Why You Should Visit Italy’s Historic Homes

Beyond the most visited galleries, churches, and monuments lies another historical element that is well worth the trip.

Most people who flock to Italy for a taste of art and culture head straight to the country’s world-famous art galleries, archeological sites and churches for a glimpse of its priceless heritage. What many don’t realize is that a number of masterpieces are not on display in public halls but lay quietly waiting to be discovered in its private properties: Italy’s historic homes.

From countryside villas set within lush vineyards, to metropolitan palaces featuring gilded ballrooms, Italy is home to thousands of residences that open their doors to curious travelers eager for an exclusive cultural experience. The vast majority of these heritage properties are part of the Associazione Dimore Storiche Italiane (ADSI), a network that works to preserve and promote Italy’s Historic Homes.

“When travelers come to Italy, they search for the DNA of the country in its museums. But paintings hanging in museums are removed from the context in which they were born,” begins Vittorio Giulini, a member of the ADSI Board and President of the Dimore Storiche Lombardy region. “Where can you admire a work of art in its natural setting? Inside Italy’s historic homes.”

The Dimore Storiche Association was born 40 years ago and boasts over 4,500 residences scattered throughout every region, from stately masserie (fortified farmhouses) in Puglia to private islands in Lombardy and the elegant princely villas of Veneto. A portion of the villas are open regularly as museums – for instance, Palazzo Colonna in Rome and the Borromean Islands in Lago Maggiore – while others are open sporadically during the year or can be visited by booking a tour ahead of time.

“Just like every region of Italy is distinct, every home in our association is unique. Italy was fortunate as a country to have enjoyed wealth and prestige over several centuries, so each home reflects the architectural style of the time,” explains Mr. Giulini.

You can sleep in the frescoed bedrooms of the Villa Emo Capodilista castle in Padova or learn how to prepare Sicilian specialties with Duchess Nicoletta at the Palazzo Lanza Tomasi in Palermo. Some properties can be rented for films and photoshoots while others host catered events and wedding parties.

Other Dimore Storiche properties are only open for small groups during VIP visits. In these cases, the focal point is to live and experience a historic home as if you were a friend of the family, rather than a guest. These special experiences are designed to foster a real human exchange and immerse visitors in the history of the home, whether that means eating lunch with a prince on his outdoor patio or enjoying a private concert by the fireplace.

It may sound too good to be true but by participating in any of these visits, you – the traveler – are taking part in a sustainable form of tourism that helps preserve Italy’s vast cultural patrimony. “The best way to help maintain these homes is to keep their doors open to the public because the proceeds are absolutely essential for costly upkeep,” says Mr. Giulini.

Inheriting a castle may seem like a stroke of good luck but it can constitute a real problem for the heirs, especially given the difficult economic situation in Italy. The properties are rich in history but require enormous sacrifices (financial and otherwise) to keep them in the family. By choosing to visit one of these historic homes, travelers are helping to keep them operational for future generations to admire.

One of the association’s newest initiatives is to promote its winemaking properties. Around 100 estates currently produce their own wine and many of these labels are present at the annual Vinitaly in Verona. This is a unique opportunity for the Dimore Storiche’s wineries to share their products with the public while telling their story and generating interest in their region.

“We aren’t just selling a wine,” says Mr. Giulini, “We are selling a travel experience. A grand tour.” By reaching out to diverse audiences – from individual travelers and agencies to event planners and wine importers – the association offers infinite possibilities to take part in an immersive cultural experience.

Plan Your Trip

Explore properties by region or activities on the website – or contact the Dimore Storiche directly to create a personalized travel itinerary. Your creativity is the limit and prices vary; from budget options to truly luxurious experiences, everyone can experience the magic of Italy’s historic homes.

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