ITALY is just stunning, but hey, we all know that already.
It’s hard to pin-point the top places in this beautiful country, but if my arm was twisted up my back, I’d have to say Florence, Portofino and Venice.
Last year, I took in all three on a trip and it was just magical.
Florence is wonderful but it’s hugely busy and hotels in the city are pricey and often very crowded.
So I took myself off to somewhere just outside, yet still truly magical, and I’d thoroughly recommend you do the same.
Perched on the hills just above Florence is the Villa San Michele, a former Franciscan monastery – the most perfect place in the world to see a Florentine sunset.
Adorned with Renaissance frescos, some reputedly by Michelangelo himself, and surrounded with lemon groves, this is the place you dream of and never want to leave.
Managed by the prestigious Belmond group, the service and attention to detail is superb and when you book into Villa San Michele you really are staying in a piece of living history.
It’s not just the stylish rooms and the magnificent restaurant (the local Chianina beef cooked over a chargrill is a carnivore’s dream), but it’s the little extras.
Don’t miss the intimate cooking class with chef Attilio di Fabrizio.
He will delight you with a two-hour lesson during which you’ll learn the inside track on making perfect gnocchi and tiramisu which you then enjoy for lunch on San Michele’s sun-drenched terrace.
A great way of seeing the many delights of Florence is on a Vespa scooter (ladies – bring a scarf for the Audrey Hepburn look). Central Florence can be quite hairy driving, but within minutes of leaving the city, you’re into rustic Tuscan countryside, surrounded by vineyards – bliss.
And so, on to Portofino – the jewel of the Liguria Coast. With classy yachts, sports cars and mouth-watering views, you won’t find any coach trips here, but you will see lots of high-end shops (Gucci, Armani etc). There’s also some of the best gelato in the entire world at Gelateria San Giorgio.
The Hotel Splendido has been playing host to the rich and famous for over 115 years and is, quite simply, elegance defined.
Splendido sits above the streets of Portofino below. Its gardens encompass a heated, salt-water swimming pool which puts you in the mood for a swim in the nearby turquoise Mediterranean.
La Terrazza restaurant does not disappoint, and the sea bass – thinly sliced and served with tomatoes and capers – is rightly legendary.
The hotel can organise all sorts of excursions and Outdoor Portofino treated us to a day of sea-kayaking. Guide Federico takes you to all the local places of interest, including St Georges Church and the Mayor’s “secret” tunnel, running through the rocky cliffs.
And so, on to Venice – arguably the most spectacular and romantic city in the entire world.
It doesn’t matter how many times you visit, you’ll always find more to delight you. This time, for me, it was the discovery of a new hotel.
The JW Marriot offers a resort-type experience, yet it’s less than two miles from the bustling square of San Marco, located on the private island of Isola della Rose.
There are frequent shuttles to and from the city, but there’s so much going on in the resort that you may be inclined to spend more time there than you’d ever imagined.
There’s a full spa with all the luxurious treatments you would expect and a rooftop infinity pool with stunning views of Venice and the surrounding area. You’re close to the action yet feel a world away – just perfect.
The hotel has a minimalist, clean-cut and flawless décor and eating in is a treat with plenty of restaurants to choose from such as the chilled Sagra Rooftop or the fun Dispensa Delicatessen.
The big wow however is the double Michelin-starred Dopolavoro.
Serving up a unique blend of Venetian classics with surprising twists – think ravioli with exploding egg yolk centres – this young eatery has won praise far and wide, and deservedly so. Treat yourself to their exceptional tasting menu.
Three destinations all with unique delights. Miss them at your peril…
A four-night trip, with two nights at Belmond Hotel Splendido (Portofino) and two at Belmond Villa San Michele (Florence), costs from £1565 PP based on two adults sharing. This includes return economy flights with KLM via Amsterdam from Glasgow to Genoa and returning from Florence, trains between Genoa and Florence, airport transfers by car and B&B accommodation. Book with ITC Luxury Travel by visiting itcluxurytravel.co.uk
JM Marriott Venice Resort & Spa: Rooms from €395 per night. Visit jwvenice.com/en/
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