How to find a B&B in Italy
Bed and Breakfasts aren't just great big Victorian British cottages run by kindly but nosy little old widows anymore
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Part of my suite at B&B Amari Bajardi in Palermo. Cost: €60.Introduction
What to expect
The B&B concept—a handful of rooms run as an inn by a family in their own home—has spread from its British roots throughout Europe and has now landed in Italy.
In fact, in Italy this relatively new category of lodging is even officially called by the English term, "bed-and-breakfast" (or, rather, a "bet-hand-brrek-fust")—though a few places hold on to the old name, locanda, which means "inn" and is similar in most ways to a B&B (albeit sometimes a bit larger).
An Italian bed and breakfast essentially works something like a small hotel which provides breakfast and is located in the owner's home (or at least an a converted apartment in their building). The size is limited, by varying regional laws, to no more than 3–4 rooms or 6–8 beds total.
In practice, this means a cozy, welcoming, friendly place and plenty of interaction with your hosts. Oh, and B&Bs are usually anywhere from 5% to 40% cheaper than hotels.
Expect to pay anywhere from €35 to €100 for a double room at a typical B&B (perhaps up to €140 in major cities or popular destinations).
B&Bs can be astoundingly cheap, like this one on the island of Capri.First of all, there's no guarantee you'll get that prototypical B&B experience: the kindly older couple running mansion of huge rooms loaded with chintz and doilies, charmingly creaky wooden floors, and a sumptuous breakfast spread at a communal table that will leave you needing to crawl back into your canopy bed for a nap before you head out for the day.
These days as many B&Bs are installed in modern city apartments or isolated farmhouses as in grand old homes in town, and many no longer even feature the resident-owner—the owner may live in a different apartment in the building, and you really only deal with the maid who serves up breakfast.
That, however, is not the norm. Usually a friendly, family, home-like atmosphere still prevails. I find B&Bs to be one of the best types of lodging if you want a hands-on host who can double as your personal tourism consultant. B&B owners tend to be irrepressible tourism boosters, deeply in love with their hometowns and eager to share everything they know about it. I can't count how many times an eager B&B owner has told me far more about what's going on around town than the folks at the official tourist office, or clued me in to some great unknown sight or experience.
There are sometimes drawbacks to the B&B, however. With a hotel, you are guaranteed a certain degree of anonymity: you just ask for your key at the desk and then are left alone. This is often the opposite of a B&B, where chitchat is considered part of the charm—but sometimes, you just don't want to make small talk with the owners and other guests.
Also, at a B&B there's often a curfew, either stated or implied—after all, you wouldn't want to wake that kindly older couple up at 2am when you stagger back to your room, now would you?
B&Bs sometimes require half or full board, private baths are not guaranteed (though getting more common), but the service is almost usually friendly and personable. Incidentally, never take board (meal) requirements unless you can't avoid them, as is often the case in resorty places like spas and beaches (especially in season). Eating in a local restaurant is usually a better bet and offers more variety night to night.
On the other hand, a B&B can be a great opportunity to meet some local folks and really get an inside scoop on the culture.
Booking B&Bs in Italy
Rome (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)
Florence (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)
Venice (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)
Milan (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)
Sorrento (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)
Amalfi (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)
Positano (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)
Pisa (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)
Siena (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)
Bologna (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)
Naples (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)
Palermo (Airbnb | Booking | Venere)As usual, the best resource is almost always the local tourist office, which almost always keeps a complete list of all bed and breakfast outfits in town and, in the best cases, includes that list on its Web site...with links.
That said, here are resources to help you find B&Bs across Italy. Note that there's a thin line (often just which set of local standards, requirements, and legal complications the owner wants to deal with) between a B&B and rental rooms.
Best sites for booking B&Bs in Italy
- Airbnb.com (www.airbnb.com) - Network of both official and unofficial B&Bs, homestays, and apartment and house rentals, including 563 B&Bs in Rome; 76 B&Bs in Florence; 189 B&Bs in Venice; and 37 B&Bs in Milan. The idea of someone inflating the old air mattress for you is just a metaphor. Usually, you stay in a guest bedroom, futon, or fold-out couch. Its rates are among the lowest around, charging anywhere from $15 to $250 per night (a handful charge more).
- BedandBreakfast.com (www.bedandbreakfast.com) - Massive site and database with thousands of choices all across Italy (nearly 200 in Rome alone, 80 in Florence, 60 in Venice, etc.).
- Booking.com (www.booking.com) - Another general booking site, and one of the few that includes B&Bs (filed variously under the categories of "Bed and Breakfast" and "Guesthouse"). By the numbers: 406 B&Bs in Rome, 195 in Florence, 156 in Venice.
- Venere.com (www.venere.com) - Generalist booking site based in Italy with a huge representation of B&Bs—448 in Rome, 180 in Florence, 75 in Venice—in addition to hotels, agriturismi, and other options.
- Bed-and-Breakfast.it (www.bed-and-breakfast.it) - Probably the biggest and best of the huge, national services, with more than 10,000 B&Bs across Italy.
- Bed & Breakfast Italia (www.bbitalia.it) - Another major nationwide service, with more than 1,000 members and three quality categories where prices range from €44 to €116 ($52 to $137).
- Bed and Breakfast Association of Rome (www.b-b.rm.it) - Great service with more than 100 rooms for let in my old hometown; downside: prices can be pretty steep (nearly as high as hotels).
- Generalist booking sites - The following sites have limited listings in Italy (from a few dozen to a few hundred total), but you never know where you'll find the perfect place, so feel free to sift through the offerings: www.innsite.com, www.karenbrown.com, www.lanierbb.com, www.bbonline.com, www.ibbp.com, www.1bbweb.com
- Airbnb.com (Airbnb.com) - Bit of an odd, new entry out there. Not so much a B&B as a network of unofficial (and, one imagines, unregistered with the local authorities) places to stay where the owners will be happy to inflate the old air mattress for you. (That's really just a metaphor; usually, guest bedrooms, futons, or fold-out couches are involved). It's kind of like couchsurfing (only you pay—whatever they want to charge, which can be anywhere from $25 to $250 per night but is usually a great deal), or a hospitality network (only there are no membership fees, and you don't have to be a host yourself; plus, you do have to pay).
- B&Bs in Rome
- Rental rooms
- Alternative lodgings in Italy
- Useful Italian phrases and terms for lodging
This material was last updated October 2010. All information was accurate at the time.
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