Italy: Rome and Florence

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ITALIA — a country that seamlessly mixes the origins of Western culture with modernity, where a stay in some of the finest hotels in the world would be a destination in itself but the mélange of art, architecture, cuisine, and the beautiful Italian people make each outing a luxurious adventure.

My assistant, Meredith Dauksz, and I planned a very last minute trip to one of our most requested countries in the world, focusing on Rome, Florence and the surrounding countryside. The assignment: garner “insider” tips for touring, stay in the most unique hotels in the area, fly under the radar but make contacts for clients wanting the most sublime of vacations.  Following are but a few tidbits to pique your interest, wet your palate, tease your taste buds, or taunt your peripatetic penchants.

ROME

I love discovering ways to explore a city, and our stay at the beautiful Virtuoso property Hotel de Russie (www.hotelderussie.it) afforded exactly that opportunity.  It is wonderfully located just a few steps from the Piazza de Piccolo and 5 minutes from the Spanish Steps, allowing one to absorb the true vibe of this historic and iconic part of Rome.  The hotel has one of the most gorgeous inner gardens with al fresco dining and a hip bar with live music for an early evening cocktail. This venue clearly was a place folks came to see and be seen but was for us it served as a refuge to relax and escape from the heat and high pace of the city.

With no shortage of calories from pasta and vino, I could not resist the unique chance at a private early morning run that the hotel offered with Danilo, a former Ironman competitor.  Our run provided a historical tour and orientation to this great city of Rome as the Romans did — on foot!  Our early morning run started with 150 steps up to the gorgeous Borghese Gardens and the rest was truly history.

Next, Meredith and I focused our energies on touring some of our favorite Virtuoso hotels, including the Hotel Hassler, Portrait Suites and Hotel Eden.  We agreed the most unique find for the discriminating traveler was Casa Manni, a true category buster.

Casa Manni is much more than a place to stay in Rome with the services of a 5 star hotel. This one-bedroom villa owned by the well known olive producer, Armando Manni, who we were fortunate enough to personally meet.  He was most gracious and showed us around the exquisitely decorated villa that boasted such amenities as his and her coat hangers, select bottles of wine selected from Armando’s personal cellar and personalized robes according to clients’ size.  It’s an experience of Rome – personalized tours and events (archaeology, art, wine, food, shopping, leisure, spa visits) with top experts with access even most Romans will never have. Descriptions of some of the Experiences can be found at casamanni.com.  The villa is staffed with lovely Cristina, the house manager.  The private apartment feels like miles away from the rest of the world until you walk to the balcony to see the hustle and bustle of a popular Roman square.

Other great discoveries included Villa Spalletti Trivelii that had only 12 rooms and was located near the Quirinale presidential palace and a short walk from the Trevi Palace. Check it out at www.villaspalletti.it.  This spot is a great option for those who want to feel like true houseguests, as it is in a beautiful Roman mansion. It has a spectacular spa, outdoor garden and eloquent sitting rooms. It is a haven of tranquility and elegance in this busy and often noisy city.

Last on our tour was a 4 bedroom property called Il Palazzetto www.ilpalazettoroma.com which literally has three of the four rooms hanging over the Spanish Steps and much to my surprise is owned by the renowned Hotel Hassler.  This find is a true gem with very reasonable rates.  It would be a great option for a large family as it comes with full privileges at the Hassler.

Now I know everyone wants to know the insider scoop on the best local dining, best guides etc. and this is something I look forward to sharing with you when we start planning your next trip to Italy!

In my next post look for information on one of the most amazing properties I have ever experienced located just 10 minutes outside of Florence.  I am also headed to a short stay at the Four Seasons Florence and a day in Siena and San Gimignano….stay tuned! Ciao!

FLORENCE

Our journey continued from the historical city of Rome to the rolling countryside of Florence.  Our first glance of this region was on the beautiful hills of Villa San Michele, one of the two very special properties we were lucky enough to enjoyThis beloved Orient Express property is a former monastery that, perhaps ironically, is one of the most romantic hotels in the world!  I had long dreamed of visiting this special place that proved more spectacular than anything I had imagined.  With terraced gardens, a gorgeous pool and spectacular views, each visitor is a privileged guest free to stroll the grounds and savor one’s meals from the alfresco loggia as if in a private home. www.villasanmichele.com

However, not far down the road, a new standard has recently opened called Il Salviatino (www.salviatino.com) This property feels even more like an exquisite home than a hotel, with no formal reception area. Instead, you are greeted by the “service ambassadors” who discretely travel the halls on the ground level ready to handle any request, seemingly incapable to say “no”.

The beautifully decorated rooms boast views of Florence or the gorgeous gardens below. The décor is a nice mix of the old and new, with all modern amenities and bathrooms fit for a king.  The mix between frescoed ceilings, antique furniture pieces and flat screens built into the vanity mirrors had to be done perfectly to make a cohesive design.  Il Salviatino went above and beyond, making each space work perfectly.  If the interior Suites had a bit too much mood lighting you can opt to stay in a green house suite, bursting with natural light.  

Villa San Michele is very traditional in style, even in the fact that there is no elevator in the house (the monks would not have dreamed of it).  The service is impeccable and while you would never be allowed to lift your bags up and down those steps, it is still a bit of a climb day to day. In comparing the two, I personally think Il Salvianto has an upper hand and most importantly an elevator! The public spaces are light and airy.  If you get the chance to indulge in the spa, a meal on the terrace or yoga by the pool you will have fulfilled yet another dream. 

Il Salvianto also has a more chic side to it with the white leather couches adorned on the side of the open terrace where I can visualize a fun special celebration happening and can’t wait to return with my friends! Luckily, you can’t go wrong at either property and it is simply a matter of taste and preference for amenities.

While it is hard to capture the beauty of Florence in words, it is even more difficult to describe the graces of Siena and San Gimignano.  We were greeted in Florence by one of our top guides and taken personally to explore the countryside.  We learned of the different districts in Siena and all that encompasses their famous horse races called the Palio.  As they paraded around the town one could see the passion and pride of these people. Siena is very charming, allowing one to enjoy the simplicity of a violin player outside a 13th century cathedral or an old local lady taking pride in fixing our guides’ shirt collar. 

In San Gimignano, we savored the beautiful views over the hills of Tuscany, a view seen frequently in photos but more surreal in person.  We zoomed past fields of sunflowers — “Arrivederci Tuscany!” –and headed back to Florence where we stayed in the most deluxe property in the city, the Four Seasons Florence. http://www.fourseasons.com/florence/ This hotel is an enchanted city sanctuary in the midst of Florence, where an art-filled Renaissance palazzo and conventino frame a centuries-old private park.  Set on 11 acres and only a 15-minute walk from the city center, these grounds are a welcome reprieve from the frenetic pace of Florence. 

The Four Seasons has all the modern amenities seamlessly incorporated into its historical setting.  The service is, as one would expect…stupendous.  The gorgeous pool is a huge bonus in the sweltering heat of summer! The property has two buildings, one more like a boutique hotel called the Conventino.  The Palazzo della Gherardesca, the main building, has a beautiful lobby and lounge and the spectacular restaurant, Il Palagio.  Like Da Vinci, we painted our own Last Supper, looking out to the enchanting gardens, enjoying an enormous Florentine T-bone steak and humming along to piano music filling the air.   Just writing about it makes me want to return…

Return Home: CarolineTravelstheWorld.com

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