Behind the Scenes of Your Italian Fix: Day 5

by Bianca Gignac

best hotels italy

>> This is day 5 of a 7 day party delivering a sneak-peek at how getting your Italian Fix is the best thing you can do with your precious vacation time. <<


Today we are gonna chat hotels.

If you’ve ever planned a trip to a new place you know that selecting hotels can be a daunting task.

I spend a massive amount of time choosing the right hotels for our guests.

I chat with owners, I visit them myslef, I do CIA style back checking with locals, online reviews, staff and sometimes I just ask the owners straight: “I need a fun place to stay. Can we have fun here? Or are you gonna be a pain in the ass?”

It’s not a very complicated algorithm, but it does secure the best and cheeriest owners. Because in my experience, if the owners suck then the vibe of the place sucks. Ever caught staff at your favourite restaurant complaining about customers right in front of you? Doesn’t give you that warm and fuzzy feeling does it. And we like warm and fuzzy. This is a vacation — not a day at the office.

As far as design —  I’ve got a brutal eye.

Truth is I can’t stand most interiors – too this, too that. I was just born like this I think. I studied fine arts in university. I’ve read Vogue since I was 10, read architecture magazines since I could pronounce architecture. I read interior design blogs weekly for kicks. I’m one of those girls who spent a week out of my life on my hands and knees staining my hardwood floors white. I wanted “Scandinavian optimistic” in my home and there was no way a contractor in my small town was gonna have the foggiest idea of what that meant. So I did it myself.

So obviously, I make a big deal out of finding the prettiest, cheeriest places to host our trips from. The details matter.

I chose our 2013 hotels because of the elements I chat about below and I suggest having a similar set of criteria when you  choose your next home away from home.

  • inspiring communal space. Hotels that love travellers give them a great communal space to hang together. The Straf in Milan has a bar so cool that it’s filled with local’s — not just hotel residents. Cinqueterre Residences has massive flower covered verandas taking in expansive views of the tiny village.The Salvatore Ferragamo hotel in Florence,  Continentale,  is right on the river with a rooftop patio that attracts the whole city. My heart fluttered faster last spring when I visited it cause I knew it was beyond perfect. Palazzo Guadagni is an ancient palace with a massive covered deck that wraps around two sides of the building. Your view is piazza Santo Spirito and the terracotta rooftops of my favourite Florentine neighbourhood.
  • a short walk to the best stuff. The Straf is literally right beside the famous piazza del duomo in Milan with the gothic cathedral steps away (oh — and a great department store). The Continentale in Florence has the ponte vecchio 20 metres from the front door. Palazzo Guadagni is in my favourite piazza in Florence and in the heart of the artsy quarter. The Cinqueterre Residences is tucked in the hills; the Cinque Terre is a maize of stairs and everywhere feels “up”. But that hotel has the most delicious views of the village and that’s the payoff for the workout to reach it.
  • owners that care. When you find people that are proud of the places they own or work I know I’ll be treated like a friend — not just a credit card number.  We stayed at Cinque Terre Residences last season and I didn’t know the owners previously. They were the most gracious, friendly and accommodating hosts ever — and I  consider the owner Carla a friend now. We chat parenting via email once in a while and I feel like she wants to treat my guests like I do — the best. There is a sea of cranky, bitchy, whining hotel owners in Italy and you should avoid them like the plague. They have it so good with overflowing business that treating people like crap is reasonable to them. Choose hotels with owners who care.
  • tall, dark and handsome. Italy is a sexy and gorgeous place. I want that in a hotel too. Which is why I choose tiny family run boutique hotels that don’t use the word “boutique”. The opposite end of the spectrum is fancy design hotels designed by architects with unpronounceable last names. No wishy-washy-it’ll-do middle ground.

Here are some photos of the hotels for the 2013 season. If you have a friend going to Italy forward them this list so they can save themselves a load of time choosing their next hotel.



For the photography workshop in Florence with Leela Cyd we are staying in an amazing 16th century renovated palace in Piazza Santo Spirito: Palazzo Guadagni.


Florence + Milan


For our dream shopping trip to Florence and Milan we are staying at two design hotels: Contintale in Florence and The Straf in Milan.


The Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera


For our insiders trip to the Cinque Terre we are staying at the family run micro-hotel set in the terraced hillsides overlooking village life in Riomaggiore: Cinqueterre Residences.


Our celebrations


We are celebrating the release of our 2013 trips with a week of behind the scenes articles and give-aways.

You’ll be staying at one of the hotels in 2013 when you join us on our upcoming trips.


Our giveaway


I’m giving away my one of my favourite books: Decorate. It’s written by Holly Becker of the awesome design blog Decor8 which has inspired me for years. I lend this book to friends whenever they have a house reno and I want you to have it too.

Enter a comment below until midnight November 7.

Please chat about anything to be entered.

What do you look for in a hotel when you travel? What are your best hotel recommendations for Italy? What would you like have more of in your home right now?

Thanks for being here. Luck + Love, Bianca

{Update: Lisa O’neill is the give-away winner. Thanks to everyone who commented! We love you.}

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

lisa o'neill

Hi Bianca, Great post!
I look for a small to mid-sized hotel when possible with plenty of character. It could be modern or plush, but works best when that charm is carried out in every last detail. Great design and friendly folks rule. Room size is fairly important & well maintained plumbing!!
I also look for a great bar. And, if no restaurant/cafe is available on premises, there should be a few nearby.
Of course, location is key. Should be close to the main places I want to visit – not too close & not too far.
No hotel recommendations for Italy since it’s been around 20 years since I went :-(
I’d love to infuse my home with fresh paint, a few new funky light fixtures, more fresh flowers and have a much improved back patio with pergola. Ciao!


