After winding through the Tuscan hills of Fiesole in Florence, we arrive at a set of large, wrought iron gates. Beyond the gates, and at the end of an immaculately manicured driveway, lies Villa San Michele, a former 15th century monastery and now a five-star hotel under the management of Belmond.
The hotel itself is light-filled, housing an abundance of antiques, centuries-old stonework and a delicately restored fresco of The Last Supper. Genuine Italian hospitality greets you from the moment you arrive, and the warmth and humour of the staff is totally engaging.
But it is the immaculately manicured gardens overlooking the panorama of Florence which provides the true wow-factor.
The gardens and the view are jaw-droppingly beautiful, with a highlight being the 250 year old wisteria tree which covers the entire side of one of the main Villa walls, and which blooms in a riot of purple flowers each year.
These magical gardens are a stylish place of peace, featuring potted lemon trees, comfortable outdoor furniture and shady market umbrellas, where a relaxed al-fresco lunch or sunset cocktails can be enjoyed whilst enjoying the sublime view of the city of Florence. This is relaxation and romance at its best.
And yet, this ‘peace’ can be swapped for ‘pace’, when in just 15 minutes a private shuttle takes you to the centre of Florence, where shopping, cultural attractions and dining abound. But if relaxation is more your style, the panoramic swimming pool - complete with market umbrellas, an outdoor massage tent and a gently cascading waterfall - is the place to be.
There are 46 magnificent suites and rooms, some within the historic Villa and others set gracefully in the garden terraces, in the little chapel, the old greenhouse or the ancient Limonaia.
The Junior Suites, with their own private outdoor area overlooking the gardens and Tuscan hills below, are built into the flowering terraced hillside and blend seamlessly into the woodland landscape.
The staff at Villa San Michele pride themselves on their food! And for the gourmet, Villa San Michele offers 100 days a year of gastronomy courses at their Cookery School which has a reputation as one of the best places to discover Italian cuisine.
Dinner al fresco on The Terrace at the signature ‘Loggia’ Restaurant is one of the world’s most romantic places to dine. Centuries old archways perfectly frame the lights of Florence glistening in the valley below and the combination of unforgettable views, impeccable silver service, and the freshest traditional Tuscan cuisine means that this truly is a gastronomic heaven.