An insider’s Tuscany

Rooms with a view: a pigeon’s spit from ponte vecchio

Nicky Swallow
December 1, 2005

More than 7 million tourists pile into Florence each year, so it stands to reason that this small city suffers from serious overcrowding. Add severe traffic problems and the resulting levels of noise and pollution, and it’s not surprising that many visitors opt for accommodation that is situated outside the city centre. Luckily, Florence and its environs are well equipped with hotels and guesthouses that allow you to enjoy the best of both worlds. Here are four places to stay where you can enjoy fresh air, rural landscapes, and the relaxed ambiance of a country setting; two are within a pigeon’s spit of the Ponte Vecchio. While each is very different from the next, they have one characteristic in common: none of them feel like a hotel. You will be treated as if you were guests in a private home. So much so, in fact, that only the bill at the end of your stay will remind you otherwise.

 

The hills just to the south of Florence are full of grand and beautiful villas, many of them erstwhile summer residences of wealthy Florentine families. Fifteenth century Villa Poggio San Felice is such a house; perched on a little poggio, or hill, it could be in the heart of Chianti but is, in fact, only ten minutes from the city centre. Set in a lovely garden, the mellow old villa was bought by a Swiss hotel magnate in the early nineteenth century and, run by his descendants, is today an elegant but unstuffy guesthouse. Inside, cheerful fabrics and interesting colours, blending nicely with family antiques and pictures, give a young feel to the place. The day starts in the long, high-ceilinged breakfast room where French windows open onto the garden. The five spacious bedrooms – all furnished with antiques – lead off a landing on the first floor. Two have working fireplaces while the Camera dei Nonni has a big terrace overlooking the city. There is a daily shuttle service to and from the centre of town, but you may be tempted to stay up in the hills, reading under the partially arched loggia or, in cooler weather, in the cosy sitting room. There’s a small gym too and a pool for summer dips.

 

Just to the east of here lies the località of Marignolle, again, set in a landscape that belies the fact that the chaotic city centre lies only a few kilometres away. The Bulleri family has lived in the restored farmhouse, set on rambling, southward-facing grounds (that include a pool), for some years, but only in the summer of 2000 did the family open up their converted outbuildings to guests.

 

The heart of the house is the large, bright and sunny living/breakfast room with its sofas and armchairs, open fire and honesty bar. Bedrooms, while varying in shape and size, are all decorated along the same tasteful, classical lines with stylish country fabrics, padded headboards, pristine white paintwork, and dark parquet floors. The gleaming white bathrooms have large walk-in showers and double basins. Electric kettles and coffee, as well as selection of wines, are supplied in each room. The Bulleris are enthusiastic hosts and will arrange wine tasting tours, golf games, trips to nearby outlet stores, or even cookery lessons in Signora Bulleri’s own kitchen.

 

You can also learn how to cook the Tuscan way at Casa Palmira, the most rustic of this selection. Leaving Florence to the north, the old road to Faenza winds up through olive groves and cypress trees before reaching the beautiful and relatively unknown area of Mugello. Casa Palmira, set just off this road, about 16 kilometres from the city, is a beautifully renovated barn attached to a stone farmhouse with Mediaeval origins; Stefano and Assunta, the warm and welcoming hosts, did much of the restoration work themselves. The ground floor sitting room is spacious and welcoming with a huge fireplace, squashy sofas and chairs, an open kitchen area where breakfast is prepared, and a dining area. Upstairs, the seven bedrooms all have pretty fabrics and patchwork quilts, and while the public areas have terracotta flagstones, the bedrooms all have beautiful chestnut wood floors, made by Stefano himself (who also made the doors and some of the furniture). Mountain bikes are supplied and there are wonderful hiking trails nearby. 

 

Lying some 17 kilometres southwest of Florence and the family home of one of the owners until quite recently, Il Poggiale is an elegant, pale salmon-coloured villa dating from the sixteenth century. At the front of the villa, a gracious Renaissance loggia overlooks an expanse of green lawn protected by ancient cypress trees. On arrival, guests are shown into an elegant salon dominated by a vast chandelier; family portraits hang on the walls and soothing classical music plays in the background. Drinks are laid out on a table, and guests can sign a chit and help themselves. The 21 bedrooms and 3 apartments are beautifully furnished and romantically decorated (several have four posters) in dusty blues and pinks with filmy white curtains and colourful bedspreads and rugs. Bathrooms are gorgeous too; one has floor-to-ceiling frescoes and an old claw-foot bath. Outside, a long terrace runs along the west wall of the villa and overlooks the pool; breakfast is served here in summer, but it is also a glorious spot from which to enjoy spectacular sunsets.

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