- St. Regis Grand (Rome; tel. 06-47091): This is the grand dame of all Rome's hotels, lying near Stazione Termini and a goal of luxe travelers since the 1890s.
- Hotel de Russie (Rome; tel. 800/323-7500 in North America, or 06-328881; www.roccofortehotels.com): Opulently furnished, this chic boutique hotel enjoys a spectacular location in a setting of terraced gardens near Rome's Piazza del Popolo. About three-quarters of the guest rooms are done in a stark, striking contemporary minimalist style. All are incredibly comfortable and offer lots of high-tech gadgets and thoughtful touches.
- The Inn at the Spanish Steps (Rome; tel. 06-69925657; www.atspanishsteps.com): This intimate, upscale inn is a real find. The former Roman residence of Hans Christian Andersen has been transformed into a small inn of charm and grace, with each bedroom boasting authentic period decor and furnished with modern comforts. J.K. Place (Florence; tel. 055-264-5181): There is no greater choice in Florence for a hotel that combines the elegance of the past with the comforts of today. Sleep in a four-poster bed in front of a Louis XVI fireplace.
Santa Caterina (Amalfi): What might be our favorite splurge on the peninsula is not outrageously posh, just magically transporting, set in citrus groves above the sea. Ceramic tiles, a smattering of antiques, and sea-view terraces grace the rooms, and a garden path and elevator descend to a private beach. Shoulder season rates and special offers help bring the expense out of the stratosphere.
- Villa San Michele (Fiesole, near Florence; tel. 800/237-1236 in the U.S., or 055-5678200; www.orient-expresshotels.com): This former 15th-century monastery is set behind a facade reputedly designed by Michelangelo. Brigitte Bardot chose it for one of her honeymoons (no one remembers with which husband). With a decor no set designer could duplicate, it evokes the charm of an aristocratic villa.
- Certosa di Maggiano (Siena; tel. 0577-288180; www.certosadimaggiano.com): This early-13th-century Certosinian monastery has been impeccably restored and converted into an upscale Relais & Châteaux inn. The individually decorated guest rooms are spacious, with antiques, art objects, and sumptuous beds; one has a private walled garden.
Villa Spalletti Trivelli (Rome): All-inclusive can be exclusive—especially when the experience of staying in an Italian noble mansion is part of the package. Opulence and impeccable service comes at a price, of course. When our lottery numbers come up, we will be booking a stay here.
- Cipriani (Venice; tel. 041-5207744; www.hotelcipriani.com): This exclusive, elegant hotel is situated in a 1.2-hectare (3-acre) garden on the isolated Isola della Giudecca, removed from the tourist bustle of Venice. It offers chic, contemporary surroundings; sumptuous guest rooms; and a wealth of recreational facilities, including an Olympic-size pool, a first-rate health club, and Venice's only tennis court. Service is the best in town, with two employees for every room.
- Gritti Palace (Venice; tel. 800/325-3535 in the U.S., or 041-794611; www.hotelgrittivenice.com): The Gritti, in a stately, central Grand Canal setting, is the renovated palazzo of 15th-century doge Andrea Gritti. It's quite formal, and it simply oozes glamour and history. Expect superb service, and elegant rooms with nice touches such as hypoallergenic pillows, bottled water, two-line phones, and marble bathrooms with deep soaking tubs.
Four Seasons Hotel Milano (Milan; tel. 02-77088; www.fourseasons.com): The building was first a 15th-century monastery, then the residence of the Habsburg-appointed governor of northern Italy in the 1850s. The Four Seasons chain has created one of Italy's finest hotels, incorporating the medieval facade, many of the frescoes and columns, and the original monastic details into a modern edifice accented with stone floors, pear-wood cabinetry, Murano chandeliers, and acres of Fortuny fabrics. The guest rooms are cool, sleek, and spacious, with a sense of understated luxury and state-of-the-art bathrooms. Service is impeccable.
Grand Hotel Villa d'Este (Cernobbio; tel. 031-3481; www.villadeste.it): Built in 1568, this palace in the Lake District is one of Europe's finest resort hotels. Step inside, and you're surrounded by frescoed ceilings, gorgeous antiques, and other exquisite details. Four magnificently landscaped hectares (10 acres), parts of which have been nurtured since the 1500s, surround the hotel. Guests enjoy dining on outdoor terraces, swimming in the gorgeous pools, using the health club and reveling in spa treatments, and much more. Cool breezes are provided by nearby Lake Como.
Hotel Splendido and Splendido Mare (Portofino; tel. 800/223-6800 in the U.S., or 0185-267801; www.hotelsplendido.com): Built as a monastery in the 14th century and abandoned because of attacks by North African pirates, this monument was rescued during the 19th century by an Italian baron, who converted it into a summer home for his family. The posh hillside retreat on the Italian Riviera now accommodates a sophisticated crowd, including many film stars. The views over the sea are stunning; you can enjoy the hotel's own lovely pool, or the staff will take you by boat to a private cove with changing cabins and lounge chairs.
Grand Hotel Quisisana Capri (Capri; tel. 081-8370788; www.quisi.com): This is the grande dame of Capri's resort hotels, with glorious views, a posh style, and supremely comfortable rooms.
Hotel di San Pietro (near Positano; tel. 089-875455; www.ilsanpietro.it): The only marker identifying this cliff-side hotel is a 15th-century chapel set beside the winding road. The hotel doesn't advertise and offers a quiet place to escape from it all, but this Relais & Châteaux property, with its gorgeous views, is the most luxurious retreat in the south of Italy. Strands of bougainvillea twine around the dramatically terraced white exterior walls; the spacious rooms are super-glamorous. An elevator takes you down the cliff ledges to a private beach.
Palazzo San Domenico (Taormina; tel. 0942-613111; www.sandomenico.thi.it): This is the grande dame of all of Sicily's hotels and one of the greatest in Italy. It's a virtual museum, a national monument, and one of the most elegant, comfortable, and tasteful hotels in the south of Italy. It originated in the 14th century as a monastery.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.