Gourmet hotel breaks, Italy
Hungry for a gourmet break? From fine-dining country-house hotels and restaurants with rooms to Michelin-star-spangled kitchens at the culinary cutting edge, we've truffle-hunted hotels and foraged the world to cherry-pick those Smith stays that go above and beyond when it comes to cuisine. Whether you want a gastronomic experience par excellence or delectable farm-to-table fare, our gourmet breaks collection has a hotel to suit your foodie taste. Bon appetit!
For your first course, spend two nights in Verona, the historic city known as the home of Shakespeare's fictional star-crossed lovers. But there's nothing fictional about Palazzo Victoria, a luxurious, modern-meets-mediaeval boutique hotel hidden away among the city's cobbled streets. Be sure to sample the work of the Michelin-starred chef in the restaurant.
Worth getting out of bed for
– Dine at the hotel's Corso Porta Borsari restaurant
– Go wine-tasting at the Allegrini vineyards outside of town
– Day-trip to Venice for seafood risotto
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.
Fling some dough under the expert, private tutelage of chef Stefano Santo (formerly of two-Michelin-starred Square in London) at Borgo Santo Pietro in Italy. He’ll teach you classic Tuscan dishes for a lifetime of contented munching. And if you need more, consider a foodie-friendly tour of Italy, across Florence, Tuscany and the Amalfi coast.
Could a main course come from anywhere better than Tuscany? Make Castiglion del Bosco – an 800-year-old hillside estate with its own winery that produces a top-notch version of the region's signature Brunello di Montalcino – your villa for four nights, and settle in for several days of decadent wining and dining.
Worth getting out of bed for
– Take Tuscan cooking classes at the hotel's cookery school
– Go Truffle hunting, if the season permits
– Picnic in the vineyards with focaccia, pecorino and a bottle of Brunello
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.
Perhaps pizza's not a traditional dessert, but who are we to pass up a third course of Neopolitan pizza? Wrap up your gastronomic tour with two nights at the starkly modern, art-packed Romeo Hotel, overlooking the water and Naples' docks. Experience the southern Italian good life over dinner at the hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant and in its stylish cigar room.
Worth getting out of bed for
– Dine at Di Matteo or Sorbillo, two of the city's best pizzerias
– Learn to make traditional Neopolitan pizza from an expert pizzaiolo
– Tour the neighbouring petrified city of Pompeii