of Villa Cora who obviously inspires the incredible design and style of the luxurious Palazzo, but it is the hilarious and warm General Manager, Simone, who gives the hotels its personality and comfortable feel! This is a gem and one of the biggest surprises of the entire trip. The property is located in Florence but you must be in the know to find it!
I was lucky enough to be a guest in the Imperial Suite, and I truly felt like I was nobility from a by gone era! Pool and spa ensures guests have space to relax!
The incredible grounds of this authentic Tuscan farmhouse just outside of the walled city of Cortona and near the Montalcino wine region famous for Brunellos. This is a perfect base to explore the charming towns of Montepulciano and Pienza in Tuscany and Perugia and Assisi in Umbria.
The rooms are rustic as expected of an historic farm house, yet charming with incredible views from every window.
The Relais & Chateau hotel Il Falconiere is located just outside the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano appellation but is personally known for making fantastic Super Tuscan blends. Il Falconiere has a big-scoring, quite expensive, Ardito super-tuscan and a very approachable top quality blend for any occasion called O’Lillo and is a blend of equal parts Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Sangiovese, all grown in Tuscany, and considered a bargain!
See what we tasted below and my success at sabering the champagne!
Personal – The highlight was cooking and dining with Sivia Baracchi, the co-owner and cook in the Michelin Star restaurant of Il Falconiere and her fun son, Bendetto. This is a family run business and again, we could not have been made to feel more part of the Baracchi family! Baracchi is their restaurant located in the town of Cortona.
This is a former 14th century village turned hotel and while much larger than others from the trip, it makes for a fantastic relaxation option for families. Umbria is a more affordable price point than Tuscany, and the property is perfectly poised to offer respite to museum-ed out families. Guests can enjoy a very large pool with pool side restaurant, a separate baby pool, a large park, tennis courts and kids play ground. The rooms are modern and very comfortable and the staff could not be nicer. We had another excellent meal here and were expertly cared for by the General Manager Giorgio who treated us like family!
Every trip must have a favorite stop, and this may have been it! Norcia is an incredible walled city that has more Italian visitors and than American. It is famous for its black truffles and is considered the charcuterie capital of Italy with its spectacular array of sausages.
The hotel is so cozy, yet very stylish and located just at the main square
The first order of business was being invited to the home of the Bianconi family for a charcuterie tasting, of course wine and finally some fun cooking and special lunch!
Personal – The Bianconi family has been in Norcia and running restaurants, hotels and local tours for 106 years! The parents are incredibly gregarious as are their two professional sons, Vincenzo and Federico who run the day to day operations. Again, family here is everything and they are already passing this down to the next generation! It is clearly a successful formula as the hotel has the only Michelin Star in Umbria. Below Federico and his parents wave good bye as we pull off with Vincenzo and his son to hunt truffles!
The highlight here was definitely hunting for black truffles on a gorgeous day with the sweetest dogs ever!
You would be hard pressed for a better location in Rome, adjacent to Piazza Narbona – it’s in walking distance to most sights but not lost in the hustle and bustle of the Spanish steps. The hotel is eclectic with a varied collection of valuable art amassed by the father of the current owner. Rooms are either classic or designer and are a comfortable option. If you dine in the hotel, the food is completely vegetarian and excellent. Highlights include the rooftop terrace with breathtaking views of the city – a great place for drinks and soaking it all in!
Personal – The owner Roberto Vannoni personally showed us the hotel and many special pieced of the art collection procured by his father.
Rome never gets old!
If a view is important, it really does not get any better anywhere than here. I had to pinch myself each time I rolled over in my bed and saw the Colosseum staring back at me! The dinner at Aroma with the amazing host and General Manager, Bruno Papaleo could not have been a more fitting farewell. Splurge for the Colosseum suite to enjoy a big jacuzzi in your room which of course, you will share with the Colosseum! Great design and fun staff!
Personal – Bruno Papaleo has run the hotel for as long as he can recall – 🙂 A great ambassador and so charming!