By Elizabeth Heath
These Modern Design Hotels Upend Notions of The Traditionally Quaint Country Stay in Italy
On seemingly every hill and dale in Italy, there’s a rural accommodation. These range from cozy, if spartan, farmhouses to more elegant villas and even entire medieval hamlets converted to luxury hotels.
What most of them have in common is decor that celebrates Italy’s agrarian past, usually characterized by 19th-century antiques, gilded-framed artworks of pastoral scenes, and an overall ambiance that’s intended to transport guests to the rustic Italy of another era.
It works, but it can get a little…homogeneous. That’s why it’s such a pleasant jolt to the senses to stay in one of Italy’s rural design hotels, whose proprietors have respected the “bones” of their ancient structures but re-envisioned them with modern aesthetics or have created new, contemporary complexes that are entirely of their place.
But these rural bastions of chicness still serve up the Italian countryside in all its splendid glory, albeit without a checkered tablecloth, grandmotherly nightstand, or piece of rusting farm equipment in sight.
A Playful Resort with a Pious Past
The exposed stone walls and weathered wood beams may say 12th-century monastery, but the interiors of this boutique hotel in rural Umbria offer a sexy contrast to the property’s pious past. Think oversized bathtubs built for two, walk-in showers with jewel-tone tiles, four-poster beds of contemporary forged iron, and bespoke furnishings that evoke mid-century modern style.
An on-site restaurant offers sophisticated versions of Umbrian classics, with many ingredients coming from the kitchen garden and heritage fruit trees out back. Guests gather around the bar to challenge the mixologist to shake up something new, and when the weather is pleasant, the outdoor firepit and oversized pool loungers are favourite gathering places.
Frederik and Catharina, the visionary couple behind the Vocabolo, welcome guests like old friends. The result is restful, playful and contemporary, while still paying homage to the heritage of the monastic hamlet. While this is a supremely chilled-out place to while away a few days, a host of Umbrian and Tuscan hill towns are just a short drive away.
Casa di Langa
Style and Sustainability Amid Rolling Vineyards
Purpose-built, and built with a purpose in mind, Casa di Langa made a splash when it opened a few years ago as a sustainable design hotel in the northern Piedmont region, and its eco-minded mission remains central. The stepped and terraced structure overlooks acres and acres of undulating vineyards, which yield the region’s famous Barolo and Barbaresco wines.
Rooms and suites at Casa di Langa—be sure to request one with a countryside view—are sleek studies in texture and neutral colours, with custom-made wood furnishings and fixtures, wood or terracotta floors, and marble or granite bathrooms with walk-in showers. The result is a happy medium between creature comforts and starker minimalism, with an overall ambiance that feels cool, but never cold.
The on-site restaurant is dedicated to sustainably sourced ingredients and features a vegetarian-tasting menu with products from the hotel’s garden. There’s also a spa, a cocktail bar and ample opportunities for outdoor pursuits.
A Chic White Palace in Puglia
They may have been built in the 16th and 17th centuries, but the masserie (farm estates) of Italy’s southern Puglia region have a modern edge to them—maybe it’s the blocky architecture, sun-bleached stone and whitewashed walls. At Masseria Bagnara, the rustic modernity extends to the interiors, which are studies in white, gray and plum, accented with honey-coloured stone.
Several rooms and suites incorporate the ancient vaulted ceilings of the original farmhouse, and may feature exposed rock walls, sheltered patios and private hot tubs. The restaurant offers elegantly plated farm-to-table cuisine with roots in Puglia’s rich gastronomic traditions, and the cocktail bar serves a dizzying variety of spirits in addition to the more than 1200 bottles of wine kept in a stone cellar.
An infinity edge pool invites guests to linger at this rural retreat and toast a glorious sunset. But if you need to get off-property, the sandy beaches and clear blue waters of the Ionian Sea are less than a kilometre away.
Elizabeth Heath is a travel and culinary writer living in central Italy. She is a proponent of responsible, sustainable travel that forges connections and benefits local communities.
Read more of her work at elizabethfheath.com.