The most amazing thing about planning travel is the endless opportunities it presents. You can navigate the globe and experience any destination that captures your imagination. You can choose to enjoy a vegetative state with stunning ocean views, move to the vibrating beats and bright lights of big cities, acclimatize to staggering heights or even sleep under the stars among a parade of elephants. You can simply take a trip or you can embark on a journey, immersing yourself in a wholesome and authentic experience of culture. It’s completely up to you.
As my learning curve of travel continues, I realize how easily people get caught up in booking large hotels that provide hot breakfast but cool service. They pass by core highlight sites, viewing history from the tinted window of an air conditioned bus, and spend the week striking up conversation with locals only to place an order or ask for directions. We are all entitled to travel however we choose, I just want to put it out there for those who are looking for something special, something unique, that with a little digging, you uncover the true gems.
Spending a month in Paris and Italy this summer, there were absolutely nights where a hotel made sense, such as long days at Disneyland and our single night in Paris. But I was craving something different in Italy. I wanted to slow down. We had visited Rome several years ago without the kids, and while it was the most incredible week at a very special boutique hotel, I came back feeling like I hadn’t taken a breath. We had seen and done and conquered, but I felt like I hadn’t truly appreciated what was beyond the cathedrals and the artwork of miles of museum hallways. This time around, I wanted to feel the heart of the country, delve into the lives of locals, enjoy traditional home cooked cuisine, expose my children to village life, walk paths without tourist signs and create memories based on our senses, not our pocketbooks or an itinerary. I wanted to actually take it all in and to leave with an appreciation for where I had been. I felt that in my love for this stunning country, I owed it to them to see it not as a tourist, but as someone who respects and admires the Italian people and culture.
So I looked into the smaller places, searching thru the hillsides, the villages, the apartments that provided what I needed, but gave me the opportunity to get to know the stories and history of hard working owners. Each being completely individual and unique, these four places have forever changed the way I look at travel and my definition of experience. If you ever have a chance, stay. In the very least read about these true gems, and how local is the new lux.
To our new friends, the Italians who took us in and allowed us into their lives. The ones who cooked for us, did our laundry and chauffeured us around. The ones who welcomed us with open arms, shared conversation and bottles of wine, taught us about bees and buffalo mozza and helped us with the how and where. We are forever grateful. Thank you from the bottom of our Canadian hearts.
- Residence Rocca del Palazzaccio, Tavarnuzze, Italy
The moment I emailed Jennifer, I knew I made the right choice. The moment I spotted Francesco at the end of the platform, I knew we were among friends. The moment we spent an evening laughing and sharing stories over wine in the cellar, I knew Italy had my heart completely.
This spectacular gem is quite possibly my most favorite accommodation ever. It truly has it all: location, spacious and beautiful apartments, a pool….not to mention the most genuine and welcoming hosts you will ever meet. Jennifer and Francesco run this 8 unit slice of heaven from the heart, and make every person within their walls feel like so much more than a guest. They went so far above and beyond any level of service I’ve ever received, from picking us up at the station and upgrading our room, to helping me book rental cars and Ferrari test drives, to the personal time they took out of their evening to make the most amazing foods and teach a couple Canadians about Chianti. The girls spent the week making friends poolside, walking Barolo the wonder cat and picking their own fresh veggies, also falling under the spell of RRDP. To top it off, within 10 minutes we were in the heart of Florence, and heading the other direction found us sipping wine over views of the postcard perfect Chianti Region of Tuscany. It is pure perfection, and I cannot wait to return.
2. Dimora del Podesta, Positano, Amalfi Coast
This B&B is located in the heart of the Amalfi Coast. Arriving by ferry from Salerno is scenery you will never forget. Buildings jutting out from cliff sides, rows of walls holding eachother to the earth. Villages connected by steps, ancient trails and one way roads not built for the faint of heart. Positano is Italy electrified, tourist central by day and full of life, laughter and light by night. DDP is run by brothers, 3 rooms perched on top of the family run restaurant, Saraceno D’Oro. They.know.everyone, and those they don’t, they win over as they pass by, inviting them to enjoy what may be the most delicious manicaretti dish on the planet. The rooms are spacious and the view is from a dream. Sitting on our private balcony under 100 year old fuscia bougainvilleas, we stared at the sea by day and swayed to the live music below at night. Having Pietro bring us that unbelievable tray every morning, chatting over coffee and fresh baked goods was as good as breakfast gets. He shared stories about his grandfather and the progression of the family and the building, shared with us the “honesty fridge”, helped us plan our days and directed us away from the craziness of the main beach to the beauty of the local loved, Fornillo Beach…..and the 500 steps down to it! Small business with such strong family values and togetherness are to me the epitome of Italy, and these guys embody it perfectly, passing it on to each and every guest.
3. Il Laghello Di Amina, Framura, Italy
This was the very first place I booked. The moment I read the information on the website, it was a place that called to me, and after a week of hectic pace in Paris and Venice, I was so relieved to see Lilia’s face at the train station . There are few people kinder (or hardworking) than Lilia and Guido. It was a breath of fresh air as she took her time showing us the apartment, with views of the Ligurian Sea, the French Alps lining the background. The girls built a fairy house by the stream, we watched a pair of wild boars from the bedroom window, Guido showed us his bees and how he makes his organic honey and Lilia even took our week of laundry to be washed and hung out….And then she delivered us homemade pasta for dinner. Long days hiking Cinque Terre and biking thru train tunnels were followed by a glass of Lilia and Guido’s homemade wine, relaxing under the pergola as the sun set over the sea. They drove us to and from the station and even added in an unplanned bonus trip to Portofino and Paraggi Beach. Again, this was service I have never experienced. I felt so catered to, so well taken care of and cared for, and had to remind myself this was not just special treatment. Every single guest received this kind of attention, and it was absolutely eye opening as to what guest care should truly look and feel like.
4. Roma Boutique, Rome, Italy
Ok, so technically this is a hotel, but this boutique hotel earned the spot for it’s small size with grand scale service. We stayed here on our trip to Rome a few years ago and fell head over heels in love with the hotel and the staff. This was my first ever taste at what a Boutique Hotel had to offer, and the stepping stone for my raised expectations and love for smaller places. So when we decided to finish our family vacation in Rome, I didn’t even look anywhere else. I emailed Alessandro, and was not surprised when he responded so warmly, offering us several options so that we could stay again with them…because that’s what real service is. They remember you, are excited for you to return and do what they can to make sure it happens. For me, this stop was nostalgia and comfort, the same streets, the same incredible breakfast as a smiling Alessandro helped us plan our day, the beautiful rooms and foyers and even that ancient elevator that required some close personal space for four. True service is that warm smile as you drop your key before heading out, coming back to roses in your room and having the owner suggest you a non tourist restaurant and then calling themselves to get you a table. This hotel was the beginning of my love affair with Italy, and will forever hold a special place in my heart as the place that made me realize that service at that level even exists.
These places are meant to get you thinking, to broaden your mind past the multi level, adjoining room, run of the mill hotel. Will I blog about large chain hotels? Absolutely. The Barcelo and The Grand Bahia Principe in the Mayan Riviera are massive, sprawling complexes….and I love them too and return as often as I can. I just want to let readers know that travel is so much more than glossy magazines on a travel agent’s desk. It’s about asking yourself what you want from a vacation, what your expectations are. The question I get asked most is about how I actually plan my vacations, how I find these hidden pieces of paradise. I’ll be blogging about those details in the near future, so stay tuned!