12. Venice In an 18th-century palazzo just steps from the Peggy Guggenheim museum, DD.724 is the brainchild of hotelier Chiara Bocchini, whose mission is to offer an alternative to the scalloped curtains and Murano glass chandeliers that characterize most Venetian hotels. Abstract paintings by contemporary artists hang in the tiny lobby; the seven one-of-a-kind rooms have wood-beamed ceilings, velvet armchairs, and Signoria di Firenze linens. The details are almost perfect save forthe little signs next to the stylish Millefiori candles that warn: NOT FOR USING. 724 Dorsoduro; 39-041/277-0262; www.dd724.it; doubles from $248.
13. Naples Costantinopoli 104 is a secret oasis in the city's laundry line-strewn and moped-filled heart. Push through a door into the courtyard of a crumbling palazzo, walk beneath a 17th-century archway,around the corner, past an antique restorer's workshop, and you'll find the hotel compound. Palm trees and bougainvillea cluster about a swimming pool; an Art Nouveau stained-glass window glistens in the rust-colored villa's façade. Though the 19 rooms are plain, many overlook the inner garden. The best is Suite 104, with a medieval stone door frame behind the bed, a sunken bath, and a prime poolside location. 104 Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli; 39-081/557-1035; www.costantinopoli104.it; doubles from $210.
14. Rome At the end of a hectic, culture-packed day, the extravagant foyer of the 239-room Exedra (ostrich-leather armchairs; fringed damask sofas) can bring on Stendhal syn- drome, an illness that supposedly results from sensory overload. But book one of the 26 simply furnished rooms (rare yellow marble, original beams) on the fourth floor of this former papal granary, and you'll quickly recover. In the evening, drift down to the Adam Tihany-designed champagne bar, lined with oversized paparazzi photographs; chandeliers with long strands of droplets hover above the wenge wood tables like falling rain. 47 Piazza della Repubblica; 888/626-7265 or 39-06/489-381; www.boscolohotels.com; doubles from $347.
15. Tuscany On a hard-to-find hilltop with views over olive groves and vineyards and rolling hills, the 12th-century Castello di Vicarello is the dream house of Aurora and Carlo Baccheschi Berti, who once worked in fashion and advertising in Milan. The castle has two outdoor pools and just five suites decorated with Indonesian antiques, Balinese furniture, and contemporary art(two more will open in 2005). The 60-acre grounds contain a vineyard, 1,200 olive trees, and a flock of chickens. Get up early enough and you can hunt for eggs with Carlo. Or help him pick from among the 1,500 plants; the artichokes are served raw, stuffed, or fried, along with homemade pasta and bread during the spring. 1 Via Vicarello, Poggi del Sasso; 39-0564/990-718; www.castellodivicarello.it; doubles from $310.
16. Chef Alain Ducasse runs two hotels in his native France, but for his first Italian venture he hooked up with wine producer Vittorio Moretti to create L'Andana. So far, this former hunting villa of Duke Leopold II has 20 rooms that are functional; another 13 will open by the year's end. Some of the interiors, decorated with antiques and false fireplaces, look more like stage sets. But the restaurant in the old granary (coming this month) and the main dining room (scheduled for 2005) are the region's most anticipated culinary openings. Ducasse's sous-chef, Christophe Martin, formerly of Monte Carlo's Le Louis XV, oversees the kitchens and uses olive oil and wine produced on the estate. Località Badiola, Castiglione della Pescaia; 39-0564/944-321; www.andana.it; doubles from $483.
17. Until 2003, Villa il Poggiale was the private residence of the Vitta design family; 10 milesfrom Florence, it still has the atmosphere of a much-loved villa (these days, family friend Caterina Piccolomini is in charge). A brightgreen lawn fringed with Tuscan cypresses surrounds an arched loggia; the 24 rooms—19th-century frescoes, wood-beamed ceilings—are equally grand. The villa is intended for anyone who values authenticity over luxury: there's no elevator, and reception has limited hours. At night, guests let themselves in, then pour their own grappa at the drawing room's honesty bar. 69 Via Empolese, San Casciano val di Pesa; 39-055/828-311; www.villailpoggiale.it; doubles from $173.
18. Rome Five minutes outside the Grande Raccordo Annulare (the giant ring road around Rome), La Torre Sebastiani falls somewhere bet- ween city and country; visitors can make the most of both. This 14th-century tower is home to Stefano Sebastiani, former manager of London's Hotel Berkeley, and his Parisian partner, Sophie Desrue, who have decorated the four (soon to be five) rooms with Indian cotton bedspreads and gold-framed oil landscapes. They have also opened a barrel-vaulted restaurant, where guests dine on simple dishes such as pasta with lemon, alongside Stefano and Sophie, who eat most of their meals here, too. From La Torre Sebastiani,takeSophie's informal shuttle service (in her black Nissan) to the Grotta Rossa train, which whisks you to Rome's Piazza del Popolo in 12 minutes. 75 Via Ghisalba; 39-06/3363-0066; www.torresebastiani.com; doubles from $198.
ON THE WATERFRONT
19. Venice Set on a 17-acre private island in the Venetian lagoon, San Clemente Palace started out as a monastery in the 12th century; it was later used as a hospital, which eventually shut down. Last year, the property was transformed into a 205-room resort, under the auspices of luxury chain Turin Hotels International. Most of the opulent rooms (damask wall-coverings, classic furnishings, marble-laden bathrooms) have views over the lagoon. More a village than a hotel, San Clemente has four acres of parks, a three-hole golf course, a small church, a 10,000-square-foot spa, and three restaurants, including Cà dei Frati, in the monastery's former laundry. As you wander back from one of the two tennis courts, you may spot toque-clad chef Gabriele Enrico picking herbs amid the kitchen gardens for dishes such as lobster with sautéed foie gras and asparagus compote. 1 Isola di San Clemente, San Marco; 39-041/244-5001; www.sanclemente.thi.it; doubles from $582.
20. Winning the "wildest" category is Rome's Aleph (15 Via di San Basilio; 800/337-4685 or39-06/422-901; www.designhotels.com; doubles from $420), a heaven and hell-themed hotel by Adam Tihany. Among the witty details: hooks for bathrobes shaped like devil's horns, and tiny plasma-TV screens on the floor in front of the toilets in some rooms.
21. The most fashionable hotel is the Continentale (6R Vicolo dell'Oro; 39-055/27262; www.lungarnohotels.com; doubles from $358): it's owned by the Ferragamo family. Live street scenes are projected on the lobby walls; a glass elevator whisks guests to a balcony with a view of the Ponte Vecchio.