Most newlyweds are tight on either time, money, or both. We fell into the latter category, and opted for a mini-moon to remember in beautiful Florence instead of a traditional long-haul honeymoon
Forget jetlag, exotic destinations with unpronounceable names and cocktails made from coconuts. For newlyweds, with sore feet from dancing, sore cheeks from smiling and broken vocal cords from singing late into the night with uncles and aunts they’ve never met before, all that is hard work. What you want after a few days’ hard partying and a few months’ even harder planning, is somewhere a short hop away that will cocoon you in luxury for a couple of days.
And where better than Italy’s grandest palazzos? If you’re the type to be inspired by celebrities just the luscious pictures of George and Amal drinking prosecco in Venice last year will have got you thinking of Italianate grandeur, delicious food and wine, and an old-school glamour that is in short supply in most destinations.
There aren’t many places you can stay in a Renaissance palace with 16th century frescoes on the ceiling, but the Four Seasons Florence offers just that, plus every modern luxury you could conceive of. It’s at once a step back into history and forward into the type of lifestyle you’ve never thought you’d experience. It doesn’t come cheap, but your honeymoon is the one time in your life you’ll let yourself believe you deserve it.
The hotel is a former palace of one of Florence’s old families. It’s exquisitely restored, adorned with valuable antiques, original Renaissance frescoes, and an atmosphere no modern hotel could achieve. It combines a bright airiness in decor with the plush luxury of its age of origin, and its designers have skilfully combined old and new in the same way.
We stayed in one of the Palazzo della Gherardesca’s three Renaissance suites. Double height ceilings adorned with cherubim, seraphim and pastel-coloured biblical scenes (surprisingly easy to ignore when trying to sleep) soar over light-filled space, with gorgeous antiques in every direction. The most impressive aspect of the suite, despite the enormous, feather-soft bed, is the bathroom. Boasting beautiful marble flooring and tiles, the spacious bathroom is dominated by an enormous stand-alone bath; perfect for honeymooners. Separately enclosed toilet and shower make this room more like a spa than a bathroom, with mirrored vanity stands and bespoke (full sized) toiletries.
Of course, the hotel also has a spa, in a separate building (a former convent) in the gardens, beside a beautiful stone-built swimming pool. The treatments on offer are incredibly luxurious and the warmth and attention to detail of the therapists really shows the difference in a five star spa; the polish on a toenail was chipped when I went in for a massage, but when I woke up from my trancelike state, it was repaired, all without a word. For a moment I thought I’d woken up in Kim Kardashian’s body, but no – just me with perfectly lacquered toenails.
The hotel breakfast, taken in the garden, is just what you’d hope for – a fabulous buffet including fresh fruit, Italian pastries, meats and cheeses, freshly made pancakes, and all sorts of cooked breakfasts.
The greatest danger of staying in a hotel this beautiful is that you don’t want to leave, and you could miss out entirely on all the other treasures Florence offers.
But the Four Seasons Florence is central enough to allow exploration by foot of what Florence has to show. For such a compact city, Florence packs a historic punch.
Nobody could visit Florence without seeing Michaelangelo’s David, on show in the Galleria del’Accademia, just ten minutes’ walk from the Four Seasons. It’s worth the queue, and seeing the masterpiece up close and personal is revelatory. Be warned, though; the museum is closed on Mondays, as are many things in Florence.
Ten minutes in the other direction and you can visit the beautiful Santa Croce (in a square surrounded by atmospheric wine bars and osteria) to pay homage at the graves of Michaelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo. While the church itself is awe-inspiring, the cultural weight alone of those three is more than humbling and provides an incredible insight into the importance of Renaissance Florence. Art, politics and science combined to create one of the world’s most beautiful cities, then and now.
Santa Croce is just one of Florence’s numerous significant churches, with the Duomo di and the Cathedral of Santa Maria di Fiore dominating the city centre. Queues for the Duomo are long during high season but Brunelleschi’s masterpiece is well worth seeing.
The Ponte Vecchio is one of Florence’s best-known landmarks, and a leisurely walk along the riverbanks will bring you to it. Don’t forget to stop for a gelato on the way – all that sightseeing is hot work.
Eating in Florence is a no-brainer. There are expensive restaurants, of course, but most of the food available is reasonably priced and it’s hard to go wrong. Local antipasti, delicious oven baked pizzas accompanied with the local Chianti, bistecca alla Fiorentina, and succulent wild boar stew… it’s a food-lover’s paradise, and you won’t spend a fortune on food unless you want to.
While Florence is not a large city (it’s as walkable as Cork, even with matching hills ringing the city), the sheer volume of art the city holds is impossible to get in on a short break. It’s the kind of city you’ll return to again and again, finding something new every time.
See fourseasons.com/florence for up to date pricing information and packages. Ryanair flies to Pisa from Dublin and Cork.
*First published in the Sunday Business Post Magazine, 05/07/15.