Tuscany is considered something of a classic travel experience. After my September visit, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a stay at the region’s best Belmond hotels.
I think September is one of the best times to visit Florence. Especially because I had sunshine the whole time and temperatures warm enough to swim outside. Plus, everywhere was ‘out of season’ quiet.
I started with a British Airways flight from Heathrow to Pisa. Next was the transfer to Belmond Castello di Casole. In the heart of Tuscany, the hotel is a scenic 90-minute transfer from the airport, should you wish to hire a car and drive it for yourself.
This 10th century castle wowed from the moment we arrived. It’s set amidst vineyards and olive groves, and there’s a beautiful sweeping driveway lined with Cypriot trees. The 4,200-acre estate is deeply rooted in the region’s history. I was impressed by the modern conveniences and luxuries. However, it was wonderful to stay somewhere that felt so authentic and storied.
This hotel is a fabulous option for those seeking to explore Chianti, Siena, and San Gimignano. It’s also an excellent location for the annual Andrea Bocelli concert at Lajatico.
Check-in was slick and speedy. So, within minutes of arriving I was sat in a glorious courtyard. With a chilled glass of local vino bianco, I pondered over a menu of Italian favourites including bruschetta and antipasti.
My suite was in the main house and was absolutely huge. Meanwhile, it also had high ceilings, a super-comfy bed, and a vast bathroom with a roll-top bath and Bvlgari beauty products.
I also had a snoop around the other accommodation options. The suites away from the main building were larger – over two storeys – and more private, making them ideal for a honeymoon or family holiday.
There were lots of highlights. Unquestionably, the service by the infinity pool was one. Here, there are attendants to see to your every whim whilst you kick back and enjoy the view. The panoramic terrace is a dreamy, laidback spot to watch the sunset with a glass of wine in hand. At the unique spa, treatments are carried out in the cool surroundings of a former wine cellar.
I’d also recommend spending an afternoon or two enjoying one of the many experiences on offer. Making fresh pasta during a cooking class is something I’ll never forget. Next time I visit I’ll be making time for truffle hunting on the estate!
Next, it was time for my second stop – the Belmond Villa San Michele, close to Florence. On the way, I stopped for an afternoon in the town of San Gimignano. This is a gorgeous place to wander, camera in hand.
My top tip is to visit around 4.30 pm, when the streets are quieter and the light is beautiful.
This former medieval monastery, with a façade by Michelangelo, is a wonderful base for a stay in the famous city. It’s also just 10 minutes away, yet in its own tranquil setting.
My Executive Junior Suite was absolutely stunning and so private, with an insanely large bathroom and walk-in shower. Another option is the standalone ‘The Greenhouse’. With its own roof terrace and sun loungers for those after a bit more seclusion.
The heated swimming pool is at the top of the grounds, with views across the Arno Valley and its own snack bar. So, it’s not tough to spend all day up there.
Dinner at the hotel’s La Loggia restaurant was a stand-out experience of my trip. Here, a live pianist accompanied the city views and excellent Italian cuisine. I recommend the ‘cheesecake di mozzarella di bufala con pomodorini confit, caviale di acciughe e bruschette di pane toscano’. This fancy-sounding dish is a savoury buffalo mozzarella cheesecake with confit tomatoes, caviar and traditional Tuscan bread. Delicious!
Indecisive? The Tasting Menu will take you on a culinary journey perfectly paired with sommelier-chosen wines.
Obviously, a day spent exploring Florence is a ‘must’. However, Belmond Villa San Michele also boasts a great selection of experiences for real Tuscan immersion too.
You can learn to make ice cream in a world-famous gelateria. Or, take a guided raft journey down the San Niccolo weir and under the Ponte Vecchio. While travelling with the family, send the kids off on a museum treasure hunt.
My favourite activity was a Florentine art class, led by a hugely eccentric character who kept our group giggling throughout. We started with simple exercises and then created a group frieze of a field of flowers.
What’s more, the hotel also has its own cookery school. Everyone has their own work station… which made me feel like I was on Masterchef! Afterwards, you get to try what you made. Obviously, this is the best bit.
Overall, the combination of these two Belmond hotels made for a terrific Tuscan holiday. These are top-quality hotels and the service is second to none. Each and every member of staff offered a personalised and friendly service throughout my holiday.
I spent the incredibly picturesque (Mercedes) transfer back to the airport planning my next visit.
Fancy your own Florentine experience? Start planning now, and leave us a comment below for our expert tips.
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