ITALY

5 Ancient Villages Are Back in Business

In our last issue, we wrote about old Italian villages where guest rooms are spread out across town. Now we're spotlighting five hamlets that have been turned completely (or nearly so) into hotels.

Castello di Montegridolfo
Because of its strategic position on the border between the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Marche in eastern Italy, the hilltop hamlet of Montegridolfo has seen its share of battles. Founded sometime around the year 1000, the village was fought over for 300 years by the rival city-states of Rimini and Urbino before they destroyed it during a clash in 1336. Rebuilt by the rulers of Rimini, the Malatesta family, Montegridolfo passed through the hands of numerous owners and later became part of a monastery. Then fashion designer Alberta Ferretti visited in the 1980s and, with the help of a few financiers, purchased most of the buildings, spent six years renovating them, and opened a hotel.

Today, Montegridolfo offers panoramic views of the countryside and an escape from the crowded beach resorts on the nearby Adriatic coast. Although recent renovations have diminished the patina of age—there are no cracks in the buildings, no crooked shutters, and no moss growing on the mortar—the village is gorgeous by any measure. The only entrance to the main square is over a steeply curving stone bridge that crosses a dry moat at the base of the outer walls. The square is flanked by a tiny chapel, a guard tower that now houses a bar and gelateria, and a wall with a niche containing a papier-mâché Madonna behind a pane of glass. The buildings were constructed with red, yellow, and gray bricks, giving the hamlet a mottled look reminiscent of Indian corn. About 10 families still live there.

The Palazzo Viviani, the main manor house, which dates back to the late 1330s, has eight elegant—and expensive—apartments for rent, one of which is adorned with 16th-century frescoes. Eight more guest quarters are scattered throughout the village. And the Casa del Pittore—named after its previous owner, a painter—has seven guest rooms and a pool overlooking the vineyards and farms on the hillside below. Everyone gathers for breakfast in an aranceto (a type of winter greenhouse for citrus trees) in the village, and dinners are served at the excellent Ristoro di Palazzo Viviani in the main house's old stone-walled cellar, accompanied by live piano music. Information: Via Roma 38, 011-39/0541-855-350, montegridolfo.com, from $218.

VILLAGES THAT BECAME HOTELS

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