Florence / Tuscany

My wife and I will be traveling to Italy next spring (likely May) to celebrate our 10th anniversary. We plan to spend around 10 days on the ground in two, possibly three places. Florence is a must, as neither of us has ever been there. I’m thinking 4 days/3 nights – is that enough? We will likely do a bit of the touristy stuff, but also a bit of exploration and a lot of eating. I have a boatload of Starwood points I want to use (especially now in light of the sale to Marriott) and I’m looking at both the Westin Excelsior and the St. Regis. Both look like beautiful hotels and I’m just not sure if the StR is worth the additional points.

I’m also thinking of spending a few days in the Tuscan countryside, but I’ve seen some suggestions that it may be better to spend a longer time in Tuscany and take day trips to Florence instead of staying there for a few days. Pros/cons of this approach? Also, looking for suggested towns to stay in the Tuscan countryside. Chianti and Montalicino are the first to come to mind, but I’m open to suggestions. Obviously our plan for this portion of the trip would be to relax, tour the architecture and drink wine of course. I’ve been advised to rent a car for this portion of the trip ONLY (due to the restricted driving areas throughout Florence).

I’d love to spend the last few days in the Amalfi coast or Venice. The former is on my bucket list, but I feel like that may be best saved for another trip where I can spend more time in that area. Venice seems like it would be easier to get to from Florence, and there are plenty of SPG properties to choose from.

Thanks in advance for all the tips.

I would heartily endorse getting a car and driver. If nothing else, less stress on you and your wife when you get lost. And you don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, which is never easy.

As far as Florence is concerned, we stayed at the Hotel Lungarno and it was absolutely incredible. I suspect it’s not in the Starwood system, though. We had a friend show us around Florence, the parts where the tourists don’t think to go. (He lives in Italy six months a year and is a medieval historian.) I would recommend studying the guide books carefully for things other than the obvious big sights, like the Uffizi. (Order your tickets for the Uffizi in advance, probably through your hotel’s concierge.)

We took the train from Florence to Venice. Very comfortable and convenient. Just do not let anyone “help” you with your luggage at the train stations. (You’ll never see that bag again.) I scored a lot of points with my wife when, upon arriving in Venice, she asked, “How do we get to our hotel?” I took her down the stairs to the Grand Canal and used a water taxi to get to our hotel. A LOT of points!WineBerserkers - Wine discussion forum and online community

There is plenty to do in Tuscany, so trying to tack 2-3 days on the end for Venice or Amalfi Coast doesn’t make for a relaxing or rewarding leg. They deserve more, but on a return trip. If you absolutely wanted a 3rd location, then Lucca or Siena jump out, but personally I’d try to stick to 2 locations. You’re keen to do the tourist sites, see the architecture, but also taste some wines. The plan seems to be shaping up nicely against Florence/Firenze and a rural location in wine country.

Your thoughts of 3-4 days in the city feels about right, and I’d lean towards that as the start. Whilst the countryside gets you over jetlag quicker IME (natural light at the right times, over artificial light into the evening and night), getting out and walking also works well. In addition, it can be stressful having to adjust to driving in a foreign country straight off the plane. Just a few days on foot allows you to get adjusted & familiarise yourself with basic road signs etc. Finally, if you get carried away with wine shopping, it’s easier to lug from the car drop-off at the airport than from the city.

This also means that 6-7 nights can mean you don’t have to ignore weekly apartment rentals in the countryside (still quite common to have set weekly slots).

Patrick’s advice re: booking in advance for the Uffizi is guidance that I’ve seen many times on Slowtrav forum who are generally a clued up bunch. I’d follow his advice if you want to go there.

As for rural Tuscany, the driving is generally pretty easy & relaxing, but will get more stressful in the towns - and for the more famous ones, do work out in advance where the ZTL zones are to avoid a painful fine. We tend to plan in advance, either looking up online or asking in the agriturismi we typically stay in, where a good place is to park. I’ve no problem parking a few 100 yards further out to avoid stress.

As wine is clearly an interest, what about trying to stay in one location that allows you (at least on one day) to leave the car parked up, and stroll to the wineries (ideally ones you really would like to make it to). Italians seem horrified we might walk half a mile to get to their winery, but you’re in the countryside, often in lovely weather and on holiday, so I don’t see the problem, even if you have to occasionally hop onto the verge whilst traffic goes past. Even if buying a bit of wine, you can always arrange to pop back another day to pick up the wine in the car.

