Long-time favourites of both Debbie and Jacquie, Debbie told us that Belmond Hotel Splendido and Belmond Splendido Mare, Portofino, were just as good as always. The girls stayed overnight at Belmond Hotel Splendido, which is tucked up in the hillside overlooking Portofino Bay. It's no stranger to famous and celebrity clientele, and the stylish décor is enhanced by antique pieces, elegant chandeliers and decorative hand-painted murals. Debbie says that service is fabulous, not ‘over the top,’ but friendly and discreet, while the outdoor pool, tennis courts, private motor boat and new wellness centre mean that the hotel is extra perfect for couples seeking a peaceful escape, however families are more than welcome and there is a children’s club.
For anyone looking for a livelier setting, sister hotel, Belmond Splendido Mare, Portofino is a good choice. It’s situated in the square right in Portofino’s gorgeous harbour and there is a complimentary shuttle bus service from Belmond Hotel Splendido that takes just five minutes. Whichever of these hotels you're staying at, there are opportunities for sightseeing including the town of Rapello, a boat trip along the beautiful Ligurian coast, or the vibrant city of Genoa.
The girls’ next stay was at Belmond Villa San Michele, an historic hotel that started out life as a monastery, back in the 15th century, but has been lovingly reinvented with plenty of Florentine style. Again, no stranger to famous guests – from Napoleon to Brigitte Bardot – this hotel is grand and opulent, with a façade that was designed by Michelangelo. The girls recommend the hotel as a lovely romantic escape because of its peaceful countryside setting, while it's also the perfect place to immerse yourself in everything that makes Tuscany such a wonderful place to visit: the art, the wine, the food. There are cookery lessons available throughout the year where you can learn skills in that art of Italian cooking, while the Loggia Restaurant serves up delicious cuisine with amazing views towards Florence. Debbie says that it’s difficult not to fall in love with the city; there's fabulous shopping, world-renowned art galleries and museums, as well as delicious gelato to savour along the iconic Ponte Vecchio bridge. The Chianti wine region and the delightful medieval town of San Gimignano are within reach too. And, if you’re looking for a very special experience, the hotel offers tours of the Tuscan countryside by Vespa!
Next, Debbie and Jacquie stayed in Florence itself, at Grand Hotel Villa Cora, which enjoys a truly tranquil and pretty setting near the Boboli Gardens. The girls took advantage of the complimentary shuttle bus service into the city, but it can be walked at a leisurely pace in under half and hour. Villa Cora has a very palatial feel and was built in the 1870s by Baron Oppenheim for his wife who had a passion for roses, which is referenced throughout the hotel, as well as the perfectly manicured gardens where pink and white roses flourish. Tasteful opulence prevails, with beautiful decoration including ornate parquet flooring and frescoes; we’re told you will certainly get the ‘wow’ factor as you walk through the stunning restaurants and other public areas. Outside there is lovely heated pool and the Pavilion building is home to the spa which are both lovely places to unwind after a day on your feet sightseeing.
Debbie and Jacquie ended their time in Tuscany at Castel Monastero in the peaceful Ombrone Valley that overlooks the Chianti countryside from its elevated position. Like Belmond Villa San Michele, the main building was once a monastery and dates back to the 11th century. The girls also learned that it then became a castle and the country residence of the noble Chigi family, then later it became a hamlet. Today, there are a variety of buildings and facilities including a spa and three pools that cascade one below the other, but it’s the gourmet trail and enjoyment of the great outdoors that most stay here for. The hotel can arrange activities including wine-tasting, truffle hunting with dogs, cookery classes, tennis and hot-air balloon rides. If you wish to explore beyond the estate, the city of Sienna makes a wonderful day trip - as well as incredible architecture to admire, it is also home to the famous Palio horse-race held each year in the iconic Piazza del Campo.