Ready to slow down, absorb history and soak up some amazing pasta and chianti? Florence (“town of flowers”) is in the heart of Italy’s Tuscany region, the largest producer of chianti (red table wine), and home to hundreds of trattorias and tavernas making their own delicious housemade pasta with a side of caprese salad.
Getting There/ COVID Protocols
Plan on a flight with three legs. There’s a myriad of options, depending on where you’re leaving from in Texas (DFW and Houston will have options with only two legs). One example is Austin-Atlanta-Paris-Florence or Austin-JFK-Amsterdam-Florence.
Many Texans have put their international travel on hold since the start of the pandemic (as did we), and the COVID protocols do seem daunting (but as of the writing of this article, Italy just dropped the requirement of submitting a negative COVID test). However, once you have a roadmap, you can navigate the necessities and the trip makes the hoops you have to jump through more than worthwhile.
The Italian Way
Drenched in some of the world’s most varied and scenic landscapes, Italy promises adventure, beauty and (arguably, most importantly) delicious cuisine. In Italy, you treat eating and drinking as one of the most joyful pleasures in life. You eat in the company of people you love. Salute! Cin cin!
This country offers plenty of options to make your trip an unforgettable one – from luxurious beach getaways in Viareggio to an exhilarating passeggiata (a walk with friends) through the streets of Florence. Here, we’ll share the mette in risalto (highlights) of our favorite hotels, restaurants and tours.
3 Outstanding Hotels
#1. The New Kid on the Block
Dimora Palanca is a new kid on the busy block in Florence. Opening in August 2021, this 18-room boutique hotel is part of the Mr. & Mrs. Smith Collection. It sits on a busy thoroughfare but is only a 20-minute walk into the heart of Florence. The hotel is uber-refined and has a walled courtyard that you’ll want to spend your time in (aperitivo, anyone?), with a cappuccino or glass of wine. The staff is small but mighty, at your every whim.
As is common in Europe, and the case for all hotels we’ll feature here, get the B&B package so you have breakfast included. It’s such a treat to wake up and just head down to a full breakfast. This is not a simple continental breakfast; you get to order from a full menu. Note that in Italy, it’s not common to find regular coffee (like we drink in the States) with free refills. You’ll typically be ordering a cappuccino, Americano or full-on espresso. And, as with all meals in Tuscany, you’ll enjoy just taking your time con calma, no rushing,with this splendid start to your day.
The onsite dinner restaurant, Mimesi, is subterranean and absolutely superb for a real indulgence. Try their tasting menu, which will gently and slowly traverse 5, 7 or 9 courses (approx. $375 per couple). The small plates are true works of art! Enjoy each delectable bite, paired with an ideal Tuscan wine.
This 19th century location is a work of art in and of itself. With striking frescos painted on the ceilings and elaborate lighting hanging in every room, you’ll will simply soak up la dolce vita in each and every aspect of Dimora Palanca.
#2. Grand and Historic
For a completely different vibe, enjoy the grand and historic Antica Torre di Via Tornabuoni n.1 which sits on the famous Arno River that cuts through Florence. With its long name and memorable location (near the famous Ponte Vecchio), this hotel is on one of the poshest retail streets in Florence, next to shops like Gucci, Dior and Montblanc Jewelers. The tower (torre in Italian) shares space with commercial offices but you do not feel that during your stay.
The monstrous wooden doors that sit on Via Tornabuoni (via = street) open up into a simple foyer and you take the elevator up to a floor of amply-sized rooms. What feels like a maze of hallways and doors has the allure of a glamorous castle. As you head to your room, you’ll pass small lending libraries around every corner. Ask for a room that overlooks the Arno and you’ll enjoy people watching from a balcony vista all day and night. Because this tower was the private residence of a noble family in the Renaissance, each guest room is unique.
The hero of this house (run by the Rusconi Clerici family, it really does feel like a grand Italian home), is the rooftop terrace that has the most awe-striking views of Florence. Nearly a 360-degree view of the Firenze rooftops, a full gaze of the Arno River and views of famous tourist attractions of the city, such as the Duomo, this terrace has both an outdoor and indoor option to suit any season. Inside, you’ll find a comfy living room aesthetic with an honor bar (staffed each evening) where you can enjoy an aperitivo, bring your own dinner (pro tip: purchase a bottle of wine for around $10 and fresh pasta from a nearby market), or gaze out on the city drenched in darkness with a sprinkling of lights.
Breakfast is served buffet style with offerings of eggs, bacon, waffles (served with tiny little Nutella jars), vibrant fresh fruit bowls and other European delicacies. Enjoy your breakfast with a view, sipping a cappuccino and being fully present.
This hotel is ideally situated to walk the streets of Florence (head across the bridge to the Santo Spirito district), and is just doors down from one of the city’s most beautiful gothic cathedrals, Basilica di Santa Trinità featuring frescoes of the life of St. Francis. Amble around the narrow streets lined with family-owned tavernas, shops for any need and gelato stands.
#3. The Unique German Newcomer
The new 25hours Piazza San Paolino is one of the most unique hotels you’ll encounter. Hailing from Germany, each 25hours hotel has a unique theme. In Florence, the theme is based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Half of the rooms represent a paradiso theme with soft blue and white colors; with the other half of rooms have a hell motif, filled with bright red everything!
Opened in September 2021, the hotel (whose original building is from the 1600s) was a former monastery (of all things!), sat vacant for 20 years and is now a four-star hotel creating loads of buzz.
The hotel’s Companion Bar and its restaurant, San Paolino, have become popular with locals and for good reason. The vibe is hip and the food is superb! Try a truffle fried egg (Italy’s truffle oil is what culinary dreams are made of), the yellow squash and parmigiano Reggiano brulee, and their risotto and purple potato gnocchi will melt in your mouth. If you’re in the mood for protein, La Bistecca alla Florentina is a winner. Pair that with the memorable potato puree with Parmesan gratin for a meal you will scribe into your diary.
A Tuscan Vineyard Tour
As per the Italian way of life, we recommend keeping your days fairly free of a set itinerary and just going where the day takes you. However, one exception to that is you really should book a Tuscan vineyards tour with GetYourGuide (they offer tours all over the world.) The Chianti Wineries Tour takes you on a 5.5-hour bus tour, visiting two wineries and the opportunity to soak up the Tuscan countryside.
Typically, the tour will begin from a set plaza location, you’ll board a comfortable bus with others, and enjoy the guide’s history and culture tips while you ride. Many of the Tuscan wineries are family-owned, going back generations, and produce both white and red varietals. At each winery, you’ll taste a sampling of several different wines. Note: Italians are said to each drink on average 40 L (10.5 gallons) of wine per year with Italy the world’s largest wine producer. Wine is meant to heighten the culinary experience.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
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Marika Flatt, Outstanding Austin Communicator 2021, is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She began her travel writing career with Austin Woman Magazine when it premiered in the fall of 2002. Now, she writes “The Texas Traveler” section for Austin Woman Magazine and can be seen on TV shows across Texas, offering travel tips.