Thursday, 19 June 2014

Florence: A Surprisingly Kid and Wallet-friendly Holiday

A plan to visit to Florence, a city close to my heart after spending a year there as a student, had been forming in my mind for a while. I'd promised my eldest son, an architecture-mad 10-year-old, that I'd take him there one day soon, but on properly thinking my pledge through, a few things worried me. It might be a good place to go if your son likes architecture, but you can't really base a whole holiday on that premise.

The pastel-coloured Duomo

Firstly, Florence is an expensive place to visit. Flooded with international visitors all year round, there's a heavy 'tourist tax' on pretty much everything, from accommodation to your morning cappuccino. Then there's the question of suitability for children - Florence is all about art, culture and history, and it can leave some visitors a little weary. There's just so much you HAVE TO SEE and the burden to do it all can weigh heavily. It's not a particularly spacious, green city, and as any travellers with kids in tow will tell you, it's important to balance sightseeing with plenty of down-time at a park or other green space. 

And would the kids be that interested in accompanying me on a trip down memory lane as I dragged them round the places I used to hang out as a 20-year-old student? In fact, would the Florence live up to my romantic expectations at all? 

Taking in some sublime views

But as the year stuttered along, I couldn't quite shake off my longing, so after a bit of research into costs, we decide to go ahead and book. Life is pretty 'safe' for us a lot of the time and while travelling to Italy is hardly pushing the boundaries of travel, it felt good to be led by our hearts and not practicality for a change. If you're a parent thinking about doing similar I'd urge you to go for it - kids make much better travelling companions than you think they will, they're open to new experiences and problems around things like tiredness, eating and other practical matters are never quite as major as you think they will be. 

Children aside, costs are always something we have to consider carefully. I have a rule that any holiday we take additional to our main holiday (which we now book well in advance, paying off month by month so we don't have to come home to an eye-popping overdraft or credit card bill) must come in at under £1000 - and much less than this if at all possible. Travelling within school holidays makes this a challenge but we managed it this time, thanks to fairly cheap flights on EasyJet (which flies to Pisa, about an hour on the train from Florence) and fantastically great-value accommodation, courtesy of Apartments Florence, a service which boasts around 200 apartments across the city, from simple, basic one-bedders to high-end, luxury villas located in the idyllic hills surrounding Florence.

We opted for the former option, obviously, choosing the Alfani, a one-bedroom apartment just a few minutes' walk from the centre of town. We'd read some good reviews and it seemed a more than adequate option for bedding down, with the added convenience of being able to cook some of our own meals, a must for keeping a handle on costs. Eating out times four is expensive in Florence, so being able to sort out breakfast and some of our evenings meals justified the cost of the couple of dinners we did have out. 

Quintessential Florence

While the kids commandeered the bedroom, we had a a comfy, perfectly fine sofa bed to sleep on. And we almost had a room with a view (well, we could watch the quintessential comings and goings of Italian life played out on the street below us.) With a bakery around one corner, a well-stocked supermarket around the other, as well as most of the key sights within a ten minute walk, the apartment was perfect for our requirements. 

However, despite my glowing report I forgot to take photos, so you'll have to head over to the Apartments Florence website to take a look at where we stayed. As I said, this is not luxury accommodation, but we paid just £472 Euros (around £378) for five nights' accommodation. When you compare that to what you might spend on a long weekend at Center Parcs, that's a total bargain in my book.

Having never booked accommodation this way, we were slightly nervous about what to expect, having heard stories from friends about turning up at non-existent villas or their rental not bearing any resemblance to the pictures on the website. The fact that all our communication with Apartments Florence in the run-up to our stay was frequent, clear and polite reassured us, and when we arrived in Italy we were met by a very friendly, helpful representative - a relief after a slightly stressful journey (it being Italy, there had been a general strike a few days before we arrived, Pisa Airport was a bit chaotic and there was no direct train running from the airport due to engineering works...the fact that Italy has a sometimes shambolic attitude to public services had somehow been erased from my romantic memories of living there!)

If you don't speak Italian, don't worry - the company has plenty of English speakers so you can be sure nothing is lost in translation.

Ready for churches, art, and more art

So, we'd arrived and now I had time to soak it all in - would this make a good place for a family holiday? The fact that the sun was shining but it wasn't too hot (Florence can get stifling in the summer) was good, the historic buildings were just as beautiful as I'd remembered them and my kids were excited - it was all looking positive...

So, how do you enjoy a city like Florence on a budget and with kids in tow? I'll be adding another blog post on what we got up to very soon. But for now, if you're interested in finding out more about Apartments Florence, you can visit the website here.


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