What to expect from Italian hotels, and how to choose between them
The majority of hotels in Italy are small to medium in size and are family-run; big impersonal chains are still few and far between. This can mean a pleasantly personal touch, but it can also mean a lack of professional customer service (more below). Especially at three-star standard and lower, a hotel frequently consists of several floors of a building which may be shared with offices, residents or other hotels. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a dive; it’s the norm for large buildings in Italian cities to be divided up like this.
Facilities may be fewer than international travellers usually expect. It’s common for a hotel to offer only breakfast; many do not have a restaurant. There are sure to be restaurants close at hand, and this is hardly a drawback in a country where there are excellent restaurants on nearly every street to explore.
An advertised bar is often no more than a drinks cabinet where you’ll be served by the receptionist, although big, expensive international hotels sometimes do have ‘proper’ bars, with cocktails and pianists.
Don’t expect tea and coffee-making facilities in your room.
Since many hotels are historic buildings or crammed into narrow historic town centres, they are unlikely to have smart modern surroundings or extensions. It’s also worth noting that in a city like Rome, a ‘historic palazzo’ might translate as a nineteenth-century apartment block. The word palazzo usually means any large building, not a palace.
Car parking is not automatically available. Many hotels, especially in cities, do not have parking spaces. Check in advance if there is parking, if there is a charge, or if the hotel has an arrangement with a private car park.
Staff in Italian hotels are not always the obsequious customer service professionals that some overseas visitors expect. There’s a general assumption of equality in Italy, and engagement, politeness etc are expected in both directions. But while you may occasionally encounter brusqueness or disinterest, receptionists will more often be welcoming and friendly, as well as a good source of local knowledge (don’t expect their restaurant recommendations to be always unbiased, though). As we recommend on our page about Italian manners, try out some Italian, pay some compliments on their town and you should get a very friendly response. Don’t be surprised if the hotel requests your passports; this is a standard procedure, as they have a legal requirement to register all foreign tourists. You should get it back again, promptly. If you’re concerned, ask them to fill in their forms while you wait, or offer them a photocopy instead.
And about that breakfast: in Italy this is typically a cappucino and a croissant. Smaller Italian hotels and B&Bs often offer little more than a few dry biscuits, a croissant and a hot drink. Some better establishments may offer a buffet with fruit, cereals, cheese and cold ham. If cooked items like eggs are available, there may be an extra charge. If you stay in as many Italian hotels as we have, you dread the sight of that sweetened watered-down orange juice invariably served, even at smart establishments, and the bafflingly popular ‘fette biscottate’: dried crunchy toast-like slices wrapped in cellophane. If you read hotel reviews, you’ll see that foreign visitors almost always complain about the breakfasts served, based on their expectations from their home countries. We’d recommend you console yourself with the thought that you are paying less (no chefs cooking up eggs and bacon) and stop off at a bar to fill up on fresh pastries if you’re still hungry. Lunch is traditionally an important meal in Italy; a light breakfast will ensure you can do it justice.
I’m not sure what it says about Italians, but the default option for a two-person bedroom is often twin beds. If you’re booking for two, you should specify if you want twin beds (letti separati) or a double (letto matrimoniale – literally, a marriage bed). Unfortunately, many hotels keep their options open by utilising only twin beds; where a double is required they simply push the two mattresses together and make them up with one set of bedding. It’s only in luxury-class hotels that you’re likely to encounter quality mattresses and high-thread-count sheets.
A lack of understanding about Italian accommodation can lead to unreasonably discontented travellers. It helps to breathe deeply, and remember that you’re in a country where your standards may not apply, and may indeed be totally unknown to the oblivious hoteliers. In these days of internet reviewing, many Italian businesses are becoming more international in approach. But it’s a slow process. You’ll have a better stay if you don’t expect swimming pools in a historic building in Rome, a supply of ice, or ample parking in a pedestrianised town centre, and if you deflect those cravings for a Full English Breakfast. If there are things that could realistically be improved, suggest it to the hotel or include any comments in an online review when you return home.
