That's Amore

Hotel Granduca is the Closest You Can Get to Italy Without Leaving Houston

With a little imagination, the boutique hotel will transport you to a private Mediterranean villa.

By Abby Ledoux March 8, 2019

I've missed Italy for 12 years. My first and last visit more than a decade ago is still vivid in my mind— the charming romance (and pungent smell) of the Venice canals; the timeworn sampietrini streets and solemn, soaring cathedrals of Rome; the dizzying sensation on the final step of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I've been meaning to get back, but, as they say, life gets in the way.

Lucky, then, that the next best thing might just be five miles away. Sequestered in Uptown Park is a little slice of the Mediterranean in the form of Hotel Granduca, a boutique, palazzo-style, six-story hotel with serious old world charm. The 122-room property, constructed in 2006, is something of a darling of the travel industry, earning accolades from Forbes, Conde Nast Traveler, and TripAdvisor.

After a recent staycation at Granduca, I can see why. Greeted by thick palms, ornamental topiaries, a statue of Adalberto Malatesta (the 16th-century Italian duke for whom the hotel is named), and a grand portico entrance, it's not a stretch to believe you're actually in Italy from the moment you pull up the circular drive—especially if there's a Ferrari in the valet line.

Things get even more European inside thanks to intricate mosaic tile and patterned wood floors, antique carpets, candelabra chandeliers, rich drapery, exposed beams, hand-painted murals, and plenty of interesting art—including framed drawings of historic architecture and actual mounted suits of armor. One Saturday evening, a lounge singer perched at the lobby's grand piano singing Sinatra.

Warmth and elegance continue in the rooms and suites, many of which come equipped with balconies that overlook the pool or grounds. At 825 square feet, the Executive Granduca Suite feels more like an apartment with its separate rooms (kitchen and living/dining area, bedroom, massive bathroom, and room-sized walk-in closet) and not one but two TVs. Little details like fully stocked dish cabinets and bookshelves (with titles like The Maccioni Family Cookbook and Art and Architecture: Tuscany) only enhanced the homey vibe.

But don't be tricked into thinking you should spend all your time in the room. It would be nothing short of a travesty to neglect Ristorante Cavour, the award-winning upscale Italian eatery where acclaimed executive chef Maurizio Ferrarese (whose name—and accent—quickly reveals his origin) holds court. A four-course meal at Cavour is worth the splurge, particularly on special occasions, and it would be criminal to miss out on the velvety cauliflower soup—made all the more decadent with an $18 add-on of imported Sasanian Sturgeon Caviar—or the one year-aged mushroom risotto. Or, for that matter, the melt-in-your-mouth wagyu beef short ribs, the sumptuous tiramisu, or a particularly excellent cup of cappuccino.

To truly feel like you're on an Italian getaway, though, it's imperative to spend as much time as possible by the saltwater pool. Nestled in a courtyard of sorts surrounded by cabanas, verdant palms, columned pergolas, and balconies above, this is where Granduca most resembles a private villa. On sunny days, it's more or less required to recline with a good book in one of the many burnt orange loungers that hem the pool. At night, when there's a breeze, it's best to cuddle up with someone and sip a (generously sized) Aperol spritz while gazing upon the twinkling string lights that criss-cross the terrace and pretending you're far, far away.

After all, a flight to Rome is $984, but rooms at Granduca start at $219.

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