Every Castle, Ancient Fortress, and Lighthouse You Can Rent in Italy

How often do you get to say you slept in a medieval pirate’s tower?

Imagine watching the sunset over Sardinia’s cliffs from your own private lighthouse or waking up to seagull cries from a medieval pirate fortress. With many people feeling a lingering caution about crowded, cramped places ever since the pandemic, it’s no wonder ordinary hotels are so over. That’s even more true when you have the opportunity to experience Italy’s picturesque architectural heritage as an exclusive guest. After all, if you’re finally going to Italy, why not stay in a castle?

Renting old, stunning fortresses, lighthouses, and castles—and even former tuna factories—offers a throwback and probably the most unique place you’ll ever be able to say you stayed in. It’s the latest travel fad: with COVID still out there, many crave more space all to themselves, whether booking the whole place for a weekend or a special event, such as a birthday or destination wedding.

From Sicily to Tuscany and Sardinia, have breakfast on sun-kissed panoramic terraces and frescoed tower suites where great lords and ladies once rubbed shoulders, wearing lavish gowns and throwing balls. Art and history are intertwined in many Italian towns, so here are a few places where you’ll feel like the king of your own little kingdom.

Italian hotel
Tonnara di Scopello

Tuna trapping facilities (called tonnare in Italian) have been banned, but after years of decay, they are now experiencing a revival. This ancient, tiny tuna fortress near the city of Trapani in Sicily is located in the pristine Zingaro marine reserve, sitting in front of huge sea stacks of rock jutting out of the water.

At the base of a cliff topped by a lookout tower are a few elegantly restyled reddish stone dwellings with private porch-decks where you can park a dinghy or canoe. You’ll get to sleep in majolica-tiled suites with fish-motif decor, which were once the lodgings of the tuna fishers, as well as the warehouses for storing boats and tuna processing. Stone bathrooms are carved into the rock, while each room has private exotic gardens and beach access.

Nature and snorkeling fans, this one’s for you. At dawn or sunset, jump out of bed, open the front door, and dive right into the clear water with a big splash. Also included is everything for a relaxing escape: hammocks for reading or lounging, fennel liqueur drinks served in sun-kissed courtyards, and fresh sea urchins for dinner right from the fisherman’s net.

Italian castle
Castello di Scipione dei Marchesi Pallavicino

Walking inside this medieval castle, you’ll find frescoed green-and-purple suites, salons with plush cushioned armchairs and high-end fabrics, and great halls with antique furnishing where Italian aristocrats ruled over their county. The Castle of Scipione, set in the Emilia Romagna region and built in the 14th century, comes with just two exclusive, romantic suites with a private garden and entrance, wooden ceilings, ancient terracotta floors, and a stunning view of the surrounding forests where nobles once hunted.

The two-floor Blue Suite is located in the watchtower, and comes with a marble bathroom, while the Green Suite, right behind the old drawbridge, boasts a ceiling-high fireplace. Both have their own fully equipped kitchenette, but guests are still treated to fine Tuscan dishes of wild hare and handmade tortellini at the en-suite restaurant.

Be prepared to bump into the heirs of the old aristocratic family that still runs the estate. You can also opt to rent the whole palace—stables and all—for a special occasion.

Italian lighthouse
Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia

Imagine sleeping in a sleek, white lighthouse surrounded by lush vineyards that produce sweet amber-colored wine called Malvasia, dubbed the “nectar of the gods.” Part of an estate run by an old aristocratic family, the seafront lighthouse sits on the volcanic island of Salina, the pearl of the Aeolian archipelago, which is a green paradise that has two twin peaks. The refurbished hotel now boasts 27 rooms, including a suite with a kitchen for private dinners, with terraces that look out to sea, as well as a pool made of black rocks.

