My five favorite hotels in Italy as Valentine’s Day arrives

Me on the isle of Procida eating breakfast at La Vigna, one of my five favorite hotels in Italy
Me on the isle of Procida eating breakfast at La Vigna, my favorite hotel in Italy. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Depending on where you are on the love ladder, Valentine’s Day is either a reminder of how your love life is as shallow as a cancelled sitcom or a blatant ripoff invented by capitalist demon seeds. 

I’ve been there. I’ve spent many Valentine’s Days staying home in the U.S. watching a college basketball game and nodding off in the second half. Or I’d call all over town seeking one restaurant – one! – that didn’t price gouge me to the brink of homelessness. 

But now I live in Italy. Valentine’s Day is huge here. Saint Valentine hailed from Rome and was jailed for preaching to Christians who were persecuted during the Roman Empire. Before the Romans lopped off ol’ Val’s head, legend has it that he restored the sight of his jailer’s daughter and signed a letter to her as “Your Valentine.”

Add in the back-lit monuments, quiet piazzas and soft music and Italy is the most romantic country in the world every other day as well. All of Italy oozes romance. It is one continuous gondola ride.

With another Valentine’s Day here today, we are indulging. I’m taking Marina to Sutri, a little historic town about 30 miles (54 kilometers) north of Rome. It’s a town of about 6,700 people built on a hill surrounded by ravines. It has an ancient amphitheater where I once died in front of about 1,000 locals during my days in Rome’s gladiator school.

But the highlight is the hotel. Antico Borgo di Sutri is a four-star hotel set in 20 acres (8 hectares) of park with 22 rooms and a romantic patio for outdoor dining. A lavish breakfast is included which is important. (Read on.)

Booking Antico Borgo made me think. We’ve been all over Italy. We’ve traveled to 16 of Italy’s 20 regions. That includes countless hotels. My tastes in hotels have changed over the years. When I was a backpacker living on $15 a day, anything more than a bed, a lock and a shower was considered bourgeois bullshit. 

Now that I’m retired and financially independent, I like my creature comforts. You’ll notice from this list, most include my favorite: a pool. For Marina, she’d rather sleep on the street than in a hotel without a buffet breakfast.

All of our favorites have great breakfasts, excellent locations and touch on the luxurious. So if you’re planning a trip to Italy, keep this list in mind. I don’t judge a destination by its hotels but hotels certainly add to the joy of a destination.

After countless travels, here are our five favorite hotels in Italy, in order (All prices are for two guests, one night. Click links for detailed blogs of the areas.):

A patio setting outside a room at La Vigna. La Vigna photo

Albergo La Vigna, Procida

This four-star palace spread out over 3,000 square meters is more than just a hotel. It’s a vineyard. It’s a spa. It’s a garden. It’s a viewpoint. This big pink building looks lifted straight out of the pleasure palaces that dotted Pompeii before Visuvius turned it into a giant ashtray.

It sits atop the beautiful island of Procida with a courtyard overlooking the Bay of Naples. Little paths lead through grapevines (“Vigna” means “vineyard.”) of Falanghina and Luvante, of Aglianico and Cabernet. Procida’s own Loreto wine comes from here. Every September the staff lets guests help with the harvest.

No two rooms are alike but they all lead to a courtyard with your own table and chairs, perfect for a glass of wine as the sun sets on the sea. One room was even designed by Luigi Nappa who has his own art gallery in Procida’s Marina Grande.

But what made this No. 1 is the spa. You can reserve it for an hour and at your disposal is a private Jacuzzi (Wink! Wink!), Turkish bath, massage beds and wicker lanai chairs to cool off with a pot of tea. 

The location doesn’t hurt. Procida, just 30 minutes by hydroplane from Naples, is a gem of an island with good beaches and one of the prettiest ports in Italy. Procida was the site of “Il Postino,” the Oscar-winning film from 1994 about a love-sick mailman. They chose Procida because the film is set in 1950 and Procida still looks the same.

Info: Via Principessa Margherita 46, 39-081-896-0469,, Prices start at €128.

To get there: Numerous trains leave all day from Rome to Naples, 70 minutes, about €60 round trip. Italo ( is cheapest company if ticket bought a couple weeks in advance. From Napoli Centrale, a €13 cab ride takes you to Naples’ port where a 30-minute hydroplane ride to Procida is €17 per person round trip.

Il Parco sul Mare’s pool next to the Terraviva winery.

 Il Parco sul Mare, Tortoreto

It was difficult to reach but worth every wrong turn we made. This resort is in Abruzzo, one of the least-visited regions in Italy, and right near the Adriatic Sea. It’s located halfway between Tortoreto Lido, the beach-side village, and the town of Tortoreto sitting on a hill at 785 feet (239 meters), perfect for getting out of Rome’s summer heat.

In 2009, the local Mincioni family bought this villa and turned it into a four-star resort and spa. It has a huge swimming pool and indoor Jacuzzi complete with spa treatments. 

Included is a buffet breakfast that you can eat on the deck overlooking the pool. Dinner features unique Abruzzese recipes with local products, including Abruzzo’s trademark Pecorino wine.

If you want more wine, walk next door to the Terraviva winery where you can get a private tour and wine tasting. Buy a couple of inexpensive bottles for your trip home.

Tortoreto is a charming hill town a 10-minute uphill drive from the hotel where you get great views of the patchwork farmland below and the sea beyond. Go to one of the many restaurants with outdoor tables on the cobblestones and eat arrosticini, Abruzzo’s famous grilled sheep on skewers. 

Free shuttles take guests 10 minutes to the beach which features a section of an 80-mile bike path lined with palm trees.

Info: Via Vascello 17A, 39-08-61-777-325,,, prices start at €80.

