I’ve just got back from a week in Florence, which was wonderful, but not quite in the way I had expected. I’d booked a luxurious hotel in an old monastery (worth every penny) on the hills outside Florence, with a swimming pool and terraced gardens, all designed to soak up the glorious Tuscan sun. After weeks of endless grey misery in London, I was desperate to feel the warmth of proper sunshine on my face and to be able to unfurl beside a swimming pool shimmering in the haze of a sun-drenched afternoon. I’ve visited Florence before and done all of the tourist traps, so while I had a couple of places to see on my to-do list, my priority was relaxing, tanning, reading and luxuriating in the breathtaking views of the Tuscan hills and Florentine rooftops from the hotel gardens. Obviously Mother Nature had other plans, however; we simply brought the weather from England with us. Never have I seen such rain in Italy, such thunder and lightning and cold wind. My suitcase full of bikinis, sandals and summer dresses had nothing to cope with such conditions, and all of our plans for lazing around went out of the window. With the view of Florence and the hills obscured by mist and cloud and the swimming pool out of bounds, we had to go and sightsee. And actually, we found ourselves enjoying Florence in a whole new way as a result.
The pink and green marble of the Duomo, peeking out from the corners of the maze of streets in which it nestles, was even more impressive against the backdrop of a stormy sky. The pavements glistened beautifully in the wet, and we found ourselves popping down unexpected lanes and into lovely little shops we would never have visited had we not been looking for shelter from the rain. We went to the San Marco monastery and saw the most amazing frescoes painted in each of the monks’ cells by Fra Angelico, the scale of which we hadn’t realised and were absolutely enchanted by. We walked around the Boboli gardens in the rain and enjoyed the sweeping views of the city against an ever changing, dramatic cloudy sky. We took the train to Siena and were delighted by the breathtaking interior of the Duomo, particularly the library, which is painted so beautifully in the most marvellous detail in such jewel-like tones, that it seems unbelievable they have been on the walls for several hundred years. We walked high up on the walls of the unfinished section of the Duomo and saw the angry clouds chasing across the enormous skies above the distant Tuscan hills, and then came down and wandered through the ochre streets to the piazza, just as the sun finally came out. Rejoicing in the cessation of the torrential rain at long last, we got ice cream and ate it as we wended our way back through the streets to the station, marvelling in the joy of the sun on our skin and the transformation of the buildings from dull ochre to glowing orange as the sunlight filtered down and warmed everything it touched.
We ate our weight in pasta and gelato and pizza and cannoli and drank litres of wine and freshly squeezed orange juice. We saw so much beautiful art and architecture that our eyes and minds struggled to drink it all in. On our final days in Florence, the sun came back to stay and we sunbathed in the hotel gardens with their stunning view of Florence’s rooftops, read our books, and felt like the real world and its troubles were a million miles away. So, it might not have exactly been the holiday I had anticipated, but it was a marvellous one nonetheless. Italy never disappoints!