How to have a fabulous holiday in Italy – affordably!

Today I am going to let you in on a secret. I’ve found a bargain way of staying in fabulous places! I’ve been keeping it for a while as I wanted to book my own holiday before I shared with the group. (Too generous of me, I know!)I don’t know about you, but if the place I holiday is beautiful then I can endure quite a lot of discomfort. Obviously I won’t turn down a beautiful five star hotel, but failing that I would rather stay in a beautiful youth hostel than an ugly three star hotel. This has caused me to book many an overpriced hotel because I fell for their gorgeous website!When I worked as a travel journalist I became very spoilt. Generally one stays in a five star hotel and the red carpet is rolled out. Chocolate chopsticks at the Peninsula in Beijing, pillow menus at the Twelve Apostles in Cape Town, cocktails by the infinity pool in Villa San Michele, Florence, someone had to do the research. I did it thoroughly and I can recommend any hotel in the Leading Hotels or the Luxury Small hotels or the Orient Express chain without hesitation if you’re feeling rich. But they’re not exactly cheap. And these days I have to pay for my own accommodation and my budget is never more than £100 a night. So that’s Villa San Michele etc ruled out – although any of these examples would be WONDERFUL for a honeymoon or if you are feeling in need of spoiling.However, by chance I have discovered a website called where you can book a room in a genuine monastery. These are often in incredible old buildings with cloisters and gardens and offer basic but sublime accommodation. A villa overlooking Castel Gandolpho, complete with full board, gardens, swimming pool, tennis court and grotto (among other facilities) for 55 euros a night anyone? Try Villa Palazzola.The accommodation is, well,  monastic – no pillow menus here – but the welcome is friendly and the experience extraordinary. And you don’t have to take orders to visit – they welcome all guests. OK, maybe if all you want to do is hang out with your ghetto blaster and drink beer then it might not be for you, but I for one like my hotels beautiful and my nights quiet. If I want to go partying, I’ll do that in town. So if you fancy a truly unique holiday in Italy, this might be for you.As for me, I am really excited because I am going with my boyfriend and a group of my friends to Villa Palazzola to celebrate my birthday in a month’s time. Happy!