It’s remarkable how much you can see and do in just one weekend away to Italy. A night at Il Salviatino and then a night at Palazzo Victoria treated me to a concentrated hit of two of the world’s most cultured cities with a restorative whirl in the countryside, plus a good measure of cocktails, and even a pilgrimage to my namesake’s balcony…
Florence, the original Renaissance city, doesn’t hang about when it comes to treating foreigners to the kind of scenes that make city breaks in Italy so appealing. Pastel-painted palazzi peeping around almost every corner and cultural landmarks as historically significant as they are a delight to look at. The best part of visiting this Tuscan city today is that the main piazzas have been pedestrianised so you can stare gormlessly in awe without fear of being mown down by a Vespa. (Check out this video of the Duomo.)
Poker-straight cypress trees on Fiesole’s hilltops stood sentry as we climbed Firenze’s green, green outskirts up into its most distinguished neighbourhood. Here the pristine 15th-centuryvilla presides over perfectly groomed Italian gardens. Still, you never forget your coordinates; gaze out of the bedrooms down to the terracotta roofs below and you can admire the whole of Florence in wide screen, complete with the Duomo’s mighty noggin poking up. Inside the feel is of easy elegance, where nothing is too shiny or too showy, but you know this oak-floored haven has been created with the most discerning travellers in mind. Double rooms from £398.03 (€501), excluding tax at 10 per cent
Eating and drinking
Aperitivo hour is always enjoyable in Italy, but especially so when the hotel’s resident barman is one of the country’s leading mixologists. It was almost as much fun being taught how to rustle up an Aperol Spritz (half a glass of prosecco, a generous glug of neon-orange Aperol, topped off with a couple of fingers of soda water) as drinking them. Cin cin! Set out along the main terrace in full red-checked-tablecloth glory was La Tavola Toscana, Il Salviatino’s new communal-dining experience every Tuesday night, which treats eaters to a parade of traditional flavours and dishes. Plied with local Veroni wine, we felt as though we were lucky guests at the wedding of a local dignitary… such as bruschetta on a spoon, panzanella dumpling, tempura of buffalo ricotta cheese, gnudi ricotta e spinaci, Mora Romagnola sausage, beef sirloin steak and much more.
Swimming and spa time
Ahem. And what better tonic the morning after being duty-bound to try so much local food and drink than an amble down to the spa? Here the rectangles of heated turquoise overlooking the valley and its pine trees aplenty beg you to slip fully into holiday mode. The swimming pool is reason alone to schedule an afternoon staying put at this hotel with duties no more taxing than being asked by your therapist to choose from house-blend aromatherapy potions based on organic olive oil themed ‘energy’, ‘balance’, ‘relax’. If you don’t have time for a massage, frankly the ablutions in your own ensuite are likely to feel a cut-above with sit-down rain showers with white LED installations which are more art installation that common-or-garden bathroom fitting… add to that Frette bath sheets to swaddle yourself in after.
We got to Verona by train: Campo di Marte is less than 15 minutes’ drive from the hotel. The journey to Verona Porta Nuova is only 90 minutes…
The Romans once rested their shields and spears in Verona, leaving behind an impressive cultural and architectural footprint: mediaeval palaces, fresco-festooned churches and of course, the ancient Arena. Shakespeare chose to set his tragedy, Romeo & Juliet, in this historic city, and no wonder: these are streets to fall in love in.
Positioned at the original Roman entrance to this northern Italian city, the Porta dei Borsari, are these three (actually, in a way, four) mediaeval villas. Recently transformed by the same family behind Il Salviatino, here are original eye-popping frescos, parquet wooden floors and beamed ceilings all brought back to life. Marco Pigozzo is one of the brothers (along with Marcello) breathing new life into the hotel and enhancing it with bespoke designer furniture. He remembers playing here as a boy, and then after an international upbringing, decided to make Verona his family’s new base splashing out a significant amount on the properties, and lavishing a lot extra too on the renovations. Double rooms from £233.29 (€294), excluding tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €3.00 per person per night on check-out.
Strolling and Shakespeare
Verona exudes culture, but it never feels riddled with tourists, even in high season. As someone named Juliet, I couldn’t resist heading towards the spurious landmark that is ‘her balcony’, especially as it’s only a few minutes’ walk away. Boutique-lined cobbled street Corso Porta Borsari was alive with street performers, somehow of a higher calibre than in other destinations. Even if it’s peak season the sugar-almond-coloured mediaeval facades surrounding market stalls and showmen in Piazza delle Erbe are what steal the show. Yes, I know Romeo and Juliet are fictional, but it was still fun seeing the stone balcony at Casa di Giulietta, a 14th-century house said to have belonged to the Capuleti family. Love messages scrawled across a graffiti-riddled wall and padlocks left as tributes are part of the romance – I skipped the €20 charge to actually head up to the balcony itself and saved most of my breath to have it taken around the corner at Verona Arena. Here, the first-century Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Brà is almost as impressive as Rome’s and in summer, opera lovers hit these benches for Verdi to Bizet.
Wine-sipping and wonder
Venturing out to Valpolicella for a lunch and tasting at Allegrini Wine Estate proved the ideal edifying (and edible) excursion from Verona. A perfectly preserved Roman villa, where the staff talked with a captivating amount of knowledge about the reds the family here produces from its vines. Villa della Torre’s ancient Roman heritage has been pristinely revived, and as tourist-friendly as it is, it’s soothingly free of anything as tacky as signs for the gift shop. It’s a sophisticated authentic window into Allegrini’s wine production. Our lunch was teamed with tastes of delicious full-bodied vintages including a very special Brunello and Amarone as moreish as the pile of nutty local crumb cake, sbrisolona.
To plan a two-stop stay in Italy at these two hotels, contact our Smith24 team.