10 best: South Italian secrets
Venture down Italy's heel and you'll find some of the most romantic hotels in the world. Boutique gurus Mr and Mrs Smith reveal their favourites.
Sextantio Albergo Diffuso Abruzzo
Take one remote near-medieval village, restore a handful of its buildings, imbue with a sprinkling of modern luxury (but take care not to overpower the old-fashioned flavour), and you've got something resembling this one-of-a-kind boutique escape.
Part-hotel, part-restoration project, the hotel may have a Middle Ages ambience thanks to its crumbled stone walls and reclaimed features -- bath mats made out of potato sacks, soap trays that were once washing boards -- but designer mod-cons such as Philippe Starck egg baths, under-floor heating and striking Syrian light fixtures offer flashes of contemporary luxury.
Details: Doubles from €220, including breakfast and tax.
Casa Angelina Amalfi Coast
There is something undeniably soothing about waking up in an entirely white room, especially when you can then pad to the window and gaze out on to a vast expanse of shimmering blue sea, with Capri sat scenically on the horizon.
Just outside the Amalfi village of Positano, Casa Angelina manages to be serene without being dull. Bold sculptures made from colourful Murano glass are dotted throughout, and the ceiling in the little Moroccan bar sparkles with hundreds of tiny lights -- pretty, yes, but not a patch on the night sky over the sea, which you can admire from the pool terrace after sunset.
Details: Doubles from €230, including tax.
Sextantio le Grotte della Civita
There's simply nowhere else like this on earth. It's taken 10 years to transform the Unesco-listed caves of Matera into boutique bedrooms, each simply furnished, candlelit and calming.
One of the most ancient human settlements in Italy, Matera's sassi (cave dwellings) were once home to monks; their new owner has tuned into their spiritual legacy, adding church furniture -- dark-wood pews, altar-style tables -- to the rooms, and thick white candles to the stone walls' natural nooks and niches.
The result? One of the most breathtakingly romantic places you'll ever see.
Details: Doubles from €275, including breakfast and tax.
What's white, white and white all over? Masseria Cimino on Puglia's Adriatic shore. This 18th-century collection of agricultural buildings turned 21st-century holiday retreat whispers, 'Yes, you're on a farm, but you won't be getting your trousers dirty'.
The masseria provides free bikes so you can set off exploring wild, sandy beaches, and there's an 18-hole golf course on-site.
With artfully rusted farm tools, dried plants and jars of preserves, it's a modern-day take on a classic farm stay, with food just like nonna used to make.
Details: Doubles from €220, including breakfast and dinner.
Ruggedly remote Hotel Raya attracts only those in the know to its stranded setting on the tiny Aeolian island of Panarea, split across three hilly levels and a maze of streets. The very private, island-boudoir rooms are simply styled with the signature shades of blue and white. The cone of the Stromboli volcano rises in the distance.
As well as the island's only after-hours hotspot, the hotel boasts a restaurant designed for love, with lanterns and candles illuminating each intimate table positioned to look out to sea.
Details: Rooms from €180, including breakfast.
This intimate, seven-room B&B in the heart of Unesco-protected Modica's labyrinthine, ancient church-studded streets has a simple and soulful design. Laid back but luxurious, each room is inspired by the sun-baked island's past, with the odd Arabic rug, whitewashed Greek walls and Spanish flourishes giving guests a history lesson.
The architect owners migrated south from Milan to showcase their classy stylings among the rugged countryside and coast of this part of Sicily.
Details: Doubles from €130, including breakfast and taxes.
With low-slung, warm bronze stone-work, a fragrant smattering of foliage and just the right amount of rusticity, Petra Segreta on the Costa Smeralda is as stylish as stazzi get. Its secluded perch on a hillside hamlet is conveniently close to beautiful beaches in Olbia. This series of traditional farmhouse buildings comes with a spa, free-form pool and outdoor gym, and fine Sardinian cuisine is served up in Il Fuoco Sacro overlooking the Gulf.
Details: Doubles from €185-€500, including buffet breakfast and tax.
The architects of this exquisite converted, 16th-century palace have been smart to keep the charm of the original structure. They've added slick stone interiors and low-slung, contemporary furnishings in off-whites and earth tones, which enhance the beauty of the ancient walls, centuries-old stone door lintels and vaulted, arched ceilings. Beneath these, not only is there an excellent restaurant serving healthy Pugliese cuisine and a cavernous wine bar, but also a sleek spa offering an almost bewildering array of massages and treatments. At night, enjoy a sunset aperitif on the ramparts and look out over Ostuni.
Details: Doubles from €210, including breakfast.
Clinging to the cliffs over the Bay of Naples, this revamped 1950s villa is Sorrento's most stylish secret. Sea views greet you at every turn, from the Jacuzzi pool and trio of sun terraces to the floor-to-ceiling windows in each one of its dozen bright, clean-lined bedrooms. Guests need to be stout of leg -- these cliffs are steep -- but the lounging prospects of the private beach at La Tonnarella, 200m down from the hotel, more than justify the trek back up. As do the cocktails on offer at the top.
Details: Doubles from €180, including breakfast; excludes tax.
Azienda Villa Mandranova
To stay at this coast-hugging guesthouse is to be thrust into the heart of Sicilian family life, thanks to the owners' emphasis on conviviality and the cucina.
Regular cooking classes, in whicah ingredients (including Mandranova's delicious olive oil) are plucked straight from the olive tree-filled gardens, make the evening meal a focal point of the day.
Sandwiched between beautiful countryside and Sicily's stunning coastline, the farm is the embodiment of rustic luxury: old wooden doors open on to restored majolica floors under beamed ceilings, crisp stucco walls and cherry-wood beds.
Italian hospitality at its best: simple things done very, very well.
Details: Double rooms from €122, including breakfast.
For bookings, contact
1800 812 925 or
mrandmrssmith.com. Mr & Mrs Smith’s properties have all been personally visited and anonymously reviewed