Destination of the Week: Florence
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You say “tomato,” I say “to-mah-to.” You say “Florence,” I say “Firenze”—but no matter what you call it, Florence is no doubt one of Italy’s crown jewels. For today’s Destination of the Week, TPG contributor Jen Jones Donatelli shares her insight on this Italian city, where she spent her honeymoon last September and fell in full-on amore with it. This historical hotspot has it all – art, culture, shopping, cuisine, gorgeous countryside and even nearby beaches. No wonder it’s a must-see stop on any Italian itinerary.
WHAT TO DO
Much like the proverbial Renaissance man, Florence is a Renaissance city in which you can do it all—from museums to fine dining to unforgettable sightseeing.
Since the city was once home to greats like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, it’s no surprise that amazing art is at the top of any to-do list while on a visit here. Pay homage to Michelangelo at the Accademia Gallery, where Michelangelo’s David is housed, or visit the Uffizi Gallery where you can peruse one of Italy’s most famous collections Renaissance art including Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” The Palazzo Bargello Museum is another gem filled with Renaissance treasures like Donatello’s statue of David. Word to the wise: be sure to plan ahead, as tickets can book up weeks in advance and most museums are only open on certain days. (My husband and I found this out the hard way!) Other popular destinations include the sprawling Boboli Gardens, the Pitti Palace (the Medici family’s old digs), and the Piazzale Michelangelo, where breathtaking hilltop views and endless photo ops await.
Florence’s proximity to the countryside of Tuscany is also no doubt one of its biggest selling points. On our honeymoon, my husband and I took an invigorating daylong Vespa tour during which our charismatic guide Lorenzo whisked us through much of Chianti and Tuscany, tasting delectable wares all along the way. (Our favorite stop was the trendy butcher shop and restaurant Dario, though the homemade ice cream came in a close second.) The “Best of Tuscany” tour from WalkAbout Florence is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor, or check out the day trip offerings from Viator. The city is also close to other Renaissance treasures like Pisa, Siena and the hilltop village of San Gimagnano.
If you’re traveling on a budget, simply walking around the city provides plenty of awe-inspiring moments—from the famed red-brick dome of the Duomo cathedral to the bustling piazzas. (The budget-minded will also find ample aperitivo options throughout the city for affordable wining and dining.) And if you’re a romantic, be sure to take a stroll along the beautiful Arno River; per legend, we brought along a padlock to seal our love on the famous Ponte Vecchio. (Lore has it that if you attach a lock anywhere on the bridge and throw the key into the Arno, your love will last for eternity.) Built in 1345, the Ponte Vecchio is the only surviving bridge from medieval times and provides plenty of great shopping and sightseeing opportunities.
Also known as Amerigo Vespucci Airport, Peretola (FLR) is located about five kilometers (3 miles) from Florence and serves the region of Tuscany. (The other main airport in Tuscany is Pisa’s Galileo Galilei International Airport.) In 2006, Peretola underwent an 16.5-million EUR renovation that increased its capacity from 1.5 to 2.2 million passengers annually and added a number of new boarding gates, check-in desks and other terminal improvements.
Currently, 14 airlines fly into Peretola, including Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa and Swiss (Star Alliance); Air Berlin (OneWorld); and Air France and Alitalia (SkyTeam). Other airlines serving Peretola include Merediana Fly, Niki and Vueling. Non-stop flights to Florence are available from more than 20 different cities, such as Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt and London.
Once you’re on the ground, you can snag a taxi into the city for a flat rate of 20 EUR ($23 – slightly more at night and on holidays). ATAF-SITA bus service is also available between the airport and the centrally located Santa Maria Novella railway station, departing every half-hour.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
WHERE TO STAY
Whether you’re seeking a countryside respite, an artsy boutique hotel, or a grand statement of luxury, you’ll find all of the above and more in Florence—all points-friendly, naturally. See what Florence has in store:
Hilton Florence Metropole: This Hilton property is located 3 kilometers (2 miles) from Peretola and offers a free shuttle into the center of Florence (about 20 minutes away). All rooms have LCD flat-panel TVs, marble bathrooms and city views, and if you spring for a deluxe room, you’ll get a fluffy bathrobe, too. Other features include WiFi in public areas, a 24/7 business center, whirlpool, wellness center and on-site restaurant Luci Della Citta. Rates in December start at 95 EUR ($125 USD) per night, and this hotel is a HHonors Category 6 (which means an award night will run you 40,000 points).
