Looking for the ideas of what to do in Florence, Italy? Here is my itinerary for the perfect Florence city break.
Where to stay near Florence – Villa La Massa
Last time I stayed in Florence, we stayed at the St. Regis – but this time, with the goal of ‘getting away from it all’ and actually have some down time, Classic Collection suggested (and rightly so) the stunning Villa La Massa, the lesser known sister of Villa d’Este in Lake Como.
Located 15 minutes drive from the city centre (and a member of Leading Hotels of the World), it was… perfect. A classic Italian Manor House, with traditional decor and a stunning location on the Arno river, it was absolutely the right choice for our 4-day Florence city break.
Our room was not located on the main house, but on the ‘Villa’ and it came with a lot of space and gorgeous views (you can see it in more detail on the video above and on these Instagram and Facebook posts).
Whilst traditional in terms of decor, everything was in perfect condition – and the bed linens were some of the finest we have found to date. The only 2 comments to make were that there was no walk-in shower (and the tub shape was a bit odd) and no place to charge phones by the bed – but of course we made it work.
Everyone staying at the hotel made a pact of silence when in outdoor areas – I am obviously joking, but it was wonderful to see all other guests enjoying the peace and quiet the hotel offered and many were napping, whilst others were reading.. and I sunbathed.
Our first night at Villa La Massa, Thursday night
I arrived mid-afternoon, having spent the earlier part of the week at a conference in Ravenna, and I got to check-in, unpack and have a spa treatment (a 90-minute body scrub and massage, 130 Euros) – a very ‘me’ afternoon.
The spa was where I first came across the hotel’s collaboration with Santa Maria Novella, one of Florence’s leading ‘apothecary and beauty’ brands. Not only did Villa La Massa use their products at the spa, they also used some of their ingredients for some very special bespoke cocktails. On a personal note, I was half expecting to add the hotel toiletries to my list of ‘must haves’, but they used another brand (Frescissimo). Whilst very nice, I feel that it is a missed opportunity. The hotel also booked a hairdresser appointment nearby and I felt that after a gorgeous afternoon of self-indulgence, I was ready to see my husband again (with very curly hair! Unadvertently, I asked for that in Italian).
Mr. O had a very long day where he travelled from NYC to London to Bologna and then drove to Florence, so when he finally made it at around 9pm, we decided against a formal dinner, as all he wanted was a Negroni (the original Florence cocktail) and some bits.
The hotel serves a lighter menu at the bar and we had a little carbonara because it would be rude not to and had an early night, as we both really needed it.
Things to do in Florence on a Friday
With Florence being Florence, there had to be some cultural activity involved and I was keen to explore some of its landmarks. What I did not want was to queue for hours, so we booked a small group tour with Walks – a company I have used before in the past (in Rome, Milan and NYC).
We booked the VIP David & Duomo Tour: Early Accademia Tour & Skip the Line Dome Climb with Exclusive Terrace Access tour as it delivered on both cultural and sightseeing fronts (and there are plenty of other tours to choose from, depending on the time you have available and how much you’d like to spend.
Interestingly, we have chosen to NOT do a private tour – I have found that in this context, the “one to one” scenario puts too much pressure on me/us, and I like to drift off. The group size of 12 worked for us – we were slightly alarmed when we met at the designated meeting point not far from the Accademia and there were dozens of people waiting for their tours. I wasn’t keen on the red stickers nor the headphones – I certainly did not have that on private tours, but in this context, it worked and I would recommend this experience on your next Florence city break.
One thing that Walks have is exceptional access – I felt a bit embarrassed at times (but that did not last long, worry not). We skipped the ‘skip the queue’ line, we really had David to ourselves for about 15 minutes (and I did not need any more).
We visited the Grande Museo del Duomo, which is a place I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to visit, but it was really interesting – we saw the original Duomo doors and the venue was very pleasant. And quiet.
The third part of the tour included a visit to the Duomo – and we entered by the exit door. We even had one side of the Duomo just for us – it almost sounds ridiculous, but that is what happened. And the group scenario actually helped. We ended with a very private walk of the first Duomo terrace – with amazing views of Florence, and no hassle. This tour costs £100/$120 per person, lasts about 3 hours and a bit and we thought it was 100% worth it.
