For all its troubles, Italy is still the most rewarding country in the world for lovers of art and architecture, with more historic treasures than the rest of Europe combined. From the fall of Rome to the political circus of today it has lurched from one crisis to another. A conglomeration of independent states that went through a shotgun marriage in the 1860s, it has remained in all but name an uneasy federation of separate entities. For the traveler, that is the source of its appeal. Driving from Turin to Palermo you can experience a dozen different cultures, as remote from each other as Germany is from Bulgaria. And the great trick is to avoid the tourist mob that has swamped Venice, Florence and Rome and find tranquil havens where the true spirit lives on.
Enter Herbert Ypma, that indefatigable Australian globetrotter, who has compiled a succession of guides to chic and luxurious hotels over the past two decades. Now he has set his sights on small, exclusive hideways. How many of these hotels and restaurants live up to his seductive images and breathless praise is a question, but most sound appealing. A compilation of this kind may fail the objectivity test, but it does encourage one to get off the well-trodden routes. No coachloads of Chinese with selfie sticks or drunken Brits in these intimate retreats, which range from Sicily to the Veneto but omit Piedmont and the Dolomites, two of my favorite regions. Some are insanely expensive, others quite affordable. I long to try some of these places and so I have to admit that Ypma (who still owes me for stories I wrote for his long defunct magazine) has performed a useful service.
New Map Italy: Unforgettable Experiences for the Discerning Traveler. Herbert Ypma. (Thames & Hudson, $39.95)
Author: Michael Webb
Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.