After 20 hours on my feet, including two planes, six meetings in Milan and an infernal two-hour rail journey on a treno regionale, I finally got to destination: Mantua. Exhausted and half-asleep, I took a cab from the station to my hotel for the night before a morning conference. But then woke up the instant I arrived. OMG. Guido Castiglioni was waiting patiently for me at the huge doors to his 14th-century Palazzo, the kindest, most gentlemanly person you could ever wish to meet after the trip from hell. With his improbably refined manner, worldly and restrained at the same time, he accompanied me to the Leone suite, one of just five in the Palazzo. And again OMG. An oversized bed, a vast lounge area, a fireplace so big I could fit inside standing up, luxurious upholstery, sprung wooden floors and enough cupboard space even for me! After cappuccino the next morning, Guido showed me around the the other four suites, Celeste, Aquila, Arco and Torre, all with double-volume ceilings and immense bathrooms, and all but one with kitchenettes for independent travellers.
The entire upper floor or piano nobile, all 500 square meters of it, can be rented if you’re looking for something a tad larger. It’s lined with frescos and stuccos and all those features you get used to in Mantua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s hardly changed since the middle ages thanks to a defensive circle of artificial lakes. Think about it if you’re organizing an event or wedding in these parts. The Palazzo itself was originally the home of the Bonacolsi family, first lords in a city which became one of the most splendid courts of the European Renaissance. And it’s still the private residence of the descendants of Baldesar Castiglione, courtier, diplomat, soldier and influential Renaissance author.
I loved my home-away-from-home so much that instead of going out at aperitivo time I arranged drinks in my ‘own’ lounge, and enjoyed every second of the killer views onto stunning Piazza Sordello with its towering palaces and Baroque cathedral in white marble. There are plans to expand the B&B – decidedly understated term for the experience – with another four suites and a reception area, Guido told me, and to add a series of other services for guests. Thank you, Lucia,for being the left side of my brain and for surprising me with such special places to stay when I’m travelling. I really don’t thank you enough… And I’m eternally grateful to you, Guido, for making me feel like a Princess of Mantua for a night! Can’t wait to get back!