This story is part of our 'Romantic Travel Stories' series, featuring tales from luxury hotel guests which were sent in for our travel writing competition.
Photo by Xiquinho.
The only way to truly 'see' a place is by foot. In Italy with each step you take if you look closely the walls shed the centuries; vermillion, taupe, and tangerine hues peek out at you, as vivid as the day they were painted. In the workshops over the via, leather is being cut and dyed. In the granary ahead, flour is being prepared. And the artist lingers on a curve of the bust he is unearthing. On my first trip to Italy, I planned a week’s stay in Florence and rather than shoot the visit through with daytrips to other locales, I opted to spend each day in a different quarter – walking, sitting, writing, soaking up everything I could.
On the third day, I crossed the Arno to the west side of town. I zigzagged through streets lined with bicycles, traced the ornate grillwork of buildings dating to the 14th century, stopped for homemade Italian cookies at a bakery, and wandered winding hillsides interspersed with columns of cypress trees, until at last I found myself at the Boboli Gardens, a masterpiece of Italian landscaping designed in the 16th century.
Equipped with the official guidebook, I set out to conquer (or be conquered by) this treasure of the Medici family. After touring the museums of the Palazzo Pitti, I continued crisscrossing the hedged and terraced gardens, sat for a long siesta at a fountain ruled by the stone likeness of Neptune, wondered at the ten-foot high swatch of bird netting along Cypress Lane, and pondered the alchemy that had turned lemons into contemporary sculpture in the Lemon House. I refused to rush, feeling transformed into a 17th century lady, taking her afternoon stroll about the grounds.
As fancy drew me further into the gilded past, I felt compelled to place myself among the timelessly beautiful surroundings and asked a stranger to take my picture at a point overlooking the amphitheatre. This chance encounter led to meeting a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of art history and a terminal case of wanderlust. The conversation Nicolai and I struck continued on, as we made our way to the Grotto of Madame, out the gates and across the Ponte Vecchio and to a bus that would take us to Fiesole, hopefully in time to see the setting sun.
Fiesole is a hamlet south of Florence with Olympian views spanning the entire valley. Laughing like old school friends, we shamelessly crept through private gardens until we emerged at the highest vantage point. Perched atop the mountain, looking out towards Il Duomo, as angelic voices rehearsed in the church behind us, we watched meteorological phenomena, not unlike the Northern Lights, in the onyx velvet purse that had only just closed its mouth upon the last vestige of sunlight.