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Delve into Smith’s collection of luxury villas, boutique hotels and restorative resorts in enchanting Italy: our guides to city breaks in Milan, lazy Tuscan summers and princely Puglian holidays will help you plan a perfetto getaway. Head north for palazzi and waterways in Venice, Florence’s Renaissance treasures and Modena’s Unesco-protected past, and down south for Naples’ olive groves and Sicilian lemonade.
And, if it's in-depth exploring you're after: See our Italian itineraries
Destinations in Italy
Abruzzo is rustic, rural, romantic Italy at its undiscovered finest, where sheep roam free and mediaeval villages dot the landscape…
The ‘seven sisters’ of the volcanic Aeolian Islands are scattered like stars across the deep blue Tyrrhenian Sea, north of Sicily.
Craggy, winding and riddled with caves and secret beaches, the Amalfi Coast is one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline in the world. The volcanic headland reaches out from the ankle of Italy towards the Tyrrhenian, sheer mountainside plummeting into the sun-sparkled sea.
Basilicata rivals Rome in terms of culture, beauty, history and charm, and it comes without the torrent of tourists.
The tiny island with a big following.
With a capital like Rome, it’s understandable that the rest of Lazio is often overlooked – but with historic towns, mile-long beaches and a patchwork of vineyards to see and sip your way through, it’s time to take note of Tuscany’s next-door neighbour.
Culture-lovers and country bumpkins alike will find themselves at home in Lombardy: head to grand tour-worthy Lake Como and Milan for swimming, shopping and showing-off, and to the north’s snow-dusted Alps for slopes and slaloms.
Art, fashion, furniture and football are Milan’s healthy obsessions.
The birthplace of pizza, tri-coloured ice-cream and an oversized take on the rum baba, Italy’s ancient ‘new city’ has always known how to attract attention.
This northwestern region is a reminder that until just over a hundred years ago, Italy wasn’t a country, but a collection of states, each with its own distinct identity.
Located in Italy’s sunny south, Puglia has a unique character and charm, little known to outsiders; the Italians who flock here in the summer keep this laidback playground of blue sea, golden sands and olive groves strictly a family affair.
This exclusive sliver of golden coast is Italy’s very own Côte d’Azur, a ravishing riviera of year-round sunshine, mega-yachts and beautiful people…
This Mediterranean island has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and if you venture inland you’ll find breathtaking countryside.
Shrugging off size limitations to reveal bustling cities, dramatic coastlines and mountainous countryside, this have-it-all Mediterranean island is Italy in microcosm.
The Ancients believed that mariners were lured to the islands and towering cliffs of the Amalfi Coast by the songs of the Sirens, mythical temptresses who gave their name to the seductive town of Sorrento.
Austrian until 1919, the South Tyrol – or Südtirol – is Italy’s most northerly province, with a uniquely Teutonic tone. Two-thirds of the population speak German as their mother tongue, and handsome schlossen dot every hillside, but still an Italian sensibility prevails, creating an intriguing cultural mix.
Best known for the majestic beauty of its peaks, Trentino is a mountainous region in northern Italy, with a stunning aspect of alpine forest, snow-capped mountains and shimmering lakes.
Venice's compact cousin has history, culture and gastronomic prowess to rival the City of Bridges, but it's a far more peaceful proposition.
Mother Nature blessed Tuscany with acres of olive groves and farmland, but the addition of luxury villas and boutique hotels is very welcome. Here’s Smith’s collection of the best…
Umbria is a rustic playground of pleasures, where food, fortified towns and fine wines will sate your every cultural and culinary need.
It may seem curious in a city that sits out in the sea and is characterised by its glittering waterways, but it’s walking you should prepare for when you visit Venice.
Shakespeare chose to set his smouldering tragedy, Romeo & Juliet, in this green- and honey-coloured historic city, and no wonder: these are streets to fall in love in.
This restored 13th-century villa in the hearet of Tuscany is all flagstone floors, huge stone fireplaces and ornate chandeliers; beds are draped in tasselled silks and brocade, and light bounces from gilded baroque mirrors in marble-enhanced bathrooms. Every detail is exquisite;every piece of furniture murmurs classic luxury. All 15 rooms are pretty darn sexy, but we’re especially smitten with the Maggiorana Garden Suite and it’s ‘super super king-size’ four-poster bed, exposed beams, freestanding copper tub and prvate garden. It’s the perfect couples’ retreat.
It takes one look at Cardinal Bontadosi’s former home in Montefalco to see that men of the cloth had a good time in mediaeval Italy. All domed ceilings and ancient art, this 15th-century palace has been restored to full Renaissance glory – stone staircases, iron chains in frames and mounted mediaeval artefacts – with a contemporary frisson, thanks to the modern art gallery attached. Junior Suite 4 is certainly a room with a view: gaze at the colonnaded square below from the window, admire the frescoed, chandeliered ceiling from the comfort of the huge bed, or spy on your roommate in the freestanding egg-shaped bath tub in the corner…
Italy's booted ball is a degustation-worthy destination in its own right. Plump olives, grapes and citrus fruit sprout from Sicily's fertile soil, there are few middlemen between the sea and your plate, and pistachios, marzipan and creamy cheese are worked into dreamy dessert creations.
Known for ricotta: piped into cannolis, encased in pasta or baked and eaten with a spoon, Sicilians love it. Capers from Salina, blood oranges from Catania and panelle chickpea fritters are very good; cannolis, gelato and Marsala wine cater for sweet-toothed Smiths.