As gorgeous as the location and views are, there’s something truly special about drinking premium wine on the patio of a sun-drenched terrace surrounded by the scent of those same vines, which are exclusive to this isle thanks to fertile soil and the sultry heat. The tantalizing drink (which is also used in the onsite restaurant today) was loved by British admiral Horatio Nelson's navy that often partied in these waters in the 1700's, fueled by golden Malvasia.

Italian fortress
Only Fabrizio/Shutterstock

Living like a lord in the middle ages wasn’t always easy, even if you had a whole fortress to yourself. There were no elevators and dozens of stairs. But for those who relish unique adventures, imagine vacationing in a fortified tower where your accommodation is stretched across 11 floors of a narrow tower with thick stone walls.

The Salvucci Tower in the enchanting Tuscan village of San Gimignano is perhaps one of the most quirky accomodation options in Italy. San Gimignano is known as “the village of the many towers,” and this is the only habitable one.

Prepare to stretch your muscles going up and down 143 steps to get from your bed to the bathroom, kitchen, or mezzanine. There are only three beds and two bathrooms in the entire 11-floor tower, which you would have completely to yourself. The best part, though, might just be the panoramic rooftop, great for an evening Negroni or a candle-lit truffle pasta dinner prepared by a private chef.

lighthouse in Italy
Faro Capo Spartivento

Located in the secluded bay of Chia on the island of Sardinia, you can have this watchtower all to yourself for a superb holiday. Built in 1865 on top of a cliff, the reddish lighthouse, still functioning, has been converted to just six luxury suites with sunrise and sunset views, surrounded by translucent waters and solitary inlets.

The on-site restaurant, open only to hotel guests, serves breakfast and intimate dinners on the terrace. They create locally-sourced dishes including seafood, handmade Malloreddus pasta, and Sardinian pecorino sheep cheese. You can also opt to have your evening drinks, with the best Sardinian wines such as Vermentino di Gallura, served at the panoramic pool.

Castle in Italy
Castello di Naro

This majestic medieval fortress at the top of a cliff is located in the secluded region of Marche, surrounded by forests, rivers, and sleepy villages. Once home to a proud princess-warrior, it is now a little-known retreat where guests can live in a chunk of history.

The suites are lavishly decorated with ornate sculptures, paintings, and old furniture. The bathrooms are sheer luxury, featuring painted frescoes and chromotherapy showers. The old ice storage room is now used as the wine cellar, while you can visit the old cistern, once used to collect water. There’s also an underground rock spa if you want more pampering. Or have fun looking for the secret passageway said to be located underground.

One of the most charming parts about the rental is the panoramic gardens. There you’ll find a huge stone patio featuring comfy sofa beds, where you can unwind, enjoy the mountain views, and sip a Martini with premium local Ascolane olives. Plus, the walkway along the fortified walls will give you a sense of what it was like to look out for approaching enemy troops.

Hotel in Italy
Torre Trasita Positano

Visiting the vibrant fishing village of Positano and the spellbinding Amalfi Coast tops pretty much most travelers’ bucket lists—but staying in a unique location ups the game. This 1300’s pirate lookout tower is carved into the side of a cliff and stretches down to the translucent waters below, which according to mythology were inhabited by mermaids. The property even has a private path leading down to the inlets and beaches.

The white-washed interiors of the Trasita tower make for cool panoramic suites, but you’ll most likely be spending your time at the pool and suntanning or taking a siesta on the multi-layered stone terraces dotted with lounge chairs. From the gardens and rooftop, where guards once patrolled, the view stretches all the way to the Li Galli archipelago.

In the morning, before indulging in an iconic ricotta-filled Pastiera cake, jump right off one of the rocky platforms at the foot of the tower and go for a swim—or skinny dip! From the windows of the three suites, you’ll be so close to the water it’ll feel as if the sea is about to wash up right into your room. At a walking distance from Positano village but tucked into its own quiet corner, the tower guarantees utter privacy and silence.

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Silvia Marchetti is a contributor for Thrillist.