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Villa Feltrinelli

It took Bob Burns four years and $30 million to transform Villa Feltrinelli, last home of Mussolini, into the sumptuous 20-room hotel that opened last year on Italy's Lake Garda. It also took strong nerves and a sense of the absurd. The Regent Hotels founder's plans to renovate the 1892 neo-Gothic castle were scrutinized by the Senate (Mussolini's granddaughter, a member of Parliament, wanted it preserved as a memorial), the town, and the preservation authorities, who weighed in on issues like the placement of 70 pieces of original furniture. But the results are worth all Burns' travails. The rooms are exquisite, from the 20 restored frescoes and the carved-wood ceilings to stylish modern touches by San Francisco designer Pamela Babey like bold coral-and-white-striped shades on the veranda chandeliers, and vintage Venini lamps in the bedrooms. (Best room: the vast lakefront Al Lago, with a ceiling painting of cherubs, marquetry furniture, and an enormous octagonal bathroom.) Everything, in fact, is exquisite: the setting, the service, and the cuisine of a chef lured from Venice's Hotel Cipriani. Rooms, $630-$1,700. At 38-40 Via Rimembranza, Gargnano, Brescia; 39-0365-798-000; fax 39-0365-798-001; www.villafeltrinelli.com.

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