A hotel stay can make or break a vacation so it is important to choose wisely. These unique European accommodations enhanced our travels as we looked forward each night to returning to a comfy bed in a unique setting after long days of walking and exploring. Create the best memories with a stay at one of these special properties. RELATED: 12 Things to Know Before You Go to Europe
Maison Hotel Albar Pont Neuf, Paris, France
Four Maison Albar locations in Paris were created in 2014 by Jean-Bernard and Céline Falco and each hotel is based on the French art of entertaining with warm, unique and luxurious spaces. Designed as an elegant Parisian residence, Maison Hotel Albar at Pont Neuf is perfectly situated for exploration as the House is located between the two banks of the Seine – close to the hip Marais neighborhood and historic Saint-Germain district. In just a few minutes, my mom and I walked to The Louvre and a 15-minute stroll took us to the Gothic cathedral St Eustache and inspiring monuments en route to nearby Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame.
Upon arrival, a warm welcoming crew took our bags and whisked us to a seating area with sparkling water and candies within view of a floor-to-ceiling fridge filled with bottles of fresh juices like apricot and carrot.
Once outside, the hustle and bustle of the Parisian neighborhood enlivened our senses as the area is filled with cafes, restaurants, shops, and the fancy Parisian Samaritaine department store, so returning to the welcoming Maison each day felt like a nice retreat to recharge our batteries.
The rooms are decorated in soft blue and beige tones and are accented by an Art Deco style, complemented with a wood and gold detailed bed. The mattress is the most comfortable hotel bed we’ve experienced in all our travels. After staying in many boutique hotels in Paris this past summer, the room’s bathroom is the largest we’ve seen in the City of Light, with a rainfall shower and a separate area for a Japanese-style toilet with bidet including a heated seat and every possible control to wash discreetly. Besides deluxe and superior rooms, out of the 60 rooms available, there are 2 junior suites, a rooftop room, and one Pont Neuf suite to savor those charming 180-degree Parisian rooftop views.
In addition to the luxurious bed setup, the classy hotel room is uber tech savvy. An iPad controlled the entire room – from numerous lighting options, air temperature, curtains, TV, and even Service (as a light-activated outside the door to indicate that we needed cleaning or to be left alone) all from the tap of a home automation screen. After walking over 10 miles, it was nice to not have to leave the bed with this master control.
The Pont-Neuf Parisian breakfast spread put a spring in our step as the buffet displays like a piece of art, filled with an impressive array of fresh, colorful French products like matured cheeses, cold cuts, smoked fish, homemade yogurts and toppings, pastries and croissants, and seasonal vegetables, along with made to order eggs. We regretted not having time for cocktails in the intimate Odette restaurant and bar as we arrived one evening to a bustling scene of happy diners in this cozy-chic space with undulating wood waves on the walls.
The ultimate way to end a chilly winter day in Paris is at the hotel’s Spa Pont Neuf by Cinq Mondes, which has an indoor pool, hammam, sensory shower, and jacuzzi on the bottom floor that can be accessed by all guests regardless of whether you book a massage or facial.
25Hours Hotel Piazza San Paolino, Florence, Italy
This hotel right in the heart of Florence is a few minutes walk from the train station and comes with a wild and crazy personality as the soul of the hotel is shaped by its location and surrounding art, culture, gastronomy, and stories of its surroundings. Every little quirky detail, filled with surprises, makes this stay a delight. 25Hours Hotel Piazza San Paolino is like no other we could imagine or dream up. It was recently birthed in September of 2021, welcoming its first guests on the 700th anniversary of the death of Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Designed around the theme of Dante’s Divine Comedy and playfully reinterpreted by interior designer Paola Navone, rooms are separated into heaven and hell. Paradiso or Inferno? Whatever you choose, your stay will be positively amusing!
Sixty rooms are situated in an original monastery next to the San Paolino Church while 100 or so guest rooms (some with balconies), and an apartment with a private garden and pool, are in a neighboring building.
Enter the hotel lobby off the winding cobblestone streets to a room full of illusions and surprises as the lobby is stuffed with teal-painted stacked suitcases offering funky souvenirs one can buy. In one area, typewriter stations allow guests to pen their sentiments to stuff in an old wine bottle to throw in the Arno River while the center of the lobby known as the historic palazzo is anchored by a soaring light-filled ceiling above the San Paolina Restaurant courtyard garden.
This centerpiece serves Tuscan produce dishes while this social hub spills into fun amusing offshoots like an indoor/outdoor terrace lounge with kitschy red heart-shaped chairs, a red glowing Negroni cocktail bar (since the aperitif was invented in Florence), and an Alimentary bakery café with all the best Italian products and a bevy of funny plush stuffed animal-like hanging sausages and salamis from the ceiling.
The décor throughout tantalizes your eye – from real and faux grand plants, “spiders” crawling up a hidden seated nook, and an intriguing eclectic array of art and furniture. A stroll to our inferno-themed guestroom started with a hallway of wacky and spooky ravens, skeletons, card tricks, and even a voice-activated outside our door surprising us with Italian actor Roberto Benigni reading Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Our red guestroom gives a whole new meaning to The Shining’s redrum with red walls, red tiles, a red fridge, red gambling game cards fanning the bed, and just about red everything. A stuffed animal mouse lay on our pillow that reads “Let’s spend the night together,” while the glass doors to the shower and toilet read in big red letters, “Welcome to Hell.” In the shower, a peephole lets me spy on my husband on the bed and he can look in and see me in the stall. The angelic heaven section in all white might give you a better night’s sleep but our server reminded us that hell was more fun.
