Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Italy Hotel Reviews - the good, the bad, the mosquitoes

Italy, Amalfi, Hotel Bussola (
Location: On north side of town near marina, away from touristy grand hotel area
Room (2 adults, 2 children < 10): we had a lovely room with two double beds and a balcony overlooking the marina. This was also a wonderful vantage point to watch the entire town walk by on their evening promenade along the marina (with the downside that you do get some road noise at night through the shutters). No A/C, so can get pretty warm.
Service: service was quite good – it is an unpretentious hotel with a comfortable feel to it
Internet: hotel has a computer you can use for short periods or there is an internet café in town
Food: breakfast was included, but breakfast is not an Italian specialty, so on a scale of 1 to German fruhstuck it was a 4. Espresso is excellent, do not order the drip coffee. Muesli was decent dry cereal.
Best feature: the hotel has its own dock on the marina which is set up for swimming. Our kids spent the entire day swimming from the dock
Best food nearby: the restaurant at the end of the marina is excellent, great pizza for kids and great view for the adults. The local kids play in the park next to the restaurant so it has a great family feel
Price: around 180 euros a night (June).
Overall family rating: good 8 out of 10 – it is not fancy and you probably couldn’t stay longer than 3 days because Amalfi is really tiny, but a great place for a 2-3 day stop.

Italy, Rome, Spanish Steps Area, Hotel Dei Borgononi (
Location: near Spanish steps, a great location for walking around but it is next to impossible to drive to because the street directions are so confusing in Rome. We parked our car at airport and had a driver from the hotel pick us up there for 50 euros.
Room (2 adults, 2 children < 10): we had a very nice suite with a sitting room and a bedroom. The boys slept on the sofa and the floor in the sitting room (not ideal, but workable). The room was on an interior courtyard, very quiet and had A/C which is critical because it is too noisy outside to keep windows open at night
Service: service was outstanding throughout our stay – extremely helpful staff, particularly for planning trips to various sites in Rome
Internet: no wifi or wiring to room, hotel has a computer you can use
Food: a very good breakfast was included, with good coffee and baked goods.
Best feature: this is a wonderfully quite and calm oasis in a very bustling city – it was great to come here and get out of the crush of tourists.
Best food nearby: Noni is a great, traditional restaurant nearby, the hotel staff can direct you. Food and wine was great, waiters were terrific and wore the full white uniforms – very classy
Price: around 250 euros a night (June).
Overall family rating: excellent 9 out of 10. A very comfortable, classy hotel in a great location. I will definitely stay here again.

Italy, Sicily, Catania Area, Villa L’Edera (
Location: in a village on the slopes of Mt Etna. The villages are nice, but you are in the middle of nowhere and the beach is a good 30 minutes away. We arrived at night and had a very difficult time following the directions and getting to the house.
Room (2 adults, 2 children < 10): huge villa with room for many more than 4 people. The design is incredible; it was built by a French architect in the 1960s and had arched ceilings and a nice new pool. Old but nice kitchen. The property spreads over several acres and contains lovely gardens and many fruit trees. Minuses included: even though we were high up on the slopes of Mount Etna, there were no views. It had been rainy, and the villa smelled musty. Also, for whatever reason, the neighborhood contained a large number of barking dogs, so even though we were in the country, we were often woken by dogs barking.
Service: we had a great maid and the owner was very responsive
Internet: none. Sicily has not discovered the internet yet
Food: farmers were selling fresh fruit and vegetables all along the roads near the villa. We ate at home mostly and had incredible food – fresh apricots, tomatoes, beans, pecorino cheese with peppers
Best feature: incredible architecture, wonderful pool
Best food nearby: there is not much in the way of good restaurants nearby, but lots of great fresh food
Price: 420 euros a night for a full week rental (June).
Overall family rating: 6 out of 10. Beautiful but remote and expensive – I think you can do better in Sicily.

