Italy

Here at Oyster, we can never get enough of bright lights, big cities, and the continuous buzz and hum of modern metropolis life. There’s just something about the energy in the air that we find exhilarating. But that doesn’t mean we don’t take a moment every once in a while to step back in time. And at times like these, we don’t just want to soak up history – we want to live it. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than waking up in a 13th-century building and imagining how many people have woken up, celebrated, or walked the halls of the very same place — and it doesn’t hurt to get to imagine it while still enjoy modern conveniences like air-conditioning and Wi-Fi. And if you don’t want to stay in a crumbling piece of history, you don’t have to — and you can still get a taste of history. There are tons of preserved medieval towns and villages that have newer– even sleek and modern — hotels.  So if you want to get medieval on your vacation (in a historic kind of way, not an urban dictionary kind of way), we’ve got just the right spots to do it. Here are our top ten picks for hotels in ancient towns.

Hotel Athena: Siena, Italy

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Inside the historic walls of Siena, the 100-room Hotel Athena is a classic, upscale property within walking distance of several restaurants and historic sites, including the Siena Cathedral and Biblioteca Piccolomini. Piazza del Campo, Siena’s main square and the site of the famous haven’t-changed-much-since-the-middle-ages Palio horse races, can be reached within 10 minutes by foot. The hotel’s rooftop terrace overlooks the historic buildings of the area and has a bar serving cocktails and snacks. There is a free breakfast buffet with hot and cold items and an elegant restaurant serving regional cuisine. There’s no pool or fitness center at the hotel, but rooms are simple and clean and have free Wi-Fi.

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A hotel has “made it” when it’s honored as a Relais & Chateaux property. After all, established in 1954 in France (mais bien sur?!), this exclusive association is made up of just about 500 hotels and restaurants, combined, that introduce guests “to a deeper, truer understanding of the Art of Living.” Or, in much simpler Oyster terms, they show guests a darn good time by providing gorgeous rooms, luxurious facilities and amenities, and top-notch service. We’ve been lucky enough to have stayed in quite a few of these R&C properties (don’t get too jealous — as hotel experts, we also have to stay in spots like this), and here bring you the real creme de la creme of the best of the best.

1. Saint James Paris

St James

It makes sense to start in grand Paris, non? With a sweeping private entrance surrounded by green lawns and an impressive fountain, the upscale Saint James is a rare find in Paris — in fact, the 19th century manor is considered the only chateau-hotel in the city. It’s fitting that the hotel is located in the wealthy 16th arrondissement (and yes, valet parking is included). The 48 rooms and suites are large by Paris standards, and decorated in plush luxurious fabrics. But the common areas are more impressive — especially the black and white grand staircase on the main floor. The terrace is a beautiful spot for lunch on a nice summer day. And there’s also a small fitness center, a spa, and a gourmet restaurant. The rates here are steep, but guests who want to experience luxury in Paris (and can afford it) should give the Saint James a look.

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During the summer, it’s almost impossible to stay indoors come happy hour. While the cooler months — spent with friends crowding in cozy bars and huddling by the fire — are fast approaching, there’s still time for some rooftop boozin’ — and fortunately, enjoying the sun and stars with a drink in hand is made easy at some of our favorite hotels. Offering stunning vistas and delicious cocktails, these rooftop bars are destinations unto to themselves in cities far and wide.

1. Refinery Rooftop at The Refinery Hotel, New York City 

refinery

The Refinery Hotel is a stylish urban boutique in New York‘s Garment District, located in a historic building that was once a tea salon and hat factory. The property’s past inspired its present industrial-chic design, and small details such as decorative milliner’s tools pay homage to the building’s former function. The property’s cool rooftop bar — aptly named Refinery Rooftop — offers gorgeous views of the Empire State Building and a rotating menu of seasonal cocktails designed by Alex Ott. Reservations are recommended at this swanky spot where DJs are known to perform on Thursday and Friday nights — but guests of the hotel may have a leg up on getting through the door.  Read More »

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Even if you never took an astronomy class in college, you can still appreciate looking up at the night sky and seeing an infinite number of twinkling stars. Stargazing is often associated with camping or the viewing of once-every-few-months meteor showers, but — with so many stars in the sky — it can really be done whenever…the where is more important. Secluded areas away from the bright lights of the city are best for admiring the flickering sky and searching for constellations, and some hotels in these secluded spots are best suited for stargazing as well. Whether they have their own telescopes on hand or offer stargazing sessions with an astronomer, these 12 hotels provide perfect settings for an evening enjoying the view above.

