Owning a villa alongside an Italian lake may not be an option, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live in somebody else’s. Many of the loveliest lakeside villas have become small inns, usually run by the family whose ancestors have lived there for generations.
Elsewhere – in the heart of Valpolicella wine country, and even in more urban areas – other stately homes have opened their doors to visitors. To make them even more alluring, most have excellent restaurants, upon several of which Michelin stars have fallen.
Small and far more intimate than hotels, these villas offer a degree of personal service and hospitality that hotels can’t match. When you arrive, you may be greeted by the owner, perhaps a count or countess who will take time to suggest interesting places to visit nearby, or take you on a tour of the wine cellar or rose garden.
Don’t expect all the extras of a business hotel – you will not likely find in-room internet, for example. Instead, expect distinguished architecture and décor, fine antique furnishings and plenty of character. And expect history and art, ranging from Medieval frescoes to fine contemporary paintings. Living in one of these villas gives you a window into the centuries of history these estates have seen.
These are a few of my favorite villas, where I’ve stayed in northern Italy:
Il Sole di Ranco Located in Ranco, on the southeastern shore of Lake Maggiore, the beautifully decorated rooms in the family-owned Il Sole di Ranco overlook gardens and the lake. Before dining in the villa’s stylish restaurant, sip a drink on the terrace as you watch the sunset reflected in the lake. I especially liked the breads and pastries served at breakfast and dinner, all baked in the villa’s kitchens.
Locanda dei Mai Intees Overlooking Lake Varese from the small town of Azzate (near Varese), Locanda dei Mai Intees dates back to the 1400s. Proving the manor house’s age are the Medieval frescoes on the dining room walls, discovered during renovations. You’re likely to be greeted at the door by the hospitable owner, Carla Promati, who is also the chef – and an outstanding one. Guest rooms are richly decorated in Renaissance colors and furnished in antiques, but the stylish marble baths are up-to-the-minute modern.
Vila del Quar In the Valpolicella wine country north of Verona, this noble family’s estate, an Italian National Monument, lies amid its own vineyards. The family welcomes visitors to their Renaissance ancestral home, where the historic details blend gracefully with newly added modern conveniences. Enjoy tea overlooking the vineyard-surrounded pool and dine in the former family chapel, now a Michelin-starred restaurant.
La Villa, Hotel De La Ville
Opposite the former royal palace in Monza, a short train ride from Milan, La Villa was an aristocratic home before it became the exclusive guest house of the adjacent boutique hotel. Fine art and antiques furnish the rooms, which are palatial and elegant, but still very welcoming and comfortable. The private lounge downstairs is for villa guests only; a much-applauded restaurant (sorry, you’ll have to share this with the public) is in the hotel.
Hotel Ca' Maria Adele A few steps from the Vaporetto stop at Santa Maria della Salute in the quiet Dorsoduro quarter, this gracious palazzo has been skillfully transformed to a small intimate inn – a rarity in Venice. Rooms are opulent, especially the themed rooms, and the concierge will make sure you are seated at the best restaurants and have a choice box at La Fenice.