Finding a place to stay in Italy can be a daunting experience for first time travelers. First, let's talk about hotel star ratings. First off, let me assure you that there is no uniform code for star ratings across Europe. In Italy, the star ratings depend almost entirely upon the number of "amenities." A one-star hotel lacks most of them. It may have a bath down the hall. It may not be accessible from the check-in desk without going outside. It won't have a doorman or bellhop. Or a restaurant.
However, that one-star hotel can have a whole bunch more charm than a five-star luxury high rise hotel. Charm has as much to do with star ratings in Italy as Chef Boyardee has with real Italian cuisine.
I generally feel more comfortable in 3-star hotels. The number of 1 and 2 star hotels are dwindling anyway, due to the lower demand for bath-down-the-hall hotel rooms. The slack all over Europe is being taken up by hostels, which are expanding their offerings to include private, lockable rooms with a bit more privacy as well as a bit more luxury. See: Hostelbookers.com to see what's available..
So how to I find a hotel in Italy? Well, there are times when I just hop off a train and find a hotel near the train station if I'm traveling in the off season. If the place seems iffy, I have a look at a room before committing. Unless I'm staying a long while, it's usually far more convenient to stay near the train station if I'm coming in by rail.
I Look for Hotel User Reviews
On the other hand, when I'm driving or coming in from the airport, I usually reserve a hotel or B&B in advance. I look for hotels from sites that have user reviews from people who've actually stayed in the hotels. Sites like Venere and Booking don't let just anyone make up fictional stories about the hotel rooms. You can only review if you've actually stayed in one. Of course, that leaves you free to lie about it all you want, but I figure if a hundred or so people say nice things about a room, it's probably fine for me.
The search box you see above searches hotels in Italy from a number of different providers so you can see the best price and the user ratings for each hotel on the list. If you just want to check some prices, click the "I don't have specific dates yet" box and you'll come to a place where you can search a city or village for hotels.
I also check out the many Italian hotels on Venere.com. They're an Italian company, so their coverage of Italy is quite good. Venere also has separate categories for Bed and Breakfasts and Self Catering Apartments. For example, there's almost 500 Rome Bed and Breakfasts listed.
What Kind of Hotel?
Everyone has their preferences. I am biased toward business hotels and apartments. Sorry, I know, you like that antiques and beamed ceiling charm, don't you? For me, I need a desk that doesn't have a glass top (using a mouse is awful on a glass surface), lots of electrical outlets I can get to, and a good internet connection. You might have other criteria. Be sure you know what your personal criteria is when you start looking for hotels.
Do I Have to Reserve my Summer Vacation Hotels?
That's a great question. I'm glad I asked it. Here's the thing: the Internet has made reservations much easier than they were in the 70s (when it was almost impossible). The internet has also made it much more necessary (highly-rated hotels fill up faster now because it's easier because everyone's reserving in advance).
So, yes, if you are a bit picky about where you stay, I'd say be sure to reserve a place.
Why do Italian Hotels Charge for Wireless?
There is an Italian law that makes hotel owners responsible for knowing who uses the internet. It's that terrorist thing again. In any case, if the hotel has wireless, the best way to trace who's using it is to charge for it--so there's a credit card cash trail if they do. Some Italian hotels offer free wireless in the lobby, where they can tell the government that they keep an eye on folks--or they offer a wired LAN in the room.
I understand it's illegal for a private citizen to transmit an open connection, so you are unlikely to find any of those either.
Good luck finding the perfect place to stay in Italy. I'm rooting for you.
Are There Alternatives to Hotels?
Why, yes, I'm glad you asked. My favorite way to experience Italy is to find an apartment or vacation home and stay a week or two. Want recommendations? See: Italy Self Catering, then read Recommended Self Catering Accommodations.