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The Gucci Museum – Florence

Few fashion labels are as synonymous with Florence as Gucci, and to celebrate their 90th anniversary back in 2011, the fashion house opened the new Gucci Museum. Housed in a three-story historic palazzo in Piazza Signoria, any fashion guru or aspiring fashionista will love this place. The elegantly attired doorman explains the concept to you as you step inside inviting you to view the exhibition for a small fee (that’s well worth it) or enjoy the café, restaurant and bookstore. It’s a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours.

Gucci Museum in Florence at night

The exhibition offers a valuable insight into the treasures of the Gucci dynasty. At about 1,700 square feet on three floors, the museum takes you on a journey over time showcasing items like early travel trunks, pigskin luggage, “bamboo” handbags, floral-print scarves created for Grace Kelly and even a customised ’79 Cadillac.

Every room has a postcard for you to collect, with an explanation of each exhibit which is elegantly laid out in large glass cabinets. The staircase is filled with framed photographs of famous people in their Gucci gear. It makes for an interesting and amusing walk.

Fashion Room at Gucci Museum Florence Italy

On the ground floor, the museum has a café where you can relax and read books over a cup of coffee or light snack. There is also a full-service restaurant. Adjoining the restaurant is a bookstore filled with art, fashion and photography treat, and a Gucci store filled with signature Gucci designs, many of which are only available in the store.

Bookstore and cafe Gucci Museum Florence Italy

Photos courtesy of Gucci Museum.

Lake Como – A Stunning Corner Of Italy

Lake Como has been the playground of the rich and famous since Roman times and it’s hard not to feel like one of them as the train pulls into the station at Varenna.

With an area of 146 km², Lake Como is the third largest lake in Italy and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful. It is shaped like an inverted Y and the small towns of Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna sit at the intersection of the three branches of the lake, where is where most people travel to from Milan. Each of these towns has its own particular charm, and is worth visiting.

Day trip

If you just want to do a day trip from Milan, the best thing to do is to take the train from Milano Centrale to Varenna, which only takes about an hour. It’s an easy 10 minute walk into the village. Head for the town square first, then walk down the steep stairs and alleyways to the lake. (It’s much better than walking up). Varenna is a stunning place, with less than 300 residents and it’s unique because the road runs above the town, so it feels less spoiled than other towns.

Varenna from ferry on Lake Como

 

Varenna Chapel Lake Como Italy

Varenna Town skyline Lake Como Italy

When you’re done, catch a ferry to Bellagio. Just buy a ticket at the dock and hop on. It’s only a 15 minute trip across the lake with the Swiss Alps in the background. Bellagio is the busiest town on the lake and has been set up very much for tourists, but it is worth visiting because it is beautiful. Although we didn’t get to Menaggio, a couple of Varenna locals said they prefer it to Bellagio because it is far less touristy. So if you have time it’s worth catching the ferry across there too.

To go back to Milan, catch the ferry back to the Varenna and head to the train station. If you don’t have a return ticket you may need to buy one from the travel agent on the way to the station.

Longer Stay

If you can, I highly recommend staying a couple of nights on Lake Como. We picked Varenna because it is a small, picturesque town that is in the middle of the lake, easy to reach from Milan and has a good ferry schedule to other towns.

We caught the train from Milan to Varenna in the afternoon, and being autumn it was pretty cold. To make it worse we were given the wrong directions to our hotel and had to walk up lots of ridiculously steep stairs. So we were pretty pleased to reach our charming boutique hotel Albergo Milano and be shown to our room that had a large deck with the most incredible view over the lake. It was everything we’d hoped for.

Lake Como winter Beautiful view

Lake Como view with champagne and snow

Lake Como Italy winter view

Having made it in time for sunset, we ordered a bottle of bubbly and sat on the deck as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. We had a violent storm during the night, but the next morning, the village and all the mountains were blanketed in snow. Varenna is only five stops from St Moritz, at the end of the railway line, so there was plenty of snow.

Luckily we had made it to Lake Como just in time, because Varenna and Bellagio basically shut down for winter from mid-November to March as the tourists stay away or head to the towns closer to St Moritz for skiing.

Small town opposite Varenna on Lake Como

Restaurant in Varenna Lake Como

When we tried to walk around to do a bit of sightseeing we ended up hopping from bar to restaurant to bar trying to stay warm, which truth be told, wasn’t too bad because we discovered a great hole in the wall. At the Borgovino restaurant a table of retired locals was having a long, lazy lunch. They took up four of the seven tables and with the wine flowing it was a cosy, festive afternoon. I recommend a stop in here for a meal and a bottle of wine. The owners know what they’re doing with food, wine and service.

