Albergo or pensione? A quick guide to the types of hotels available in Italy

Lina Branter | 25/01/2019
Hotels in Italy. Accommodations in Italy.
Hotel room in Florence

What kind of traveler are you? Do you need a quiet room with its own bathroom? Or do you prefer to save money and share space with other travelers? Are you traveling solo, with a spouse, or in a group?

Defining your needs is a great way to start exploring the accommodation options available to travelers in Italy. Once you have a clearer idea of your, and your fellow travelers’ needs, read on for our guide to they types of accommodation and amenities available to travelers in Italy.

Hotel (Oh-tell)/Albergo (ahl-BEHR-goh)

You might see the English word for hotel or you might see the Italian word, Albergo. Either way, they mean the same thing: a private room. Hotels/Albergos, can range from the fancy, five-star versions to roadside motels.

In the more expensive versions, you’ll always get a private bathroom with your room. In the cheaper Albergos, however, a private bathroom is not always a given. 

Unlike their American counterparts, where most hotels were built as hotels, many Italian Albergos squat uncomfortably in buildings that were built before the concept of indoor plumbing. This means the rooms are often small — just large enough for a double bed, your suitcases and you. If they manage to have added a private bathroom to your room, it will usually be no bigger than your shower stall at home. But hey: who wants to stay in their room when there is espresso to drink and the whole of Italy explore?

Unlike hotels in North America, don’t assume there will be standard amenities (such as a TV) in your room (see above regarding size). Some Albergos may have a swimming pool and in-house restaurant or bar. Others may not even have an elevator. If a specific amenity or accessibility feature is important to you, be sure to check before booking.

Pensione (pehn-see-YAWN-eh)

Pensiones could be considered the Albergo’s, smaller, poorer but homier cousins. The word pensione was traditionally thought to mean a smaller, friendlier, family-run hotel of the one- to three-star variety, while Albergos could go all the way up to five stars. Because of their smaller and more affordable status, statistically speaking you’ll probably encounter shared bathrooms more often than you would with the fancier Albergos.

Locanda ((loh-KAHN-dah) 

Like pensiones, locanda (or inns) are associated with smaller, family-run businesses. They’re usually less expensive than albergos and pensiones, which means the rooms are even smaller and you’re likely to be sharing a bathroom. The owners of locanda have usually been running their business for a long time and will definitely know the neighborhood’s best places to eat.

Hostel/ Ostello [aw-STEL-oh]

Hostels in Italy are called Ostellos. They’re pretty much the same as anywhere else in the world — cheap places with dorm-style bunk beds that were traditionally exclusive to young backpackers. However, in recent years Italian hostels have followed the world trend and done away with the age requirement. Many also have private rooms to rent at a higher but still affordable price. Keep in mind there’s no official vocabulary in Italy for what accommodations may call themselves. Some hostels may call themselves “hotels” or “guest houses”, but don’t be fooled: if they offer you a room with nine other people, the chances are good it’s a hostel.

Agriturismo

If you plan to leave the big cities and visit Italy’s beautiful countryside, you must try an agriturismo. These are working farms that offer bed and breakfast accommodations. Depending on the agriturismo, they can be relatively inexpensive accommodations. The price usually includes at least one meal (usually prepared with homegrown ingredients) and may include outdoor activities or cooking classes. This is a great way to get a taste of rural Italy. Keep in mind that their rural locations make them a more difficult to reach without a car.

Affittacamere or Rooms for Rent

Affittacamere (ahf-feet-ah-KAH-meh-reh) are rooms for rent in private homes. The prices will vary widely and you will usually have to wait until arriving in the town before booking. The people who rent the rooms tend to hang out at the train stations with signs in several languages. Though they’re usually lovely, it’s best to see the room before you pay for it.

Rifugio (ree-FOO-jyoh)

Rifugios, or shelters, are a very specific type of accommodation found in the Italian Alps for long distance hikers. They’re dorm-like shelters and relatively inexpensive (though you may end up paying an arm and a leg for a beer and a meal as they know they have a captive clientele). It’s best to book the rooms in advance — you don’t want to be caught out in the cold with no other option after a long day of hiking in the mountains.

Convento/Monastero

If you want to experience living history and still get a place right in the middle of town for cheap, you might want to check out one of the convents or monasteries. Many still uphold the tradition of giving shelter to weary travelers by renting rooms to tourists. Though you don’t have to join the order or even convert to Catholicism to stay in many of these establishments, there’ll almost certainly be some restrictions on your movement. For instance, the doors will be locked at a certain time at night and won’t open again until morning. 

Also, most if not all convents and monasteries segregate the sexes, even if you’re married. But if you’re a quiet, solo traveler, a convent or monastery might be the ideal choice for you —  they’re inexpensive, located in beautiful historic buildings, and considered safe.

Now go forth and book the perfect room for you upcoming adventure in Italy.