Atelier Inès, Naples
Tucked away behind a courtyard in the Neapolitan neighbourhood of Vergini, Atelier Inès is a triumphant example of contemporary cool, off-the-beaten-track authenticity and bohemian creativity. Originally the family home and workshop of the sculptor Anniabale Oste, the hotel has been brought to life by Oste’s jewellery-designer son Vincenzo and his Tunisian artist wife Inès, who have converted six rooms of the house (that is now their own workshop), into lovely guestrooms.
Each one is light and airy, and is filled with unique art, sculpture and furniture that has been chosen to reflect elements of Naples – Italy’s most anarchic, intriguing and seductive city. Ground-floor rooms have large windows and celebrate the sea of the beautiful bay, and upstairs you’ll find nods to the Neapolitan carnivals of folklore and private terraces. They all lead to a communal courtyard where sumptuous breakfasts are served, including delicacies from a local bakery and freshly brewed Kimbo espresso.
The role of Inès and Vincenzo as hosts rather than hoteliers is a huge bonus; they offer sessions in their workshop and enthusiastically share their insider knowledge of the city. Right on the doorstep are the treasures of the Contemporary Art Museum il Madre, the baroque masterpiece of Palazzo Dello Spagnuolo, and the simple pleasures of exploring back streets bursting with cafes, bars, street art, markets and raw life. The local hero Carlo Laggieri, the founder of the Celanapoli Cultural Association, offers guests subterranean adventures in the catacombs below Vergini, that include the remains of a Hellenistic necropolis and Roman aqueduct.
The rest of Naples’ main attractions are easily explored on walks. Sensational views over the city, Bay of Naples and Vesuvius from the hilltop Sant’Elmo Castle are reached through the evocative labyrinth of the Spanish Quarter, where the prolific street mural tributes to the football hero Maradona verge on deification. Try Neapolitan street-food favourites on the hoof, like Neapolitan Paninos of salami, mozzarella and egg, frittatina pasta rolls, potato croque, and pizzetta mini pizzas. Pick up some biscotteria artigianale at Gufetti Sul Como on Vico San Domenico in Maggiore and handmade quality chocolate at any branch of Gay Odin. Poppella, the nearest cafe to Atelier, serves impossibly light and delicious cream-filled fiocco di neve pastries, and just down the road the Michelin Guide-listed pizzas of Ciro Olivia are endlessly inventive and well worth queuing for. Nearby Lombardi on Via Foria serves generous seafood risottos and excellent house Limoncello del Golfo.
Atelier Inès (www.atelierinesgallery.com), from £175 a room a night.
Capri Tiberio Palace, Capri
Landing in Capri, a short ferry ride across the bay from Naples, feels like arriving on a different planet. No expense has been spared in maintaining this manicured Mediterranean island. The Capri Tiberio Palace’s elevated location on the edge of Capri town offers views of the rocky summit of Monte Solaro towering above the rooftops of whitewashed villas and plazas, tumbling down towards the glittering seascape of the Mediterranean. The hotel’s recent makeover by the interior designer Giampiero Panepinto has delivered a quirky new version of this stylish grande dame.
Polished white wood floors, ceiling fans, a grand stairway, with random collections of vintage luggage and mementos gathered from exotic lands, make you feel like you're staying in a globetrotting adventurer’s home. Panepinto’s injection of pop art installations, like transparent perspex suitcases filled with miniature globes hanging on the walls, deliver a contemporary edge. Staying in one of the Deluxe Sea View rooms that come with luxurious three arched balconies as big as the room and a complimentary mini bar, can make it hard to leave at all, but it's worth visiting the heated indoor/outdoor pool, a spa and a restaurant serving immaculate Caprese cuisine.
It doesn’t take long to discover that beyond the chic designer shops, glamorous restaurants and the buzzing cafes of Capri Town, the island is a walkers' paradise. From right outside the hotel, paved, pine-shaded walkways lead up to Villa Jovis, the ruined retirement home of the Emperor Tiberius, and to Arco Natural, a colossal rock arch that has views across to the Amalfi Coast. Other paths descend through woods down to Capri’s iconic off-shore rock formations, the Faraglioni, and past the ancient monastery of Certosa di San Giacomo and landscaped gardens of Giardini di Augusto to the pebble beach of Marina Piccola, that's always peppered with beautiful people.
