Hotel alternatives in Italy

There are loads of lodging options and alternative accommodations in Italy, Lodging options, Italy, Italy (Photo courtesy of the properties)
There are loads of lodging options and alternative accommodations in Italy

There are dozens of hotel alternatives, from Roman apartments to country villas, farmhouse B&Bs to residences, and campgrounds to castles. Here's how to find the lot of them.

This is one of my favorite little-known tips for European travel. Not only are non-hotel lodging options usually cheaper than hotels, they also usually offer a far more interesting experience, a chance to get closer to the local people and culture. There are even ways to sleep for free.

For the record, the lodgings in the image above are, starting with the upper left:

  • Foresteria Valdese is a convent in Venice 
  • The owners of this Tuscan apartment is in Pietrasanta (halfway between Pisa and the Cinque Terre) offer it as a home swap
  • Castello di Gargonza is a hilltop castle-hotel in Tuscany
  • Santuario de la Verna is a monastery in Tuscany that accepts guests
★★★
This inexpensive room at the Hotel Galleria in Venice overlooks the Grand Canal (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

The classic lodging option—How Italian hotels work and how to book the best hotels at the lowest rates

 
★★★
Canal views and elegant rooms for under €120 at Venice's B&B Residenza Corte Molin (Photo courtesy of the property)

Bed and breakfasts aren't just great big Victorian cottages run by kindly but nosy little old widows anymore

 
★★★
Frescoed rooms in the 16C Palazzo Antellesi overlooking Piazza Santa Croce in Florence (Photo courtesy of the property)

How to find and rent a vacation appartamento (apartment) from $40 in Italy

 
★★★
La Cascina del Monastero in Piemonte'w wine district is one of my favorite Italian farm stays (scroll to the bottom for a link to a story about it) (Photo courtesy of La Cascina del Monastero)

Stay on a working farm agritourismo and experience the best of Italian hospitality and countryside tradition

 
★★☆
Residences—like the Arethusa in Siracusa, Sicily—offer apartment amenities and hotel services (Photo courtesy of Residence Arethusa)

Serviced flats, residence hotels, Aparthotels, and other townhouse suite lodging in Italy

 
★★☆
Villa Greve in the heart of Tuscany's Chianti wine region sleeps 12 (Photo courtesy of the property)

An Italian villa to call your own for the night or the week—renting a villa, house, or cottage in Italy

 
★★☆
The Castello di Gargonza in Tuscany is a classic Italian castle turned into a hotel (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Stay in a real castello and live happily ever after (temporarily) as King and Queen of the castle

 
★☆☆
A six-bedroom dorm at Rome's Des Artistes hostel (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Cheap bunks in shared dorms and a backpackers-of-the-world-unite atmosphere

 
★☆☆
A room at Rome's University (Photo courtesy of University Rooms)

How tourists can stay in cheap university housing in Italy

 
★☆☆
Affittacamere Dune Blu in the Cinque Terre rents a super-cheap pair of rooms right at the beach end of Riomaggiore's main drag (Photo courtesy of the property)

Rental rooms in Italy are called affittacamere (singular: affittacamera), and they can be had for as little as $30 a night

 
★★☆
The Palagetto Guest House in Florence will give you a room in exchange for: Installing mosquito screens, professional photographs of the rooms, printing brochures for them, gently used bikes, installation of a shower by a professional plumber, or origami (Photo courtesy of the property)

Free lodgings in Italy: Hospitality networks (couchsurfing), home swaps, and house sitting services

 
 (Photo courtesy of Europosters)

Couchsurfing and other hospitality networks allow you to sleep for free in other member's homes

 
Getting to know some locals is a bit part of staying with a fellow hospitality club member (Photo courtesy of The Affordable Travel Club)

Hospitality networks gather folks who are willing to put up fellow members in their homes for free or for a small fee

 
This luxurious Tuscan apartment is in Pietrasanta, by the Forte dei Marmi seaside resort, halfway between Pisa and the Cinque Terre (Photo courtesy of Homeexchange)

Trading spaces isn't just a show on basic cable anymore. It's a way to live life like a local on your travels absolutely for free—so long as you let the local borrow your life (and home) in return.

 
This house in the Tuscan hills needs someone to house-sit and watch their dog for three weeks this spring... (Photo courtesy of mindmyhouse.com)

Sleep for free on vacation in Italy by watching someone's house (and, often, watering their plants and feeding their cat)

 
★☆☆
In the Apulian village of Alberobello, the albergo diffuso of Trullidea lets you rent one of the many ancient trulli houses that make up the historic district (Photo courtesy of the property)

The "diffuse hotel" phenomenon in Italy

 
Camping Panoramico Fiesole is in an Etruscan town in the hills right above Florence (Photo courtesy of Camping Panoramico Fiesole)

Camping and campgrounds (campeggi) are a cheap way to spend the night while traveling

 
A classic train couchette sleeping six (Photo by DB Autozug GmbH)

Sleeping in couchettes on overnight trains

 
You can stay at the medieval Tuscan Santuario della Verna, where St. Francis received the stigmata (Photo courtesy of La Verna)

Sleep in a religious guesthouse or retreat at monasteries abbeys across Italy from just €17

 
A frescoed room at Venice's Foresteria Valdese, a religious hospice (Photo courtesy of the property)

You don't have to take vows of chastity and poverty or wear those itchy woolen robes to shack up in an Italian convent for as little as $30. You don't even have to be particularly religious.

