Accommodation in Italy is incredibly varied, with everything from family-run pensioni and agriturismi (farm stays) to idiosyncratic B&Bs, designer hotels, serviced apartments and even rifugi (mountain huts) for weary mountain trekkers. Capturing the imagination even more are options spanning luxurious country villas and castles to tranquil convents and monasteries. Book ahead for the high season, especially in popular tourist areas or if visiting cities during major events.
- Hotels All prices and levels of quality, from cheap-and-charmless to sleek-and-exclusive boutique.
- Farm stays Perfect for families and for relaxation, agriturismi range from rustic farmhouses to luxe country estates.
- B&Bs Often great value, can range from rooms in family houses to self-catering studio apartments.
- Pensions Similar to hotels, though pensioni are generally of one- to three-star quality and family-run.
- Hostels You'll find both official HI-affiliated and privately run ostelli, many also offering private rooms with bathroom.
When considering where to slumber, note the following tips:
- It pays to book ahead in high season, especially in popular coastal areas in the summer and popular ski resorts in the winter. In the urban centres you can usually find something if you leave it to luck, though reserving a room is essential during key events (such as the furniture and fashion fairs in Milan) when demand is extremely high.
- Accommodation rates can fluctuate enormously depending on the season, with Easter, summer and the Christmas/New Year period being the typical peak tourist times. Seasonality also varies according to location. Expect to pay top prices in the mountains during the ski season (December to March) or along the coast in summer (July and August). Conversely, summer in the parched cities can equal low season; in August especially, many city hotels charge as little as half price.
- Price also depends greatly on location. A bottom-end budget choice in Venice or Milan will set you back the price of a decent midrange option in, say, rural Campania. Where possible, we present the high-season rates for each accommodation option. Half-board equals breakfast and either lunch or dinner; full board includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Some hotels, in particular the lower-end places, barely alter their prices throughout the year. In low season there's no harm in bargaining for a discount, especially if you intend to stay for several days.
- Most hotels offer breakfast, though this can vary from bountiful buffets to more modest offerings of pastries, packaged yoghurt and fruit. The same is true of B&Bs, where morning food options can sometimes be little more than pre-packaged cornetti (Italian croissants), biscuits, jam, coffee and tea.
- Hotels usually require that reservations be confirmed with a credit-card number. No-shows will be docked a night's accommodation.
B&Bs are a burgeoning sector of the Italian accommodation market and can be found throughout the country in both urban and rural settings. Options include everything from restored farmhouses, city palazzi (mansions) and seaside bungalows to rooms in family houses. In some cases, a B&B can also refer to a self-contained apartment with basic breakfast provisions provided. Tariffs for a double room cover a wide range, from around €60 to €140.
Most campgrounds in Italy are major complexes with swimming pools, restaurants and supermarkets. They are graded according to a star system. Charges usually vary according to the season, peaking in July and August. Note that some places offer an all-inclusive price, while others charge separately for each person, tent, vehicle and/or campsite. Typical high-season prices range from around €10 to €20 per adult, up to €12 for children under 12, and from €5 to €25 for a site.
Italian campgrounds are generally set up for people travelling with their own vehicle, although some are accessible by public transport. In the major cities, grounds are often a long way from the historic centres. Most but not all have space for RVs. Tent campers are expected to bring their own equipment, although a few grounds offer tents for hire. Many also offer the alternative of bungalows or even simple, self-contained (self-catering) flats. In high season, some only offer deals for a week at a time.
Convents & Monasteries
Some Italian convents and monasteries let out cells or rooms as a modest revenue-making exercise and happily take in tourists, while others only take in pilgrims or people who are on a spiritual retreat. Many impose a fairly early curfew, but prices tend to be quite reasonable.
Two useful publications are Eileen Barish's The Guide to Lodging in Italy's Monasteries (2006) and Charles M Shelton's Beds and Blessings in Italy: A Guide to Religious Hospitality (2010). Online, St Patrick's American Community in Rome (www.stpatricksamericanrome.org) lists convent and monastery accommodation in Rome, Assisi and Venice. Some of these are simply residential accommodation run by religious orders and not necessarily big on monastic atmosphere. The website doesn't handle bookings; to request a spot, you'll need to contact each individual institution directly. Other websites with useful information on monastery stays are Monastery Stays (www.monasterystays.com) and In Italy Online (www.initaly.com/agri/convents.htm).
Live out your bucolic fantasies at one of Italy's growing number of agriturismi (farm stays). A long-booming industry in Tuscany and Umbria, farm stays are spreading across the country like freshly churned butter. While all agriturismi are required to grow at least one of their own products, the farm stays themselves range from rustic country houses with a handful of olive trees to elegant country estates with sparkling pools or fully functioning farms where guests can pitch in.
Ostelli per la gioventù (youth hostels) are run by the Associazione Italiana Alberghi per la Gioventù, affiliated with Hostelling International (www.hihostels.com). A valid HI card is required in all associated youth hostels in Italy. You can get this in your home country or directly at many hostels.
