Do you long for simpler trips and times, to shed your inured self?Then consider Giona, where potted lemon trees and a phalanx of garden statues with their noses whacked off invite you to reconnect with your traveling past. Remember thrilling to an attic guest room where you had to crouch to see out the ocular windows?Or dining on a curtained loggia?Giona renews these pleasures.
The romantic loggia was almost, but not quite, enough to make up for the breakfast (Alpine Lace, bread that tastes like it was made in a machine—what would Marcella say?) and the absence of wine in the mini-bars. Not only was I in a region of Italy whose identity comes largely from wine, but the villa grows grapes that are made into a Bordeaux-style vino da tavola by Allegrini. When room service finally got it together, the white it delivered was from Umbria, as if Soave weren’t right down the road.
Though Giona will always lack the infrastructure of a full-tilt hotel, I’m sure I would have received better attention if it hadn’t been in the jaws of a wedding. With persistence, I dug out a staffer who produced recommendations for two amazing restaurants. Amid a vineyard in Fumane, Enoteca della Valpolicella serves the truest, most chaste risotto—flavored with red wine or herbs, but never the two together—and polenta so silky it flowed through the tines of my fork. At Dalla Rosa Alda, in the barely awake hilltop village of San Giorgio Ingannapoltron, I ticked two items off my checklist of local dishes: patissada de caval, horsemeat spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and braised in Amarone, a jammy red made from partially dried grapes; and pissota, a lemony olive-oil cake baked by a nonna, in a pan with an overturned bowl in the middle to obtain the signature ring shape.
When I go back to Giona, it will be to stay in Mantegna. The hotel’s only (duplex) accommodation in a barchessa, it has a brick floor, roughly plastered walls, 1778 engravings depicting the stations of the cross, and a surprisingly successful mix of heavily carved antique furniture and Corbusier seating. I’ll also return to take Giuliano Hazan’s cooking course. But however much he insists that he and his mother are not the same person, for me he will always be her in pants, with a beard and without the pearls. If you want a hit of the old Marcella purity and clarity, now that she has retired to Longboat Key, Giuliano’s the next-best thing.
8 Via Cengia; 39-045/685-5011; www.villagiona.it; doubles from $235, including breakfast.
Byblos Art Hotel Villa Amistà, Corrubbio di Negarine
This peacock of a debutante is down the road from Giona, but they are so opposed, they could be on different planets.
The 60-room Amistà was conceived as an upstart showcase for modern art and design inserted into a 15th-century villa with pretty gardens and a glamorous swimming pool. The hotel is in the countryside, 15 minutes outside Verona, hence the necessity for an hourly shuttle service that also happens to be efficient and free.
The owners are the family behind Byblos, a ready-to-wear label that had a moment in the eighties but means little now. Out of the spotlight, they launched the Amistà, which features works by Sol LeWitt, Cindy Sherman, Sandro Chia, Robert Indiana, and Takashi Murakami. Among the lighting and furniture are classics by Eero Saarinen, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ettore Sottsass, and Verner Panton. Some of the furnishings are silly, torturously uncomfortable, or both, but it’s hard not to crack a smile at Dalí’s big kiss of a sofa, cast in the form of lips in homage to Mae West’s.
The suites and the public rooms have the lock on the most sensational pieces. The contrast between these and the aristocratic setting is shocking in a good way, at least for the first couple of hours (after that it can seem gimmicky). Giant photographs of nude armies of ghostly women, taken by Vanessa Beecroft during her VB 43 performance pieces, are hung in the former ballroom, now the lobby, a monumental space with coffered wooden ceilings, a ravishing terrazzo floor, and exquisite trompe l’oeil moldings.