The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance with top notch fashion credentials and gastronomy heralded across the globe, Florence has been a firm favourite with the British since the ‘Grand Tour’ days of the 17th Century. Its art and architecture, piazzas and pizzas are still wooing us to this day and our personal travel expert Danielle is just back from her very first Florentine rendezvous, and it seems she’s in love…
Just a short hop (under 2 hours) from Newcastle to Pisa, you can travel onwards to Florence in under an hour by private car transfer. Or, if you prefer, take the train through the beautiful Tuscan countryside right to the heart of the city.
It may be a relatively small city but it holds endless treasures that will ensure you return time and time again. Stay at least 3 nights or a little longer if you can, so you can include a day trip into Chianti country within your plans. Looking for a longer break? Combine it with Milan to the north or Rome to the south (both around an hour and a half by train) or with a week in a Tuscan villa to really savour what the region has to offer.
Danielle visited three of the best hotels in the city (no wonder she’s in love) each offering luxurious accommodation and first-class service as standard, but all with something a little different to enchant their guests:
Hotel Brunelleschi – A beautiful boutique hotel with a contemporary feel perfect for a younger crowd and honeymooners. In a central spot with the iconic Il Duomo di Firenze only a 3 minute walk away, it’s an oasis from the bustle of the city hidden away in a tranquil courtyard.
Highlight – The Tower Suite is split over two floors with an ornate spiral staircase linking the two. Ascend to a magnificent circular bed with stunning views out over the city – a perfect honeymoon escape.
Hotel Savoy – Busy, buzzy and slap bang in the heart of the city on Piazza della Republica, this iconic hotel (and part of the Rocco Forte Group) is stylish and sophisticated but with a definite nod to the traditional. It has fashionable flare in abundance with quirky connections to Florence’s great designers. Look out for the paintings and artefacts dotted about paying homage to the shoes of Salvatore Ferragamo.
Highlight – The hotel’s chic little bistro Irene (named after Sir Rocco Forte’s mother) is a delight. Dishes are fresh, tasty and healthy reinventions of many old Tuscan favourites and its cocktails attract locals from across the city who would never normally be seen in a ‘hotel bar’.
Four Seasons – A resort hotel in the city offers up ornate interiors and old world charm within this Renaissance palazzo. A leisurely 15 minute stroll from the centre of town, its spacious grounds, excellent spa and outdoor pool give it a ‘resort feel’ offering the best of both worlds for those looking to stay a while longer than the usual city-breaker.
Highlight – The hotel’s Il Palagio restaurant has a Michelin star and serves regional cuisine with a contemporary twist under vaulted ceilings. Seated amidst its elegant décor looking out over the inner gardens is a magical experience.
Danielle’s top tips…
- Avoid the Pitti Uomo men’s fashion weeks held in January and June (14 to 17 June 2016) each year when the city is taken over by fashionista and celebrities hogging the best hotel rooms and restaurant reservations – you’ll get neither for love nor money!
- Skip dinner one night and opt instead for early evening anti-pasti and cocktails served in the majority of the city’s bars and restaurants. It’s a great way to sample lots of local dishes and delicacies, washed down with a bottle or two of Prosecco.
- Don’t tackle the Uffizi Gallery alone or off the cuff as waiting times can reach 2 or 3 hours in the height of summer. Book a private guide in advance (you can do this through Travel Bureau and your holiday company) and explain what you want to see or leave it to his/her expertise. This will not only allow you to fast track the queue but will enhance your visit no-end with additional insight and interesting stories.
- Leave the city behind and take a trip into the Chianti wine region. Many vineyards now combine cookery demos with wine tastings and one of the best is Podere Campriono where you can learn the art of pizza, pasta and traditional Italian cake making, and even blend your own fresh pesto, before digging into a banquet accompanied by the wines of the vineyard.
- The Parlor of Essences at the exquisite Aqua Flor Perfumery in the Santa Croce area is a heaven for the senses. Book a personal perfume workshop where you’ll be shown the art of perfume making or just browse the shop for a gift to take home.
Did you know...?
The Pagliazza Tower at Hotel Brunelleschi is said to be the oldest building still standing in the historical centre of Florence and dates back to the 6th Century. It was used as a woman’s prison in the 12th Century from which it gets its name ‘Pagliazza’ from paglia meaning straw in Italian, as this was used as the bedding for its inmates.
Don’t leave without…
…visiting San Lorenzo food market http://www.mercatocentrale.it/en/ for a million Italian taste sensations. Stalls full of breads, confectionary, fish, rissoles, salamis, fresh pasta, buffalo mozzarella, ice cream and wines (to name a fraction of what’s on offer) all available to buy and take away or savour there and then at one of the eating counters. Open from 10am to midnight it’s a hot spot for anyone visiting the city.
Danielle travelled to Florence as a guest of luxury holiday company Abercrombie & Kent who can tailor-make itineraries to Tuscany and arrange private guides and tours with seamless organisation. If you’d like to know more about Danielle’s trip you can call her direct on 0191 272 6034 or email Danielle@travelb.co.uk.