Unique Hotels in Italy: Stay in Fortresses, Lighthouses and Castles

Imagine watching the sun set over the cliffs of Sardinia from your own private lighthouse or waking up to the cries of seagulls from a medieval pirate fortress. With many people feeling a lingering caution about crowded and cramped places since the pandemic, it’s no wonder ordinary hotels are so long gone. This is even truer when you have the opportunity to experience Italy’s picturesque architectural heritage as an exclusive guest. After all, if you finally go to Italy, why not stay in a castle?

Renting ancient fortresses, lighthouses and stunning castles – and even old tuna factories – offers a throwback and probably the most unique place you can say you’ve ever stayed. It’s the latest travel fad: with COVID still out there, many are craving more space to themselves, whether it’s booking the whole place for a weekend getaway or a special event, like a birthday or a destination wedding.

From Sicily to Tuscany and Sardinia, breakfast on panoramic sun-drenched terraces and suites in frescoed towers where great lords and ladies once rubbed shoulders, dressed in lavish robes and tossing balls . Art and history are intertwined in many Italian cities, so here are some places where you’ll feel like the king of your own little kingdom.

Tonnara of Scopello

Tuna trapping facilities (called tonnare in Italian) were banned, but after years of decline they are now experiencing a revival. This ancient and tiny tuna fortress near the town of Trapani in Sicily is located in the pristine marine reserve of Zingaro, sitting in front of huge piles of rocks sticking out of the water.

At the foot of a cliff topped by a watchtower are a few smartly revamped reddish stone dwellings with private terrace-porches where you can park a dinghy or a canoe. You will sleep in earthenware suites decorated with fish motifs, which were once the lodgings of tuna fishermen, as well as warehouses for the storage of boats and the processing of tuna. Stone bathrooms are carved into the rock, while each bedroom has private exotic gardens and beach access.

Nature and snorkeling enthusiasts, this one is for you. At dawn or sunset, jump out of bed, open the front door and dive straight into the clear water with a big splash. Everything is also included for a relaxing getaway: hammocks for reading or lounging, fennel liqueur drinks served in sunny courtyards and fresh sea urchins for dinner straight from the fisherman’s net.

italian castle
Castle of Scipione dei Marchesi Pallavicino

As you wander inside this medieval castle, you’ll find suites adorned with green and purple frescoes, lounges with plush upholstered armchairs and high-end fabrics, and grand halls with antique furniture where Italian aristocrats ruled. on their county. Scipione Castle, located in the Emilia-Romagna region and built in the 14th century, offers only two exclusive romantic suites with a private garden and entrance, wooden ceilings, antique terracotta floors and breathtaking views of the surrounding forests where the nobles once hunted.

The two-story Blue Suite is located in the watchtower and includes a marble bathroom, while the Green Suite, just behind the ancient drawbridge, has a ceiling-high fireplace. Both have their own fully equipped kitchenettes, but guests are always treated to fine Tuscan dishes of wild hare and handmade tortellini at the adjoining restaurant.

Get ready to meet the heirs of the old aristocratic family that still runs the estate. You can also choose to rent the whole palace – the stables and all – for a special occasion.

italian lighthouse
Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia

Imagine sleeping in a sleek, white lighthouse surrounded by lush vineyards that produce a sweet, amber-colored wine called Malvasia, dubbed the “nectar of the gods.” Part of an estate run by an old aristocratic family, the waterfront lighthouse sits on the volcanic island of Salina, the pearl of the Aeolian Archipelago, which is a green paradise made up of two twin peaks. The renovated hotel now has 27 rooms, including a suite with kitchen for private dining, with terraces facing the sea, as well as a black stone swimming pool.

As magnificent as the location and the views are, there is something truly special about drinking premium wine on the patio of a sun terrace surrounded by the scent of those same vines, which are exclusive to this island thanks fertile soil and sweltering heat. The mouth-watering drink (which is also used in the on-site restaurant today) was enjoyed by British Admiral Horatio Nelson’s navy who often partied in these waters in the 1700s, fueled by golden Malmsey.

italian fortress
Only Fabrice/Shutterstock

Living as a lord in the Middle Ages wasn’t always easy, even if you had an entire fortress all to yourself. There was no elevator and dozens of stairs. But for those who love unique adventures, imagine a fortified tower vacation where your accommodation spans 11 stories of a narrow tower with thick stone walls.

The Salvucci Tower in the charming Tuscan village of San Gimignano is perhaps one of Italy’s quirkiest accommodation options. San Gimignano is known as “the village of many towers”, and it is the only inhabitable one.

Get ready to stretch your muscles as you ascend and descend 143 steps from your bed to the bathroom, kitchen or loft. There are only three beds and two bathrooms in the entire 11-story tower, which you would have entirely to yourself. The best part, however, might just be the panoramic rooftop, perfect for a Negroni evening or a candlelit truffle pasta dinner prepared by a private chef.

lighthouse in italy
Faro Capo Spartivento

Located in the secluded bay of Chia on the island of Sardinia, you can have this watchtower all to yourself for a great vacation. Built in 1865 atop a cliff, the still-functioning reddish lighthouse has been converted into just six luxury suites with sunrise and sunset views, surrounded by translucent waters and lonely coves.

The on-site restaurant, open only to hotel guests, serves breakfast and intimate dinners on the terrace. They create local dishes including seafood, artisan Malloreddus pasta and Sardinian pecorino sheep’s cheese. You can also choose to have a drink in the evening, with the best Sardinian wines such as Vermentino di Gallura, served by the panoramic swimming pool.

Castle in Italy
Naro Castle

This majestic medieval cliff-top fortress is located in the remote Marche region, surrounded by forests, rivers and sleepy villages. Once the home of a proud warrior princess, it is now a little-known retreat where guests can live in a piece of history.

The suites are richly decorated with ornate carvings, paintings and antique furniture. The bathrooms are luxurious, with painted frescoes and chromotherapy showers. The old cooler is now used as a wine cellar, while you can visit the old cistern, once used to collect water. There’s also an underground rock spa if you want some pampering. Or have fun looking for the secret passage that would be located underground.

One of the most charming parts of the rental is the scenic gardens. Here you will find a huge stone patio with comfortable sofa beds, where you can relax, take in the mountain views and sip a Martini with top quality local Ascolane olives. Plus, the walkway along the fortified walls will give you an idea of ​​what it was like to watch for approaching enemy troops.

Hotel in Italy
Trasita Positano Tower

Visiting the bustling fishing village of Positano and the mesmerizing Amalfi Coast are high on most travellers’ bucket list, but staying somewhere unique ups the game. This pirate watchtower from the 1300s is carved into the side of a cliff and extends to the translucent waters below, which according to mythology were inhabited by mermaids. The property even has a private road leading to coves and beaches.

The Trasita Tower’s whitewashed interiors make for cool panoramic suites, but you’ll likely spend your time by the pool and sunbathing or napping on the tiered stone terraces dotted with loungers. From the gardens and the roof, where the guards once patrolled, the view extends to the Li Galli archipelago.

In the morning, before feasting on an iconic ricotta-filled Pastiera cake, jump straight off one of the rock platforms at the base of the tower and go for a swim or a dip! From the windows of all three suites, you’ll be so close to the water, you’ll feel like the sea is about to wash into your room. A short walk from the village of Positano but nestled in its own quiet corner, the tower guarantees absolute privacy and silence.

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Silvia Marchetti is a contributor for Thrillist.

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