Beyond hotels: Lodging options in Italy
Italy has dozens of hotel alternatives, from Alpine shacks to Tuscan villas, agriturismi to hostel dorms, rental rooms to residences, and campgrounds to castles to convents. Here's how to find the lot of them.
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This is one of my favorite little-known tips for Italian 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.
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, for 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 rented an ancient damusso house on the island of Pantelleria and made friends with the neighbors, apartments in Venice around the corner from St. Mark's Cathedral where I was soon recognized as a local at the area shops, and a prehistoric trullo in Apulia where I became the "local color" that the other tourists were taking pictures of.
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 very monastery in Tuscany 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.
None of that ever happens at a hotel, no matter how friendly the staff.
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 listed below you'll find two dozen of the most popular alternative accommodations in Italy, including resources on how to find them and book them.
This material was last updated January 2013. All information was accurate at the time.
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