This is a fantastic bar on the edge of the centre of Florence, right next to Piazza Beccaria. The best things about it are the atmosphere and price. As it isn't in the very centre, you only ever come across proper young Florentines (and you can avoid all the tourists if that's what you want). The deco isn't too bad either. For six euros you can buy a cocktail and an aperitivo - they are definitely not stingy with the food. The mood is very laid back and very very italian.
Viale Antonio Gramsci, 3/r
In these times of security threats, delays, cancellations and concerns about air travel in general, I can recommend European train travel with great pleasure, having enjoyed a memorable journey from Rome to Berlin this summer - all trains ran on time to the minute and reserved seats were waiting; the view from the window constantly changed as we sped through Tuscany, the Alps, across Austria, along the Elbe river valley and finally to Berlin. We had a pleasant lunch on one journey, chatted to a charming Californian couple on another, but generally watched the world go by while listening to music on an ipod (me) or reading a book (my wife). At the end of each journey, we were relaxed and ready for whatever each new city had in store for us, stopping in Florence, Salzburg, Vienna and Prague on the way. It may cost a little more than charter flights but the rewards are substantial.
Start with a copy of Thomas Cook's European railway timetable and plan your route. Find a independent rail operator - Rail Canterbury (www.rail-canterbury.co.uk) are highly recommended. Create your own ideal journey.
A beautiful Pensione in a small square south of the river - it's on the 4th floor and has a fantastic loggia on two sides of the building. Very simple, basic rooms - clean but no mod cons, yet that's the joy. You really feel like you're staying in an authentic pensione, not a hermetically sealed hotel.
Piazza Santo Spirito 9, Oltrarno;
Spent a few months in Florence as a student back in the 90s, a wonderful city which can be more beautiful out of season, even if the weather isn't so good. If you get a chance, try the little city of Fiesole a short bus ride up into the hills. It has a Roman amphitheatre which is still used and some delightful restaurants. A great day out if you want to get away from the busy streets of Firenze!
Fiesole us 5 miles (8km) from Florence. Bus no. 7 travels there from Piazza del Duomo. www.arca.net/tourism/toscana/fiesole.htm
My wife and I went to Florence. Our first evening, we went looking for a restaurant. The big restaurants in the squares were obvious tourist traps, so we went exploring the alleys. We found a fantastic little hole-in-the-wall restaurant where no-one spoke English. Neither of us spoke Italian, but we managed to have a wonderful meal including "una litro de vino russo de casa" (told you I don't speak Italian) - and it cost very little.
Next evening, we went looking for the place but could not find it. But we found another small place run by a woman, her son and his daughter. Bright and clean - and, despite the language barriers, we had no problem ordering a fantastic meal that cost us very little.
And, wandering these gloomy little back alleys, at no time did I feel we were in any danger.
Everyone knows about the queues to get in and that even an early arrival doesn't seem to help - all of the groups are there too, apparently. If you want to avoid paying extra to cut down on the waiting time, simply wait until mid-afternoon before going. We went at about 3.30 and waited for about 20 minutes in a rapidly moving queue. The Sistine Chapel was still packed but it was worth it for the attendants who repeatedly "shshshed" everyone and boomed "Silence!" in a deep cross-teacher voice. The ceiling is worth the neck-straining.
St Peter's Square - follow the signs;
This restaurant served the best authentic Italian meal we've ever had. Get there early as a queue builds up rapidly for the fresh, very generous portions of seafood, great pasta/pizzas and the biggest fruit salad you have ever seen - all served on huge hand-painted plates. Throw in live music in different parts of this buzzing square (everything from choirs to Afro-Cuban music), entertaining service and low prices, and you have the ingredients for a memorable evening out. Highly recommended.
Piazza Santa Spirito, south of the Ponte Vecchio;
tel: 055 210 437
An estate run by the same family for generations. Absolutely spectacular scenery and beautiful old tuscan buildings that have been converted into self catering apartments of all sizes. Their service is astounding. From providing a chef, to helping you with shopping and transport. July sees the estate host an international music festival of brilliant quality in picturesque surroundings.
In the Tuscan countryside, a few miles south of Montepulciano. Visit www.lafoce.com
Colletts is a company that specialises in activity holidays to the Dolomites, they operate in Arabba near Ortisei and also in Pedraces. You can go in summer for walking and now in winter for skiing, snowshoeing and other activities. The best thing about this company is the quality of the front line staff - most are young and enthusiastic and nothing is too much trouble. We arrived at 2.30am after a horrendous journey over the mountain passes, and not only was a member of staff waiting to greet us, he had a wonderful cold platter of food, and hot drinks waiting for us, all with a smile. This is a chalet type of holiday where you can dip in and out of activities as you like. Have a look at their website, the photos alone will make you want to go.
Beautiful frescos and ambience. Step back in time. Opened in 1720. If it was good enough for Casanova, Lord Byron, Proust and Rousseau, its good enough for me!