Dishes here are tableaux vivants of star-turn ingredients. Fresh and flavourful fish sprinkled with herbs, and pasta with spare sauce: a dollop of ricotta, juicy tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil and a jaunty basil leaf makes a perfect pasta alla nonna. Candied-fruit-dressed desserts are comparably flamboyant
• A humble but punch-packing ingredient, capers are liberally sprinkled over Sicilian dishes; those from Salina are the most revered. The Aeolian Island's caper buds, preserved with salt instead of brine, are the island's pride and joy, and they're infused into gelato and panna cotta during the caper festival in June. Salina's also the only place where Malvasia wine is produced.
• Prefer your wine honey-hued and sweet? Visit Marsala on the west coast, to drink your fill of its eponymous plonk. Take a cellar tour of Florio Winery, then stop at Donnafugata Winery for more Dionysian swigging and slugs of grappa. The famed vino was first produced by the English, but maybe it's best to keep schtum about this when mingling with Marsalesis.
• With iridescent swordfish, frilly-legged langoustines and surprised-looking skates, Catania's fish market is a dizzying, and pungent, experience. Dishes are simple – a smattering of squid tentacles, a squeeze of lemon – but oh so good. Wash down with very fresh orange juice from the stalls and finish with cannoli from Prestipino Cafè or chiacchiere biscuits at Savia pasticceria.
Stay at homestead Azienda Agricola Mandranova; here you'll find yourself drifting to the cucina frequently, whether to eat co-owner Silvia's home-made fare or to make your own in the excellent cookery school.
Where Borsaro 36, Palazzo Victoria, Verona, Italy
Cuisine Modern Italian
What's the inspiration for your cooking?
My cooking is inspired by classic Italian recipes, with a modern twist.
Favourite ingredient right now?
Tomato and basil, inevitably.
Best breakfast ever?
The best breakfasts I ever had were at Shangri-La Sydney and Burj al-Arab Dubai.
Where do you like to eat out?
I normally prefer to eat food in the place its ingredients come from, whether that's a simple trattoria or a Michelin-starred restaurant.
In true Italian style, food is at the fore during a stay at La Villa. By all means join a perfect pasta masterclass or indulge in some Piemonte wine tasting, but the real gourmet prize is hidden in the surrounding vine-strewn countryside.
We'd normally recommend you look out over such inspiring Italian scenery but divert your gaze to tree root level and you might just find yourself a piece of gourmet gold. Truffle hunting is, literally, big business in these parts and at La Villa you can join local expert Mario, and his well-honed hound Rex, in the search. From mid-September to late December several hunts are arranged and any fungal finery unearthed is brought back to use in a truffle brunch prepared by Mario – think truffle and gorgonzola toast, truffle omelettes and scrambled eggs with truffle. If your now tantilised tastebuds crave even more, the famed Alba white truffle fair is nearby and runs from 11 October to 16 November.
Seductive and unforgettable, set high in the hills above Florence, Il Salviatino has all the atmosphere you’d expect from a lavish 15th-century palazzo turned boutique hotel. None of its rooms disappoint, but the spectactular Affresco Suite is the kind of place you can imagine silver-screen villains and vixens padding around in silken robes, admiring the 19th-century Bruschi frescoes from the vast chesterfield, and luxuriating in the remarkable carved sarcophagus bath tub.
Peek under the bed in Cervarolo’s Junior Suite 9 and you find a cisternina (literally ‘a grape-stomping place’); this 16th-century farmhouse once produced its own wine (and today, mixes some knockout liqueurs). The owners have gone to incredible lengths to incorporate the Puglian residence’s 400-year history (antique doors for headboards, traditionally Puglian trulli architecture and the ilk) with modern comforts (Malin + Goetz products; simply enormous swimming pool, modern cookery school) . Every bedroom is individual, thanks to all the original features of the architecture – the alcoves, fireplaces and vaulted ceilings are all unique.
Head up to leafy Fiesole and look down across the entire town from Il Salviatino. Gaze across those iconic terracotta-tiled rooftops and the Duomo itself below while you dine at its La Terrazza restaurant (+39 055 904 1111). Or just appreciate the views over the Italian gardens and the green green hills of Fiesole from the bedrooms at this magnificent hotel.
Stay at Castello di Casole – a hill-view haven in the heart of Tuscany set in a culinary utopia, with grapes, olives, lemons and saffron a few of the ingredients in plucking distance – just the place to get inventive with your pizza making.
Take a bite of a fresh-out-a-Tuscan-oven slice and all limp, regrettable crime-against-pizza take-aways are forgotten; this is the real deal. Replicating it at home is the hard bit. Which is why being schooled in the perfect pizza is a lesson worth learning. All the crucial crust-based challenges are tackled, from the dough to the toppings via the all important tomato and cheese foundation, with the added satisfaction that almost everything you use has been grown, pressed or reared somewhere on Castello di Casole's endless estate. Daring dough-flingers may find some inspiration in the pizzeria menu where combos like prawns and swiss chard and red potatoes and rosemary go up against the ever-presents. However yours turns out, though, few foodie endeavours are as fun as muddling your way through your first Margherita, so flour-faced five-year-olds will get as much enjoyment as desperate dinner party show-offs.
For many of us, travel is what we eat: new flavours, local delicacies and relaxing al fresco feasts. Grade-A gourmands tend to love things Gallic and, when it comes to getaways, Provence’s Alain Ducasse-owned Hostellerie de l’Abbaye is the cerise on France’s rich gâteau. Nearby Baumanière is a Michelin-star-spangled stay hugged by abundant vineyards. Cross the Med to Castiglion del Bosco and you can learn the secrets of the Tuscan cucina at its renowned cookery school. Thirsty? California’s cinematic wine country – valleys Napa and Sonoma – will sate you in style.