Westward Look Resort, Tucson

Westward Look Resort

This renovated guest ranch is Tucson’s oldest resort and one of its most popular. Outdoor activities abound at the upscale property, which offers three saline pools, horseback riding and hiking trails, volleyball, basketball, and eight tennis courts. Big rooms and two highly regarded restaurants at Westward Look Resort overlook the serene mountains and city lights. Nature is everywhere at this property with the various gardens, including a butterfly and hummingbird garden. Another highlight is the telescope on hand, perfect for guests to view the desert night sky. If that’s not enough, travelers can drive about an hour and a half to the Kitt Peak National Observatory; it’s home to the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes and hosts nightly observing programs.

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There’s something so cozy about watching a movie, both solo and with a crew. If you don’t want to hole up in your room with pay-per-view while on vacation, there are many hotels where you can still catch a flick without leaving the property. Some hotels offer movie nights for their guests – whether it’s curled up on a comfy couch indoors or outside lounging by the pool — giving vacationers a chance to unwind in front of a big screen. Many are geared toward little ones so that parents can enjoy some alone time, while others are a chance for travelers to meet and participate in activities together. No matter if you’re away on business or having a family vacation, grab some popcorn, sit back, relax, and watch the show. We definitely give the following 10 hotels two thumbs up!

Bitter End Yacht Club, British Virgin Islands

Bitter End Yacht Club

The Bitter End Yacht Club, snuggled into a steep hill on the scenic North Sound, is a relaxed, family-friendly resort. The tech-free rooms (no TVs or Wi-Fi here) feature stunning views from the balconies, and the sliding doors allows breezes to sweep through; some rooms do not have air-conditioning but most guests find they don’t miss it. While some rooms could use renovations, guests are here for the white-sand beaches that offer plenty of water sports and relatively calm waters. Although popular among couples, the hotel also caters toward families; each night two movies are screened at The Sand Palace, next to the lobby. The movies are all rated G, PG, or PG-13 and popcorn is provided. Adults may want to send their kids to watch the movie while they enjoy a meal at the Clubhouse Grille next door.

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During our travels we’ve stayed in the cutest, quaintest, and tiniest of hotels. And while we love the intimate and peaceful vibe that many smaller properties can offer, sometimes staying near the action just isn’t enough. We want to be in the thick of it. That way we can to go into full-on relaxation (read: lazy) vacation mode and have everything we could ever want right at our fingertips. Why should you have to jump in a car (or even worse — on a bus) just to meet a few people, see a show, or dance the night away? Luckily, these 12 massive village-style properties don’t think you should; in fact, they are hoping you won’t! Packed to the brim with communal conveniences like multiple restaurants, several pools, nightclubs, theaters, tons of activities, kids programs — even grocery stores, pharmacies, and bowling alleys — some of these places are so big they have on-site shuttles and maps to get you where you want to go amid sprawling grounds. And with enough rooms to house populations in the hundreds and thousands, they promise to be teeming with tons of potential new pals. It may take a village to create your perfect vacation — but at these properties, it’s worth it!

Grand Paladium Bavaro Resort & Spa, Dominican Republic

Dominican

The 674-room Grand Palladium Bavaro is spread over spacious grounds (guests also have access to two sister properties) offering an incredible selection of 15 bars, five buffets, and eight restaurants. Walking shoes are recommended, but family-friendly amenities, lower prices than some neighboring properties, and renovated rooms are big draws. In 2014, the resort added 178 units — including a swim-up suite option overlooking the beach (a great pick for honeymooners). Kids and their parents will appreciate the outstanding kids’ club, but take note: the beach can get crowded.

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It’s hard to pick just one spot to visit in Southern Italy. After all, it seems that every corner of the region is rife with beautiful scenery, architecture, and attractions. But if you’re just in the area for a quick trip, it’s worth starting your time in Sorrento. A laid-back, seaside town set on a cliff, Sorrento is surrounded by some of Italy’s more popular tourist destinations – Naples and Pompeii to the north; the island of Capri just offshore; Positano and the famed Amalfi Coast to the east. With a large selection of hotels and easy transportation options, it’s the perfect home base for a southern Italian vacation. Aside from being a gateway to other areas, Sorrento is also a lovely place to stay. Scented by lemon groves and offering stunning views of the Bay of Naples, its Old World charm remains intact, with a maze of beautiful, cobbled backstreets and an assortment of quaint shops. Here are six of our favorite Sorrento hotels.

Grand Hotel Royal

Grand Hotel Royal. Sorrento, Italy

Grand Hotel Royal. Sorrento, Italy

Grand Hotel Royal is set dramatically above the Bay of Naples, with floor-to-ceiling windows that open out onto the well-manicured garden and pool overlooking the bay. It’s only a short walk from Piazza Tasso, popularly considered the center of Sorrento’s old town, and the area’s train station is also a few minutes walk away. There’s frequent service heading towards Naples, with stops at stations that offer access to the Herculaneum and Pompeii. The ferry station with service to Capri is close by the hotel as well.