Piazza San Marco, facing the Basilica, it is on the right hand side about half way along;
tel: (041) 520 5641;
Last October (2005) for our second trip to Italy we booked a week at the Alessandra in Florence. We planned to spend the week on foot visiting the many churches and museums and just enjoying this beautiful and historical city we had briefly visited the year before. We spent a little more and booked their Suite Boccio which gave us a lot of relaxing space to rest and to drop off purchases between our many excursions. The suite, which has a balcony with a wonderful view of the Arno River, made for a most pleasant stay. The rooms were very clean. We didn't find the steps up to be a problem (we're in our upper 60's), especially when we realised we were staying in a very old building, built before elevators, rather than in some modern, no character and no personality hotel. "Mamma" and sons were very accommodating and suggested delightful places for dinners. They were always willing to help with any questions and concerns that arose. We found the Alessandra, as well as the three other hotels in Italy we stayed at during this trip through TripAdvisor, and all exceeded our expectations.
This restaurant is a true Roman restaurant. Its pasta is the best you will ever find. It’s a loud hustle and bustle kinda place - great for quick yet delicious dinners. I go to Rome every year and I have to tell you that if we stay for six days, we eat as Da Francesco on at least four of them. It’s truly great – trust me!
Piazza del Fico, No. 29, just off the Piazza Navonna, down the street from Piazza della Pace; tel. 66864009. No credit cards
Stayed at the Hotel Forum in Rome this June and enjoyed a wonderful week in this beautiful city.
The hotel is centrally located, right opposite the Forum, excellent for visiting all major sites.
Room and service were great too, so I would definitely use this hotel again and can recommend it to friends.
Nice family place to stay for the night. Close to shopping centre, restaurants, beaches and Ostia Antica (ancient harbour city). I suggest you try it...
5km from Fiumicino Airport 5km
Around 45 minutes from the centre of Rome.
Via Monte Vies 4 Fiumicino (Rm)
It is as easy to lose yourself in the alleys as it is to find yourself again. A little piazza may suddenly appear through a Byzantine archway, with a fountain splashing under the washed-out blue of a hot Venetian noon.
Time for lunch before the hours of rest when all Italy slides into a soporific afternoon to arise refreshed for the evening. To walk through the echoing alleyways at this time is to have Venice for yourself. Small arched bridges with parapets of crumbling stone and steps worn hollow in the middle reach over ancient canals. Green water barely moves on the step of an old doorway, whose timbers have baked and slumbered through countless Venetian summers. A nearby church offers sanctuary from the heat and a moment to sit in the cool darkness and wonder how much longer before Venice succumbs to the inevitable.
The gondola epitomises Venice, but avoid the temptation of going on an impossibly expensive journey around the canals with a gondolier who looks like an extra from a stage set. Instead, use the gondola as the locals do, as a ferry across the Grand Canal for literally a few pence. Don’t sit down, stand up like the locals do.
The Grand Canal
Hotels like the Do Pozzi, which in the 13th Century was a convent, have gradually been subject to the ravages of decay as the waters of the lagoon have seeped into their foundations. Windows are no longer rectangular as walls have sunk, and floors slope in such a way as to give occupants a pronounced limp.
It is said Byron swam the Grand Canal in Venice, Browning made love in Venice and Hemmingway got drunk in Venice. Probably in Harry’s Bar. Original art deco with waiters and martinis to match the glasses and olives. If you want to arrange to meet someone in Venice do it in style and do it here in Harry’s Bar, but be prepared to pay for it.
And it’s easy to find: just around the corner from the Bridge of Sighs where, according to Byron, prisoners gazed their last on freedom as they crossed the bridge from the Courts of the Doge’s Palace to their cells.
Calle Vallaresso, 1323, Venice, 30124 (in the neighbourhood of Giudeica)
tel: +39 41 528 5777;
nearest Station: San Marco linee 1 - 52 - 82 Act
Witness the opulence of Carnevale, originally a celebration representing the last opportunity to feast before the abstinence of Lent. What makes Venice’s Carnival different is the atmosphere created by the masks and costumes worn during this time. In the eighteenth century the sinister garb of the black cloak, tricorn hat and white mask gave anonymity to those who wished to indulge in misdemeanours and debauchery, irrespective of class or creed. It is impossible not to be aware of the existence of Carnevale at any time of the year with mask decorations, posters and street theatre reminding you of the festival. Although today’s festivals are but a shadow of those of days gone by, it is the one time of the year when this relatively subdued city comes to life.
In Venice itself, it is worth visiting the Ghetto, originally the name for the tip where rubble and cinders from the foundry were dumped. Here, the Jews came in the early 1500s to escape persecution. Hemmed in on all sides, taxed severely, forced to wear distinctive clothing and subject to a curfew, they continued to live in an increasingly hostile world.
Today the Ghetto is a poor and shabby remnant with only a few dozen of the Jewish faith living there, but it is the poignant series of reliefs in the square commemorating the deportation of Venetian Jews to the Nazi death camps that is worth seeing. If anywhere is a place of peace in Venice, then this is it.
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