1. Il Pellicano, Porto Ercole, Tuscany
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Set up in the 1960s by a dashing British aviator and his American wife in a secluded cove on Tuscany’s rugged Argentario coast, this spring-to-autumn haven of dolce vita luxury has always been a clubbish, word-of-mouth kind of place. Now under the dynamic management of style maven and designer Marie-Louise Sciò, the hotel has refined its service, gained a Michelin-star and added a spa without losing its insider cachet and house-party vibe. The nearby town of Porto Ercole is a magnet for the Roman and Florentine yachtie set, but Il Pellicano takes its distance – standing in majestic natural seclusion amidst stone pines and cypresses with breathtaking sunset views down the coast.
2. Hotel Santa Caterina, Amalfi, Salerno
A superlative example of the best hotels, not just on this coast but in Italy, run since 1904 by a family who mix warmth and devotion with professionalism and the highest of standards. Add to that a handsome, intriguingly laid out 19th-century building; standalone folly-suites tucked amongst the gardens, citrus groves, pergolas and arbours that tumble down the hillside to the sea; a glass lift that whooshes guests down to the pool and beach club (the best seaside set-up of any Amalfi Coast hotel), balconies that jut over the water and classic white Amalfitana interiors splashed with Mediterranean colour, and you have an address that joyfully combines personality with glamour and integrity with charm.
3. Belmond Hotel Splendido, Portofino, Liguria
Housed in a protected Benedictine monastery dating from the 16th century, the Splendido first opened its doors to guests in 1902. Since then Winston Churchill, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Marlon Brando have passed through. Expect genteel interiors, exceptional service, and sensational, panoramic views of romantic Portofino harbour and the Ligurian sea beyond. It’s a short walk to the nearby cove of Paraggi beach.
4. JK Place Capri, Capri, Naples
Few hotels are capable of both reflecting the place they inhabit, and at the same time upgrading it. But that’s exactly what this 22-room sister property of two stylish urban boutique hotels in Rome and Florence does. JK Place Capri is the famous southern Italian holiday island as it should be, but rarely is: not a beautiful but fragile island community bursting at the seams with summer daytrippers, but a stylish refuge full of dolce vita class, combining impeccable taste with seaside nonchalance.
5. Le Sirenuse, Positano, Salerno
Of all Positano’s lovely hotels (and there are, for one small town clinging to the hillside, many), Le Sirenuse is the most compelling. Filled with many lovely things, it feels like a mix of living museum of decorative arts and private home of an aristocratic family – which is exactly what it is. The summer home of the Neapolitan Sersale family, it became a hotel after the Second World War and is run today by Antonio Sersale. Over the years it has expanded to include a web of public and private terraces, a lovely pool and top-flight restaurant, as well as cool, heavenly bedrooms.
6. Hotel Le Dune, Piscinas, Sardinia
On the remotest stretch of Sardinia’s Costa Verde, in the midst of one of the highest dune systems in Italy, this hotel occupies the warehouse of an ex-mineworks. Belying such mundane origins, it’s a classic chic retreat: secluded, exclusive, and blessed with a prime location right on the beach. The unfussy rooms are quiet and well-equipped, public areas are airy, and the bar and restaurant are perfectly satisfactory – but it’s the location that you’ll remember.
7. Corallaro, Santa Teresa di Gallura, Sardinia
The hotel’s chief virtue is its position, close to one of northern Sardinia’s most enticing beaches – the Blue Flag Rena Bianca – yet within the lively resort of Santa Teresa Gallura with its gamut of bars, pizza joints and good seafood restaurants. Further afield are more beaches: sheltered Porto Quadro and slightly regimented La Marmorata to the east, the wild rocky promontory of Capo Testa on the west side. It’s less than an hour by ferry to Corsica.
8. Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, Taormina, Sicily
Set among subtropical gardens on its own private stretch of beach on the Bay of Mazzarò, this luxurious hotel oozes understated elegance. Built in 1830, the hotel was once a private villa, and has retained the charm of a residence. Facilities include a heated infinity pool, use of the private beach with sun loungers and parasols, and a complimentary boat cruise (mid-May to mid-September). Water sports are available too, including paddle-surfing that can be combined with yoga meditation.
9. Masseria Torre Coccaro, Puglia
Set just back from the coast, but with its own nearby beach club, this family-oriented masseria hotel is a welcoming sprawl of a place, equally well suited to couples and families, as satisfying for outdoor types or contemporary art buffs (the owner is a collector) as for those who simply want to lounge by the pool. This was once a busy rural farming hamlet at the centre of a small estate, and that sense of community is still alive. Enjoy an al fresco seafood meal – and decent pizzas – at the Coccaro Beach Club.
10. Capofaro Resort, Salina, Sicily
On the Aeolian island of Salina, north of Sicily, Capofaro’s 20 self-contained rooms are scattered among vines belonging to Tasca d’Almerita, one of Sicily’s most important wine producers. But the vibe is anything but farm holiday: this is a sophisticated less-is-more retreat with an excellent restaurant. The hotel occupies a shelving site high above the sea, lapped by the beam of the lighthouse (‘faro’) that gives the place its name, with views across to the distant islands of Panarea and Stromboli – the latter an active volcano whose eruptive firework displays can often be seen at night.