By Jordan Rhodes
I always tell people, if you have only one chance to go to Europe, go to Italy. Forgive me, my beloved UK, but Italy truly is one of the most beautiful, friendly, and relaxing countries you can find, with the perks of having phenomenal art and history to absorb. And what better city to visit than Florence - the home of Michelangelo's David, Renaissance-era art and architecture, and mind-altering pasta? Plus, with endless barrels of Barolo and Brunello created from nearby vineyards, I never want to leave, and sometimes physically can't walk away (of course, the kids are with sitters on those occasions…)
Florentines are also a fun reason to go. Extremely good-natured and extra friendly to children, they're always up for a good time, with morning café rituals and three-hour social lunches. So, who better to interview on the city of Florence than a mother and socialite herself, whose family vacations in the area? Lisa Meiland Martin leads a charming, enviable life. A former wedding dress designer, she spent her adolescent years in New York and then stayed for college and graduate school. Lisa now lives in London and is married with young daughters. She and her husband met at a nightclub in 2000 and immediately loathed each other. But, as we all know, if you don't travel, you miss out on life, and the two ended up reconnecting at a wedding in the South of France several years later. This time, the romance was there. According to Lisa,
“what is it they say....love and hate are two sides of the same coin? We were instantly absorbed and it was as if everyone else melted away. Six months later I lived in London and we were married in 2008. I am more in love with my husband every day and I thank my lucky stars for having a second chance at meeting him!”
Their wedding took place in Florence, and was so spectacular, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you don't read about it here, as covered by New York Social Diary.
Lisa gives additional details about her wedding weekend in our interview below (be prepared to release many jealous sighs while reading,) and also gives a wonderfully detailed overview of a city and region that she loves, with brilliant tips for traveling with young ones. Plus, for the sake of my own selfish yearning for London, she speaks a little about the city where she and her husband are raising their children, and where she is hard at work studying for her own British passport. But I digress - we are covering Italy. Below is Lisa Meiland Martin's Florence and Tuscany.
1) You and your family travel to Florence and Tuscany often. Do you always stick to a routine while there, or do you venture around the city and countryside?
My family has a place in Radda in Chianti and we generally stay there and use it as a base for our travels around the region.
If we have guests, we will usually have a more sightseeing-oriented itinerary which will include a day trip to Florence, a day trip to Sienna (if traveling in July or August try to make it to the Palio, it is worth paying the exorbitant fees for a rickety seat on someone's private balcony...), a day trip to San Gimignano (a city of medieval towers....like an ancient Manhattan!) and possibly also a hike through Cinque Terre near Viareggio. If it is warm, my husband will usually request a day and a night in Forte dei Marmi where we will book sunbeds and lunch at Twiga Beach Club and hire some bicycles to pop into town for some gelato.
If we are on our own, we sometimes skip Sienna and San Gimignano and select either a day of wine tasting in little Enotecas in the small hill towns (most of the vineyards no longer do tastings) or a hike up to Volpaia for lunch overlooking Radda.
We ALWAYS make a trip to the Prada outlet outside Montevarchi (the deals are great) and The Mall outlets where you can find everything from Gucci to Lanvin to Zegna. The deals are not as good at the latter but you are still going to be happy with the discounts. The outlets are massive and have the look and feel of the proper stores so not a bad trip all in all.
2) When over there, which restaurants do you prefer?
Trattoria 13 Gobbi - the restaurant is super casual, all higgledy piggledy mismatched chairs and tables. Ask to sit in the garden area - it is good for lunch or dinner. They are famous for their baked rigatoni pasta.
La Giostra - best dinner restaurant in Florence which is in a relatively casual and intimate setting. My husband took me there for our 1st anniversary. It was started by a pair of European princes who have made it special.
Se.Sto on Arno - amazing views over Florence. Trendy
Enoteca Pinchiorri - more formal dining with amazing food in a beautiful, refined environment
Gelato - our favorite is La Carraia. It has the absolute best gelato in town in my opinion. It is not super sophisticated but the flavors are yummy!
Famous Gelateria in Florence – Vivoli is also homemade but with more “refined” flavours
Great Casual/Trendy Restaurant - Ristorante O Munaciello for great pizzas!
Café – Rivoire, for coffee and breakfast chocolate cornettos (like pain au chocolat)
Drinks – the Fusion Bar and Restaurant at the Gallery Hotel Art. Grab a seat outside
Albergaccio – a super romantic and cute spot with fantastic food
Osteria Volpaia - this terraced restaurant has a beautiful view overlooking the hills around Radda in Chianti. The truffled anything is amazing!