The other local HHonors property is the Category 4 Hilton Garden Inn Florence Novoli, which requires 30,000 points for a free one-night stay.
AC Hotel Firenze: Located near Florence’s main train station, this new 118-room Marriott property is within a 20-30 minute walk of the city’s main attractions. Relax after a day of sightseeing by taking a Turkish bath at the hotel, sipping a soda from the room’s free minibar or unwinding on the rooftop terrace to take in the panoramic views. Other items of note include 24-hour room service, Wi-fi, on-site restaurant, and complimentary breakfast buffet. December rates start at 95 EUR ($125 USD) per night; as a Category 5 hotel, a one-night reward stay will require 25,000 points or 20,000 PointSavers.
Other Marriott hotels in the vicinity of Florence include the AC Hotel Arezzo (about an hour away), the AC Hotel Pisa (also about an hour’s distance), and the Renaissance Tuscany II Ciocco Resort & Spa (about an hour and 45 minutes from Florence).
Westin Excelsior: Highly rated on TripAdvisor and a Florence landmark, this welcoming Westin property is conveniently located near the Piazza della Signoria and Uffizi Gallery. Some of its 117 rooms and suites boast views of the Arno River, and if you’re a sucker for views, you’ll also want to check out the hotel’s glass-enclosed SE-STO restaurant. (Health nuts will also dig the SuperFoodsRX menu offered via room service and at lobby bar ORVM.) The Westin Excelsior was also one of Conde Nast Traveler’s recent Gold List selections. December rates start at 197 EUR ($260 USD) or 20,000 Starpoints per night.
St. Regis Florence: Originally the Giuntini family palace, the centuries-old building housing the St. Regis Florence was restored in 1990. Here you can arrange a tasting session in the on-site wine cellar, indulge with a treatment at the Clarins Spa, or work with one of the butlers to fulfill your vacation whims. Under a current promotion, you can get 20% off a three-night stay or 30% off a five-night stay. Rates start at 263 EUR ($348 USD) per night; the hotel is an SPG Category 7, which requires 30,000 to 35,000 Starpoints for a one-night reward stay.
Fine Hotels & Resorts
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for The Platinum Card from American Express cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.
Four Seasons Hotel Firenze: True to Florence’s artistic spirit, every room is a work of art at this luxurious property—with no one guest room or suite decorated the same. The hotel boasts its own private park, the 11-acre Giardino della Gherardesca, as well as an outdoor pool, fitness room, business center, and several restaurants. As a Fine Hotels & Resorts perk, you’ll also get an 85 EUR ($112 USD) spa credit to be used during your stay. And for travel before January 31, 2013, you can get a complimentary fourth night via promotion code FHR11170. December room rates start at 359 EUR ($475 USD) per night.
Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards,Capital One Venture, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Il Salviatino: If you’re willing to stay a bit off the beaten path (about 15 minutes away from the city center), this hotel in the neighboring hills of Fiesole is worth every penny. My husband and I booked a honeymoon stay there via Luxury Link and we absolutely loved it—from our five-course meal at Ristorante Il Salviatino to a couples’ massage at the spa to lush countryside poolside vistas. All rooms include complimentary Wi-fi, sit-down rain showers, Nespresso coffee machines, 100% handmade Tuscan linen bedding, plasma mirror TVs and complimentary mineral water. There is also a free hourly shuttle into the city. Rates start at 268 EUR ($355 USD) per night.
J.K. Place Firenze: Located downtown near the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, this hip boutique hotel was picked as one of Conde Nast Traveler’s Top Hotels of 2012. Along with its convenient location, you’ll get complimentary perks like a welcome drink, fresh fruit basket in your room, mini-bar (soft drinks), buffet breakfast, homemade finger food and cakes, Wi-fi, access to the off-site Olimpo Spa Steam Bath and Florence Fitness Gym, and more. December rates start at 272 EUR ($360 USD) per night.