If you’re seeking a country stay within easy distance of Florence, Villa Campestri makes a gorgeous getaway spot.
The historic hotel and olive oil mill is set in the sleepy Mugello Valley. During its 800-year history it has been a defensive fortress in the Middle Ages, then it was transformed into a Renaissance Manor House and then it became a Liberty-style Villa between the 19th and 20th centuries before its current incarnation.
We arrived at the hotel at dusk after a long train trip from Rome and were dazzled by its picture postcard location and interiors.
After settling into our room we enjoyed dinner in the cosy on-site restaurant, L’Olivaia, with a stand-out dish being the prawn tagliatelle.
The restaurant uses only fresh seasonal foods that come either directly from its estate or from nearby farms that practice free-range breeding.
Breakfast the next morning was equally impressive and included a huge honeycomb dispensing local sticky stuff.
Among our day trips from the Villa was a visit to Florence, which involved an early start at sunrise to catch an early train and try and beat the crowds.
When we arrived in Florence we made our way straight to the city’s centrepiece: the Duomo. Queues were short so we climbed straight up the 414 steps of Giotto’s tower.
The view of the city and the Duomo was stunning.
A fleet of ambulances wait at the bottom of the tower – we wondered whether they were to ferry all the fat, middle-aged tourists who have heart attacks while climbing the tower to hospital.
Travel writer Rick Steves notes that the Duomo was “built in the Middle Ages by architects who left it unfinished. Think of the confidence of the age. The Duomo was built with a big hole in its roof, just waiting for a grand dome to cover it. They could envision it – but the technology needed to create such a dome had yet to be invented. No problemo. The Florentines knew that someone would soon be able to handle the challenge.”
We were pretty knackered when we got back down to the ground, so we made our way to the picturesque Piazza della Signoria, home to the Palazzzo Vecchio, the palatial town hall of the Medicis, for a round of cappuccinos and a sarnie.
Our next stop was the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge built in Roman times that was originally lined with butcher shops because they could just throw all their gory off cuts off into the river.
These days the Ponte Vecchio is lined with boutiques and crammed with tourists.
Actually most of Florence is lined with boutiques and crammed with tourists. It’s totally heaving with them.
We trailed around exploring the other side of the river and discovered the market in Piazza di Santo Spirito. The square is filled with outdoor restaurants, all lively and brightly coloured.
We sipped glasses of white wine and a beer while feasting on seafood spaghetti, then made our way slowly back to the Duomo, where we decided an hour was too long to wait in the queue to see the cupola and went for a twirl through the Baptistery instead, where we almost got kicked out for lying on the kneeling part of a pew to take photos of the magnificent ceiling.
Then we rewarded ourselves with a cool bevvy on the rooftop terrace of the La Rinacentre department store, which has the most exquisite views of the Duomo.
There was a brief discussion about travelling into the hills to hear some Gregorian chanting at a cathedral, but we both decided we were too tired and headed for the station instead.
Make that sprinted … We got a tiny bit lost and made it onto our carriage with seconds to spare. The alternative would have been an hour-long wait for the next train.
And that was Florence. Gorgeous … but packed with tourists, so not the ideal destination if you are averse to crowds. Although it’s the perfect spot for taking awesome wine glass selfies …
Villa Campestri is located on Via di Campestri 19/22, 50039 Vicchio di Mugello