3) You and your husband were married in Florence. What are some of your favorite memories of the wedding?
We got married in the Chiesa Luterana Firenze, which is a beautiful pink church. Following the ceremony we hosted our reception at the Palazzo Corsini, which is an old Florentine palace on the Arno. It is all frescoed gorgeousness, wide stone staircases and huge terraces overlooking the river. My parents surprised us with wonderful touches such as hiring the flag throwers from the Palio to perform for our guests, and having our wedding cake literally created in front of the guests during the dinner. Aside from the main wedding ceremony and reception, we also hosted a sushi dinner on the roof terrace of the Continentale Hotel, which provided a stunning view of Florence and a trendy atmosphere. Our other big parties included a Venetian inspired masquerade at the gardens of the Museo Stibbert (which are worth a walk through) and a lush post-wedding picnic at Castello Il Palagio which is a castle 45 minutes outside Florence. I don't think I have a favorite memory of my wedding. I literally loved every second of the 4 day weekend so much that I hosted an impromptu pizza party in our suite at the Gallery Hotel Art on the Sunday night because I wasn't ready to say goodbye to our friends yet!
4) When friends are visiting Florence, which hotels do you recommend?
Hotel Una Vittoria is very affordable and quite trendy and mysterious. It is a little distance from the centre but that tends to mean better prices. Of course the Four Seasons is magnificent as it is a refurbished palazzo with frescoes everywhere and a huge garden. It is also a little walk from the centre. I love Gallery Hotel Art as it is smack dab in the middle of everything as is its sister hotel The Continentale. For old school luxury and good location, the Westin Excelsior in Florence is actually heaven.
5) What do your children like to do when visiting? Activities? Favorite museums?
My children like anything that involves gelato. Florence is obviously a city dominated by art, which can get a little tedious for the kids. I would recommend balancing out the paintings and frescoes with some activities. A climb to the top of the Duomo is both fun and educational. A walk through the Boboli Gardens is a nice break from seeing the David. That said, Michelangelo's David is located in a museum that is small and easy for the kids to navigate. For the Uffizi, I would recommend booking a private tour and asking for the greatest hits rather than slogging through the whole thing. It can be a bit overwhelming for the little ones. Drive up to the Piazzale Michelangelo for a great view over Florence. A walk across Ponte Vecchio is like stepping through time (if you can mentally block out the zillions of tourists and sellers of knock-offs that are everywhere!)....
My kids love the Pinocchio style of Bartolucci, which is a woodshop on Via Condotta 12/r. Here you can find wooden clocks, toys and beautiful works of art for children all handmade in wood. My kids have a fish-shaped clock with their names on it.
6) You are a New Yorker who moved to London after your wedding. What differentiates each city and what is it like living in London with children?
I am Danish but moved to Manhattan when I was 10, which was obviously a big change from little Denmark! That said, I spent my teen years and my twenties in New York, so I am pretty much a New Yorker....I moved to London 6 months after meeting my husband, a move that now seems incredibly reckless and impulsive as I contemplate the future decisions of my two little girls and stepdaughter! The two cities are my absolute favorite places on earth. I am so happy that I was able to spend my single life in the most amazing place (New York) where anything is possible and fun is always around the corner. I never thought I would leave New York - I even went to college and business school there in an effort never to move anywhere else. London is also incredible and I think it is a more livable city for families. The pace of life here is more suited to a family and I love taking the kids out to the Cotswolds or a quick flight to the Continent when we can. London is also so beautiful and the parks are magnificent. In the last decade the city has really stepped up its offering for families.
7) Any advice for families traveling with children?
My kids are easy to travel with. I pack an Ipad for everyone filled with educational apps like Teach Me Kindergarten and Bugs & Numbers as well as every TV show that my kids can think to request (I am a firm believer that a quiet child is a wonderful child on an airplane!). I make sure I have carrot sticks, apple slices and sometimes sandwiches with me in case my kids hate the airplane food, which they always do. I recently found out that you can actually request kids' meals on most airlines, which means my children might actually try the food in the future. You have to make the request in advance. I always pack colored pencils or markers and two coloring books just in case we run out of batteries or the girls miraculously get bored of their Ipads. I tend to let them fly in leggings, a long sleeve tee and a jumper so that they can adjust their temperature as the plane cools.
After asking Lisa all of the above questions, I then asked a few to help me write my introduction. I loved her response when asked if there was anything else she wanted to add about her life and family:
"The only thing I can say is that I am extremely grateful for the life that I have. I try to make sure that I live every day in the moment because I am having so much fun...."