50 best holidays in Italy

hotelFrom sports courses in Sardinia to star-spotting in Venice, Annabelle Thorpe has the pick of this year’s breaks

Best new hotels
1. Portrait Firenze
Opening on May 1, the Portrait is the newest hotel from the Salvatore Ferragamo stable and boasts one of the best addresses in the city, a stone’s throw from the Ponte Vecchio. There are just 34 rooms and suites, some with balconies directly overlooking the famous bridge, all styled with crisp white decor, chic black-and-white photographs and statement pieces of furniture.
 Doubles from €450 per night (00 39 055 2726 4000,portraitfirenze.com).
2. Hotel Villa Franceschi


One of the new breed of once private villas opening up to the public, Hotel Villa Franceschi is new to the Sunvil programme this year. The estate combines several 16th-century villas, each home to members of the Venetian aristocracy, and now owned and run by the third generation of the Dal Corso family. There’s a real feel of old-style grandeur; gilt-edged furniture, antiques at every turn and beautiful formal gardens. 
Details: Three-night breaks cost from £522pp, including flights and car hire (020-8758 4747, sunvil.co.uk). 

3. Palazzo Avino


Palazzo Sasso, perched high above the Amalfi Coast, has long been one of Italy’s most upscale addresses, but after serious renovation works it reopened last year with a new name, Palazzo Avino. Rooms have retained the classic, luxury feel but there’s now a chic lobster and martini bar, the glitzy Rossellinis restaurant for an upscale dinner and a pristine pool area offering spectacular views. Naples is 60km away. 
Details: Doubles cost from £191, B&B (00 39 089 81 81 81,palazzoavino.com)
4. Aman Canale Grande
Newly opened at the end of last year, Italy’s first Aman combines the stark design aesthetic that characterises the hotels with the opulent interiors of a converted 16th-century palazzo, right on the Grand Canal. There are 24 chic, gilt-and-grey bedrooms, while the lounge and dining rooms are characterised by high ceilings, glittering chandeliers, frescoes and works of art by Tiepolo. The garden terrace is one of the few on the Grand Canal and there’s a small roof terrace as well. 
Details: Doubles cost from £829, room only (00 39 041 270 7333,amanresorts.com)
5. Palazzo Margherita
The newest addition to Francis Ford Coppola’s hotel portfolio, Margherita is a stunningly beautiful palazzo, hidden away behind huge fort doors. The nine gorgeous rooms are subtly luxurious, with muted decor and sumptuous fabrics, while the dining options include an eat-in kitchen and a more informal pizzeria-bar. The X factor is the wonderful garden, lush with trees and beautifully kept. Bari airport is 90 minutes away. 
Details: Doubles from £300, B&B, including a cooking lesson (00 39 0835 549 060, www.coppolaresorts.com).
6. JW Marriott Venice
Opening in July on the Isola delle Rose, a lagoon island south of San Marco, this hotel has a fantastic rooftop infinity pool in which you can swim as you gaze across the water at La Serenissima. Interiors have a design-hotel feel; all-white decor and contemporary furniture, and there are two restaurants, a spa and a sizeable family pool. 
Details: Two-night breaks cost from £640pp B&B, including flights and transfers (020-8973 2290, sardatur-holidays.co.uk).
7. Purobeach
Newly opened in summer 2013, Purobeach Tuscany offers the perfect combination of Tuscan countryside — vineyards, hilltop towns and rolling hills all nearby — with time on the water. The elegant apartments open out onto the sea, with a swish beach club and restaurants next door. Guests can use the collection of Swan yachts, which come fully crewed, offering a fantastic way to discover the nearby archipelago. 
Details: From £150 per night, room only (00 39 0566 866117,purosuites.com). Fly to Pisa, 1 hour and 20 minutes away.
8. Grand Relais dei Nuraghi
For a romantic beach holiday, there are few places to rival Sardinia, and the Grand Relais dei Nuraghi — an elegant, 31-room hotel on the Costa Smeralda and new to Just Sardinia’s 2014 programme — is the perfect choice. Right on the shoreline, with its own stretch of private beach, it has a charming, laid-back feel that contrasts with many of the island’s grander resorts. The pool, set in pink granite rocks, is lovely, while the bar terrace above is the perfect place for sunset cocktails. 
