Moving on to the rest of my trip! Firenze is always a joy to come back to, and I managed to find a really nice B&B for not too much money in comparison to normal Florentine prices. Casa Del Garbo is really different, and quite lovely. It was actually my first stay in a "luxury B&B" and luxurious it was! And it didn't have the cold feel one sometimes gets in a 5-star hotel.
The people who run it (I think they're a family) are incredibly warm and helpful, and much better with customer service than at many places I've seen. They honestly did everything they could to make me feel like a member of the family, and it worked!
An added plus was the spectacular view from my room, so inspiring! As if Firenze isn't always enough of a draw in and of itself, this little place was a real gem and I think others will find it that way too.
Piazza della Signoria 8
I booked here again as well, very smoothly: www.italiancollection.com/en/la-casa-del-garbo.html
Friendly people, cheap prices and nice Florentine furniture. It's an eco-friendly hotel, too.
Florence is a beautiful city packed with culture and vibrance. But if you only have a day or two, and on a shoestring budget, I recommend hiring a bicycle for a half a day or a day, especially when the weather is warm. It's one of the most enjoyable and memorable experiences my wife and I had, and it's fairly inexpensive.
The city is not big, and you can easily cover most of the top sights if you're willing to do a bit of pedal power, plus you'll be doing your bit on travelling green!
Also, to stretch your deflated pound that little bit further, scoff down as much breakfast as you can (Italian brekkies are simple fares), and have a late lunch. Find a pizzeria the locals recommend, and don't be ashamed to order a very large pizza. Eat half, and ask to take away the rest (a good pizza should still be good even when it's cold and bashed around in your rucksack). While you're there, soak in the atmosphere, and enjoy the distinct flavours of each ingredient. Savour the bursting flavours of the tomatoes, the freshness of the artichokes, the subtle hint of basil, and the purity of the extra virgin olive oil drizzled on fresh mozzarella on the perfect stone baked dough base. Bellissimo! Enjoy it while you can, you simply won't be able to find pizza like they make it in Italy!
Back to the bicycle ride, I would start somewhere by the river, visiting some of the markets and the shops that are just about to open by mid-morning. Florentine streets are narrow, but you should always be able to find somewhere to lock the bicycle during stops. Be equipped with a sense of adventure, and feel free to wander off the beaten track, as somehow it'll always bring you back to the centre anyway. If you prefer, zip around the many piazzas and use speed to your advantage to get to queues early if you like museum hopping.
As the sun starts to sit low, return your bicycle (making note of the closing time where you hired it), and head up to the Piazelle Michelangelo (Michelangelo Hill) by bus. It's a very touristy part of Florence, but find a place to sit down, relax, and enjoy the spectacular changing hues of the sunset as it sails below the beautiful Florentine skyline.
The scenery is breathtaking! The gorgeous beaches, crystal blue water, charming villages, landscapes, castles, tradition. Everything! If you are looking to vacation with a significant other, I definitely suggestion the Maremma!
This hostel isn't in the center of Florence - it's on the outskirts, but there's a free bus shuttle service into the center, and during the hot summer months, the pool and quieter location is a welcome respite from the summer crowds.
The location means you get cheaper room rates and heaps of extras - we loved the swimming pool, restaurant, bar and pretty surrounding olive groves.
We hired bikes and explored other parts of Tuscany - and the hostel organize tours to Pisa, Lucca and San Gimingnano.
Beautiful location, views of Tuscany countryside, great free breakfast, totally relaxing, and it was easy to pop into Florence, despite being in another town!
A beautiful place to stay about 20 minutes away from Florence. The rooms are brightly coloured grungy chic, and the views over Tuscan countryside are truly lovely.
The owners were unobtrusively helpful, and laid on scrumptious breakfasts. Full board was beyond our budget, but on the couple of nights we had dinner there it was stunning - and veggie-friendly. We went away laden with soap made locally from produce grown in the gardens, and a decent bottle of the house wine.
On the very first night of our honeymoon last October, the owners of the agriturismo we stayed at lit our room with candlelight and left a bottle of wine from the estate down the road in our room. We happily drank it, and it was so good we headed off to find the source.
