Typical hotels in the city centers of Rome, Florence or Venice are small, mostly less than 50 rooms. Many were retrofitted as hotels from older buildings. Typically no two are alike. Decor is distinctive, and can be modern or highly traditional. Available space is usually irregular, so rooms have highly variable dimensions. Elevators are tiny. All that means charm to some travelers …and just irritation for others. What’s important to you? Don’t assume anything….read all details about the hotel.
Rooms are generally small. Just get over it. You may wind up in a room where there is barely room to stow your luggage and still walk around. What you pay, and the choice of hotel category, have an impact here, with rooms being generally larger as you go up in the star ratings (see further below), but still, you may find really small rooms even in some 5-star hotels. Air conditioning. Again, just get over it, because chances are pretty good you won’t think it’s up to your standards. Be sure to check that they have A/C (not all hotels do!). But if they have it, that doesn’t mean they’ll be using it, because Europeans are really energy conscious, and while you may think the A/C should be on, it’s their call, not yours. Americans just hate it when they can’t get air conditioning 24/7. Hard floors. Lots of Italian hotels, especially in coastal areas and in Tuscany, have ceramic tile or hard wood for the floors, instead of carpet. This is something we like, but lots of Americans seem to prefer carpet.Tiny elevators…or just stairs. A typical Italian hotel will have one or two elevators that each hold about 4 people, without luggage! There may just be one elevator, and a corresponding longer wait for it. Or there may be no elevator at all and only stairs.
The great bulk of rooms are for two people ! This throws a lot of travelers, especially families with children. The standard room has either one bed — approximately queen size — or two twin beds. They are set up for two people, not four. The only way you will find a typical American arrangement with two double or queen beds is to go out from the city centers to find the more modern, larger hotels that were designed for tourists.
You can usually find accommodations for three people.. It’s not uncommon for hotels to offer rooms designed as triples, with three twin beds. Or they can bring in a bed for a third person. But most hotels will NOT bring in two extra beds, nor will there be enough space for two extra beds. This means that finding accommodations for a family of four can take some effort, especially if the children are small enough that they must stay in the same room with the parents. The requirement of a room for four people — called a “quad” — greatly reduces the number of hotel choices. And…hotels generally do not have interconnecting rooms. True family rooms, with space for 5 or more people, are rare.
Views. There are places where we think the view matters. Positano, on the Amalfi Coast is one of them. But generally, we suggest that you not worry about views. What is there to see from your room in a city like Rome, Florence, or even Venice? There is not much open space in the city centers, and most hotels are located close to other buildings. Chances are that your room will be across the alley from another building, and your time and energy will be wasted trying to assure yourself of good views. Get your views while walking around the city.
Noise. For some people, we actually think this can be a reason not to go to the cities of Italy. Sure, some hotels have better sound insulation than others, but if it’s important to you that it to be quiet at night, we think it’s a rather hopeless quest for you to find that in Italian city hotels. If you must have quiet to sleep at night, visit countryside locations instead.
Front desk staff. If you encounter friendly, talkative, helpful personnel at the front desk, be thankful. It does happen. But more likely, you will find the staff to be aloof, not the least bit chatty, and not overly helpful. Hotel personnel in Italy tend to act very formal, and their concept of their job responsibilties is just not the same as it is for their counterparts in the USA.
Hotel categories. They use star ratings, from one to five. For clients of our travel agency, we normally use 4-star hotels, with most of the remainder having 5 stars. In some cases, mainly in Tuscany and on the Cinque Terre, we use 3-star hotels. What does that mean? Not as much as you might think. It is not really a quality rating as much as a facilities and services rating. There are many other factors to take into account in choosing hotels. But we find that on balance, we are much more likely to find hotels to satisfy our clients if we stick to the 4-star-level. And when the travelers are much more concerned about the accommodations, and have bigger budgets, we recommend going to 5-stars. But in rural areas and small towns, the choices often are limited to 3-stars.
We’ve talked about about room size, decor style, star ratings, noise, all of which may be decision-makers for you. Usually, however, LOCATION is the most important factor for most travelers in picking hotels. To us, it is far more important to be close to the city center in any city than it is to have nicer rooms or better facilities. There’s a hotel in the very center of Rome our staff likes, just for its location, but we never can recommend it to our travel agency clients, because they are too likely to be disappointed with the need for renovations. This is certainly your call because you want to make a very personal decision about your hotel choices.
When you look at maps of Rome, Florence and Venice, here are some TIPS about finding what we consider to be the CITY CENTERS.
Rome ~ if you can find the Trevi Fountain on a map, that’s close to what we call the very center. Or if you can find Piazza Venezia, Piazza Navona, and the Spanish Steps, the middle of that triangle nicely defines the effective center of Rome. But there are not many hotels at the very center, and the ones that are there tend to be more costly, so this is just a reference point, not to suggest that you must position yourself in that area. Note that the Vatican and the Colosseum are NOT such good indicators of the city center. You may choose to be located near those places, but if you do so, be sure that you understand how far you must walk or taxi to get to the center. The great bulk of Rome hotels are clustered to the east and northeast of the very center. closer to the main train station.
Florence. If forced to call absolute center, we would probably choose Piazza della Republica, But for practical purposes, we would draw a line between the Duomo (Cathedral) and the Ponte Vecchio (the Medieval bridge), and say that anywhere along that line could be called the center. The biggest cluster of hotels in Florence is to the west of center, so that you would walk between 5 and 10 blocks to get to the center.
Venice. Not surprisingly, we refer to St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) as the city center. You may actually not want to stay too close to there, since it can be very crowded in the square. A few blocks out from St. Mark’s is best for most people. The central part of Venice is called “Venice Island.” Do be careful that hotels in the nearby city of Mestre are often marketed as Venice hotels, when in fact, Mestre is certainly a separate and distinct city. It may serve your purposes to be in Mestre, mainly for economy, but we find that travelers are rarely happy to be located there, Mestre being across the causeway from central Venice, and neither convenient nor picturesque. Motorcoach companies often place their groups in Mestre. Lido is also a distinctly different place from Venice proper, and you must take a boat across the Venetian Lagoon to get to the Lido. There is a sandy beach all along the ocean side of the Lido, which may appeal to some people, but we rarely see that people who visit Venice have any time for a beach experience.
If you go to Italy intent on finding hotels as comfortable and familiar as the ones you know from close to home, you will be disappointed. One of our observations about foreign travel planning over the last 30 years is that people today are more focused than before on the choice of hotels, as if the room you get is more important than the place you’ve visiting. We’re concerned about this. Of course, everyone wants to be comfortable with the lodgings, especially when the cost per night can be so high due to unfavorable currency exchange. But too often now, travelers are so focused on the choice of lodging that the actual travel experience seems less important by comparison. We hope you are going to Italy to enjoy the sights, sounds, foods, and culture of that wonderful country. We hope it is not your primary goal to judge whether the hotel rooms are as big, the A/C as effective, the breakfast as much to order, the staff as friendly, or the night as quiet, as you can experience in a hotel close to home. Don’t let some deficiency at a hotel ruin your trip.
We’re not suggesting that you be happy with a bad hotel, just that you resolve not to let minor inconveniences to detract from the joy of visiting Italy. Being flexible, not easily perturbed, and open to new experiences, are what being a good traveler is all about, not whether you happen to get hotels where everything was just right. You’ve only got so much time to spend planning this trip. We encourage you to spend it learning as much as you can about your destinations….instead of obsessing about your choice of hotels.
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