February 2002by Bethany, Lidy and Matt
Why go all the way to Umbria or Tuscany for a villa vacation and miss out on the opportunity to visit some of the great Italian cities too? By adding on a few extra days in a hotel before or after the villa vacation, it is possible to include a few days of delightful urban sightseeing and cultural crawl to complement the villa stay. Bethany, Lidy, and I completed our two-week exploration of the villas and hotels in Umbria with such an add-on in both Florence and Rome.
We drove from our Umbrian Villa Salicotta, located just outside of Cortona, to Florence along the Autostrada in an easy ninety minutes. Be sure to get good directions from your villa to where ever you will be staying in the city. The roads in Italy are well marked, but if you don’t read Italian, the signs are essentially meaningless. I would caution even the most adventurous about driving in Florence in particular. Florence makes navigating around Boston seem like a walk in the park. We dropped the rental car off at the downtown Hertz location in Florence and took a taxi to the Florence train station. We could have taken the taxi all the way to our hotel destination, but we needed to stop at the train station for a "look see" and to purchase tickets for our later trip to Rome.
From the train station, we boarded the shuttle bus for a 15-minute ride to Villa San Michele, one of the most luxurious hotels in Europe. The feeling I had seeing the San Michele for the first time was exactly as I had imagined: Villa San Michele "moved" me. The original building on the site was a monastery founded in the 15th century for the Franciscan monks. The present building, with its façade attributed to Michelangelo and its imposing loggia, dates from 1600. There are even two Popes (not just one, but two!) entombed off the lobby near the reception. We checked into our standard rooms (as if there was anything standard about this hotel) which were very comfortable and rich in amenities. The Villa San Michele is very romantic, and from anywhere on the property there are dream-like views of the city of Florence below. On Sunday we had lunch in the Cloister restaurant, where we enjoyed regional specialties while a light spring rain danced on the glass roof. When we departed the Villa San Michele, I felt a certain sadness, but I was also very thankful to have experienced one of Florence's greatest treasures. You, too, will feel some strong emotion when you visit this magnificent place. A special note of thanks to our gracious host, Franco Girasoli, the hotel's assistant General Manager, who has been with the hotel for more the 17 years. Long term, devoted service is no doubt one of the many reasons why the Villa San Michele is such a special place.
L'Enoteca Pinchiorri is a world-class restaurant located in a Florentine sixteenth century palazzo close to Michelangelo's birthplace and near the Cathedral of Santa Maria. It is considered one of Italy's finest restaurants. Frette linens, Broggi cutlery, and Reidel crystal were impressive but not nearly as impressive as the wine list that I held in my hands. There were magnums of Petrus, Romanée Conti, and every imaginable Rothschild on their wine list. Who would order a French wine in the middle of Tuscany, I wondered? There was a Brunello di Montalcino on this list with my name on it... I was sure it called out to me. We ordered from the tasting menu, which was an excellent idea, because there were so many choices that even a self-professed gourmand such as I didn’t recognize many of the selections. Taken very seriously at the Pinchiorri is the cheese course. Every variety imaginable was available on the cheese cart. When I expressed my preference to the cheese sommelier, he pinched his chin and had that look in his eye as if he were a librarian searching for an obscure novel. His selections were perfect. Pinchiorri is a must while in Florence.
After Florence, our original plan had been to make the four-hour drive to Rome on the Autostrada. Having been the appointed driver for the last two weeks, I autocratically decided that I was through driving, and that we were going to take the hi-speed train to Rome. My colleagues were thrilled with the idea. I'm not sure if their relief had more to do with their not having to endure another day of my driving or their genuine interest in taking the hi-speed train. I suspect the former. We boarded the Eurostar and settled into our cabin for the journey to Rome. A few minutes later we were greeted by the porter, who explained to us that we had failed to confirm our tickets for the journey to Rome. He smiled and gave us that universal expression, "Oh, will these Americans ever learn?" He punched our tickets and explained that in the future we could be fined for such mistakes. We were grateful he didn’t charge us. A first class Eurostar ticket with private cabin costs a mere $50 dollars and makes the journey from Florence to Rome in 90 minutes.
Plan Your Rome Vacation