For a time over the weekend, it looked as though a good will tour of the United States by 10 mentally retarded Italian adolescents and their adult escorts was ending prematurely.

The visitors' hosts thought they had nailed down housing arrangements for their three-day stay in Washington, but those arrangements fell apart after the youngsters got here. It seemed for a time, according to someone associated with a local host, that the low-budget entourage would have to cut short its trip and return to Rome .

Enter the Italian connection.

Someone thought to call Italian Ambassador Rinaldo Petrignani, and the envoy knew that developer Giuseppe Cecchi was deep into the local hotel business -- in fact, he built and owns the Vista International Hotel in the 1400 block of M Street NW.

Soon the party was booked into the Vista for the rest of its stay, though at whose expense was unclear yesterday. "I'm sure it shows up on someone's books," said Cecchi spokeswoman Suzanne Ives.

High points of the group's visits were a trip to the National Zoo and to the Torpedo Factory art center in Alexandria where, Ives said, the visitors were fascinated by an exhibit of "art to see, touch and hear," a program by Washington's Gallaudet College deaf dance company and songs by blind singer Wayne Durgin.

The Italians hope to sponsor a trip by young retarded Americans to their country.