This year, Venice’s Architecture Biennale kicks off on May 20th, making it a wonderful time to visit La Serenissima. The sun is shining over the archipelago of islands and labyrinth of canals and a cool crowd descends on its palazzos, galleries, and spaces. Our top tip is not to miss the Chronorama exhibition at Palazzo Grassi.
The place to stay in springtime is Villa Cipriani, an iconic hotel in Asolo, an hour away from Venice, with an illustrious guestbook that includes the late Prince Philip, Albert of Monaco, Orson Welles and Catherine Deneuve. It has inspired its guests to live la dolce vita since it was built in the 16th century — not least on account of its enchanting garden, where cascades of fragrant roses make themselves known in May. In the gardens, you’ll find Bistrot Rosmarino, the perfect setting for languorous, alfresco lunches.
When you’re not at the hotel or Biennale, make cicchetti and spritz stops around the city (made with Select, not Aperol) on sun-drenched terraces by the water; we love Linea D’ombra on the other side of the Dorsoduro for this. For dinner, book a table in advance at the small but perfectly formed Osteria alla Testiere, where the owner Luca serves up the freshest catch from the lagoon, bought at the Rialto market that morning.
Further south in Italy, Rome is equally fabulous in May, when skies are clear and blue and it’s still not too scorching to explore its streets on foot. Fully in spring mode, the Eternal City is carpeted in wisteria, azaleas, and poppies — and the Villa Borghese gardens are at their most lush and green. So where to stay? Two of our favorite Rome addresses are Hotel Locarno and Residenza Napoleone III. The former is one of the city’s most legendary hotels and has been welcoming the great and the good to its incredible location between the Tiber and Villa Borghese since 1925. Its rooms are elegant, sumptuous, and oh-so-Roman — and aperitivo hour on its spectacular rooftop is something to be treasured. The Residenza is located within a 16th-century palazzo on the legendary Via Condotti. Filled with sumptuous furnishings and artworks fit for an emperor, its two unique apartments are available for private hire.
Now for the food. Rome is a city with a big appetite, where pasta rules. Make your first restaurant stop La Matriciana, a wonderfully old-school spot in the Esquilino neighbourhood where you should order a Roman speciality, bucatini all’amatriciana — tomato, guanciale and pecorino — for lunch. After drinks in the stunning courtyard of Hotel De Russie, make your way to the Testaccio area for a true taste of Rome. Our favourites in the area are: Felice for timeless local dishes such as tonnarelli cacio e pepe, Da Enzo for classic Roman dishes and Checchino dal 1887 where we always order la coda alla vaccinara, an oxtail stew.
Read our Rome Restaurant Guide.
After its often long and gruelling winters, London comes alive in spring. Its locals shrug off literal and metaphorical layers and revel in blossom-strewn streets and sunnier days. A city made up of many village-like neighbourhoods, our thoughts are turning to east London this May. The area around Hackney is dotted with lovely green parks, while the Regent’s Canal runs through it like a main artery. This month is a time for testing its brilliant natural wine bars — such as Oranj, Hector’s and Cadet — and old-favourite restaurants, like Brawn, Campania and Rochelle Canteen.
The French Open kicks off at Roland-Garros in late May, so sporting eyes are on Paris this month. Ahead of the summer heat, there are a few more idyllic months to visit the French capital, with walks along the Seine, tables spilling out onto every available pavement, and a certain joie de vivre in the air. Our favorite addresses to stay at during these months are Chateau Voltaire in the 1st arrondissement, and the intimate Hotel Particulier Montmartre in the 8th, a haven of greenery and the former home of the Hermes family — it’s a slice of the French countryside in Paris.
On a sunny spring day, Les Enfants du Marché can’t be beaten: a classic with a new menu and a magnifique vibe, where it’s all about counter dining and people watching. After a few plates and even more glasses of natural wines, explore the market and pick up some bread and fresh produce.
While you’re in town, don’t miss the Matisse exhibition at Musée de l’Orangeria, which ends on May 29th.
Antibes, French Riviera
The French Riviera is always a place to be come summer, but in off-season it is another kind of dream. This May, we’re heading for Antibes and specifically the iconic Hotel Belle Rives which sits kissing the water’s edge in Cap d’Antibes. The former home of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, this Art Deco beauty tells a thousand stories inside its handsome bones and has played host to everyone from Picasso to Hemingway. This season, the historic Bar Fitzgerald has had a revamp and its beautifully handpainted walls are the perfect backdrop to champagne cocktails after the sun has gone down. During the day, while away an afternoon on the private deck after a grilled fish lunch at the Beach Club — or even go waterskiing, it was invented at Belle Rives after all. For panoramic views of the Cap and the most golden of golden hours, ask for Room 79.
Ibiza, Balearic Islands
Like other Mediterranean summer destinations, Ibiza is a revelation in the shoulder months — and especially in May, when this Balearic isle is carpeted in wildflowers. Bed down at Finca Legado, an agriturismo-style stay near Santa Eulària that’s run by a very entertaining Austrian couple, Andi and Andreas. We love the enormous daybeds by the saltwater pool and the fact you eat fresh eggs from their own chickens and fruit from the garden. Start your day with coffee on the square in Santa Gertrudis at locals’ favourite Bar Costa, before spending a laid-back day at Es Torrent. There’s a small pebbled beach for sunbathing and crystal clear water for swimming, plus a fantastic seafood restaurant where the must-order is the ‘bullet de peix’ — a delicious fish stew followed by paella.
Read our Insider’s Guide to Ibiza.
84 Rooms recommends: Where To Eat, Stay, And What To See This Summer In Paris, and The Parisian Hotels To Book Now.