It has been a good 10 years since my last trip to Florence – a city I loved, but the crowds put me off returning.
When Classic Collection Holidays suggested that our base was not quite in the city centre, but by the river Arno, a few miles outside, I was quite intrigued.
Villa La Massa, the sister hotel of the world-famous Villa D’Este (in Lake Como) was a little oasis we had the privilege to return to at the end of each day as we explored the city centre.
With our goal being to avoid crowds, we booked a series of activities that made our trip really special. I am happy to share these and other tips with fellow Classic Collection Holidays clients.
Villa La Massa
Where to stay in and near Florence
- Villa La Massa – an Italian classic with traditional décor and very modern service. The spa and bar use Santa Maria Novella products (yes, both!)
- Belmond Villa San Michelle – Set in the Tuscan hills, overlooking Florence which is 7km away and originally built as a monastery in the 15th century
- Brunelleschi Hotel – a delightful and popular hotel ideally located in the very heart of historic Florence, just steps away from the Brunelleschi Cathedral in Piazza del Duomo.
Where to eat in Florence
Stay away from the main touristic areas and whatever you do – book ahead. Most restaurants are quite small and it isn’t difficult to find 50 other people that would also love a great meal.
- Trattoria Camilo – located on the Otranto side of Florence, quite close to Ponte Vecchio, it is one of the most popular restaurants for real Italian families with a few tourists. They offer regional classics like rabbit stew and also other fish and meat specialties. There is no website, so you need to trust me on this.
Borgo S. Jacopo, 57/r, FlorenceTel +39 055 212427
- Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura – yes, Gucci (who is based in Florence) has teamed up with 3-star Michelin chef, Massimo Bottura, of Osteria Franciscana! Offering simpler and more affordable menus (starting at 75 Euros) and a la carte options too, we thought it was pretty perfect. You also get free entrance to the Gucci Garden (which is not a garden, but a museum) if you have restaurant bookings (normal costs: 5 Euros)
Piazza della Signoria, 10 +39 055 7592 7038
- Locale Firenze – recommended by pretty much all our friends, it is one of the places to head for dinner in town.
Via delle Seggiole, 12/red Tel +39 055 906 7188
Things to do in Florence
Florence comes with one of the most spectacular artistic and cultural experiences a city can bring. From the Duomo to the Accademia alone, you could spend days there (also hours queuing too).
- Book a cultural walking tour
With limited time in town, I wanted to make the most of my experience and booked an early access tour with Take Walks which gave us MichaelAngelo’s David to ourselves and our group for 15 minutes, which was pretty special.
We also got to skip the lines at the Duomo (by entering through the exit), got to enjoy one of its panoramic terraces all to ourselves.
The tour lasted just over 3 hours and provided just the right amount of culture for us.
View from Duomo Balcony
- Book a food tour
Regional variations in Italy are quite incredible – and this is a great way to not only explore other parts of the city you’d normally not venture to as a tourist. Turns out that tripe is much appreciated in the area, obviously we all know the wines are great but there is more to it, and over 4-5 hours, you get to enjoy the company of someone who really knows the city and can also point you in new directions.
We chose to do a private food tour so it fit in with our timings, but Eating Europe offers small group tours daily and I highly recommend them.
- Enjoy the sunset at a rooftop bar
We loved the rooftop bar at Gran Hotel Minerva which is part of Classic Collection Holidays suggested hotels in Florence and it is open to non-hotel guests from 7pm. With views of Santa Maria Novella square and church and pretty much the whole of Florence, it is a stop that cannot be missed.
Grand Hotel Minerva, roof top pool and bar
Where to escape from Florence
Classic Collection Holidays organised a vineyard dinner in the nearby Chianti Classico wine region. A driver picked us up from the hotel and 45 minutes later, we were surrounded by vineyards and enjoyed an alfresco dinner to remember. It is a casual event, so dress appropriately (namely the shoes!) and remember, the diet can wait another day.
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