Florence also known as Firenze is easily the most romantic city (save for Venice that we visited).
I must say the name of our hotel Hotel Rocco Forte- Savoy did not sound either impressive or grand and this was definitely the city I was least looking forward to traveling to! We arrived early in the morning as we were only spending 2 nights and wanted to make the best use of our very short trip! The hotel was barely a 5 minute cab drive away and the streets looked quaint and original… maybe our day could turn out to be pretty great!
We had arrived quite early and with a broken suitcase in tow- not exactly the ideal start to a super 2 days. As we entered the hotel and the room was not ready! Wow after a long train ride, no breakfast and carting a broken suitcase- this day was wasn’t getting any better. And then we went outside- a perfect Piazza (Piazza della Republica) complete with a musical merry-go-round and the nicest cafes surrounded us. With grey skies, threatening to rain sitting in a cafe with a warm cappuccino suddenly Firenze became the most romantic city in Italy- I guess when we were less hungry we actually appreciate the subtle beauty, the calm perfection of this very old yet extremely modern city! We finished a leisurely breakfast and headed to the a multi brand super store, – Rinascente in the Piazza open perfectly early- and lo and behold , we found the perfect suitcase.
We dragged that back to the hotel , only to have been met by a very apologetic General Manager. We should have been shown our room immediately, he apologized. After all what was the use of being A Leaders Club Member if we couldn’t be treated special. Room upgrade in place with a fabulous view of the amazing Piazza della Republica , Day 1 was about finding the Statue of David. I had bought these tickets online and this really helped. The day was rainy but the Gallery in the prestigious centre of the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità, one of the most ancient lay fraternal orders of the city. This meant we passed yet another beautiful Duomo (Cathedral). The destination was close and in 5 minutes we reached the Uffizzi Art Gallery. The Gallery was a celebration of art and colours and Masters and had an enviable collection of Venetian paintings from Veneto as well, from the Bizantine and Gothic fourteenth century; but I have to admit, I was keen on seeing Michaelangelo’s David.
This was a 10 minute walk the other way (our Piazza being almost a central point) and the line to see David was very long. However since we had our tickets which we’d exchanges at the Florence Accademia there was no line at all and we saw envious glances of those huddling up in the line , cold and wet because it was such a rainy, rainy day!
David was magnificent. Strong, posed and perfect, he stood confident and majestic. The guards there allowed a few photographs but none with flash and I was delighted to have been treated to this remarkable sculpture! On the way out you see a fake David with coloured hair and neon body parts staring at you and you can’t help but be overawed by the simplicity and beauty that you had just witnessed! And then it was time for gelato on a cold , rainy day and some fabulous shopping!
Hotel Rocco Forte is in the centre of the city and surrounded by high-end boutiques and fabulous Italian designers. Spoiled for choice the rest of the evening was about trying clothes, shopping and indulging our little extravagances. A few hours later we found a beautiful restaurant and with a nice warm drink and some bubbly and some impeccably made Italian food we treated ourselves to a personal, perfect romantic dinner.
Florence was perfect. Luxury and romance lived together on perfectly cobbled paths and we fell in love again with not just each other but the most artistic city we’d even been to!
We’d had a long day but we felt more alive in Florence than we ever had! The next day we were off to Pisa…and then we planned to rush back home to enjoy our last evening in this paradise… but more on that next week!
Price Factor-: About $300- $500 per night for a 5 star hotel. But remember most cafes also have a basic cover/sitting charge even if you are ordering a full meal.
Best times to travel-: June- October
And from Rome , it was off on the Trenitalia all the way to Naples a long 4 and a half hour journey and then a 45 minute hydrofoil to the brilliant and blue Isle of Capri! The First Class was comfortable and the wifi free IF and only IF you had a local number because you had to put in your local phone number and a code would be smsed to you! Since it was a long train journey at speeds of over 300 km/hr, we watched the country side, watched as we passed Rome and Florence (couldn’t wait to be there!) and then surfed social networking sites having been kindly given an access code by the Ticket Conductor.What was interesting was the colour of the ‘ORANGE’ Juice! It was RED! Later I learnt that the Orange Juice in many places in Italy is just as red 🙂
We arrived at Naples and took a taxi to the port which is about 5-10 minutes away. There we bought tickets to the hydrofoil and boarded.There are regular hydrofoils to and fro from the island. they are large boats seating approximately 300 odd passengers and take 45 minutes to get to one side.