Finally wrt wineries, try to slot the odd lesser known or even unknown winery, that seems to be making a modicum of effort towards quality. We’ve discovered some lovely gems this way (Daviddi in Montepulciano jump out in Tuscany form our travels). They may be a fraction off the best, but not as far as you’d assume, and the prices are often very good. Add to this that you’ll be bringing back something that isn’t in the shops at home, and that often comes along with the warmer and more hospitable welcomes. Indeed one well-known & well-regarded Tuscan winery gave us a hard sell at the end of a winery tour we’d paid for (most don’t charge in our experience), the only time anyone has ever attempted to pressurise us to buy in Italy (nor indeed any winery in Australia or New Zealand either). I was quite dumbfounded to encounter this. Daviddi in comparison brought us fresh towels to dry off with after getting caught in the rain, and dropped us off in the car at our next winery visit! That typifies the amazing hospitality you can find in Italy when venturing a little away from the famous / obvious.


If you are flying in and out of Milan and want to visit another location, Lake Como on the end is a good option (Varenna racks and it’s on the highway 75 minutes outside of Milan)

I don’t agree with the earlier advice on needing to hire a car and a driver. It’s a relative thing, but one of the pleasures, for us, of getting around European countryside is doing our own driving in a car that’s suited for their roads. The Tuscan countryside is no exception. Being wine-enthusiasts, you’ll just have to make arrangements with your travel partner(s) on who will have to do plenty of spitting, and the driving duties, when visiting wineries. Fortunately for me, my wife drives very well, does not indulge much in wines, and shares driving duties with me whenever we go out to winery visits, or just to relieve me when I get tired. Bring/rent a good, reliable navigation system (we bring our own 5-year old Garmin) to take you around.

Oh, and f you decide to go to Venice from Tuscany, take the 3+ hour train from SMN in Florence. Very comfortable. Plus, you won’t have to worry about returning your car in Venice, and you can get off at Santa Lucia and in a few steps to board a waiting water taxi (make advance reservations) to take you to your hotel.

Amalfi is one of my favorite places in Italy, but to add that onto a Tuscan trip is doing a disservice to both areas. Go back at another time and spend a week doing Pompeii, Capri, Positano, Ravello, etc.
My favorite Tuscan places are Siena, the small towns in Chianti like Radda and the ancient hills towns outside Florence: Volterra, San Gigmignano, Val d’ Elsa and the tiny Monteriggioni.

Lucca is also a great town to visit in Tuscany as well.

Driving in Tuscany brings a range of emotions most of which are positive. The views are breathtaking. We found ourselves stopping and just enjoying the view very often. The medival towns were fascinating to visit. Many of the roads are very narrow and with many blind spots. I don’t mind driving at all and spend a lot of time in my car for work but it is an environment where you need to be on guard. If you rent, I would rent the smallest car you can get all of your passengers and luggage in. I can’t wait to go back and would rent a car the next time we are there.

Another vote for 3-4 days in Florence balanced by some time in the countryside. I would advocate for Siena if you are looking for a third locale. I wouldn’t want a car in Florence, but driving in the Tuscan countryside is relatively easy. Most of the towns you’d want to visit (e.g. San Gimignano) have car parks adjacent to the center of town that make it unnecessary to navigate the twisty, narrow streets by car.

David, my wife and I went to Italy is the summer of 2014 for our 10th anniversary - so I am definitely in agreement as to your choice for the trip. I have a boat load of SPG points as well and so we stayed at the St. Regis for 5 nights (5 for points of 4). I had let them know that it was a special trip for our 10th anniversary and that may be why they upgraded us to a beautiful suite - just incredible hotel. Highly, highly recommended. We had drinks at the top of the Westin and while the hotel looked quite nice (and I didn’t see any rooms), the St. Regis was just at another level - one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in (I think I recall reading that it had been redone more recently than the Westin as well). For a special trip, I would go with the St. Regis.

Both of us had been to Florence before and done quite a few of the touristy things and so we spent most of our time outside walking around the city. Depending on how much you want to see/do of the museum variety, then a few days would certainly be fine.

We spent a couple of days driving out to the countryside. San Gimignano is one of my favorite old towns in all of Italy and we actually went there twice and also drove to Siena to spend a 1/2 day. On prior trips I have stayed outside of Florence in the countryside and that makes it FAR easier to tour around because getting from the St. Regis out to the main highway to head south took about 15 minutes or more and so made any trip to the countryside longer by 15-20 minutes each way. Particularly if you want to tour wineries (which are well south), then I would not suggest staying in Florence. Or perhaps, you could stay a couple nights in Florence and then a few nights further south so it is easier to get to some of the towns and to wineries as well as to get to any restaurants in the countryside that you may specifically want to go to.

