Hill Towns of Umbria and Tuscany - travel notes

      architecture    art    food and wine    gardens and parks    history   
      This itinerary originates in Rome and ends in Florence. If you have not visited these cities, we recommend that you spend several nights in each.

      Day 1 - Rome
      The best deal we found for rental cars in Italy was through Auto Europe. They work with all the rental companies to find the best deals, so their rates are very attractive. Contact them at

      Many of Italy's hill towns are partially closed to automobile traffic, so some of the hotel's we recommend can only be reached on foot. Although they are generally less than a 10-minute walk from public transportation, you may want to take a small bag that can be packed with a few nights' things. In this way, you won't have to schlep all your luggage up winding, cobbled streets.

      If you are not fit and active, we suggest you stay in villas outside town where you can usually park on site.

      Ten minutes outside Orvieto, La Badia is the nicest property in the area. Occupying a 14th-century Benedictine abbey, La Badia has a lot of ambience, tennis, a swimming pool, nice views, and a good restaurant.

      On the outskirts of town in an 8-acre park, Villa Ciconia, is set in a charming 16th-century villa. Chestnut beams, terra cotta tiles, and stone fireplaces add to the appeal. And guests can use the facilities at the local health club.

      Those who prefer to stay in town will likely enjoy Hotel Maitani. Set in a 600-year-old palazzo, the hotel has a terrace with lovely views of the Duomo.

      The least expensive property we recommend is Hotel Filippeschi. It's in an old mansion and is very nicely located in the center of town.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Orvieto, click here.

      Day 3 - Spoleto
      Those hard to please will likely be completely satisfied by Hotel San Luca. This stylish property set in a 19th-century tannery combines the best of old and new for unrivalled hospitality. It has a roof garden, a lovely courtyard, great views and unexpected plusses like Internet access.

      For those who prefer modern, Hotel Gattapone is an excellent choice. It's located high on the hillside, away from the bustle of the city. And its views are unrivalled.

      Although somewhat lacking in charm, Hotel dei Duchi offers great service, a great location and many amenities. Most rooms enjoy wonderful views.

      The value leader in town is the Hotel Charleston. It's near the center of town and the 17th-century building has lots of charm. In-room mini-bars and video players are nice extras.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Spoleto, click here.

      Day 5 - Assisi
      The best-known hotel in Assisi is Hotel Subasio. It's hosted everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Marlene Dietrich. Although it may have lost some of its luster, the location, views, terraces, and gardens at this former monastery will be reason enough to pay top dollar and forgive a few shortcomings.

      In the hills 3 miles from town, Santa Maria degli Ancillotti offers four-star accommodations in an old stone farmhouse. This is the place for those who prefer peace and quiet or want a swimming pool.

      Those who want to stay in town and pay a little less will enjoy Il Palazzo. Owned by the same family since the 15th century, this beautifully furnished palace is centrally located within walking distance of everything. Superior rooms are worth the extra cost.

      Another excellent choice right on the Piazza del Comune is Hotel Umbra. Set in the 16th-century townhouse and furnished with antiques, it's a charming inn with a popular terrace restaurant. Many of the rooms have small balconies. Request one.

      La Fortezza is the best value in town. The restaurant is outstanding. The hosts are gracious and attentive. And the location on Piazza del Comune is wonderful. This little charmer is perfect for those who want to watch their pennies.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Assisi, click here.

      Day 7 - Siena
      Those for whom money is no object will enjoy Certosa di Magianno. This former 13th-century monastery is now a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux chain. It's intimate, sophisticated, and a short distance from the center of town.

      Golfers ? and those who appreciate American-style service and amenities ? will enjoy the Park Hotel Siena. There's a six-hole golf course on the property, as well as a swimming pool and tennis courts. Although the building dates from the 16th century, there's not much old-world charm here.

      For those who'd like to stay in a villa in the countryside but don't want to spend an arm and a leg, Villa Scacciapensieri is a nice choice. This 19th-century villa has a swimming pool and tennis too. Rooms vary, so it's worth it to pay for a superior.

      Hotel Antica Torre is a great choice in town and a very good value. Located in a 16th-century tower near the Porta Romana, this small hotel has a lot of charm. Book as far in advance as possible.

      A less impressive choice, but still a good value in the center of town is Albergo Chiusarelli. In a building that dates from 1870, it offers comfortable, well-equipped rooms.

      The value leader in Siena is the Piccolo Hotel Etruria. This small, family run place offers travelers affordable, attractive accommodations close to the Piazza del Campo.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Siena, click here.

      Touring the wineries of Chianti is a highlight for any wine lover. Since many of the wineries are closed on weekends, if this is important to you, make sure your second or third day in Siena falls on a week day.

      Day 10 - San Gimignano
      The best, and most expensive address around San Gimignano is La Collegiata. A Relais & Chateaux member, the hotel is in a convent built in 1587. The grounds are gorgeous. Rooms each have extras like a Jacuzzi tub. And there's a heated pool.

      Those who wish to stay outside town can do so for about half the price of La Collegiata at Relais Santa Chiara. The hotel is about a ten-minute walk from town. The grounds are beautifully landscaped, rooms are tasteful and stylish, and there's a swimming pool.

      Those who prefer to stay in town will likely love L'Antico Pozzo. Housed in a 15th-century townhouse, this 18-room, family-run charmer is lovely and sophisticated. Book early.

      La Cisterna, located right on the main square, is a good value in town. The hotel retains a medieval charm. And the restaurant is very popular.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in San Gimignamo, click here.

      Day 11 - Lucca
      Those who can afford it will do no better than Locanda l'Elisa. Located in a 19th-century villa that was once the home of Napoleon's sister's consort, the hotels offers superb furnishings, beautiful grounds, and a swimming pool. It's about ten minutes from town.

      Just across the highway, Villa La Principessa was once the home of Napoleon's sister. The villa dates from the 14th century, when it was built as the home of the Duke of Lucca. It's not quite as deluxe as its neighbor, but very nice and a little more affordable.

      Clients who want to stay in town or don't want to break the bank will enjoy Piccolo Hotel Puccini. Occupying a 15th-century palace across from Puccini's birthplace, it's right of the Piazza San Michele. It's charming, very well run and a great value.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Lucca, click here.

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