When it comes to Italy, you can really stay anywhere from a five-star luxury resort to a backpacker’s hostel and still be guaranteed an incredible vacation. Between the delicious food, the friendly people, the remarkable culture and history, and the stunning landscapes, there’s not a lot about Italy that disappoints.
Even if it’s not necessary, an extraordinary hotel room never hurts. Luckily, Italy has no shortage of unique accommodations for every type of traveler. Want to sleep under frescoes by a famous painter? Head to Venice. Always wondered what it would be like to live as a monk? A little hotel in Umbria can give you a good idea.
Read on for a glimpse at the nine most unconventional (and unforgettable) stays around Italy.
An ancient cave dwelling: Sextantio le Grotte della Civita
Located in the southern town of Matera (recently voted the European Capital of Culture for 2019), Sextantio le Grotte della Civita is built into the famous sassi, or caves, of the area. Dating back to the Stone Age, the town of Matera was quite literally hewn out of cliffs, with residents living in the caves until as late as the 1950s. An UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993, the sassi are a unique element of Italy’s history.
The hotel itself is located in one of the oldest parts of the city and each of its 18 rooms and suites are situated in an original sassi, though they’ve been renovated to include modern amenities (running water, plumbing, electricity, and Wi-Fi). Ask for Suite 13, which offers its own balcony and a working fireplace next to the bathtub.
A remote Alpine igloo: Bella Vista Mountain Refuge
High up in South Tyrol, you’ll find the Bella Vista Mountain Refuge. A popular lodge for winter sports enthusiasts, the cozy property offers standard rooms but is especially known for its igloos. Each winter, the hotel builds two or three igloos in which guests can spend the night. The rooms have double beds covered in sheepskin and expedition sleeping bags, and there are traditional Finnish saunas and hot tubs just a few steps outside. Igloos are typically available from late December to mid-March each season.
A luxury bedroom with a ceiling open to the stars: L’Albereta
Every bedroom at Relais & Chateaux property L’Albereta is a dream, but the Cabriolet Suite is unlike any other. At the touch of a button, the ceiling of the room rolls away, leaving the oversize four-poster bed open to the fresh air. During the day, you can enjoy the sweeping views over the Franciacorta vineyards and Lake Iseo, and at night you’ll sleep peacefully under a blanket of stars.
A medieval country house: Sextantio Albergo Diffuso
Sister property to Sextantio le Grotte della Civita, Sextantio Albergo Diffuso is in a medieval village called Santo Stefano di Sessanio in the mountains of Abruzzo. Years ago, the town was deserted when its residents went in search of work in the cities. Now it has been fully restored, but with a specific focus on maintaining the old identity and architecture of the area. There is modern technology—and toilets that flush, of course—but most traces of the 21st century are hidden away. Instead, guests can focus on the buildings, which feature original antique furniture and textiles, and minimalist, medieval style rooms, all with working fireplaces.
© Alex Filz
A grown-up tree house: Hotel Meisters Irma
If you’re looking for a romantic stay, the Tree House suite at Hotel Irma in Merano delivers. Built over 20 feet up among giant pine trees, the suite is spacious and includes a private wrap-around deck with expansive views. When weather permits, hotel staff will even move your bed out onto the terrace so that you can sleep among the stars, and wake up and eat breakfast with the sunrise.
A room under museum-quality 18th-century frescoes: Aman Venice
The Aman brand is well known for its high-end Zen aesthetic, but the Aman Venice is a bit of a departure. Though the furnishings adhere to their particular mode of sleek minimalism, the striking 16th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal that now houses the hotel is of a different style entirely with its gilded moldings and ornate architecture. Book the Alcova Tiepolo Suite, where the room and bedroom are adorned with ceiling frescoes by famed 18th-century painter Tiepolo. Or pick the Sansovino Stanza to stay in a room with a fireplace and wood paneling carved by in-demand architect Sansovino in the 16th century.
A centuries-old watchtower: Torre Prendiparte
Hidden away in the very heart of Bologna, Torre Prendiparte is one of the last remaining 12th-century towers in the city. Originally numbering over a hundred, the towers of Bologna were meant to serve as refuge and fortress for the families who lived around them. Now entirely restored, Torre Prendiparte has opened all 12 of its floors to visitors. And come nighttime, there is a single room at the top of the tower available for guests. The hotel owner will also organize cocktail parties or even a romantic dinner for two in the tower on occasion.
A 16th-century Roman palazzo: Residenza Napoleone III
The beautiful Palazzo Ruspoli was originally built in Rome in the second half of the 16th century and has hosted many distinguished visitors, from diplomats to royals, over the years. In 1830, it even served as a home for Emperor Napoleon III, who lived in the apartments with his mother, the former Queen of Holland. Though the Ruspoli family still resides in much of the palazzo, they have opened three rooms, La Residenza Napoleone III, to guests. The grandest by far is the Napoleone Suite, which offers two sitting rooms and a large master bedroom adorned with six large-scale oil paintings. Bonus points for the palazzo’s location, right on Rome’s famous Via dei Condotti.
A modern-day hermit’s cell: Eremito Hotelito del Alma
Billed as a “digital detox” hotel, Eremito Hotelito del Alma is a far from ordinary escape. The secluded stone house sits surrounded by a massive nature preserve in the Umbrian countryside, about a two-hour drive from Rome. Every room (called a “celluzza“) at the Hotelito is a single, no exceptions. In true monastic form, accommodations are spare (don’t expect phones, TVs, or even Wi-Fi), meals are served communally at set times, and electricity is mostly abandoned after nightfall in favor of candlelight. The hotel hopes these sparse amenities will encourage guests to enjoy their natural surroundings and recharge from their hyper-connected lives.