I love the search for the perfect hotel when planning a vacation. Once I know where I want to travel, I relish the time spent diving into travel sites and articles that suggest the best places to stay in a particular location.

This year, I limited my search to only family-owned and operated hotels or resorts.

Running a resort or hotel is serious business but adding the hopes and dreams of a multi-generational family history into the mix makes it even more special and interesting.

My vacation destination this season was Italy and I was looking for a few unique places to share with my own family this year.

American author Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our day, is, of course, how we spend our lives.” No people seem to embrace this philosophy more than the Italians. Living life fully present appears to be the whole-hearted endeavor for every Italian I have ever met so a trip to Italy was destined to be just the kind of life-affirming experience we all wanted and needed.

Hotel Hermitage Elba Island

Embracing the Italian way of life was easy to do when we dropped ourselves onto our first family-owned resort on Isola Elba, or in English, Elba Island. An island off the coast of Tuscany, just a short ferry ride, and about one hundred miles south of Florence. The exquisitely run Hotel Hermitage is located in Portoferraio on a gorgeous strip of oceanfront property with crystal clear water and fragrant flowers lining the hillsides. This hidden gem is owned and managed by the sister and brother De Ferrari team from Genoa. They continue the tradition their parents began, by creating an environment of relaxed Old-World charm. The luxurious accommodations are coupled with a welcoming atmosphere for families. A place safe enough for children to roam and explore and feel free. The De Ferrari family’s commitment to excellence shines through their pristine tennis courts, grounds and restaurants. If you want to try a place where time stands still and not many Americans have found yet, then this is your place. The evening sunset views from the restaurant coupled with the 5-star dining experience with food mostly sourced from the island itself, alone is worth the journey.

The dread of leaving Elba Island could only be assuaged by the anticipation of a stay at a very special spot in Florence. The Westin Excelsior Florence was as palatial as promised. Walking into the hotel was reminiscent of visits to a royal home. Gorgeous bouquets of sunflowers welcomed us into a grand entrance with a formally dressed staff to greet and assist guests. We chose to take a sweeping staircase up one level to our rooms. It’s hard to describe the elegance of the place; full of paintings, rugs and lighting resembling this once private estate sitting right on the river Arno. As one of Marriott’s premium brands, this Westin exhibited the Marriott family’s high standard of hospitality. The ethos of the Marriott family lives on with their core values of putting people first, pursuing excellence, embracing change, acting with integrity and serving the world. This Florence experience was no exception. We loved every minute.

Suite Living Room Westin Excelsior Florence

Our final spot was smack in the middle of the Tuscany countryside not far from two of my favorite wine regions, Montalcino and Montepulciano. Let your Soul Fly is the motto of the Adler Spa Resort Thermae and if your soul doesn’t soar here it won’t fly anywhere. This family owned and operated resort is part of the 5 Adler resorts run by the 6th generation brothers of the original Sanoner family. It all started in 1812, and the original resort along with 3 other properties are located in the mountainous northern Dolomite region of Italy. The one we chose sits on a beautiful piece of Tuscan land where a natural spring delivers hot bubbling healing waters to the guests. Unlike most wellness spas in the USA, this resort is steeped in the Italian culture of providing an abundance of superb food and wine. One can participate in a full wellness retreat with medical consultations, soaks in the mineral waters, and a choice of a library list of healthy spa and sauna experiences and exercise classes. The beauty of Adler Spa is that you get to create your own mix. One may enjoy dining al fresco by the pool, hop on an ebike to a winery tour or go take a hike into the hillsides. Or maybe instead, lie on a chaise lounge and read all day, sunbathe, swim and drink prosecco.

View from Yoga AdlerSpa Thermae

We selected a healthy and indulgent mix of Ayurvedic and aromatherapy massages, an interesting body-mind stress reducing Haki water-immersion session, and daily yoga. We coupled all this Spa time with leisurely morning rides through the Tuscan countryside and towns, wine tastings and long, late carefully crafted dinners under the stars.

During our visit it was clear that the Sanoner family emphasized an appreciation for the staff’s important role in the success of their hotel. Every interaction with an Adler employee, whether at the front desk, the spa or dining room, was warm, friendly and helpful. This kind of service only comes with happy employees. The best news we heard was that the Adler resorts were expanding to a coastal spot in Sicily. We cannot wait to be one of their first guests!

Want more stories like this one? check out DrSharon’s other travel posts.


  • Dr Sharon Ufberg

    Dr. Sharon Ufberg is a freelance writer, entrepreneurial coach, founder of Borrowed Wisdom and hosts Force of Nature on NPR’s 51% radio.

    Dr. Ufberg is a radio host and freelance journalist who writes and talks about human spirit, people and places that make a difference, women, musicians and philanthropic initiatives.She creates and teaches online personal growth courses and privately coaches individuals as the senior consultant for Borrowed Wisdom and Good Advice Works, companies she created to assist people to turn their dreams into reality.