The Italians call them borghi – charming old-world villages perched on hilltops. Like the little town of Narni. It's just an hour's drive from Rome, but somewhere along the way you pass through a kind of time warp, and when you get there you're in 15th century Italy.
Back then, the Renaissance was getting underway, Christopher Columbus was finding a New World, Johann Gutenberg was inventing the printing press and other folks were coming up with things like whiskey, muzzle-loading rifles and golf balls.
In Narni, a noble family was building a “dove tower” – a tall building, originally designed to get doves to bunk down there, billing and cooing. They were all the rage with Europe's silky set at the time.
Fast-forward to today, and Narni's dove tower is still there...still looking like a scene off a travel poster overlooking the Umbrian countryside in central Italy. Only today, it's part of an elegant country residence tuned into a villa hotel called Torre Palombara – said to be one of the Italy's most exquisite properties of its kind.
It's seven guest rooms range from spacious doubles with beamed ceilings to a romantic two-level suite in the original dove tower with its own fireplace and a terrace overlooking the garden (and where your wake-up call comes from a cooing dove). All of the rooms are furnished with centuries-old antiques along with flat-screen TVs and other modern amenities.
Besides soaking up eye-popping views from the hotel, wandering through its gardens and lounging at the pool, guests can mosey around the ancient churches of Narni and its historic Sotterranea (an underground city built by the Romans in the 13th century). Among several other sightseeing options is a tour of Umbria's wiggly back roads in a chauffeured 1959 Fiat convertible.
Special activities for foodies and wine lovers include truffle hunting (truffles are one of Umbria's calling cards), cooking classes and wine tastings.
“It is impossible to stay with us,” says the owner/manager of the hotel, “ without having the spirit of Umbria sinking into your bones.”
Rates at the Torre Palombara range from140 to 220 euros a night (roughly US$190 to US$300) for a double room including breakfast. Bookings made before April 1, 2014, qualify for a 10 percent discount and a comp bottle of regional wine.