Details: From £522pp per week, accommodation only (01202 484858, justsardinia.co.uk).
9. Neustift monastery
South Tyrol
If you’re craving a quick hit of absolute peace and tranquillity, then this beautiful 12th-century abbey, surrounded by wonderful Baroque gardens, is a great choice. New to Inghams for 2014, rooms are functional but the monastery has real beauty, with a Gothic cloister, Baroque church and its own vineyard. Hearty walks can be combined with indulgent tastings of the many products made on the estate including wines, juices, cured meats and cheeses. 
Details: Three-night breaks cost from £549pp, half board, including flights and transfers (01483 791111, inghams.co.uk).
Best activity holidays
10. Cycling in the South Tyrol
New for 2014, Inntravel has created a six-night trip through the lush valleys of the South Tyrol. The route begins in the picturesque town of Bressanone, before heading through the Isarco Valley to Bolzano and the elegant spa town of Merano. Part of the route follows the region’s wine trail, and the last day can be spent exploring the historic walled town of Trento. 
Details: From £898pp, including cycle hire, luggage transfers, six nights’ B&B and two dinners (01653 617003, inntravel.co.uk).
11. Walking in Sicily
A new guided walking tour from Explore offers the chance to discover the dramatic north east of Sicily, with walks on the slopes of Mount Etna, through the spectacular Pantalica Gorge and the Nebrodi Mountains National Park. The itinerary also includes time in pretty Taormina, and a day trip across to the Aeolian Islands. 
Details: From £825 pp per week, including flights, transfers, B&B, most meals and the services of a guide (0843 634 5249,explore.co.uk).
12. Kayak off Elba
This year is the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s exile to Elba. The little island will receive plenty of visitors on land, so we suggest taking to the waters to see deserted bays and remote inlets around the island with Sea Kayak Italy’s seven-day Around Elba camping trip. It includes the services of marine guides and instructors, a tent and all camp-side meals, but you’ll need a sleeping bag. Shorter trips are available. 
Details: From £456pp (00 39 3482 290711, seakayakitaly.it). The price does not include travel; fly to Pisa and take the train (trenitalia.com) to Piombino and a ferry (www.mobylines.com) to the island.
13. Swim the Maddalena Archipelago
Work off the evening pasta and wine by taking part in Swimtrek’s guided swimming holiday off Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda, including passages through the brilliant blue seas between the islands of Budelli, Razzoli and Santa Maria. It’s 5km swimming a day, the base is the town of La Maddalena and trips run July-September. 
Details: Seven days costs from £890 (01273739713,swimtrek.com), including swims and technique analysis, breakfast and lunch, but not flights to Olbia or transfers.
14. DIY activities in San Remo
The unjustly neglected town of San Remo is situated on a large bay on the Ligurian coast and is a great base for a DIY action holiday — you can go scuba diving, whale watching, hire a boat to explore the beaches and coves or head a few kilometres inland for climbing, horse riding, bungee jumping, mountain biking, go-karting or white-water kayaking. See turismoinliguria.it for more information. 
Details: Hotel Eletto (00 39 0184 531548, elettohotel.it) is small and centrally located and can advise on how to do all of the above. Rooms cost from £260, B&B, per person per week; fly to Genoa. 

15. Riding in Umbria
The 1,000-acre La Casella complex, converted from four farmhouses into 32 rooms, offers an ideal holiday for horse riders of all standards. It has its own equestrian centre, with paddocks for first lessons, and organises day-long treks into the surrounding countryside for more advanced riders. It also has two pools, a beauty centre and mountain bikes, plus a restaurant serving Umbrian food with limitless local wines (it’s an hour from Orvieto by car).
Details: From £200 per room per night, half board (020-7359 3938, realholidays.co.uk); horse riding costs £80pp per day. Fly to Rome or Perugia. 

