During my career within the travel industry, I have been fortunate enough to visit some amazing destinations and properties on educational visits. Such trips are extremely beneficial when selling holidays as first-hand knowledge, in my experience, is unbeatable.
My nine-year-old daughter Freya loves travelling abroad on holiday and learning the local customs and history of the destination. She is always eager to learn about my educational visits and is quite envious when I go! Therefore, when I was offered the chance to travel to Florence and stay at the Belmond Villa San Michele, AND take Freya with me, I knew she would jump at the chance!
The luxury five star hotel was originally a monastery built in the 15th century, with its façade designed by Michelangelo. Located in the tranquil village of Fiesole with the most breathtaking views across to Florence, this beautiful Renaissance villa is surrounded by fragrant Italian gardens and woods and is an idyllic, peaceful retreat. Therefore, it is not the first property that springs to mind when travelling with children. However, the trip was an opportunity to showcase a more family-friendly side to our group. We did not of course expect water-slides and noisy kids clubs, this was more an opportunity to introduce the little ones to Italian culture and we were in for a real educating treat! Children are usually very honest in their opinions, so what a fantastic opportunity to get their very valid feedback.
We were joined by eight adults and 13 children on the three-day break, and upon first meeting at Stansted Airport, the kids bonded and were having fun. Freya had read the itinerary over and over again before we departed, and was eagerly discussing with her new found friends what they were most looking forward to doing and seeing during their time in Italy.
It takes around 15 minutes by car from the centre of Florence to the Villa San Michele, and being a Belmond property (formerly known as Orient Express), I knew we were in for an extremely special stay. As Freya had never stayed in a hotel like this before, I could see the anticipation and excitement on her face as we made our approach up the winding, steep driveway. A collective ‘wow’ was all that was heard from the majority of the children!
Upon arrival, each child was greeted by name and given their own personalised hand-decorated bag – what a fantastic way for them to feel welcome. Our room for the next three nights was stunning – a traditionally elegant, deluxe junior suite with our own private terrace and wonderful views across to Florence. My daughter was gobsmacked, and for once seemed speechless! She was most impressed with the gift of fruit and cookies, and when she discovered we received a different gift every evening, it was like all of her Christmases had come at once!
Dinner time can be tricky in the Taylor household, as I have a very fussy eater! So you can imagine my surprise when Freya sat at a beautifully set table, and ate a whole four courses of delicious new foods and flavours. I’m sure the fact of seeing her new friends enjoy their meal, along with the cuisine being so mouth-wateringly good, helped! For me, it was also lovely to see all of the children behave impeccably at dinner – the luxurious five-star surroundings had certainly rubbed off on them as they all sat and behaved impeccably at the grand dining table respecting table etiquette, awe-struck by the art and antiques that adorned the beautiful private dining room, which features a centuries-old painting of the Last Supper.
The following three days were filled with sightseeing and various activities around the hotel. Whilst the adults were given a tour of the property, the children had fun activities planned with their supervisor. They also got to try their hand at gardening and learnt about the plants and flowers which adorn the grounds of the Villa San Michele. Freya was very much looking forward to cookery school with chef Atillo, the hotel’s head chef. Lessons are held throughout the year for both adults and kids, and I was most impressed with the facilities on offer. Each child was given a copy of the dish they made, along with an apron which was a lovely touch. They prepared a tiramisu with each one being individually decorated. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and at lunch the waiters presented each child with their dessert. The pride on their faces was priceless – a very special moment indeed.
Although the hotel was amazing, Freya and I were very eager to see the sights of Florence. The first attraction we visited was the magnificent town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio. Our guide for the afternoon was excellent and tailored the tour to suit the children, whilst also keeping it interesting and factual for the adults. After our visit to the Palazzo Vecchio, it was time for the best treat of the day – a trip to one of the city’s most famous gelato parlours. With what seemed like hundreds of flavours to choose from, Freya finally made a decision … strawberry! We ended our afternoon in Florence with a ride on the traditional carousel in the Piazza della Repubblica – so prettily lit up when the sun goes down, it’s fun for small AND big kids.
Freya and I were taken aback with the beauty of Florence, with art at every turn. Whether it be the architecture of the buildings, the amazing talent of the street artists, or the abundance of galleries available to visit. So many photo opportunities – be sure to keep your camera on hand at all times! I found Florence to be a very family friendly city, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to families with children of all ages.
After a fun-filled three days in Florence, it was time to head back home. There was however one last special stop en-route to the airport – a visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. What a fantastic way to end such a memorable trip. We both can’t wait to return at some point in the future.Freya has written her own travel diary from the trip, which will be posted on this blog soon.
To plan and book your holiday to Italy call us on 01543 258 631.