The Great Palazzo and Villa Hotels of Italy

Many of Italy's palaces are being turned into hotels Villa D'Este
Like much of Europe, Italy is adorned with hundreds of gorgeous old villas and palaces, each one an echo of the golden age of nobility. But time has not been kind to Italy's aristocracy, and a combination of taxes, shaky economics, and dissipated fortunes have separated many of these grand mansions from the families that owned them for generations. Some of them (like Lake Como's Villa D'Este, pictured in times past) are being converted to new uses in the hospitality industry. Italy is now one of the best places in the world to stay in a fabulous old palace—no what matter your budget is. Here are some of Frommer's' favorites.
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Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa, Palermo Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa
A conglomeration of three historic buildings—the banking floor and grand offices of an old stock exchange, a monastery, and a centuries-old palazzo—come together atmospherically in surroundings that include a cloister, open-roofed atrium, paneled dining rooms, and frescoed salons. Guest rooms are a bit more functional, though large and plushly comfortable. The best ones have balconies overlooking the surrounding churches and palaces. 

Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa
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An 18th-century mansion right on the Grand Canal near San Marco Square is now the most exclusive heart of this ultra-luxury hotel, which has artfully expanded with time. The original antique palazzo was renovated in 1880 when it first became a hotel, and a 1940s expansion filled new attached public spaces with one-of-a-kind Deco furniture, rich wood panelling, lavish Venetian chandeliers, and a doorman boat-up entrance expressly for arrivals by gondola. On its roof is the seventh-floor Settimo Cielo, the highest outdoor terrace in the city. Each evening, the songs of the boatmen waft through guest rooms' open windows.

Bauer Il Palazzo and L'Hotel, Venice
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Villa d’Este, Lake Como Villa D'Este
Set in an ornate Renaissance palazzo dating from 1568 and overlooking Lake Como amid verdant parklands, the Villa d’Este sees a constant procession of celebs and minor royalty arriving by speedboat or helicopter to luxuriate in fine dining and refined rooms furnished with priceless antiques. As befits one of the most exclusive hotels in the world, two revamped private villas guarantee complete seclusion from the hoi polloi.
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Villa d'Este, Lake Como Villa D'Este
The Villa's Cardinal Building (1568) was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, son of Alfonso I d'Este and Lucrezia Borgia and grandson of Pope Alexander VI. Much of the fruit of his lavishness remains, including vaulted ceiling frescoes and an astonishing terraced garden of fountains originally fed by a Renaissance hydraulics system. So influential was the design that it this is a rare hotel that has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Villa d'Este
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Hotel Bristol Palace, Genoa Hotel Bristol Palace
This 19th-century palazzo is one of Genoa’s most regal and popular hotels, defined by its opulent oval staircase and beautiful stained-glass dome. Located in the shopping district, it is surprisingly quiet (with soundproof windows) and perfectly located for exploring the sites and doing a little damage to the wallet: Midweek, it's easy to find rooms for less than €150.

Hotel Bristol Palace
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Grand Hotel Villa Medici, Florence Grand Hotel Medici
A former palazzo and a onetime convent on a quiet, traffic-free square were combined to create an unusually spacious, comfortable property with many touches that appeal to American tastes (elevators instead of mandatory stairs, huge modern bathrooms, AC, and an outdoor pool in a walled garden—very rare for Florence). Breakfast is taken in the verandah conservatory overlooking the garden.
 
Grand Hotel Villa Medici
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Grand Hotel Villa Medici, Florence Grand Hotel Medici
Although most of the hotel is of recent construction, which accounts for its larger-than-average standard rooms and huge bathrooms, the front incorporates the 17th-century villa, and the Il Magnifico suite retains much of its Imperial style.

Grand Hotel Villa Medici
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Until 2004, this was a private villa and a home of counts and countesses, and its transition to luxury boutique hotel removed none of its rarified extravagance—guests inhabit the common spaces as if this magnificent mansion is their home. The ground floor is a series of sumptuous drawing rooms and libraries, layered with antique tapestry, flights of books, and encrusted with precious art and furniture. Pour yourself a drink of the top-shelf liquor and relax in front of the fireplaces—there are only 12 rooms, so your quiet time will go undisturbed.
 
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Villa Spalletti Trivelli, Rome Villa Spalletti Travelli
Gabriella Rasponi, widow of Count Venceslao Spalletti Trivelli, Senator of the Kingdom of Italy, purchased the land across from the gardens of the Quirinal Palace (an official home of the Italian president) where the home of Tito Pomponio Attico, editor and friend of Cicero, once stood in the first century B.C. In the last 100 years, Countess Rasponi turned its drawing rooms into a vital Thursday salon for socializing politicians and thinkers, including Indian-born Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, but now, these are dwelling spaces for discerning guests.
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Villa La Massa, Florence Villa La Massa
In the early 1500s, it was built as a summer home of the Florentine Landini family, but in 1948, a scion of the Sears fortune opened its doors to commoners as a luxury hotel. It stands in 22 acres of gardens that produce their own olive oil and wind down to the Arno River outside of Florence.

Villa La Massa
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Villa La Massa, Florence Villa La Massa
The villa has welcomed Gregory Peck, Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton—and in 1992, the late David Bowie and Iman rented the entire property for their wedding.

Villa La Massa
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Pensione Accademia, Venice Pensione Accademia
The Gothic-style Villa Maravege was built in the 17th century as a family residence but served as the Russian Embassy between World Wars I and II before becoming a hotel in 1950. Rooms are fitted with Venetian-style antique reproductions, classical hardwood furnishings, handsome tapestries, with views over either the Rio San Trovaso or the gardens. Two columns in the breakfast room were once part of the loggetta of San Marco Square but were sold at auction after the original tower collapsed in 1902.

Pensione Accademia
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Villa Carlotta, Taormina Hotel Villa Carlotta
A slice of relatively moden aristocracy, this 1920s stone villa vaguely resembling a castle is an enchanting getaway at the edge of town. Most of the warm-hued, stylish rooms have terraces and sea views, and many overlook the luxuriant rear gardens where a swimming pool is tucked into the greenery.

Villa Carlotta
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Palazzo Galletti, Florence Palazzo Galletti
Not many hotels within a sensible budget give you the chance to live like a Florentine noble. Rooms here have towering ceilings and an uncluttered arrangement of carefully chosen antiques and most have frescoed or painted wood showpiece ceilings. If you’re here for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, spring for the “Giove” or “Cerere” (pictured); both are large suites, and the latter has walls covered in original frescoes from the 1800s.

Palazzo Galletti
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Butera 28 Butera 28
The 17th-century Lanza Tomasi Palace, at the seafront, is the home of Duke Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, the adoptive son of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of one of the greatest works of modern Italian literature, The Leopard. The gracious duke and his wife, Nicoletta, converted 12 apartments of their palazzo to short-stay apartments, filling them with family pieces and modern conveniences, including full kitchens. The duchess also offers cooking classes, and she and the duke are on hand to provide counsel to help you get the most out of their beloved town. 

Butera 28, Palermo
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Casa Verardo, Venice Casa Verardo
This enchanting hotel occupies a 16th-century palazzo, though it’s been a hotel since 1911. Rooms (over four floors, with an elevator) sport an old-fashioned Venetian style, with Florentine furniture, hand-painted beds, and colorful textiles. Some rooms have a view over a canal, others over the shady courtyard and the city. Don’t miss the panoramic rooftop terrace, a spellbinding spot for an aperitif. 

Casa Verardo
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