Travel | Need To Now

Italian retreats that are ideal for a winter escape

An Italian hotel chain puts villas – and chefs – out for hire

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Italian retreats that are ideal for a winter escape

November 25 2011
Robert Cook

In the centuries BC (Before Christmas), the Romans had their own midwinter festival. At the Saturnalia, loved ones exchanged gifts, and lavish villas played host to banquets – with a twist. In an unlikely reversal of the social order, wealthy masters would wait on their slaves during dinner.

This year, thanks to a new programme from Pellicano Hotels group, it’s possible to while away the winter on the site of one such villa. La Posta Vecchia Hotel (first picture), built above ancient ruins on the outskirts of Rome, and its sister property, Il Pellicano (second picture), in Tuscany’s Porto Ercole, are both available for exclusive hire over the coming months.

For guests with a lot of family and friends in tow, Il Pellicano has 35 rooms and 15 suites, divided between a central building and six cottages, plus a spa, bar and restaurant. Its traditional Tuscan architecture looks out over vast expanses of sea. Temperatures might not be ideal for bathing at this time of year, but the waves still form an impressive backdrop.

La Posta Vecchia also benefits from a waterfront location, but has a heated indoor pool to make midwinter dips plausible. The 17th-century building was previously owned by the Orsini princes and, more recently, Jean Paul Getty, who decked it out in authentic period décor. It houses 19 suites, a spa and a restaurant. There’s an on-site antiquities museum, too, showcasing the remains of the villa.

Over the same period as this “Exclusive Home” programme, the hotels’ Michelin-starred chefs may find themselves far beyond the bounds of the Roman empire. A second scheme – “Chefs at Home” – makes Antonio Guida and Michele Gioia available to prepare private dinners. They’re willing to fly anywhere in the world to bring their culinary skills to bear.

The programmes last until April 2012, and Il Pellicano still has availability over the Christmas weeks. The comforts and confections of Italy seem particularly appealing during the gloomiest months on the calendar, and a good way to revive the spirit of Saturnalia past.