Italy, Tuscany, Orvieto Area, Agro Turismo Hotel Locanda Rosati (
Location: near Orvieto (most beautiful hill town in Tuscany), in the middle of the countryside. The grounds contain beautiful gardens, a raspberry patch and a beautiful pool.
Room (2 adults, 2 children < 10): we stayed in two different rooms, both very spacious and with separate beds for the kids. The rooms facing the road are less quiet than the rooms facing the pool. No A/C, so it can get hot at night.
Service: outstanding. Extremely friendly family runs the hotel – the brother in law cooks the meals and a cousin supplies the milk – the boys loved getting to go to the dairy to see the cows milked, not something they see every day in San Francisco
Internet: the hotel has a computer with internet access you can use
Food: we stayed here because a friend told us she ate her best meal in Italy at this hotel. The food really is spectacular and the family style seating is fun as well. Each meal has a number of courses served family style around a big table with nice wine to go along. The meals were memorable both for the food and for the lively conversation around the table
Best feature: there are a number of best features – tons of room for the kids to run around, trips to the local dairy to see them milking cows, picking raspberries in the garden, playing with other children at the hotel. The kitchen is open and I had a great time hanging out with Paolo and seeing how he prepared different dishes.
Best food nearby: there is no reason to eat anywhere else for dinner, but we had a nice lunch just up the road
Price: 270 euros a night (June).
Overall family rating: excellent 10 out of 10. A very comfortable, classy hotel in a great location. A family could easily stay up to a week here and do day trips to surrounding towns. I will definitely go here again.

Italy, Tuscany, Greve Area, Villa Marcellana (
Location: 20 km south of Florence and 15 km north of Greve, near San Casciano. The
Room (2 adults, 2 children < 10): two bedrooms, with the kids sleeping in the loft (got a bit hot at night) and we slept in a big master bedroom. Efficiency kitchen was a little tough to cook in but serviceable. This place could easily be the poster child for beautiful living in Tuscany, with drop dead views, extraordinary gardens, and an idyllic pool. Minuses included: electricity was a problem – the circuit blew any time two appliances were on at the same time. The grounds were unspeakably beautiful with a huge garden and pool, but the back of the house is right on the main road to Greve, so there was a good deal of road noise and of course there was no A/C so you had to keep the windows open at night and put on lots of mosquito repellent.
Service: good. We never saw the owners, who live downstairs, but the handyman was wonderful and incredibly responsive. The owners also had two yappy dogs who bit one of our kids, so that made them uncomfortable exploring the grounds on their own.
Internet: no
Food: we shopped at the markets in San Casciano and ate in most nights.
Best feature: drop dead views, extraordinary gardens, idyllic pool
Best food nearby: we had two terrific meals, one at Il Corno Tenuta (which is also an Agro Turismo), and one at Restaurant Il Cavaliere Di Gabbiano
Price: 220 euros a night for full week rental (June).
Overall family rating: mixed, 7 out of 10. Beautiful setting and beastly noise. I would go back but I would look hard first to see if I could duplicate the setting without the road noise and obnoxious dogs. It was so beautiful that I would be tempted to go back even with the drawbacks.

Italy, Venice, Castello Area, Hotel Ca Formenta (
Location: Castello area, 15 minute walk from Piazza San Marco. This is a wonderful location, because it is a fairly quiet area, but easily accessible to the main tourist attractions.
Room (2 adults, 2 children < 10): we had two connecting rooms overlooking a canal. They were brand new, very quiet, and nicely appointed with good A/C but very small showers.
Service: very friendly and helpful staff
Internet: no
Food: breakfast was a typical ok Italian breakfast. As with everywhere else in Italy, stick with espresso and don’t order the drip coffee.
Best feature: location in a quiet neighborhood but close to the bustling tourist areas
Best food nearby: Il Nuovo Galeon, just up the street on Via Garibaldi has wonderful seafood, outdoor dining and impressive pictures from when the queen of Belgium ate there a year ago
Price: around 260 euros per night (July).
Overall family rating: excellent, 9 out of 10. Friendly, quiet and comfortable hotel in an incredible city. I will definitely go here again.