Photo by Stefano Scatà
Photo by Kevin Martin Jose/Unsplash
Florence is even more beautiful now that it has fewer crowds.
You might not think of Tuscany for island-hopping and horseback-riding, but Italy’s most beloved region has a lot more to offer—plus new hotels to help you enjoy it all.
With fewer crowds on a recent visit to Florence, the city’s Renaissance cobblestoned streets felt even more beautiful. But it was clear—the hotels, restaurants, museums, and shops have desperately missed visitors.
I was there for the DUCO Travel Summit in July, where 200 luxury travel advisors met with top Italian hotels and destinations after 18 months of Zoom connection. “We can focus now on quality over quantity,” said DUCO founder Carolina Perez during the opening ceremony, referring to visitor numbers postpandemic. “On the other hand, the country depends on a certain volume of tourism.”
At the summit, Sir Rocco Forte, owner of Rocco Forte Hotels, said the crisis has brought a realization of how important tourism is to the economy of Florence and Italy. “For the first time in 30 years, we have a minister of tourism in Italy. And people are realizing the importance of visitors who come and actually spend money. I hope it has struck a chord with politicians to see how beautiful Florence is without the masses and to try and control tourism in a better way,” he said.
One way to do that, of course, is to spend part of your trip outside of Florence. Here’s what’s new in Florence and the Tuscan hills beyond.
While I stayed at The Place, I previewed two big hotel (re)openings in Florence.
The 89-room Helvetia & Bristol has a distinct sense of place—set in a 19th-century townhouse, it’s just a three-minute walk from Piazza della Repubblica at the heart of the city. A five-year complete renovation finishes this year, including work on the 1,000-square-foot two-bedroom Presidential Suite Bristol, with four-poster beds and museum-quality bronze lamps, sculptures, and antique mirrors. Designer Anouska Hempel (known for Blakes Hotel in South Kensington, London) hired local master craftsmen to create an only-in-Florence palazzo feel. One stand-out element is the new Cibrèo Caffè, a more casual sister to the famous fine-dining mainstay Cibrèo near Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. A new spa will open by the end of the summer on the site of original Roman thermal baths, which will be visible through panels in the pool. The spa will also include a Finnish sauna, hammam, gym, and relaxation rooms.
Il Tornabuoni, located in a 13th-century palazzo with a long history as a grand Florence hotel near the Arno River, will reopen on September 10 after a top-to-bottom restoration and design by Milan-based architect Andrea Auletta. The 66 rooms are bold and fun with animal-themed art and black-and-yellow chevron wallpaper. Families should book the rooms with two queen-size beds, a rare configuration in any city. Five dining outlets, including Il Magnifico Restaurant and La Cave cellar, are sure to be local favorites.
In Tuscany, it’s challenging to find nice villa options with fewer than five or six bedrooms. That’s why the new Borgo-69, with 12 villas ranging from one to three bedrooms, is big news. It’s the sister property to Villa Fontelunga, which was opened in 2000 by two founders focused on “informal luxury,” Paolo Kastelec and Philip Robinson. The latter is an award-winning designer. Each villa—decorated in neutral woods and marble with upcycled materials from the 200-year-old building that once stood here—has a kitchen, dishwasher, and washing machine, plus a private terrace or garden. Borgo-69’s restaurant is Emporio di Ines, named after Kastelec’s mother, and it includes a deli and shop, with produce from the on-site garden. Guests have access to facilities at Villa Fontelunga, including tennis courts and bikes.
At Borgo Santo Pietro, a 22-room exclusive resort in Tuscany, the 300-acre organic garden has been completed after 20 years of work, including a new vegetable garden, and serves Michelin-starred restaurant Meo Modo. Sustainability remains its primary focus: A new fermentation lab teaches guests how to maximize vitamins and nutrients; a new herb house uses water from the nearby river to produce essential oils; and it prioritizes hiring local workers. In addition, Satori, the yacht owned by Borgo Santo Pietro, joined forces with Massimo Bottura for the ultimate luxury holiday. The Michelin-starred chef will join guests on board as they sail the Mediterranean in the summer or Turkey in the winter and create a customized seven-course tasting menu and dinner together. Two trips have been sold already.
Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco, founded by Massimo and Chiara Ferragamo, unveiled 19 new suites on August 1. All are located on a new complex on the 5,000-acre estate with private outdoor space and views of the Val d’Orcia Natural and Cultural Park and the Tuscan town of Montalcino. The resort also has 23 original suites, plus 11 stand-alone villas.
Tuscany isn’t the first place I think of for adventure trips—I first think of pasta, wine and vineyards, Renaissance art, and hilltop towns. But adventure-themed trips have been a big trend for the past few years, and even more so now as travelers desire to return to nature. It starts with the more traditional horseback riding, hiking, and cycling in the region as well as surfing, kayaking, windsurfing, and sailing in the lesser-known seaside towns.
Canyoning—where you follow the path of water through narrow gorges by jumping, sliding, hiking, and using ropes—is also growing in popularity. Local favorites include the deep Orrido di Botri canyon, said to have inspired the writer Dante; and the Rio Selvano canyon. Both are near the charming, walled town of Lucca.
The Tuscan archipelago in the Mediterranean is rarely visited on the typical vacation but is just off the Tuscan coast, close to all major cities, including Lucca, Pisa, and Florence. All the islands promote adventure activities like snorkeling, diving, and biking. You won’t find luxury resorts on the seven islands, but there are comfortable three-star properties. The largest island is Elba, famous for hosting exiled Napoleon but now also known for its scenic beaches. The other islands are Giglio; Giannutri, where you can visit the remains of an ancient Roman villa; the volcanic island of Capraia, with cliff views; Montecristo; Pianosa, known for diving; and the smallest, Gorgona.
For a historical walking route, the Via Francigena in Tuscany is a pilgrimage trail that Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury, walked en route to Rome in the year 900. Today, it is about 236 miles north to south, and passes through local villages, by churches, and over mountain passes.
The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is spearheading the Lands of Uffizi project to allow masterpieces of art currently stored in the vaults to travel throughout Tuscany so more local people can see them. Exhibits start this summer and will travel for the next five years. For instance, if you’re staying at one of the Borgo-69 villas, seeing the St. Francis of Assisi exhibit at Castiglion Fiorentino in Arezzo would be just 15 minutes away. Find current exhibitions here.
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