Monthly Archives: August 2010

Dove Vai? – A Holiday in an Historic Palace


Tuscany evokes images of rolling hills, sumptuous cuisine and breathtaking architecture. There is a wealth of compelling history to be discovered in the cities and countryside alike. Visitors can experience the luxury of living in historic palaces, castles and villas in unique Tuscan and Florentine hotels.

The magic starts upon entry to the Castello Magnani Feroni
The magic starts upon entry to the Castello Magnani Feroni

No matter if you wish to stay in bustling city centres or tranquil hillside villages, there are extraordinary historic buildings, which have been converted into chic boutique hotels giving the guest a truly timeless experience. These historically significant abodes range from opulent palazzos in Florence to picturesque medieval castles surrounded by olive groves. Tuscany deserves its famed status as one of the world’s highlights for discerning travellers to indulge in awe inspiring environments complemented by elegant ambiance, exquisite wine selections and epicurean delights.

The magnificent Palazzo Magnani Feroni was purchased by the Marchese Feroni in 1770. During the 1800s, Palazzo Magnani Feroni became a hub for Florence’s aristocracy and was even listed in the “Golden Book of Florentine Nobility” by Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici. From 1735 onwards, the palace housed one of Europe’s most prominent art galleries, the Galleria Salvadori.

Palatial Suite of the Palazzo Magani Feroni
Palatial Suite of the Palazzo Magani Feroni

The Palazzo Magnani Feroni is located within San Frediano, the medieval heart of Florence. Guests can luxuriate in one of the 12 suites and elegant common rooms, which are tastefully accentuated by numerous art pieces, original frescoes, and traditional furniture that date back to the 18th century. Today, the palazzo falls under the jurisdiction of the Italian Artistic Patrimony Protection Authority. Treating yourself to a stay at this lavish, historical Palazzo is sure to make you feel like modern royalty.

Castello di Vicarello overlooks the Tuscan Maremma
Castello di Vicarello overlooks the Tuscan Maremma

Exquisitely and remotely located on a green hilltop at the heart of the Maremma Grossetana in Tuscany, stands Castello di Vicarello a castle hotel that dates back to the year 1112. The high ground was first settled by the Etruscans, and then later was the site of a spa built by the Romans. The Maremma is known as “Tuscany’s Wild West”, a once-forgotten area with tales of exiles and pirates, plagues and witches. The elaborately renovated castle hotel has the air of a fortress straight out of a 12th century fairy tale. Only 45 km (23 mi) from Siena, this rustic-luxe boutique hotel pampers its guests with authentic home-cooked Tuscan meals straight out of the traditional farmhouse kitchen, its own working vineyard and olive grove. The romantic, yet comfortable, decor allows guests to indulge in a special rustic and relaxed atmosphere.

These historical buildings are just two of the many converted buildings peppered across Tuscany, which invite guests to make their own history. Ancient walls and period furniture that have seen generations of families and noble visitors for centuries, now welcome an international clientele to be Italian for a short, but very special moment in time.

Guest contribution by Holly Maguire from where the Unique Tuscany Hotels include historic palaces, former monasteries, rustic farmhouses and intimate B&Bs.

Burnt to a Crisp – Taxi Ride to Economic Ruin

The taxi drivers of London are the best in the world. New York and San Francisco have excellent cabbies. Even Washington, DC, where they rarely know how to find an address, the taxi cab drivers are polite and want to give good service.

But in Italy, cab drivers are a protected class who seem to believe the clients are always wrong, deserving of  barely a nod, much less help with their luggage, and having no say about internal temperature or speed of the cab.

And don’t even try to figure out the fee system. Just know that it will gouge you. One night at 10:15pm, when buses pass only once an hour in the periphery of Florence, I called a cab. It arrived with 6.50 euro ($8.50) on the meter. When I questioned the extra fee, the driver barked out that it was the night fee for serves after 10pm.

Florentine taxis sitting in wait behind the Duomo
Florentine taxis sitting in wait behind the Duomo

Last week in the New York Times, David Segal used a story about Italian taxi drivers to illustrate his piece about Italy’s economic future:

“Five years ago, Francesco Giavazzi needed a taxi. Cabs are relatively scarce in Milan, especially at 5 a.m., when he wanted to head to the airport, so he called a company at 4:30 to schedule a pickup. But when he climbed into the cab half an hour later, he discovered that the meter had been running for more than 20 minutes, because the taxi driver had arrived soon after the call and started charging for his time. Allowed by the rules, but to Mr. Giavazzi, utterly unfair.

“So it was 20 euros before we started the trip to the airport,” recalls Mr. Giavazzi, who is an economics professor at Bocconi University. “I said, ‘This is impossible.’ ”

“Professor Giavazzi later wrote an op-ed article denouncing this episode as another example of the toll exacted by Italy’s innumerable guilds, known by several names here, including “associazioni di categoria.” (These are different from unions, another force here, in that guilds are made up of independent players in a trade or profession who have joined to keep outsiders out and maintain standards, as opposed to representing employees in negotiations with management, as a union might.) Even baby sitters have associations in Italy.

“The op-ed did not endear Professor Giavazzi to the city’s cab drivers. They pinned leaflets with his name and address at taxi stands around Milan and for the next five nights, cabs drove around his home, honking their horns.”

Mr. Segal’s article, Is Italy Too Italian?, is enlightening. He describes some of the many reasons that Italy’s economy won’t go the way of Greece, but will hobble the country for decades to come, perhaps forever. The anti-competitive taxi “service” is only a symptom of  an ailing country that can only watch its best days in the rear view mirror.