Bianca Gignac

Cioa Lisa,

Back patio with pergola — bring it on and sign me up!

Wow –20 years since you’ve been to Italy. Sounds like you need a new fix…

I agree — details make a world of difference. The Continentale in Florence is a Salvatore Ferragamo hotel and they have beautiful leather drawer pulls on the dressers and embossed leather thingy’s — it’s really understated and chic. Take care Lisa!

xx Bianca



I so want to stay at any one of those petty places shown above, but the Straf literally took my breath away as far as the interior is concerned!


Terri Marra

Hi Bianca, you already have been great in giving advice with my upcoming trip with my daughter over Xmas. I Cannot wait. I stayed at the pensione; Porta Rosa when I was 20 years old (long time ago).It was an amazing place…. large room with authentic decor. now re-owned and updated with modern clear rooms, still holding on to the marble floors, fescos and most of the chandeliers, it was over the xmas holiday as well. I hope to have the same experience with my now 20 year old as I did then…I will keep you posted. still looking for a Venice and Bologna hotel! any suggestions . also looking for the best place to spend the Epiphany… tale end of my trip alone.


Kez sherwood

Mmmmm… Great choices. What I love about Italian architects is the ability to design modern buildings or additions /renos with historic buildings to devine effect. This I need to see in person! My favourite hotels exude a simple elegance, they deliver high quality with friendly and warm staff. They have a bit of luxury without going over the top or being wasteful. At this moment my decorating inspiration is downsizing, reusing what I have in new ways and designing or using multipurpose furniture. I heartily respond to books, mags and blogs for ideas. Thanks for the great posts.


Bianca Gignac

Hi Kez — I love how you mentioned waste in hotels. I feel like I’m one of the few people who goes to hotels and cringes at some of the stuff I see. When things are too excessive I start to feel uneasy and get this, “is that ever ridiculous” sort of banter which cancels out the excitement. So I think it’s the best balance staying at a place that offers all the sexy hotel things but without the gross bling that makes you feel like you have to sell all your shit and build wells in sub Saharan Africa just to repent a weekend away.
Thanks for sharing Kez. xxBianca



Usually when I travel I look for a hotel 1) in my price range, 2) in a convenient to transit/walking neighbourhood which 3) has decent reviews and amenities. One design-conscious hotel I stayed at was on Isla Mujeres in Mexico- Hotel Secreto, which was a lovely oasis.
Now is the time of year when I switch up my accessories- flowers away and pinecones out, no more pink and green votives- orange and red mercury glass instead. It’s all about trying to make things cozy, especially because it’s a basement suite and gets feeling even darker in the winter months.
PS. Thank you for the contest! x


Bianca Gignac

Hi Britta,

Your orange and red mercury glass and pine cones make we want to come over to your place and put the kettle on — just sounds so cozy.

xx Bianca


Marie Dahlgrin

I love the idea of having a hot bath in a big tub after walking through a buzzing arts district all afternoon. The second floor tub at The Continentale looks dangerous though…I wonder if it would be so incredibly relaxing that a night out on the town in Florence would lose out to bubble bath and fluffy pillows! In order to air on the side of coaution,…the tub might have to wait until after dinner for the ultimate in self pampering! Thanks for the tips! These hotels look stunning, luxurious, and beyond fabulous!



An other suggestion for your stay in Cinque Terre: Resort La Francesca (
Open all year around: 55 houses and apartments with kitchenette, bathroom and terrace, in a marvellous park just out the National Park; the ideal place for a holiday immersed in nature.
Beach, swimmingpool, tennis, playground; restaurant, bar, minimarket.

60 minutes from Genova airport (1 hour and 15′ from Pisa); 15 minutes from Carrodano-Levanto exit of the motorway A 12 Genova-Livorno; 5 minutes drive from Levanto station – starting point for trains to Cinque Terre – that you can reach in 15 minutes walk through the old railway tunnels, recently restored and opened to the hikers.



wow wow wow….we will totally check these options out as we hope to get to italy next september!

i love these photos, i love these patios, especially those with candlelight tables and cushy pillows! i think that is what I want more of in my house… mission, inspired by this post is to create a candlelit corner for myself once a week….to enjoy solo, or with my man or with my kidlets!!!!

thank you for the giveaway opportunity – I have been eyeing that book up!!!



So inspirational. I look for hotels by asking at the tourist booths in airports and railway stations when I arrive in a city. I have had fantastic luck with availability with whatever amenities and atmosphere I have in mind, then get personalized advice about how to get there, and the availability is guaranteed. As far as my house, I would like to infuse it with friends and family, and the smell of home cooking, and the sounds of life and laughter.


Lisa Caldwell

These hotels look AMAZING!!! So beautiful. Hope you and your family are well


Bianca Gignac

I know. I’m gushing too. Maybe you need a round two?



I used to work at Palazzo Guadagni! Great hotel, say hi to Ferdinando for me :)


Bianca Gignac

Hi Krista,

I will. Glad you emailed me about this place. Look how it turned out!


Holly Johnson

Thanks for sharing your wedding pics. Loved reading about your love story! Also think your dress is really fun, almost looks vintage.
H, of Clarkdale


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