The next day was much warmer and we managed to catch the ferry to Bellagio where we walked through the town and did some shopping. It is a beautiful town and is the quintessential ‘Italian village on a lake’ that you dream about, but I’m pleased we stayed in Varenna, because somehow it just feels a touch more authentic and homely, without the overpriced designer stores.

 

Lanes on Bellagio Lake Como Italy

Having said that, most people would be very happy to stay in Bellagio, especially if it’s at the elegant 5 star deluxe Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. Owned by the Bucher family for 3 generations, it stands at the end of the Bellagio promontory, with spectacular views of Lake Como and the Alps.

Palazzo Barbarigo – Luxury on Venice’s Grand Canal

If you can afford the overpriced fare of a water taxi to the Palazzo Barbarigo hotel in Venice, you’ll want to take it. It’s a very romantic way to arrive at the front door of your hotel. The reward is a quality art deco boutique hotel on the Grand Canal.

Front door hotel on water in Venice

It is relatively small double-story hotel. Plush and luxurious, its art deco décor evokes the best of a bygone era, and as Conde Nast Traveller said it is ‘an alternative to the usual grand dame hotel’.

It is a great hotel for couples looking for a romantic place to stay in Venice. The 18 rooms and junior suites are large and very comfortable with four poster beds, flat screen TV, chaise lounge, rain showers and mood lighting. Although there are no balconies, the windows are big and they open out wide so you never feel claustrophobic.

Luxury Hotel Bedroom Venice

The reception and front door that opens directly onto the canal are downstairs with a couple of rooms, whilst the bar, breakfast room and lounge are upstairs with the rest of the rooms leading off the lounge. (You would think this might make the rooms noisy, but ours wasn’t at all). Aside from a couple of rooms at the front, most rooms face onto a quieter side canal that still gets a fair share of traffic, and you can see the grand canal if you look out.

Luxury Lounge Hotel Venice

The hotel doesn’t have a full restaurant, so we stepped out to a recommended local eatery, Trattoria Da Ignazio, for a quick dinner.

A real old school place, with lopsided, low ceilings and cheerful yellow walls. The service and the homely, traditional Italian food was superb. We went with our waiter’s recommendations and every one was delicious. The only other waiter looked at least 100 years old and he we were fascinated all night as he shuffled about serving his tables without skipping a beat.

Restaurant in side street Venice

Back at the hotel we had a nightcap at the bar, which makes you feel like you’re in a 1940’s movie set, with a tiny terrace overlooking the canal, that’s almost deserted later at night. Looking out, it reminded me of those typical western towns in movies, but in this case with a watery main street.

Luxurious bar in boutique hotel Venice

We slept deeply, thanks to the double-glazing on the windows and when I opened them to look out, traffic was in full flow. Three gondolas went by below packed with tourists followed by a rubbish barge and police patrol.

Breakfast was the best I’ve had just about anywhere. There’s no generic buffet or stodgy, stale food here. A mountain of fruit, pastries, cheese and meat is served individually to your table, along with coffee or tea and a list for you to order additional items, most at no extra cost. You would have to be ravenous to finish all that food.

Hotel Grand canal views Venice

The hotel doesn’t have any facilities like a spa, gym or garden, but it is perfectly situated to explore Venice, either by vaporetto or on foot through the alleyways that take you to the famous Rialto Bridge, which offers great views over the Grand Canal.

We spent the day wandering, and getting ridiculously lost, as we tried to criss-cross a couple of districts. Along the way we took in famous sights like St Mark’s Square, partially under water because of the high tide, and the Rialto Market, where locals were shopping for their daily fresh fish and vegetables. A few hours later, having come full circle, we gave our weary legs a break with a long lunch on the Grand Canal. Surprisingly, the area where we sat had been knee deep in water a couple of hours earlier. We filled up happily on pizza and wine, and enjoyed the busy waterway before returning to the comfort of our room for a well deserved afternoon nap.

Slow Day Grand Canal Venice

Gondola Venice side Canal

We were pretty tired the second night, so we spent the evening relaxing in the hotel lounge, researching the next part of our trip. It was comfortable and quiet, and we felt like we were in our own living room. We only saw the other guests as they filtered back to their rooms after their evening out. The barman was very attentive, but never intrusive and we were grateful for the complimentary snacks.

When we left the following morning (after another incredible breakfast), we hopped on the vaporetto (water bus), for a last tour of Venice and climbed off at the train station. With the cold wind and the rain setting in, we had thoughts about heading back to the comfort and warmth of our hotel, but our train was waiting.