16. Explore Lake Orta
New from Inntravel for 2014, the chic Lake Orta Hillside Apartments are housed in renovated farm buildings overlooking the tranquil shores of Lake Orta — a much quieter sibling of Como and Garda. This corner of Piedmont is wonderfully undiscovered; the nearby town of Vacciago is littered with 16th and 17th-century Baroque buildings, but the highlight is a boat trip to the island of San Giulio, with its beautiful 12th-century basilica. 
Details: A week’s self-catering costs from £785, based on two sharing, including hire car but not flights to Milan (01653 617004,inntravel.co.uk).
Best for families
17. Pompeii adventure
If you took the kids to see the Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum, consider taking them to the real thing on this new group family itinerary. As well as visits to Pompeii and Herculaneum, there is a day on Capri with time at the beautiful Blue Grotto and the chance to climb Mount Vesuvius. There’s also plenty of free time for the kids to enjoy the hotel pool, with a guide on hand to recommend things to do and places to eat.
Details: A week from £1,309 per adult and £1,178 per child, including flights, transfers, B&B, two dinners and excursions (0808 250 7442, adventurecompany.co.uk). 

18. Safari tent by Lake Bolsena
Lake Bolsena is an attractive volcanic crater lake, two hours north of Rome and, although not as well known as its northern sisters, it offers the same appeal — you can swim, canoe, fish, learn to windsurf as well as cycle and ride in the vicinity. Eurocamp has just installed some of its fun African-style “safari” tents at the Lido Camping Village, which give a fresh twist to being under canvas, with their living areas, kitchens and decked floors. There are pools and restaurants on the site and Bolsena town is a short walk away. 
Details: A week’s stay in a safari tent sleeping six costs from £322 (0844-273 2290, eurocamp.co.uk). Fly to Rome. 

19. Relax in Puglia
Borgo Egnazia brought a new style of accommodation to Puglia when it opened in 2011 and is still one of the top places to go with children. It’s big, with 180 rooms and villas, but cleverly designed so it doesn’t feel like a mega-resort. There are excellent kids’ clubs and a crèche (both included in the room rates), an 18-hole golf course and vast swimming pools, and on hot days the beach clubs — with alfresco pizzeria — are the place to be. Rooms are taupe-and-cream cool, or bigger families can book a villa. Bari or Brindisi are the nearest airports. 
Details: Doubles from £239, room only (00 39 0802 255000,borgoegnazia.it). 

20. Sports in Sardinia
This year, luxury travel company A&K has teamed up with Super Skills Travel to offer Sporting Academy weeks in the June half-term and school summer holidays at the Forte Village Resort. Run by Will Greenwood and Austin Healey, there is a choice of rugby or cricket, with two hours of tuition each day. In the summer weeks, Martin Johnson and Jason Robinson will be on hand to offer rugby tips, while cricket fans will receive coaching from Michael Vaughan and Alec Stewart (April 7-14). 
Details: From £2,285 per adult and £1,940 per child, half board, for seven nights, including sports tuition, flights and transfers (0845-485 1530, abercrombiekent.co.uk).
21. Time off in Elba
If you want to join in some of the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s exile to Elba on land but have a great family hotel as a base, Powder Byrne has the answer. It has two summer centres on Elba, one at the Hotel Biodola, and the other at the Hotel Hermitage. Both will look after babies aged 4 months and over, with kids’ clubs for children aged up to 12 and football and tennis academies as well as a scuba-diving centre for the older ones. And for the parents? Bliss. 
Details: A week at Biodola costs from £2,230 per adult, half board, with transfers, but excluding flights to Pisa. Children aged 5-12 pay £671 (020-8246 5300, powderbyrne.com).
22. Beaches of Cilento
An affordable family resort is something of a find in Italy, but Oleandri offers a fabulous beachside location, a well-equipped playground, kids’ clubs and a daily programme of sports activities and entertainment in the evening. Rooms can sleep up to four, and there are apartments with kitchenettes so you can self-cater. The bright lights of the Amalfi Coast are an hour’s drive away and Naples is the nearest airport. 
Details: Doubles from £87, quadruples from £182, room only (00 39 0828 851876, oleandriresort.com). 

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Becky, Steve or the other two useless ones (shhh they won't read this) form part of the Openstories team, a collaborative travel blog that we use to dump our ideas, plans and experiences onto the worldwide web. We're honored that you're hear reading this, and we'd love to hear from you. Thanks for dropping by!