Heading off to Florence, Italy’s most beautiful city - and staying in a glamorous hotel - makes for an unforgettable girls' weekend
A long weekend in Florence with my best and oldest girlfriend - what could be better? The plan was simple: pure self-indulgence. So we ate and drank like never before, reminisced about old times, stayed in utterly gorgeous hotels and did as much - or as little - as we pleased. We stayed in three very different hotels - admittedly a lot to squeeze into one weekend and quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing - so here's an overview of all of them and you can choose whichever one you like the sound of most if you're looking to book a stay.
Each hotel is brimming with wow factors. There’s the elegant, contemporary Hotel Savoy, smack-bang in the city centre and probably best located for sight-seeing; the new Four Seasons (opened summer 2008), a sigh-inducing 15th-century Renaissance palazzo that rivals the Uffizi in the ornate stakes; and the out-of-town Villa San Michele, a dreamily romantic former monastery nestled on a hilltop (although it wasn’t that sort of trip!).
Our first base was Hotel Savoy (where doubles cost from around €260). Located on the corner of a lively central square, Piazza della Repubblica, it has wide stone corridors, a sweeping central staircase and chic, smart rooms. Ours was spacious and filled with light, with a large marble bathroom and views right over the busy square below, where people spill out of cafés onto pavements. Decked out by designer Olga Polizzi, the hotel pays tribute to the city’s high fashion status with quirky images and models of shoes dotted around.
We ended up our first evening enjoying a limoncello on the terrace as locals and tourists strolled past, their conversation wafting through the night air. The next night we had dinner in the hotel’s L'Incontro restaurant, where I devoured spinach and ricotta-filled gnocchi that was as light as air, followed by braised wild boar in a rich sauce. Lip smackingly good.
Must-see attractions like the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi and Duomo are just a short stroll away from Hotel Savoy and we ticked all three off our list on the first day. The location cannot be topped. While Florence is ideal to explore on foot, we also embarked on a Segway city tour - a two-wheeled, electric ‘personal transporter’. The sensation of controlling the machine by leaning forwards, backwards and turning the handlebar was bizarre, but once we got the hang of it the experience was great fun. We whizzed along narrow cobbled streets in single file, listening to a commentary from our group leader through personal headsets while trying to ignore the laughter and gawps from passers by.
Our next destination was Four Seasons Firenze (doubles from around €328), a jaw-dropping 15th-century palace that resembles a museum or gallery more closely than a hotel. Who needs the Uffizi when you can actually stay in a living, breathing work of art? The hotel opened in 2008 after seven years of painstaking restoration and has quickly established itself as the most glamorous address in Florence. Unusually for a city hotel, it’s set in acres of manicured private gardens with a beautiful outdoor pool and spa, but the main sights of Florence are only a 10-minute stroll away, so it's not too far away from the action.
The spa is a real draw at the Four Seasons - it's the first to use products from Officina Profumo–Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the world's oldest pharmacies, which follows traditional recipes of 13th-century monks. And the dazzling interiors throughout the hotel make staying here a truly unique experience, with soaring walls and crystal chandeliers everywhere you look, and vaulted ceilings covered in original frescoes and dotted around.
Bedrooms are located in the Conventino, a former 16th-century convent, and the Palazzo Della Gherardesca, a 15th-century palace. When shown the Royal Suite, my jaw hit the floor and my friend “ooed” and “aahed”. It’s obscenely luxurious - with a price tag to match - and comprises over 2,500 square feet of rooms stuffed with invaluable art and elaborate frescoes depicting angels. There’s a grand piano in the ‘gallery’, exquisite park views and an original deep marble bath as the pièce de resistance in the enormous main bathroom.
That night we had a superb meal in the hotel’s lavish Il Palagio restaurant, rounded off with a ‘violet bomb’ dessert - a delicate, purple sugary ball that, once pierced with a spoon, oozed out melting ice cream. A show stopper and highly recommended!
The Tuscan trip ended on a high note at Hotel Villa San Michele (doubles from around €600), an Orient-Express hotel in the hilltop town of Fiesole, five miles north of Florence. We hired a car at the end of our trip so we could explore the Tuscan countryside independently, and so we drove to the hotel, but it does provide a free, regular shuttle service to and from the centre of Florence that only takes around 10 minutes, so having a car is not imperative. Home to Roman and Etruscan remains, Fiesole boasts genuinely breathtaking vistas over the city’s spires, domes and bridges. Surrounded by scented lemon trees, roses and terraced gardens, the hotel was once a monastery and its 15th-century facade is attributed to Michelangelo.
Inside, bedrooms and suites are simple and elegant, and some have private gardens. Villa San Michele rates among the most romantic hotels in the world and has apparently been the idyllic setting for countless marriage proposals. Who could say no in such a glorious place? It also has a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere, thanks not least to the general manager, Luca Finardi, who’s among the most charming and likeable I’ve met on my travels.
We donned our prettiest dresses for an alfresco dinner on the terrace, admiring the view as the sun set and the hills and red roofs changed colour. Against the backdrop of city lights twinkling in the darkness, we gossiped and tucked into tender veal with shaved truffles and a pink rack of lamb, washed down with fine Tuscan wine. Local cheeses followed. If you’re really serious about food, the hotel has a renowned cookery school offering courses including pasta making. It's a stunning place to stay, ideal for a romantic escape, although not centrally located in Florence.
Florence is fabulous for a short break and these three hotels help make it even more special, whether for girls who just wanna have fun like on my trip, families, singles or couples.
Swiss Air have a thrice daily service to Florence from the UK and Dublin (via Zurich), from around £150 return. www.swiss.com, +44 845 601 0956.
Meridiana, www.meridiana.it, is currently the only airline that flies direct from London to Florence.
Alternatively, low-cost airlines including Easyjet, www.easyjet.com, fly to Pisa airport, 60 miles (97km) west of Florence, from where you can get a train or low-cost bus transfer.
We hired a car for a day with Europe, www.europcar.com, for around €50.