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If you haven’t read my last post on Florence, you might not know that I was a student there many moons ago. I never turn down a reason to revisit a city that was a home to me so long ago and try the fabulous Villa La Massa hotel!
Technically I was not really visiting Florence last week. A barrister friend of mine needed some R&R and called on me to find us a “womb with a view.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of his and my alma mater!).
BEST BIT: Don’t miss a simple and delicious recipe for a Villa La Massa specialty below!
Flying to Princeton wasn’t going to be an option for a long weekend, so we had to pick a place closer to home. I put out the cry to Villa La Massa, Leading Hotel of the World and sister hotel to Villa D’Este on Lake Como. Luckily for us, they answered our call and beckoned us with promises of otherworldly peace.
We had a bit of difficulty getting to our destination thanks to a fire in Rome. We landed at 00:30 instead of 20:30. Thank goodness we had asked the hotel to have a car pick us up as there was nary a taxi at the airport at that insane hour.
No luggage had been checked in, so, once through passport control, fifteen minutes later we were being shown into our lovely room. My friend was desperate for her nightly hot chocolate and it was whisked up to us in record time, even though it was so early in the morning.
Up way too early to catch the hotel’s first shuttle bus into Florence, we opened the windows to see the Tuscan landscape spread out in front of us. Right out of Merchant/Ivory & E.M. Forster’s imagination, the scene was that perfect PR photo of the Italian province that has been on the Grand Tour of every Englishman of yesterday and every traveller today.
The shuttle – actually our own private bus since no one else joined us – took at most 20 minutes, even with morning rush hour traffic. We were on a bit of a schedule as I had booked us one of Florencetown’s guided tours through the Vasari Corridor in the Uffizi.
The Vasari Corridor was the Medici (stress on the Med, not the ici) shortcut from home to office. Who wants to step outside on those rainy days in December? Why not build yourself a passageway, high above the punters on the Ponte Vecchio, who are always trying to sell you a gold watch?
Of course, they hired the best architect in town, Giorgio Vasari, to draw up the latest in corridors and, 500 years later, it’s still intact. The Medici commissioned self-portraits from all the leading artists to decorate its walls and now it’s home to over 2,000 from Tintoretto to Chagall. Definitely a Best Bit of Florence.
We began the corridor walking through a secret door in the Uffizzi and emerged from that tiny blue door next to the fabulous grotto designed by architect and, rumored inventor of ice cream, Mr. Buontalenti. (You can still find the flavor Crema al Buontalenti in a few Florentine gelatorie.)
Then onto a bit of shopping on my favorite street: Sdrucciolo de’ Pitti – a tiny street linking the Piazza dei Pitti and the Piazza in front of Brunelleschi’s Santo Spirito, where lunch beckoned. The Borgo Antico pizzeria is the place in the summer and, when the Pizza Borgo dripping with fresh mozzerella arrives in front of you, it makes the humidity all the more worth it.
Still we were here to chill and so, after lunch and a walk down the main shopping street, Via Tournabouni, we heard the Aperol Spritzes calling us all the way from the hotel.
Right on target, after washing the hot city off of us, we headed straight to the porch where the song of the sirens: Aperol and Prosecco summoned us from our room. Followed by a light supper of pasta, we were in Italy after all, and gelato again for the third time that day. We rolled off to garner our much needed sleep.
Waking up knowing that we had nowhere to go was such a luxury, combined with the fact that we were in such a heavenly spot, made it even more of a dream. Our only decisions today were where to sit by the pool, not a difficult choice as most of the hotel guests were exploring the countryside, and decide what to eat.
In the afternoon, my friend went for a massage at the spa and I walked about the hotel, visiting a few rooms in the tiny Villino (little Villa) and the two main buildings of the hotel. The pièce de résistance was the chapel – no matter what religion you may be, I still think having your own chapel is the ultimate luxury. (The rumor is that David Bowie and Iman were married here!) All the rooms were as comfy and delicious as ours.
We spent a lazy afternoon, dipping in and out of the pool until it was time to get ready for dinner. We were the guests of Chef Andrea Quagliarella at the hotel’s “Il Verrocchio” restaurant. After one bite of the zucchini flowers filled with ricotta, you know it must be kismet that chef and the artist bearing the name of the restaurant is the same.
I felt as if Andrea Verrocchio himself had blessed our Bistecca alla Fiorentina accompanied by the perfect Sangiovese. We couldn’t put another bit in our tummies, but were manhandled into sharing the tiramisu which was polished off in no time. Did I mention the vin santo and cantucci that followed?
Our linen sheets and big fluffy down pillows welcomed us into bed again and this time we slept late and like logs (love that cliché). Waking up to almost another full day of lounging at the pool, we took our time over cappuccino. We were by the pool for a good hour before having to shower/dress.
Our last meal, a plate of penne al pomodoro, waved us goodbye. The hotel staff had taken such good care of us that we felt that we had been with family for the weekend and long to return next year.
Try this easy local recipe at home!!
Cook this famous sauce with penne or any pasta you like. It's a Marcella Hazan classic!
- 2 cups tomatoes, in addition to their juices (for example, a 28-ounce can of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes)
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 1 onion, peeled and cut in half
- Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.
- Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
- Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes.
- Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon.
- Add salt as needed.
- Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta.
- Villa La Massa, Via della Massa 24, Candeli, 50012 Firenze, Italy Tel. +39 055.626.1
- Florencetown, Via de Lamberti, 1, 50123 Firenze, Italy Tel. +39 055 281103
NB: Villa La Massa took such great care of us, upgrading our room and hosting us for dinner at Il Verrocchio. We long to return and thank them for all their hospitality. We were the guests of Florencetown through the Vasari Corridor, with a special thanks to our wonderful guide, Giulia, without whom we would never have known who invented gelato.
*A few of the photos were provided by Villa La Massa, if you would like to know which, please email me.