The sea was incredibly rough and the boat incredibly large and unwieldy and unfortunately our ride to Capri was filled with passengers with green faces, some throwing up, most about to and lots of screams and shouts! It is a 45 minute boat ride and as much as I love the water I couldn’t wait to be back on land again!
And what a beautiful land. When you arrive in Capri, you are stunned by the bluest of blue waters, picture perfect views and the most glorious bay! A car from the hotel picked us up and in minutes the boat trip was forgotten and we were on our way to Anacapri. Ana means higher and so this is a point higher than Capri and looks over Capri and the bay.
The hotel we had chosen had was on a 1000 foot cliff edge with stunning views of Mount Vesuvious and the island and was the winner of 2012 Best European Hotel. It was called Hotel Caesar Augustus. The winner of numerous travel and luxury awards, this was the hotel I was most looking forward to! The hotel was beautiful- personal, private and with the most stunning views of the bay and of Mount Vesuvious. It seemed like a home converted into a luxury hotel and soon enough we met the owners who still actively run the hotel! We were shown to our suite and were enthralled by the balcony which had yet another spectacular room!
The day was windy unfortunately and the sea was rough and cold so after our long trip over there was little left to do but to laze in the hotel and completely relax!
The hotel was stunning but very unlike the other 2 Australian Relais and Chateaux that we have stayed at (Qualia and Saffire Freycinet) the rooms though comfortable were rather tiny and the hotel, though beautifully placed was more of a fabulous home with a warm homely feel as compared to these 2 properties which were luxury at it’s finest. Personally I love staying at the Leading Hotels of the World because you always know what to expect- an old world charm, a historical beauty and the finest of service. I was hoping that Relais and Chateaux would also have a certain common ground with their choices but though all the hotels are beautiful, I much preferred the space and professionalism that the Australian Hotels offered. When I travel, I don’t want to go to a home, no matter how beautiful it is. I’d like to stay in a hotel.
- A ten minute walk from the hotel is Piazza Vittoria and a chair lift which takes you to the highest point on the island. This is definitely a ride worth taking! It takes about 15 minutes up wards and 15 minutes down and will give you some of the most incredible photographs you will ever take. Have a warm Irish Coffee as you reach the top and be mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the island!
- Spend a little time in the shops at Piazza Vittoria. Very reminiscent of Santorini for me, these small shops and cafes are stocked with local paintings, bright prints and fun gifts to take home! Don’t forget to eat a gelato while walking the white pebbled roads. This is a great place to while away an hour or so!
- A tour of the Blue Grotto or the Grotto Azzura. The Blue grotto is so called because it is a cave with a very small opening with allows just enough light to illuminate the water such that the entire cave is lit up in the most brilliant of blues. Now the Blue Grotto is often shut based on the wind and water issues of any particular day and for our short trip it was closed because of a sudden dip in temperature accompanied by storm winds. However on our last day as we headed towards the hydrofoil we met the ‘President’ of the Blue Grotto who informed us that it was now open! Aditya and I ran to find a boat that would take us to the Blue Grotto and in minutes we were on our way!Once you reach the Grotto however, it is a wait for at least an hour as you must disembark from the boat you are in and move into a small , low boat which holds no more than 3-4 people. Then you must lie flat as you enter else you’ll be hit pretty badly on the head as you enter the grotto . And once you are in, you realise the wait was worth it. Bright blue, radiant and completely unique- this is a MUST DO on any trip to Capri!
Capri was my break in an otherwise super packed Italian Tour, it was beautiful, unexpected and relaxing.
Price Factor-: Expensive ! 400-600 Dollars a night …but can you put a price on complete relaxation.
Best times to travel-: End May-September. As it approaches June , the weather gets less unpredictable and a lot warmer….so if you’re traveling in May opt for the last few weeks!