 
The Palagetto Guest House in Florence will give you a room in exchange for: Installing mosquito screens, professional photographs of the rooms, printing brochures for them, gently used bikes, installation of a shower by a professional plumber, or origami lessons by a Japanese artist. (Photo courtesy of the property)

Programs like WWOOF and Helpx let you barter your services for a free place to stay

 
Sailboats (Photo by plb06)

If you love sailing, or just have an unquenchable taste for adventure and new experiences, you can sign on to help crew a boat just about anywhere in the world, including Italy

 
Hotels links
B&Bs links
Castle hotels links
Camping links

Tips

Why I love alternative accommodations

First of all, I have nothing against hotels. They are reliable, widespread throughout Italy, and you know what you're going to get (or at least you will once you read all about how typical Italian hotels operate, and how they differ from American ones).

However, hotels aren't the be-all and end-all of lodging options in Italy.They are usually among the more expensive options available, and yet are rarely the most fun or remarkable.

In fact, to ensure the most memorable trip, you might want to make them your fallback choice when it comes to looking for a place to stay for the night.

Put it this way:

  • I've parked my RV in a campground with a million-dollar view over Florence and camped in a tent by the beach in Venice.
  • I've rented an ancient damusso house on the island of Pantelleria where I made friends with the neighbors.
  • I've rented apartments in Venice around the corner from St. Mark's Cathedral where I was soon recognized as a local at the area shops.
  • I set up housekeeping in a rented prehistoric trullo in Apulia where I became the "local color" that the other tourists were taking pictures of.
  • At an agriturismo (farm stay) in Piemonte I sat on a patio overlooking moonlit grape vines, sipping wine that had came from them and chatting with the vintner about the life of an Italian winemaker.
  • At a B&B in Ferrara the owner lent me a free bike and told me about recently discovered frescoes in a nearby palazzo, a hidden garden I could bike to, and a convent where the nuns made delicious cookies—none of them mentioned in any guidebook or by the local tourist office.
  • At the medeival monastery in Tuscany built on the site where St. Francis received the stigmata, I shared a dinner table with pilgrims and transcendental spiritualists, attended vespers with the monks, and tossed back shots of their homemade herbal liqueur alongside one of the friars at the monastery bar (no, really).
  • Within an hour of meeting my Couchsurfing host in Rome, I was riding in his car to pick up a friend and take her to her surprise party at a Roman home (my arrival was an integral part of the ruse).
  • At a rental room on a Sicilian island I was regaled with stories of the tuna fishing industry by the widow of the former tuna factory foreman.
  • And at a residence hotel in Rome in 1993 I met my wife.

None of that ever happens at a hotel, no matter how friendly the staff.

And every single one of those experiences cost less than the local hotels.(Heck, the Couchsurfing was free).

Even if you follow my own standard advice and consider your lodging to be just the cheapest comfortable place you can find to lay your weary head for the night, if you could get a bed that's both cheaper and in a more interesting setting, why not go for it?

I'll leave that decision up to you. But to help you make it, on the pages in thsi section, you'll find more than two dozen of the most popular alternative accommodations in Italy, including resources on how to find them and book them.

About the lodging star ratings (☆☆☆ to ★★★)

You will notice that all hotels, B&Bs, and other lodgingds (as well as sights and restaurants) on this site have a ReidsItaly.com star designation from ☆☆☆ to ★★★.

This merely indicates that I feel these accommodations offer a little something that makes them special (or extra-special, or extra-extra special, etc.).

These star ratings are entirely based on personal opinion, and have nothing to do with the official Italian hotel ratings—which have more to do with quantifiable amenities such as minibars, and not the intangibles that make a hotel truly stand out, like a combination of great location, friendly owners, nice style, and low prices.

In general, a pricier place to stay has to impress me that it is worth the added expense.

This is why I give ★★★ to some (official) "two-star" hotels or B&Bs that happen to provide amazing value for the money—and similarly have ranked a few (official) "four-star" properties just (★★☆).

About the lodging price brackets (€–€€€)

Accommodations rates vary wildly—even at the same hotel or B&B—depending on type of room, number of people in it, and the season.

That's why here at ReidsItaly.com we simply provde a general price range indicating the rough rate you should expect to pay for a standard double room in mid-season.

There are three price ranges, giving you a sense of which lodgings are budget, which are moderate, and which are splurges:

under €100
€€ €100–€200
€€€ over €200
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for lodging

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a hotel un albergo oon al-BEAR-go
...a B&B un bed-and-breakfast oon bet hand BREK-fust
...a rental room un'affittacamera oon ah-feet-ah-CAH-mair-ra
...an apartment for rent un appartamento oon ah-part-tah-MENT-toh
...a farm stay un agriturismo oon ah-gree-tour-EES-moh
...a hostel un ostello oon oh-STEHL-loh
     
How much is...? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
a single room una singola OO-nah SEEN-go-la
double room for single use [will often be offered if singles are unavailable] doppia uso singola DOPE-pee-ya OO-so SEEN-go-la
a double room with two beds una doppia con due letti OO-nah DOPE-pee-ya cone DOO-way LET-tee
a double room with one big bed una matrimoniale OO-nah mat-tree-moan-nee-YAAL-lay
triple room una tripla OO-nah TREE-plah
with private bathroom con bagno cone BAHN-yoh
without private bathroom senza bagno [they might say con bagno in comune—"with a communal bath"] SEN-zah BAHN-yoh
for one night per una notte pair OO-nah NOH-tay
for two nights per due notti pair DOO-way NOH-tee
for three nights per tre notti pair tray NOH-tee
Is breakfast included? É incluso la prima colazione? ay in-CLOO-soh lah PREE-mah coal-laht-zee-YOAN-nay
Is there WiFi? C'é WiFi? chay WHY-fy?
May I see the room? Posso vedere la camera? POH-soh veh-DAIR-eh lah CAH-mair-rah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Is there a cheaper one? C'é una più economica? chay OO-nah pew eh-ko-NO-mee-kah


 

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).