To get there: About five buses leave daily from Rome’s Tiburtina station to Tortoreto. The 4-hour, 15-minute ride is €7-11. A five-hour train changes at Pescara and is €19-40. But the town is a 30-minute walk by foot to the hotel. The best option is by car. I rented one at Fiumicino Airport for 346.72 euros ($370) for five days including full insurance.

Guests have the option to stay in a trulli, traditional homes of farmers in Puglia for centuries. Sierra Silvana photo

Hotel Sierra Silvana, Selva di Fasano

This has similar attractions as Il Parco sul Mare: rural, swimming pool, great breakfast. We love the location of Selva di Fasano. So do many others, including Italian celebrities such as Gina Lollobrigida who frequented this little town of 300 people.

Selva di Fasano is four miles up a hill from the seaside town of Fasano (pop. 40,000) and an hour south of Bari, the capital of Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. Selva di Fasano is wealthy and lavish with big houses and villas set in a forested hamlet.

The Sierra Silvana has an Olympic-size pool with a backdrop of oak, fig, pine, chestnut and walnut trees. Another robust breakfast can be taken to the balcony over the pool.

It also offers guests the unique opportunity to sleep in a trulli. These are little round houses with tall, pointy brick roofs. No trullis were built after the 14th century and are still used by shepherds and farmers. Drive three miles to the town of Passiatore and see hundreds of them.

From the hotel you can walk to La Grande Quercia, Selva di Fasano’s best restaurant where you eat classic Pugliese pasta such as orecchiette and laganari near grapevines and fig trees.

Info: Viale Don Bartolo Boggias, 39-08-0433-1322,, prices start at €160.

To get there: Flights from Rome to Bari are 50 minutes and RyanAir has fares starting at $52 round trip. Trains from Bari to Fasano are 2 hours, 48 minutes starting at €10, taxis are 1 hour and are about €85. Bus is two hours and €8. Trains from Rome to Bari take four hours and start at €29. Buses take 5 hours, 20 minutes and start at €18.  Take taxi from Fasano to Selva di Fasano, about 15 minutes. I rented a car at Bari’s airport and paid €70 for three days.

Winston Churchill stayed here during the Allied invasion of Italy and later on holiday.

Grand Hotel Villa Politi, Syracuse

We came here for my 60th birthday so it will always have a special place for me – like it was for Winston Churchill. He stayed here during the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943. When he returned on holiday in ‘55 he said, “I never rested so well in my life.”

Neither did I.

Syracuse is a beautiful town on Sicily’s southeast coast that so often gets overlooked next to hoity-toity Taormina 70 miles (120 kilometers) to the north. When Sicily was part of Greece from 8th-3rd century B.C., Syracuse was considered the most beautiful city in the Greek Empire.

Syracuse features the neighborhood of Ortygia, a teardrop of an island just a tiny bridge away from the main town. Lined with narrow cobblestone streets and bars on the water, Ortygia is where the likes of Plato and Archimedes hung out.

We hung out at the Politi. The Austrian noblewoman Maria Teresa Laudien built it in 1862 after falling for a local painter, Salvatore Politi. It’s a huge, white four-star palace with a giant palm tree fronting a wraparound staircase to a lobby dripping in pinks and golds and crystal chandeliers. A big pool in the back convinced us to return in spring before Sicily turns into a sauna in summer.

Don’t miss Don Camillo, a romantic restaurant featuring fresh local fish, a great way to ring in a new decade.

Info: Via Maria Politi Laudien 2, 39-09-31-412-121,,, rooms start at €116.

To get there: The 1-hour, 20-minute flight from Rome to Catania starts at $57 round trip with ITA Airways and RyanAir. Rent a car at Catania airport and drive an hour south to Syracuse. About 12 trains a day go from Catania to Syracuse. The 1-hour, 15-minute trip starts at €7.60 one way.

Our Cannavina Suite in the Palazzo Cannavina. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Palazzo Cannavina, Campobasso

The Cannivina doesn’t have the others’ amenities. No swimming pool. No haute cuisine restaurant. I just loved the funkiness. I came here for my birthday last year and had no idea the room we took sight unseen would be arguably the nicest room I’ve ever had.

The Cannivina consists of six individual suites in a 500-year-old palace just off Piazza Gabriele Pepe, Campobasso’s main square. Our Cannivina Suite was huge: 50 square meters (540 square feet), nearly as big as my flat in Rome. A little balcony overlooked quiet Via Cannavina.

What sold me was the room’s weirdness. Scattered around like so much throw furniture are brightly colored fire extinguishers emblazoned with such art as Andy Warhol’s face and Chanel’s logo. Two big black bulbous sculptures have no explanation but somehow fit. A life-sized black horse with a lamp stuck in its mouth shocks visitors in another room.

A 19th century fresco adorns the ceiling. Two portraits of a pretty woman hang from a wall. One wall has a giant, sexy portrait of the owner, Manuela Carusi. A local artist, Carusi did most of the work during the Covid lockdown.

She and her kind assistant lay out a great breakfast buffet and are the best source of tourist information in a region not geared up for tourism. Campobasso is the capital of Molise, the least-visited region in Italy. Molise has a beautiful countryside and quaint villages, including the homeland of Robert De Niro’s ancestors. 

Info: Via V. Cannavina 24, 39-393-482-0000, Hotel B&B Campobasso – Palazzo Cannavina, I paid €120 a night last March for the Suite Cannavina.

To get there: About a dozen trains a day leave from Roma’s Termini station to Campobasso. The 3 ½-hour trip, with a change at Rocco Ravindola, starts at €16.05. It’s better to rent a car. The journey without stops is 2 hours, 45 minutes.