Types of accommodation in Italy
Hotel – As elsewhere, hotels in Italy are graded by stars, one (basic) to five (luxury). You may notice discrepancies; some hotels turn down the chance of an extra star in order to pay less tax. The Italian word for hotel is albergo, so if you’re looking for the Hotel Roma and you see a sign for the Albergo Roma, you’ve found your goal. A smaller, humbler establishment is still sometimes called a pensione.
Bed and breakfast – This isn’t always the same as a homely UK B&B. There will probably be a small number of rooms to rent, in what may be a private house or apartment.
Residence – These are serviced rooms or flats, often designed for long-term stays. Sometimes also categorised as ‘town house suites’.
Apartments and villas – These are self-contained dwellings that you can rent, usually for a minimum period of several nights (this may be negotiable). Some are more fully equipped than others; check the web pages for details, and if in doubt, add a question to the space provided on the reservation form. NB on the websites, the prices quoted are per night unless otherwise stated.
How to choose
Location is critical. If you have a hire car, you’ll need parking and you’ll probably want to avoid the one-way streets of a busy town centre. If you’re using public transport, you’ll want to consider how easy it is to use the hotel as a base. Most hotel pages now have maps, and guest reviews are likely to mention the practicality of the location. These guest reviews are invaluable tools in choosing a hotel, and also in encouraging hoteliers to improve their services. When you use our hotel links to search for a hotel in a particular town, you’ll be able to see how many guest reviews have been written, and what the average rating is out of ten. If there are lots of reviews and a rating over 9, the hotel is probably very good for its category. Read a few reviews and see if it sounds as though the hotel will suit you. Bear in mind that some guests may have unrealistic expectations (see our notes on Italian hotels above) or have unusually bad or good experiences. If you’re booking a single room, read what solo travellers have said. If you’re travelling in summer or winter, check reviews from that time of year to check there aren’t issues with heating or air-conditioning. The latter can be crucial in hot Italian summers, and is worth paying extra for.
Almost all the hotel links on this website are to our principal hotel-booking partner, and more advice on using the booking service is provided below. Sometimes, in order to provide a comprehensive selection, we link to other booking services. Their booking conditions may occasionally be different, so you should read their explanations during the booking process.
Is it safe to book over the internet?
Yes, it’s now standard practice to book hotels online, and our partners who supply the booking technology will ensure the security of your reservation details. One of the reasons I prefer booking through a platform is that it gives you extra reassurance and an extra recourse should anything go wrong or the hotel let you down.
When do I pay?
Often this will be when you check out of the hotel, as is traditional. You are asked for your credit card details only as insurance (check the cancellation deadline). The only exception to this is for special non-refundable offers, and for some apartments, which may require a deposit to be paid in advance. Where this is the case, it will be clearly stated. As long as your accommodation takes credit cards, you can pay how you choose; you don’t need to use the same card. If you’re staying in a humble small hotel or B&B, check whether you’ll need to pay in cash.
Should I confirm with the hotel?
Most bookings are confirmed instantly, and you’ll receive confirmation details as soon as you complete the booking process. Theoretically your booking should be guaranteed as soon as you receive this confirmation from the hotel or booking service. However, you may wish to call or email the hotel a few days before your arrival, just to double-confirm room details, dates etc. This is a particularly good idea if you have any special requirements, or plan to arrive late at night.
I’m confused about what I’ll be paying
You will pay the amount listed by the hotel in their confirmation email. Unless you specifically arrange extras when you’re at the hotel, they’re bound to charge you the amount previously agreed. Take the printed confirmation with you as proof. When you are comparing prices on the website, it’s normal to list the price PER ROOM, not per person. If the hotel charges per person, this will be stated with the price list.
How does it work?
You follow the step-by-step booking procedure, which is very straightforward. Usually you will be presented with availability for your chosen dates and your booking will be confirmed at once.
Is breakfast included?
Breakfast is almost always included, unless the hotel specifically states otherwise. For some reason Venice five-star hotels often charge around €50 extra for a buffet breakfast, but this is very unusual. Do bear in mind that an Italian breakfast is nothing like a ‘Full English Breakfast’. You may well be served only with a cup of coffee and a jam croissant – or even a voucher to use at a nearby bar. A good excuse for a mid-morning cake break…
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