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We’ve been spending our summer in Italy. Tough, we know. And we’ve visited some pretty amazing hotels during our stay. We’ve toured gorgeous palazzos, stepped into rustic farmhouses, and perused canal-side properties. But some of our favorite hotels have been those tucked into the hills of the Italian countryside, where natural thermal baths are considered standard. (But, with calming waters, soothing temperatures, and beautiful surroundings, are anything but.) Here we bring you three totally romantic Italian escapes — made all the more romantic with sexy thermal springs for an utterly relaxing, rejuvenating vacation.

Hotel Saturno Fonte Pura

Hotel Saturno 1

An intimate, family-like atmosphere pervades this hotel and spa in the Tuscan countryside. The 25 rooms are laid out around well-kept grounds, and the conscientiously maintained outdoor pools are sourced from the hotel’s private spring, one of Saturnia’s famous naturally occurring thermal waters. These two thermal pools are the hotel’s main attraction, and are kept at their naturally occurring temperature of 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). A hot tub and a full menu of spa services round out the options; many guests have claimed that, since the owner changes the pool waters daily, the facilities are the cleanest in town. Other perks include the excellent restaurant, which serves local fare in a country-style dining room, the lovely grounds, and the sweeping views of the countryside. 

Hotel Saturno 2

Hotel Saturno 3

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Relais Blu Belvedere

The 11-room Relais Blu Belvedere is an upscale boutique in the village of Marciano-Termini with gorgeous…oh, and we mean gorgeous…sea views. The hotel has an infinity pool open during the summer and there’s a gourmet restaurant on-site serving land and sea tasting menus. All rooms — breezy and modern with white and blue decor — have sea views. The outdoor terrace — also decorated in mostly white with accents of marine blue — is effortlessly stylish, and an ideal spot for a drink overlooking the Gulf of Naples and Isle of Capri. Plus, hotel is less than a 30-minute drive from Sorrento, making day trips easy and a must-do. See more beautiful (and blue!) pics of the Relais Blu after the jump >>

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Fairy tales have been bewitching readers long before Emma Swan wandered into Storybrooke on ABC‘s “Once Upon A Time.” In fact, these stories of heroes and magic, and goblins and trolls, have been entrancing the masses ages before even the Brothers Grimm decided to pen some of history’s most memorable tales. The reasons for this preoccupation with folklore vary: Some people pine for their favorite characters and others wish for a world where magic spells and potions can be bought and sold at your local witch’s hut.

But perhaps the most alluring part of a fairy tale is the setting, filled with grand castles, forbidden forests, and charming villages galore. These fascinating worlds come to life before our eyes thanks to the rich descriptions of our favorite fairy tale authors. And there’s good news for all of the dreamers out there: Many of these otherworldly settings were inspired by real life destinations around the world. Now we all know Sleeping Beauty’s castle was based on the gorgeous Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, and that Colmar, France could be La Belle et La Bete’s hometown, but what about lesser known fairy tales? From Sicily to Scotland, we have the scoop on some of the most idyllic lands of folklore that are just waiting to be discovered — and, of course, the dreamy hotels where you can almost imagine Prince (or Princess!) Charming awaiting your hand for a dance.

1. Sicily, Italy 

sicily

Sicily remains one of the most intriguing regions of Italy. A mix of cultures — including Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Greek, and African — provide the island with a heady history filled with intrigue. You can see the blend of cultures reflected in the island’s cuisine, architecture, language, and — yes — folklore. Fairy tales from Sicily have all of the traditional components: heroes and heroines, magic and might. But they also have some surprising twists that make them entirely their own. In Sorforina, for example, our titular heroine is a well-educated young woman, the daughter of a Sicilian merchant, who falls in love with a young, belligerent prince. The tale of their love affair is tortured, filled with artful witchcraft and steamy seduction (this is an Italian fairy tale, after all). It is a fairy tale of its own unique making, filled with the wry and unabashed sarcasm Sicilians are known for in the face of insurmountable obstacles.

Stay: Grand Hotel Villa Igiea  

The Grand Hotel Villa Igiea offers a magnificent and ornate example of Sicily’s 19th-century architectural history — as well as a plausible backdrop for our Sorforina. Visitors have noted that this is considered one of the best, if not the best, hotel in Palermo. The grounds are spectacular, and the outdoor pool was built to incorporate ancient stone ruins. Inside, there’s a romantic bar with vaulted stone ceilings and wall frescoes. Read More »

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