I love the Amalfi coast though haven’t been there since 1998 - stayed at Il San Pietro overlooking Positano and it was spectacular. It would be a hike of a drive from Florence though - as would be Venice. I like Venice as well and there are some great Starwood hotels there.

For our trip, we decided to go to Piedmont and so flew into Milan, stayed near Alba for 4 nights (at great hotel called Il Boscareto near Serralunga D’Alba that I very highly recommend) and then drove down to Florence for 5 nights and then stayed on the coast outside of Rome on the night before we were to fly out (stayed at La Posta Vecchio which is a very nice hotel at a beautiful spot on the coast and very convenient to the airport as well as having a terrific restaurant).

If you rent a car in Italy they come with only one pedal: the accelerator. LOL. Seriously though I saw many a Fiat almost on two wheels cornering the mountain roads in Italy. The scooters also rule the road. Rent a car to get to some of the better off the beaten path areas in Tuscany. Florence is OK for a couple days, but the beauty of Tuscany is in the countryside.

FWIW I find Italian drivers to be some of the most skillful we’ve encountered. This can be disconcerting when they squeeze past you at speed with inches to spare, but they demonstrate a much better awareness of space than typically seen elsewhere.

Thy can be impatient, but they just want to be on their way and not held up, and will treat you as they’d like to be treated themselves, by not holding you up. Except in some rural locations where time runs to a different speed and a chat with an old friend may be more pressing than the car behind them!

There are often plenty of options if you feel pressurised by someone pressed tight behind you, and we’ll typically swing into a petrol station forecourt if there are a couple of cars held up beside us. Otherwise if you drive along the edge of the road, they’ll often turn a road with single lane in either direction, into a 3 lane road with middle passing lane. Don’t worry, there are inches to spare (see above). This is worth remembering for when it happens with traffic coming in the other direction, seemingly intent on a head-on collision. They’ll just expect you to edge over a little to make room for this new overtaking lane.

It sounds worse than it is, and the Tuscan roads aren’t a patch on central Napoli, which is a special driving experience that should be restricted to the very brave / confident.


Vespa drivers are worse, and they can die if they make a mistake

Try searching here as well for more suggestions. A couple of Florence threads:

My wife and I did 10 days in Florence/Tuscany about 10 years ago. First 3 nights in Florence which honestly was 1 or 2 too many. We love art/museums but not necessarily renaissance art and let me tell you - there is a crapload of it in Florence! We loved seeing the “David” and would say do not miss it - unbelievable in person. We had advance tickets so went directly to the front of a 2 hour line and still spent 3 hours there.
The Uffizzi will make your head spin - it did mine.

We then went to an Agritourisimo near Sienna and loved it much more than the busy/loud city of Florence. My advice would be to base your trip in 2 spots in the Tuscan countryside and do 1 or 2 day trips into Florence.
The Tuscan countryside is so incredibly beautiful words can’t describe it, great wine everywhere and so many great food choices.

We are headed to Paris/Sicily/Tuscan coast in early April this year and have this place booked for last 4 nights of
trip before heading home http://poggioaisanti.com/eng/anima-e-spirito.php. Last trip we took to Tuscany we never ventured to the coast so thought it looked pretty cool - the restaurant looks amazing too. The website reservation page was difficult to understand, maybe because of my lack of Italiano. It appeared that the nightly rate was 525 euro and after looking at pictures of place and checking out other high end lodging options in the area decided to splurge (all rooms are suites). To my delight they sent back booking confirmation and the cost is only 175 euro per night for a suite. Sweet!! I love it when this happens!

I found this place after digging deep into this section of WB and stumbling onto a blog of a member and reading about her ventures through Tuscany. Was about to book another place inland that had perfect 5 star reviews from Trip Advisor - over 250 reviews and 99% of them perfect 5 star and raves. After reading her blog she had stayed at the perfect one and was disappointed and wished she had stayed the whole time at Poggio. Booked it immediately after reading that.
Seafood restaurants in the area look amazing as well. Getting excited!

I definitely quote Ian Sutton: two days in Venice simply wouldn’t be enough. Save those locations for a future trip. Amalfi is smaller but also less comfortable to reach, not sure if it’s worth it. There are plenty of wonderful locations to visit in the surroundings of Florence. I’m thinking, needless to say, of Siena, but also San Gimignano, Pitigliano and Barga are wonderful small towns that no doubt worth a visit (After my last trip I’m seriously thinking of going to live in a Tuscan village when I’m retired!). Moreover, if you’re a wine lover, Tuscany is the next best thing to heaven. If you’re interested, you can also do wine tours like this one

I did it last summer and I found it very interesting.
I wouldn’t know about the car issue. I hate driving while I’m on holiday so I always use public transport. But I know it’s only a little quirk of mine!