After all this culture, we decided it was time for a different type of museum. Florence is the home of Gucci and its Gucci Garden and Museum – the museum bit was much smaller than I expected and the shop is home to limited edition items which you cannot find elsewhere. It also offers visitors a great photo opportunity of Piazza de la Signoria – but the best thing for us was, without a doubt, lunch at the Osteria by Massimo Bottura.
Beautifully designed, it offers a very affordable version of Massimo’s cooking at L’Osteria Franciscana. We wanted to go for the 75-Euro tasting menu but we had serious dinner plans, and we just went for a course each instead. We had the risotto and the octopus and both were divine. Service was also very friendly and our lunch with a glass of wine each was 110 Euros.
The only random thing were the loos – I was curious to what handwash they would be using and was surprised by some non-descript container and not the chicest paper towels. It is like they thought of everything… except that. Access to the Gucci Garden (it really is not a garden unless I completely missed the outdoor space) costs 5 Euros, unless you are eating at the restaurant (in which case you also get a handbag). That last bit may not be 100% true.
The rest of the afternoon was spent helping the local economy – namely Mr. O who wanted some new jackets and other types of menswear. Worth noting that Boggi (which in our minds is like a slightly more upmarket Italian version of Massimo Dutti, which I think is great for men’s casual basics) is now doing a collaboration with Loro Piana and they are offering a handful of jackets and suits (jackets starting at 1000 Euros and suits at 1500). They fitted Simon beautifully and they were altered for him the next day, so he was happy.
We also went to Santa Maria Novella, as I wanted to get some shower gel (camomile was divine, cost 20 Euros) and wander around the shop a bit. I didn’t know there was a tea room there either. The store was quiet but you can tell it is equipped to deal with a LOT of people.
To end our day in style, we met the lovely Georgette from A Girl in Florence and her husband for drinks at Gran Hotel Minerva’s rooftop terrace (also part of Classic Collection’s portfolio in Florence), which was lovely. I obviously had to have a limoncello spritz.
It is open to non hotel guests from 7pm and it is absolutely worth a visit. And do read her blog before you come to Florence. Way before.
We debated staying in town for dinner (we had a booking at Locale Firenze), but at the end decided to go back to the hotel – as we were tired. I had come prepared with other shoes and some make up just in case as we had our car parked at Santa Maria Novella train station (worth noting that parking in Florence isn’t ‘so easy’. The hotel offered a shuttle service but ‘we wanted more freedom’ and in all honesty we were running late in the morning and a taxi was not an option!! Parking cost 45 Euros for 8 hours). I am pretty sure we are going to get some fines at some point as Google Maps sent us VERY close to Ponte Vecchio. It made for extraordinary sightseeing anyway!
It took us 15 minutes to get back to Villa La Massa, which was perfect and we had time to freshen up, have a little cocktail and join the other guests at the dining room.
We chose the bistecca Fiorentina (the traditional local steak), which was good (but not mind blowing), but we should have ordered the pasta (next table’s looked divine).
What to do in Florence on a Saturday
The one thing we did not want was to wake up early – it was a stupidly busy week for both of us (and on Friday we had to be up at 6am to make the early morning tour at 7.45) and these city breaks are not about ticking boxes for us. A nice Florence city break for me has to have a bit of everything. And that includes sleep.
We started our day at Ponte Vecchio which wasn’t so busy at 10.30am.
We were very keen to do a food tour with Eating Europe, but our timings were a bit off theirs and we had a 2pm lunch booking at Trattoria Camillo which we did not want to give up. And this is what the magic of private bookings work – and we were able to book a 2h30 tour with not a lot of food as we wanted lunch, but a lot of ‘local flavours’.
I love doing food tours – and I wholeheartedly recommend them as a great way to explore a destination and. But you get what you pay for – so we really try and do more gourmet versions and found Eating Europe to be excellent – I first ‘ate’ with them in Rome in a small group setting (max 12) and had a private food tour in Prague which completely changed the way I saw the city. A group tour in Florence (4 hours) would be 75 Euros per person. The customised tour we took cost 125 euros per person for a group of 2 (and would be 85 euros per person for a group of 4).
