The expert selection: Hip and historic Italian hotels

Juliet Kinsman, editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: Italy (, picks five historic buildings that have been turned into chic hotels without losing any of their character.

Palazzina G, Venice

This 16th-century palazzo, beside the Grand Canal, has had a makeover at the hands of French designer Philippe Starck, and features Murano glass candle-holders, mirror walls and tongue-in-cheek modern artworks. The façade conceals an exclusive Krug champagne bar, restaurant and 21 sleek all-white bedrooms. Doubles from €319; 3247 San Marco, Venice;

Azienda Agricola Mandranova, Sicily

Dating from the late 1800s, this 14-room farmhouse offers a true taste of Sicilian family life in a rural setting (though with beaches in easy reach). Giuseppe is the host and his wife Sylvia offers cookery classes. Doubles from €120; Palma di Montechiaro;

Palazzo Bontadosi

Palazzo Bontadosi Hotel & Spa, Umbria

The former home of a 15th-century cardinal, with grand domed ceilings and Renaissance friezes that suggest medieval men of the cloth were no strangers to la dolce vita. The building is perched high on an Umbrian hilltop in the village of Montefalco. Guests in the 10 sophisticated rooms will delight in an underground spa (including a Turkish bath and saltwater pool), gourmet restaurant, and art gallery showcasing local works. Doubles from €170; 19 Piazza del Comune, Montefalco;

Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita, Basilicata

Southern Italy’s neolithic cave dwellings, the Sassi di Matera, were declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1993. Now 18 elegant bedrooms, carved in to the tufa rock, have been created over a decade of painstaking restoration. A unique hideaway, each cave was once home to troglodyte families and often their livestock. The museum-like suites are double-height and candlelit. History lovers will appreciate the grottos decked out with antiques, and beds with antique linens. Doubles from €200; 28 Via Civita, Matera, Basilicata;

Borgo Santo Pietro

Borgo Santo Pietro, Tuscany

In a 13th-century villa where pilgrims paused en route to Rome for centuries, holidaymakers can now savour seven-course suppers and immerse themselves in Chianti’s viticulture at this 11-room retreat near Siena. The Danish owners have preserved the essence of the aristocratic villa without scrimping on luxury: there are flat-screen TVs hidden behind oil paintings, hand-picked antiques and open fireplaces. As well as an infinity pool and spa, the 13-acre grounds offer the chance to play tennis, badminton and basketball or to go biking. Doubles from €375; Località Palazzetto, Chiusdino;

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