The breakfast spread offers an endless assortment of incredible options – fresh ricotta, local pecorino and parmesan cheeses, eggs, meats, cakes, and fresh yogurts with healthy nut and dried fruit toppings.
We only regret not staying longer as the Florence location offers three eateries, bikes, a sauna and “rest” room, a 2-floor fitness area, live music on the weekends, a pool room with records, and a Cinema Paradiso Lounge for movies. Right in the center of the cultural landmarks, guests can easily walk to the Uffizi Gallery and find Dante’s statue, cross the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and waltz over to admire the Duomo. Fifteen 25Hours Hotels are tailored to each location and can be found in 12 cities.
Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese, Rome, Italy
Situated in the heart of Rome on the edge of the enchanting Villa Borghese gardens and its art treasures, Rome Sofitel Villa Borghese is minutes away from The Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and Villa Medici. Staying at this luxury boutique hotel was the best way to end our European travels. The warm Italian hospitality was abundant.
Following recent renovations and a beautiful redesign by Jean Philippe Nuel, the hotel is a fusion of French ‘Art de Vivre’ and Italian baroque. Each night when we returned from a day of exploration, it was hard not to just stop and gawk in awe at the building’s exterior donned with Christmas trees hanging against the building in white lights making the ambiance feel holiday special.
The hotel, housed in an elegant seven-story 19th-century historic building, originally was a guesthouse belonging to the aristocratic Ludovisi Boncompagni family. The hotel is featured among the 190 historic buildings of Italy. It has been said that during his escape, Caravaggio found refuge in the stable of Villa Ludovisi Boncompagni which today is the ground floor of Sofitel Rome, characterized by arches, vaulted ceilings, and mosaic floors.
The hotel features 78 rooms and suites with modern white interiors with grand high vaulted ceilings painted with Baroque-inspired art. Choose from bedrooms and suites – with private terraces, room fragrance options, and indulgent bath rituals. Our crisp white room felt so cheery as sunlight spilled in the bedroom and marble bathroom with Hermes toiletries. A surprising feature was a sensory-activated nightlight that glowed under the lush signature Sofitel MyBed bed whenever it sensed someone getting out of bed; a nice touch to help you find the bathroom and not wake up your partner with a light.
Besides the location, the incredible rooftop terrace restaurant and bar overlooking Rome is the ultimate reason to book a stay here. At Settimo, we shared an unforgettable sunset dinner on one of the highest rooftop restaurants in the city with views of The Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica, and even the dome of the Pantheon. Executive Chef Giuseppe D’Alessio’s resume includes many prestigious establishments and several Michelin-star restaurants. Serving contemporary Roman dishes with locally sourced ingredients, we suggest beginning with crispy squash blossoms with Roman-style suppli and fried calamari with Roman zucchini then moving into pasta like Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara with shaved truffles, or Rigatoni Amatriciana with pecorino cheese and bacon. A visit here will have you clinking to your good fortune with a Rome Spritz or espresso martini paired with Tiramisu as the sun sets.
Each morning felt joyful arriving at the botanical rooftop escape for a light-filled breakfast setting with an inspiring buffet of a myriad of local products -from fresh juices, cakes, natural yogurts, homemade pastries and breads, eggs, cheeses, meats, and veggies.
Villa Saletta, Tuscany, Italy
Just an hour’s drive from Florence and about 45 minutes from Pisa, escape to Tuscan paradise Villa Saletta, situated on 1700 acres in one of the largest, most fertile, and most beautiful pieces of land where, for centuries, a medieval borgo/village and ancient farmhouses anchored the property, bearing witness to transformations since 980 AD.
The estate – surrounded by rolling green hills – has been owned by just four families throughout its history. The wealthy Ricardi family crest on the villas references the aristocratic Florentine family from the 14th century who were bankers to the powerful Medici family and transformed the land into a true working estate throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Having subsequently belonged to the Gambacorta, Riccardi, and Castelli families, the estate fell to ruin and became reborn thanks to the Hands family acquisition almost 20 years ago.
Couples, groups, and families stay here to get away from it all and unwind. It’s easy to bond and make lasting memories at Villa Saletta. Choose from one of three villas with 3, 7, or 8 bedrooms – all finished and furnished to preserve the character but with modern luxury. Expect a pool with each villa, fireplaces, terracotta tiled floors, high wooden beamed ceilings, and grand kitchens for shared cooking or a private chef. Local artisanal products and products made on the estate like honey, olive oil, and wines welcome guests in each villa.
Currently, there are plans to restore a medieval borgo with three buildings and a tower on Villa Saletta land to revitalize the ancient compound with a trattoria and bed and breakfast rooms for those enjoying nearby wine tasting.
When guests tire of relaxing, they can participate in cooking classes, wine tasting, olive harvesting, and truffle hunting on the estate with Savini Tartufi. Villa Saletta’s modern boutique winery produces top quality Tuscan wines and guests are invited to wine taste with the head winemaker David Landini, visit the cellar to discover the winemaking process, and take back signed bottles of Villa Saletta Chianti DOCG, Sangiovese, and Rose Spumante. Keeping traditional values and methods alive, grapes are handpicked and David creates various wines depending on the location, soil, and angle of the land.
Beyond the estate, it’s easy to explore Siena, Pisa, Florence, San Gimignano, Lucca, and Forte dei Marmi as they are within a short drive. But it felt like paradise to return each evening to the privacy of a villa with a glass of wine poolside or on the terrace under the Tuscan sun as the colors splash behind the poplars.
–12 Things to Know Before You Travel to Europe
–12 Things You Never Knew About Italy
–7 Things to Do in Naples, Italy
–12 Things to Know Before Going to Paris
–19 of the Best Off-the-Beaten Path Things to See and Do in Paris
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