“Life offers you a thousand chances… all you have to do is take one.”
Frances Mayes – Under The Tuscan Sun
I left London on a drizzling morning. The city just healing it’s wounds after a terrorist attack, it seemed like the right time for me to take a break in a peaceful part of the part, Tuscany. Invited by my friend Angela of Italian Eye, I was welcomed in Pisa by the warm sun and blue skies.
Pisa is an easy and friendly city to navigate, even if you only have a few hours. A short walk from the central train station will find you in a maze of narrow streets, bicycles and Vespas weaving their way among the crowds. Every turn leads you deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of the city. After a short walk across the Arno River, you’ll notice the crowds start to pick up and following them will lead you to the cities main draw, the infamous Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The tower, built as the bell tower of the nearby cathedral, is a tourist destination due to it’s significant leaning, a product of being built on soft soil and decades of gradual sinking. For about 15euro you can climb the 284 steps to the bells and see a rather beautiful view of the surrounding cathedral grounds and city.
After enjoying my tourist time at the tower, I wandered back to the station enjoying some gelato on the way. It was now on to the smaller town of Montevarchi and my home for the week, Il Canto Del Maggio. A dream project of owner Mauro and his daughter Simona, it is a Tuscan paradise perched high on the hills over looking the valley. When we arrive I’m immediately greeted by Italian hospitality (a plate of pasta and a glass of wine) and the friendly trio of dogs that follow Mauro wherever he goes.
The Canto is an absolute gem. It runs as a retreat style getaway that offers small apartment size accommodation tucked inside it’s vast acreage that includes a massive infinity pool, restaurant specializing in local and fresh cuisine from the garden, and an almost endless forest of olive trees, lavender and rosemary bushes and a kitchen garden that supplies the chefs with much of their produce. Simona is quite possibly one of the most generous and humble hosts I’ve ever had.
After enjoying some down time at the pool it was off to explore Florence with Angela and her business partner Olivia as well as a handful of other Instagram influencers. We were off on a day of visiting various shops, artisans and restaurants in the city. We began with the lofty studios of MK Textile Atelier, where a pair of artists work in the former greenhouse of a 15th century palace on their hand-printed and painted textile designs. After that short visit we wandered to the very instagrammable “La Menagere“, a rustic cafe/restaurant that also doubles as an eclectic housewares and floral outlet. I grabbed a quick americano to go while drooling over the fresh pastry counter.
It was then off to my favourite stop of the morning, Studio Galleria Romanelli. Five generations of the Romanelli family have resided at the studio, which used to be a church, inside you’ll find a working studio filled with incredible examples of their work. I loved how big the pieces were and how much they managed to fit into such a condensed space. While we were there we were able to watch several sculptures being worked on, it was like stepping back into time. Our final stop of the morning was Il Papiro, a shop and workspace dedicated to the tradition of handprinted marbled paper. We watched a short demonstration on how the paper is created, each one it’s own one of a kind work of art.
In the afternoon we were led by author Emiko Davies, who has written several books on Tuscan cuisine. She took us along to some of her favourite spots for iced coffee, gelato and finally to the incredible Four Seasons Florence for afternoon tea. Before our tea we were given a tour of the former papal residence built in the 15th century, it’s consistently ranked one of the most beautiful hotels in the world and for good reason. We were given a glimpse into another world by visiting the 15,000/night presidential suite. An expansive and stunning section of the hotel that truly feels like you’ve stepped into your own castle. After we wandered around the suite and hotel gardens we were treated to an afternoon tea fit for a king.
That evening a few of us ventured toward the famous Piazzale Michelangelo to capture the panoramic view of the city at sunset. We weren’t the only ones with that idea and soon we were among hundreds of others scattered along the steps overlooking the city, it was the perfect way to end a busy day in the bustling city of Florence.
The rest of my time in Tuscany was spent enjoying the rustic beauty of the Canto. It was exactly the type of break that I was hoping for, quiet afternoons spent reading next to the pool with the scent of lavender and rosemary perfuming the air. We ended the stay with an amazing feast next to the pool. It was exactly the type of break that feels mind, body and heart.
Huge thanks to Angela, Olivia, Simona and Mauro for the wonderful break away and for welcoming me to this beautiful piece of Italy, I can’t wait to return!