Our tour had 5 stops and it ranged from cheese and cold meats (so divine we brought some home with us), delicious wine and appetisers, tripe sandwiches, canducci making (lovely biscuits) and, Mr. O’s highlight of the trip, a negroni making class. It is hands down his favourite cocktail (and I wish it was mine but despite trying repeatedly, I am not a Campari fan) and I was delighted to learn more about it.
Our lunch was at Trattoria Camillo (Tel. +39 055 212427, Borgo S. Jacopo, 57/r, 50125 Firenze, no website), which came recommended by a good 5 friends – book a couple of weeks in advance and it is a must do on your next Florence city break. We walked past it by chance in the morning (hence the photos with no people), but it was packed for lunch. It had a nice mix of Italian families and obviously a few of ‘us’ and it was great. I was carbed out so went for the carpaccio and a salad (I just had to) and Mr. O loved his stewed rabbit (I had a taste and was lovely).
After picking up his clothes alterations, we headed back to Villa La Massa, where we spent the rest of the afternoon.
It was lovely to have a nap by the pool, have a sauna and read a little bit before being picked up for our rather special dinner.
Classic Collection Holidays helps organise trips like our Florence city break (and their hotel suggestion was spot on) but also suggest a couple of experiences which can be pre-booked for you, as was this dinner.
The Chanti Classico wine region is just 45 mins to an hour’s drive away and some wineries offer dinner experiences. These are bookable via other platforms, but having it pre-booked (and knowing little about it) was perfect.
The twist is that they organise private transfers there and back and that makes it pretty special.
With regards to the dinner – the setting was stunning as you can see from the photo below. We were ‘slightly’ overdressed, so go for comfort and wrap up as it gets cold in the evening. Whatever you do, be mindful of your footwear choice. Chanel flats were not ideal. (and nor are heels).
We really enjoyed the dinner – good honest food, service was lovely and the winery host was very entertaining. The wine was nice too so it really made for a special evening. Our table guests were from all around the world and it was great.
The location and setting of this meal made our Florence city break even more special.
Our Sunday at Villa Massa
On Sunday… we did not want to go to Florence at all. We had a lovely breakfast at the hotel and just sat by the pool. Simon went to the spa for a little bit and I just read a couple of magazines. It was peaceful and the hotel did offer a spectacular setting.
We did however have to make 2 pit stops before beginning our journey home. I wanted to stop by Max Mara’s outlet (it is called Diffusione Tessile or Intrend and there are quite a few around Italy). They are almost never near the ‘other outlets’ as they seem to be destinations by themselves – and definitely worth a visit.
We also went to The Mall, which was only 30 minutes from the hotel and it was only when I got there that I realised I had been before (seriously, we spent the whole weekend laughing as I had almost zero recollection of our previous trip – and I do not know why). We only had 45 minutes, so we spent 35 of them at Loro Piana as Simon was on an winning streak and they will do all alterations in London.
Ironically, we did not fly back home from Florence or Pisa. I had started my trip in Bologna (which is only an hour and a bit away) and Bologna had much better flight times and also to Heathrow, which made more sense for us. As always, it is always fun to fill up your rental car in Italy in those automated machines, but we nailed it this time.
Our Florence City Break…
… was lovely. We had a very good balance between ‘active travelling’ and also some downtime, which we really needed and appreciated. We saw other parts of Florence we had never before (and obviously there is so much more to see).
Villa La Massa was a great option as a hotel for us and I know many of my readers will love it to.
Until the next time,
Disclaimer and fact box: I was a guest of Classic Collection Holidays on this Florence city break.
Classic Collection Holidays (Tel (+44) 0800 047 1064) offers 3 nights at Villa La Massa from £1469 per person. Price based on 2 adults sharing a double deluxe garden view room on a bed & breakfast basis, and includes return Business class flights with British Airways from London Heathrow to Pisa, private transfers and a Chianti Vineyard Experience for two with private car transfers. Departs 04 October.
A private food tour with Eating Europe in Florence starts at 125 Euros (per person, based on a group of 2, reducing to 85 Euros if you have a group of 4). Group tours start at 75 Euros.
The VIP Early Access Tour with Walks costs £100 / 125 Euros.