Turns out that wine buffs amongst you may recognise the name - Castello di Nipozzano is owned by the Frescobaldi family. But whether you know the label or not, it's a lovely place to visit - tucked away on the hillsides above Florence with joyous views of rolling Tuscan countryside. They run frequent tours and tastings, or you can just wander round the shop and pick a few choice bottles before emerging again into the sunlight and the good life.
Nipozzano is about 25km east of Florence. The website isn't hugely helpful on visiting but try it: www.frescobaldi.it/en/home.htm
Great restaurant with a great view of the old wall of the city - unique atmosphere!
The restaurant is close to Ponte Vecchio and Piazzale Michelangelo.
via San Niccolò, 55/r
One of the most scenic train journeys you can go on is the train whick links the beautiful Italian cities of Florence and Venice. The first wonderful surprise is the magnificent train station at Florence, a building of architectural worth and beauty in its own right. Get there early for the train and have a snack in the cafeteria while drinking in the rococo decor.
The train itself is superbly clean with comfortable seats and ticket inspectors with stylish uniforms. It feels like a 1960's Italian movie. The scenery is worth watching, no need to take a book to read on this journey. The excitement of arriving in Venice is hard to describe, look forward to walking from the station to the Piazza San Marco (try to arrive just before dusk to see the full magnificence of one of the world's most perfect scenes.......)
Fantastic little restaurant running since 1860 (the whole time with the same family). We had a delicious meal there (pastas around seven euros, salads four, desserts four) and thoroughly enjoyed both the delicious food and the great service and ambience. Highly reccommended.
43-45 Via Sant'Antonio
Il Ghiro is a wonderful little guesthouse situated very centrally, near the main train station in Florence. It is absolutely fantastic. Reasonably priced, clean, great staff, free web access (and that is a real gift here in Italy) and lots of help available finding anything you want to see, great places to eat etc. Run by Francesco and Paula; we have only met Francesco but he is fantastic (and so is Paula, if the recommendations on the wall are anything to go by). Best place yet. Stay here!
Via Faenza 63, 5013 FIRENZE
If you join Friends of the Uffizi you get access to all state run museums in Florence and can go to the top of any queue. Museums include the Uffizi, Accademia, Bargello and San Marco but there is a longer list.
You can join in advance but it is easy to do when you arrive. Membership is for the calendar year and not for 12 months from payment but it is still value for money and encourages you to go to museums 'little and often'. Varied costs but it is 100 Euros for a family.
The office is opposite the main Uffizi entrance in the old post office building.
Florence holds a sumptuous medieval fireworks festival, the 'explosion of the cart', in piazza del Duomo on Easter Sunday. Almost all museums are open (except on Monday when they tend to close anyway), and there's some of the best open-air sightseeing in Europe, with the piazza della Signoria, Ponte Vecchio and piazzale Michelangelo to visit. Most bars and restaurants have terraces or put tables out (many have canopies in case of rain too!).
It's usually warm to very warm spring weather. You can fly direct to Florence from Gatwick with Meridiana or to Pisa (one hour train ride) from Bristol with Easyjet. Both flights are around two hours.
I'm a terrible cook and enrolled in a cooking course in Tuscany much to my husband's delight and I can honestly say I can now cook 'Italian' to a passable standard. I jumped on a mini bus in the centre of Florence at 9.30am and was driven just outside of the city centre into the beautiful green hills of Tuscany. We pulled up at a pretty Tuscan villa where we were introduced to our Italian chef. We got our aprons on and went outside to pick fresh herbs and veg from the gardens, the smells were amazing and the chef made me really think about the importance of using fresh produce for your cooking.
I learned to cook so many dishes and sauces, this course takes you well beyond the spaghetti bolognese. I can now cook a full three-course meal and many other side dishes to a passable quality. The wine flowed and the fact that it was produced from the vineyards in the grounds made it all taste so much better. I had a brilliant time and highly recommend it (so can my husband!). It's a brilliant add-on to a trip to Florence and I'll definitely go back for more lessons later in the year.
Pick up from Florence city centre at 9.30am, just 10 euros return which is well worth the money. Book it online, it's easy - everything works out brilliantly and you only have to pay a deposit.
Ciao Bambino is an online guide to family-friendly vacation properties with many accommodations in Italy. I used them to research a family reunion trip for 17 people. It's easy to use and has age appropriate ratings - this is great if you have toddlers/small children and need things like highchairs, cribs, etc. Many of their properties are apartments with hotel amenities which is a great combo.
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