Having sampled the Italian south coast a few years ago, we fell in love with Italy. The food, the culture, the lifestyle, so any excuse we can get to venture back to the boot we will. Hence when we got the opportunity to head to Tuscany, we were off!
Our time in Florence began at the SoprArno suites. A 16th century palace turned luxury B&B featuring 10 rooms designed to be as unique and unusual as the other.
Our room, lovingly nicknamed the ‘travel room’, was just mesmerising. The room led off a communal living space, reserved only for the guests staying on this floor. A cosy, mismatched area that is uniquely thought out and made complete with little details. Pictures, quotes, dozens of books and a large slash window, allowing light to flood in from the courtyard. Simply idyllic.
Upon entering the ‘travel room’ the first map to grace you is the London tube map, a section of the district line to be exact. A sentiment from Betty (the wonderful owner’s) time in London, or perhaps it was just meant to be that we stayed in this room, having both use that tube line daily when living in London. As you turn the corner into the main body of the room, the enormity of the room and the vast, expansive height is breathtaking. In the centre is a four – poster bed and to the right a free standing roll top bath in full view and part of the rooms decor. The high frescoed ceilings contrasted by modern artefacts, maps of Italy plus an entire catalogue of natural geographic magazines, further enhance the travel room synergy. The space is eclectic, a mix of traditional Italian and a love of travel via maps of the world, train lines, tube maps, places we’d been and places we’d love to visit. Adding such charm to the room and reigniting that fire to travel.
The next morning we were treated to a breakfast of croissants, coffee and a selection of continental delights in a homely dining room come café located on the ground floor. Whilst eating you can’t help but be intrigued by the interior, a what looks like random selection of framed Tesco bags, London restaurant menu’s, Italian menu’s, fast food packaging, and receipts from places Betty and her husband have visited or wish to. It is fantastically odd, putting a smile to our faces.
Later that afternoon we went to explore the artisanal neighbourhood of Oltrarno. Simply meaning south of the River Arno, it is located on the quieter, yet equally as charming side of the water. It is a quarter packed full of arty shops, museums and bakeries. It is home to both the Palazzo Pitti and Piazza Santa Spirito, and leads on to greener spaces perfect for picnics and bike rides. It is also on this side of the river that you will find the famous Piazzale Michelangelo, to which we took the scenic route. We came across a small village square filled with small eateries and locals enjoying the late summer sun. We grabbed a quick sandwich and a beer, pulling up a stool to sit on the pavement outside the aptly named ‘Panini & Vini’. A great find for a pit stop.
From here it was a long, steep walk up a hillside to the Piazzale. Halfway up the steps you’ll find the beautiful Giardino delle Rose, garden of roses. A peaceful mid way point to break up your climb. Once at the top I promise the climb is worth it! If, however, the climb is too much there are frequent buses from the town centre to the top. Not surprisingly, it is a popular destination for both locals and tourists so bare that in mind. Perhaps an early morning visit could be best or if like us you are visiting out of season, it isn’t quite so busy. The views stretch wide across the city of Florence and onto the surrounding towns, Lucca and Siena. The beauty of the architecture is even more dazzling from the sky. If you have time, there are plenty of places dotted around the vicinity to take in the views with a much needed prosecco or two!!
After a delightful stay at SoprArno suites we were off to enjoy a further 2 nights at Betty Soldi’s second guest house, AdAstra Florence. Staying in the Oltrarno quarter, just a short walk away is the picturesque Via Del Campuccio, along which sits the imperial Hôtel Particulier AdAstra.
“Historically not a hotel but a type of urban mansion for aristocrats, an elegant private home used as a city escape from their country dwelling” (AdAstra Florence) Behind the facade lies the simply stunning Giardino Torrigiani, the largest private garden in Europe. A true hidden oasis that dates back to the 16th Century. To the left is the grand entrance, a sweeping red carpet leads up to the first floor. “AdAstra occupies the first floor of the ancestral family mansion, where the main rooms and the splendid salon are surrounded by a magnificent terrace” (AdAstra Florence). The hotel comprises of 7 bedrooms in the main house and 2 situated in a private cottage immersed in the Torrigiani gardens.
