Sunday Express Travel - 1 January 2006


Florence

Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner, 2004
OK, The Bodyguard was a bit slushy and Waterworid sank without trace, but when it comes to honeymoons, nobody did it better. Kevin Costner took the second Mrs C to Italy, the most romantic place on earth. Even better, he took her to Florence ó the warm, beautiful, wonderful city that, in the 15th Century, saw the greatest flowering of art and culture yet known to humanity.
Not that Florence is a museum ó far from it. Yes, pop into almost any church and youíll see Renaissance frescoes straight out of an art history textbook, but take a stroll round those same streets late on a Saturday night and youíll see a city thatís alive, vibrant and sexy. Skinny, black-eyed boys weave through the crowds, two to a Vespa, checking out those Florentine beauties who havenít changed since Botticelliís time. Middle-aged couples stroll hand in hand, at ease and beautifully dressed. There are babies, grannies ó and itís midnight. This is a city that knows how to live.
My partner Caroline and I had arrived that evening, having driven our beloved vintage Triumph off the AutoTrain at Nice (no tedious French motorways for us) and motored south, top down, via Monaco. That was the easy part, but finding our apartment was more of a challenge. We got there, but at one point I looked up and realised we were driving round the Duomo, close enough to brush the stones with our fingertips. Iím sure youíre not supposed to do that.
I had found us an apartment in a former palace (now thereís something
to tell your loved one). OK, it was the smallest and cheapest they had, and it was named after Savonarola, a revolutionary cleric noted for his hatred of luxury, but it was still bigger than our London flat, beautifully and freshly decorated, and located bang in the centre of the city.
Florence, of course, is in Tuscany, and you canít stay there without exploring this wonderful landscape of gentle hills, sleek cypresses and historic hill towns. Plunging once again into the Florentine traffic, we headed south and into the countryside.
For the next few days, we would be based at Sotto di Giardino, a lovely, stone-built former farmhouse in the heart of Chiantishire. Little has changed there in centuries, save perhaps the installation of our own private swimming pool. From there we explored Siena, San Gimignano and Volterra. Each is worth a week or a fortnight on, its own, and there are also wonderful walks to be had, with equally wonderful restaurants at the end (do equip yourself with a copy of Walking and Eating in Tuscany by James Lasdun and Pia Davis).
You donít really need a car, but it was good to have one (especially our own) so that we could at least get a taste of everything this wonderful part of the world has to offer before, all too soon, it was time to go home. If I was Kevin, Iíd be planning a second honeymoon pretty soon.
                                                              Adrian Pettet


Adrianís apartment and cottage were booked through Hello Italy (01483 419964; www.helloit.co.uk).
He travelled with Railsavers (www railsavers.com; 01253 595555), who organise motorail travel from Calais to Nice, and P&0 Ferries.




For further information, please call us on 01483 419964 to discuss your needs, or simply send us an email specifying the period and number of guests and we will advise you.

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