Italy

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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Tuscany is a dream destination for many — rolling green hills, charming medieval towns, stone farmhouses, and acres of vineyards are what usually come to mind. But there’s a side of Tuscany many may not know about — a steamy side. No, not that kind of steamy (well, maybe that too), but steamy in the literal sense — many Italians and Europeans flock to the little town of Saturnia for its natural thermal waters. These charming properties take full advantage of this unique geographical feature.

Agriturismo Le Cascatelle

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Set among olive and fruit trees in a quiet field, this bed and breakfast consists of four simple but clean, well-stocked apartments slightly set apart from one another, furnished with the basics. A few rooms are available for rent within the compound’s main house. Wine made by the owner is available for sample and sale, and a much-lauded homemade breakfast is offered each morning at a very reasonable price. The main advantage of this location is its convenience vis-à-vis the Saturnia waterfalls (within walking distance), as well as its proximity to several towns of historical and cultural interest, including Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana. The owner organizes full and half-day mountain biking excursions for guests for an extra fee. Read More »

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It’s a dream vacation: Staying in an Italian farmhouse amid Tuscany’s rolling hills or Campania’s stunning plateaus, surrounded by rows of olive trees and sunflower blossoms. Italy was one of the first countries to successfully promote the agriturismo phenomenon, in which vacationers stay in a working farmhouse to truly immerse themselves in the culture and natural beauty of the nation. The results have been spectacular. Charmingly rustic resorts call to couples, families, and friends looking to explore Italy beyond its bustling cities. Discover seven of Oyster’s favorite farmhouses here.

1. Ripa Relais, Umbria 

ripa

This farmhouse resort is nestled in the Umbrian countryside on the slopes of Ripa’s ancient castle. The resort has 16 elegant rooms arrayed in three of four buildings, surrounded by landscaped gardens, cobblestone paths, and cypress and olive trees. An outdoor pool offers views of the surrounding fields, and the on-site restaurant, set in a former church, serves Umbrian and Tuscan cuisine. A stay here means utter relaxation in a rural environment. It’s a 20-minute drive to Perugia and Assisi.

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There’s cozy and then there’s spooky. And when it comes to the cavernous spaces of some of our favorite hotels, we’ll just have to let you be the judge. The dark corners and vaulted ceilings of these lair-like rooms often simply add a little extra oomph to the sultry ambiance of a romantic restaurant or a sexy spa, but we still can’t help but get a little spooked in these windowless spots. Here are six hotels that are home to some pretty cool (and kinda creepy?) caves.

Grotto Bay Beach Resort, Bermuda

Grotto Bay Beach

Bermuda’s Grotto Bay Beach Resort is home to the mother of all caves. Natural grottos can be found on the property, and weekly cave crawls explore the grottos’ vast nooks and crannies. Guests are free to swim and snorkel on their own, but if the idea of this makes you a bit tense, have no fear — the spa’s sole treatment room can be found in the subterranean space. The hotel’s private beach is also available for swimming and water sports.

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Worried about a Game of Thrones style invasion on your next trip? Roving hordes? Zombie armies? We totally feel you. Travel can be a bit scary, and if you’re the type that likes to feel extra secure when you get away, you might appreciate the idea of staying in a hotel that’s, well, fortified. These five hotels are actually in ancient fortresses, so if you find yourself needing to fend off rebel invaders on your next romantic retreat, you’ll at least have all the battlements, arrowslits, and watch towers your heart could desire right at hand. Hey, you never know…

Castello di Petroia, Umbria, Italy

Castello di PetroiaThe gorgeous Castello di Petroia dates all the way back to the 11th century; with a picturesque setting in the Umbrian countryside, it was at one time a medieval fortress. Back then this region consisted of vying independent city-states, and the fortress was the birthplace of the Duke of Urbino. Today, this 800-acre wooded estate is a charming and undeniably romantic retreat, with a seasonal pool and candlelit gourmet restaurant. The castle is comprised of three buildings: the Major Castellare, the main building with medieval halls and a library; the smaller Minor Castellare, where the castle’s guardian’s once lived; and the 66-foot Tower, which has a three-tiered guest room. The 13 individually-decorated rooms have historic flourishes such as stone arches, wood beams, and frescoed ceilings. Read More »

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pool--v2178798-1024Do you like Italy? Do you like castles? If you answered yes to either of those questions (and if you didn’t — seriously?), you’ll probably be into the gorgeous Castello di Monterone in the rolling hills of Umbria. This 13th-century castle has an impressive degree of preserved medieval character, and offers a romantic setting for a true getaway. One of our Italian investigators only just visited this stunning property, and we spent quite a while ogling it in the office. You can expect gorgeous stonework, breathtaking views,  battlements, and even a suit of armor (of course — this is a castle, in case we didn’t make that crystal clear). It’s almost hard to believe that these insanely beautiful photos are not remotely Photoshopped (if you’re new here, that’s kind of Oyster’s whole thing). Just be careful not to drool on your keyboard. Pinners, get ready.  Read More »

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Visiting Europe is often composed of a whirlwind tour, during which visitors hurry from one tourist destination to another. Therefore — in between trips to museums and monuments — finding the time to breathe can be surprisingly difficult. To help speed along to the moment where you actually find relaxation — you’re on vacation, after all — some of our favorite hotels across the pond are outfitted with top-notch spas designed to get you to that “Ahhh” feeling faster than you can say “Euro Trip.” Whether all you want is some downtime in the sauna or a deep tissue massage, these properties have you covered. So sit back and relax—the Louvre will still be there tomorrow.

1. K West Hotel & Spa, London 

The intimate spa encourages relaxation at every corner.

K West is a smart and sophisticated option in London, with its main attraction being the beautiful K Spa. Featuring sleek style and impressive facilities — the hydrotherapy pool and “Snow Paradise” room are particularly noteworthy — the spa is well-regarded throughout the United Kingdom. The “Snow Paradise” room is meant to follow a hot steam treatment, and is based on Finnish spa techniques of using hot-cold therapy to stimulate circulation and the immune system.

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