For ten days - just do Tuscany. We’ve been multiple times and even so with six nights we didn’t even scratch the surface. Save Venice or Amalfi coast for another trip.

We went to Tuscany this past Thanksgiving. I hesitated spending any time in Florence as we’ve visited before and we prefer to stay in the country. We almost did the drive into Florence route, but so very glad we changed and stayed in Florence for a few nights. We did a few nights in Florence in the middle of the trip to break up all of the driving and winery visits. So very glad we did it this way as it worked out perfectly and I had time for shopping in Florence! Two-three nights is plenty.

We stayed at the St. Regis using Starwood points. I popped over to the Westin (they are across the piazza) to see the difference. No doubt - stay at the St. Regis. We were upgraded to an amazing suite with its own frescoes (yes in the room!) and the service was impeccable. Highly recommend (although breakfast was $$$).

Florence - don’t just go from museum to museum to church to museum. We didn’t do the Uffizi and the David this time (seen on a previous trip) - there is so much art/architecture/history everywhere. Stroll the Ponte Vecchio at night when it’s all lit up - magical. Visit a local wine bar - Enoteca Pitta Gola (near Pitti Palace). Visit a perfumerie - I loved Aqua Flor. Some of the fabric/antique shops - mamma mia! Grab some chocolates at Gilli. Visit some of the less touristy art sites (Santa Maria Novella, etc.) so much to see, so little time.

Get GPS on your car - don’t even question it. We would have been lost numerous times driving from winery to winery if we didn’t have it. It also was a godsend trying to get out of Florence after the Florence marathon. We love being flexible and being able to start/stop when we want. We prefer driving on our own and not getting a car and driver. That’s going to depend on your likes/preferences. We’ve been driving on our own in Europe every year since the 90s. It’s not a problem.

Most places - including wineries - ship to the US. I found that w the exchange rate its not any worse than some wineries are charging for shipping to East Coast from CA.

A few highlights:

  • Dinner at Dario Cecchini in Panzano. Just google “Butcher of Panzano” - don’t hesitate - don’t miss. We had a great night at a community table with a diversity of people and cultures. So much fun and the food was excellent. I like meat but also prefer something more than a steakhouse - and I really enjoyed it. Dario is a hoot - and you can hang out with him in the butcher shop before dinner.
  • Viewing the frescoes in Arezzo. Wow. I really want to go bad to Arezzo when they have their antique markets!
  • Montepulciano > Montalcino. If you only have time for one. Montepulciano is a great hilltop village, a large piazza, quaint shops, restaurants, wine stores, etc. My favorite find at Poliziano Café was Café Pepe - espresso w chocolate and black pepper.
    -We stayed at a lovely, lovely place in the hills above Greve in Chianti - Villa Bordoni. I’d highly recommend. I’d suggest for us that staying outside of the towns in the countryside made all the difference - walking through the vineyards and gardens in the evening, fires in the fireplace with a chinato, etc. There are a huge number of really beautiful and luxurious places to stay in the countryside. I found a lot that looked really nice when we were booking our trip.
    -Try wineries that you haven’t heard of - we did Chianti wines one day, Brunello wines a different day, Montepulciano wines the next day. We really had great visits at some of the more intimate places - Casa Emma and Mate, for example.
  • Stop in Pienza for a pecorino cheese tasting - we also enjoyed evening service at the Cathedrale.
  • Stop for lunch at Antinori OsteriadiPassignano (very close to Casa Emma). We happened upon this and it was a great find. Located in the back of the wine shop - or the restaurant has a wine shop in the front - you can do the 4-5 course or just eat lunch like the Italians (pasta and salad) and you’ll still get all the amuse bouche and pre-desserts, etc. Wine list has everything.
  • If you’ve never been, then definitely stop in Siena and San Gimignano - but also visit other towns like Arezzo, Pienza, and Montepulciano.
  • You can find the best meals at the simplest places in Tuscany. Fresh ingredients, simple preparations, perfect food. Don’t try to eat at fancy restaurants the whole trip.

Have a great time!!!

Lori’s last bullet point is so on the mark. Local places in small towns were our favorite places. I would add that the house wine at many of them was an incredible QPR.

Saying La Posta Vecchia is a very nice hotel is like saying the Taj Mahal is a nice tomb. Ask for a room on the ocean side and leave your windows open :slight_smile: neener

This is excellent. Thank you!