A full list of Italian hostels, with details of prices and locations, is available online or from hostels throughout the country. Nightly rates in basic dorms vary from around €15 to €50, which usually includes a buffet breakfast. You can often get lunch or dinner for roughly an extra €10 to €15.
Many hostels also offer singles and doubles, with prices ranging from around €30/50 in cheaper parts of the country to as high as €80/100 in major tourist centres like Rome. Some also offer family rooms. Be aware that some hostels have a curfew of 11pm or midnight.
A growing contingent of independent hostels offers alternatives to HI hostels. Many are barely distinguishable from budget hotels.
Hotels & Pensioni
While the difference between an albergo (hotel) and a pensione is often minimal, a pensione will generally be of one- to three-star quality while an albergo can be awarded up to five stars. Locande (inns) long fell into much the same category as pensioni, but the term has become a trendy one in some parts and reveals little about the quality of a place. Affittacamere are rooms for rent in private houses. They are generally simple affairs.
Quality can vary enormously and the official star system gives limited clues. One-star hotels and pensioni tend to be basic and usually do not offer private bathrooms. Two-star places are similar, but rooms will generally have a private bathroom. Three-star options usually offer reasonable standards. Four- and five-star hotels offer facilities such as room service, laundry and dry-cleaning.
Prices are highest in major tourist destinations. They also tend to be higher in northern Italy. A camera singola (single room) costs from around €40, and from around €60 in more expensive cities like Milan. A camera doppia (twin beds) or camera matrimoniale (double room with a double bed) will cost from around €60 or €70, even more in places like Milan.
Tourist offices usually have booklets with local accommodation listings. Many hotels are also signing up with (steadily proliferating) online accommodation-booking services.
The network of rifugi in the Alps, Apennines and other mountains is usually only open from June to late September. While some are little more than rudimentary shelters, many rifugi are more like Alpine hostels. Accommodation is generally in dormitories, but some of the larger rifugi have doubles. Many rifugi also offer guests hot meals and/or communal cooking facilities. Though mattresses, blankets and duvets are usually provided, most rifugi will require you to bring your own sleeping bag or travel sheet. Some places offer travel sheets for hire or purchase.
The price per person (which typically includes breakfast) ranges from €20 to €30 depending on the quality of the rifugio (it's more for a double room). A hearty post-walk single-dish dinner will set you back another €10 to €15.
Rifugi are marked on good walking maps. Those close to chair lifts and cable-car stations are usually expensive and crowded. Others are at high altitude and involve hours of hard walking. It is important to book in advance. Additional information can be obtained from the local tourist offices.
The Club Alpino Italiano (www.cai.it) owns and runs many of the mountain huts. Members of organisations such as the New Zealand Alpine Club, Fédération Française des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne and Deutscher Alpenverein can enjoy discounted rates for accommodation and meals. See the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation website (www.theuiaa.org) for details.
Looking for something out of the ordinary? Italy offers a plethora of sleeping options that you won't find anywhere else in the world.
- Down near Italy's heel, rent a trullo, one of the characteristic whitewashed conical houses of southern Puglia.
- Ancient sassi (cave dwellings) have found new life as boutique hotels in otherworldly Matera, a Unesco World Heritage–listed town in the southern region of Basilicata.
- Cruise northern Italy on the Avemaria, a river barge that sails from Mantua to Venice over seven leisurely days, with cultural and foodie pit stops, and the chance to cycle between locations.
- In Friuli Venezia Giulia, experience village life in an albergo diffuso, an award-winning concept in which self-contained (self-catering) apartments in neighbouring houses are rented to guests through a centralised hotel-style reception.
- In Naples, spend a night or two slumbering in the aristocratic palazzo (mansion) of a Bourbon bishop. Now the Decumani Hotel de Charme, the property comes complete with a sumptuous baroque salon.
Finding rental accommodation in the major cities can be difficult and time-consuming; rental agencies (local and foreign) can assist, for a fee. Rental rates are higher for short-term leases. A studio or one-bedroom apartment anywhere near the centre of Rome will cost around €900 per month and it is usually necessary to pay a deposit (generally one month in advance). Expect to spend similar amounts in cities such as Florence, Milan, Naples and Venice.
Search online for apartments and villas for rent. Another option is to share an apartment; check out university noticeboards for student flats with vacant rooms. Tourist offices in resort areas (coastal towns in summer, ski towns in winter) also maintain lists of apartments and villas for rent.
The Slumber Tax
Visitors may be charged an extra €1 to €7 per night. This is known as a 'tourist tax' or 'room occupancy tax'.
Italy's tassa di soggiorno (accommodation tax) sees visitors charged an extra €1 to €7 per night. Exactly how much you're charged may depend on several factors, including the type of accommodation (campground, guesthouse, hotel), a hotel's star rating and the number of people under your booking. Depending on their age and on the location of the accommodation, children may pay a discounted rate or be completely exempt from the tax. In Florence and Siena, for instance, children under 12 are exempt from paying, while in Venice, children aged 10 to 16 pay half-price. It's also worth noting that the maximum number of nights that the tax is charged can vary between cities and regions.
It's always a good idea to confirm whether taxes are included when booking.