Our room, no.3, was everything and more. Entered into by an oversized cast iron key only adds to the drama and romance of your experience in AdAstra. Our room was just heavenly. The endlessly high ceilings and spacious design added to the opulence. The central super king size bed sits beneath a gigantic chandelier, facing floor to ceiling double doors that open onto your own private section of the blissful terrace. The room, as with all the rooms, comes complete with the added indulgence of a free standing roll top bath. The crisp, white tiled bathroom feels fresh yet indulgent. The rainfall walk-in shower, towel bathrobes, O and double chocolate biscotti left on your pillow… please can I never leave.
The rooms are all individually furnished in the style of the Italian 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. The walls are an amalgamation of Betty’s original works and calligraphy quotes, mixed with suggestions to and by contemporary artists all of which marry together in their own unique way.
The room leads out onto a private area of the terrace reserved for you. A picture perfect setting to enjoy a lazy morning or a glass of wine. The terrace wraps around the entire rear of the hôtel, catering for breakfast in the summer months as well as afternoons spent relaxing on the cushioned wicker furniture. Letting the hours drift away under the parasol gazing out over this private sanctuary, minutes from the bustling centre yet feels a millions miles from anywhere.
Later that evening we were invited to dine at ’The Tower’ restaurant in the beautiful Antica Torre Di Via Tornabuoni no.1. Situated across the bridge from Oltrarno, into the centre of Florence. The Tower is located at the top of the hotel. Enclosed by glass windows, the restaurant comes complete with panoramic views. Sitting level with the Brunelleschi Dome of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, it makes for dining in the skyline a truly magical experience.
We were met by hostess Mayra, the soul of the restaurant. From beginning to end she was a delight, her knowledge of the menu and indeed the city was second to none. Her wine recommendations come highly recommended, as does the food! We enjoyed chef specials of grilled octopus and butternut squash soup to start. River opted for the steak for main while I was treated to a new fish dish the chef had been working on. Without much persuasion we both indulged in desert, the pannacotta was just too irresistible. We finished our drinks out on the open air terrace connected to the restaurant, open to dine on in the summer months. Before we left Mayra led us to a secret rooftop specially reserved for guests of the hotel, a mesmerising hideaway high above the city. The perfect spot to see the city by night. Our evening at Antica Torre di Via Tornabuoni no.1 was exceptional. The service, the food and the views; a night we will most definitely remember.
The next morning, after enjoying a continental breakfast on the terrace of AdAstra, we went off to explore the centre of Florence. It is a city full of ornate and elaborate architecture. The buildings renovated into many high end, luxury retailers and gelaterias. Cafe’s, museums and traditional Italian cuisine line the narrow streets that all lead in some way to the superb Il Duomo di Firenze or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore.
The magnificent renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi stands high above the city. The marbled exterior is truly extraordinary. For around €20 each (online) you can buy a ticket that gains you entry to explore inside the cathedral itself, the adjacent museum which delves into the history of the church and access to climb to the very top of the Dome. Not for the fainthearted or claustrophobic for sure but once you are up the extremely narrow and in parts steep staircase, the birds-eye views panning across Florence and Tuscany are incredible. A unique way to experience the cathedral if you are feeling brave enough…
Close by to AdAstra is Santo Spirito. A small square full of restaurants, a local church and a popular hang out for locals. Diana, the wonderful host at AdAstra told us we must try this square for lunch, a restaurant called Tameró in particular. Making fresh pasta daily this affordable yet quirky pasta bar is a must. The restaurant is filled with inviting cooking aromas and eclectic decor, it’s no wonder the place is packed with diners hungry for a taste of their modern renditions from across Italy. River opted for the classic lasange while I chose the spinach and ricotta filled ravioli with sage butter. It has to be said, the best pasta I have eaten to date. Really delicious, fresh and fast. I highly recommend visiting this square, and especially Tameró.
Florence offers two unique sides to a charming city. A tourist rich side of tradition and architecture, and an arty, cultural side to showcase the wonderful history. A romantic, beautiful and interesting city that begs to be explored. We will most definitely be visiting again. Grazie e arrivederci!