Orange minibuses ply the winding mountain road to Anacapri’s Plazza Vittoria where a chair-lift provides an effortless ascent to the summit of Monte Solaro. The stroll down is punctuated with epic views and a soundtrack of cicadas, and ends at the immaculately preserved Villa San Michele where, among a collection of ancient artefacts, an Egyptian sphinx sits on a balcony, keeping an eye on Vesuvius across the emerald bay. After a long walk, return to the hotel’s Jacky Bar for a sunset Caprisius gin cocktail made with island-sourced botanics of marjoram, thyme and lemon peel.
Capri Tiberio Palace (www.capritiberiopalace.it), from £576 a room a night.
Hotel Vilon and Sofitel Roma Villa Borghese, Rome
In a city with no shortage of boutique hotels, two recent refurbishments stand out, both coincidentally with links to the Borghese dynasty. Hotel Vilon is tucked away down a quiet street behind the Borghese Palace, just off the River Tiber, and the property’s ground-floor lobby, bar and restaurant have been playfully redesigned by Giampiero Panepinto. Upstairs, there are 18 stylish rooms and suites that are the result of a collaboration between the scenographer Paolo Bonfini and the photographer Massimo Listri, with marble bathrooms and views over the secret, statue-strewn gardens of the Borghese Palace.
From here, you can start your day with a riverside stroll along tree-shaded boulevards to the imposing Castle Sant’Angelo and then on to the Vatican’s Plazza and Basilica di San Pietro. It’s best done in the early morning before the heat and crowds, and in time to return for an alfresco breakfast in the plant-filled courtyard of Hotel Vilon’s Adelaide restaurant. Named after a philanthropic Borghese princess, there is nothing antipodean about the cuisine of the executive chef Gabriele Muro; a simple lunch of his unforgettable carbonara is a mere taste of things to come from his fine dinning evening menu.
All of Rome’s main sites are a short walk away, including the Spanish Steps, which lead to the Sofitel Roma Villa Borghese, a grand palazzo adjacent to the landscaped gardens of the Villa Borghese Park. The panoramic views over the eternal city from the hotel’s rooftop restaurant Settimo (thanks to a tradition that no building can be higher than the dome of St Peter's), make it a perfect setting for sunrise breakfasts, sunset cocktails and innovative Roman cuisine with a twist, from the kitchen of Giuseppi D’Alessio. Many of the 71 rooms and seven suites boast minimalist makeovers by the French interior designer Jean-Philippe Nuel. The concierge can arrange a private visit to one of Rome’s best-kept secrets, the Villa Ludovisi-Nobel Casino Aurora just across the road, with an in-house private art collection that includes 2,000-year-old statues, a Caravaggio and handwritten letters from Marie Antoinette.
Borgo Santo Pietro, Tuscany
Already well established as a go-to property for style and luxury deep in the Tuscan countryside between Siena and the sea, Borgo Santo Pietro has long been much more than a country hotel. The original idea of Danish born Jeanette and Claus Thottrop to convert a rural villa from home to hotel, has become an ever-evolving rural retreat among landscaped gardens, organic vegetable plots, orchards and vineyards with resident hens, sheep, pigs, bees and even llamas. Latest additions to the estate include a newly constructed ‘herb lab’ – a barn that houses machinery to extract essential oils from homegrown herbs, and there’s also a yoga studio on the top floor.
Elsewhere, in the spa, the new Candle Massage and facial that uses marine clay products from the hotel’s in-house Seed to Skin laboratory is extremely rejuvenating. Plus, you can sign up for cooking lessons with the maverick chef Giovanni Di Giorgio whose dishes (like his fermented pioppino mushrooms with malt powder, red sorrel and vegetable broth) are a culinary journey into a whole new exciting world of tastes and textures. Borgo Santo Pietro has also introduced the option of a gourmet picnic in the grounds.
The relaxed vibe at Borgo’s Trattori Sull’Albero restaurant, built around an ancient oak-tree, has been enhanced with a new landscaped lawn of olive-trees and seating below the infinity pool, opening onto far reaching views of vineyards and wheat fields. Beyond the daily menu of tasty antipasti, Tuscan classics, and wood-fired pizzas, weekly ‘farmers market’ evenings celebrate the fruits of the region with a tantalising spread of irresistible treats.
In the loggia of the main villa, the Michelin-starred chef Meo Modo just keeps getting better at creating playful farm-to-plate dishes inspired by the seasons, garden and woods, with a tasting menu full of surprises, decorated with homegrown edible flowers and complemented by wines from the the 1,500-label cellar.
Borgo Santo Pietro (www.borgosantopietro.com), from £600 a room a night.