Florence is a reassuring city. You go there for stone walls, old frescoes and steaks as thick as a reference book. They love their country clothes there (it’s a surprisingly good place to get a second-hand Barbour). You see hunting dogs, tweeds in winter, and it feels perfectly natural when an old man bicycles down the street smoking a pipe. All bets are off when Pitti Uomo arrives with its parade of clowns, though most of the year the calculation remains the same. But there are still surprising ways to visit the city on the Arno and remake the classic equation.
Consider Villa La Massa, your dream of the Italian countryside made real. This 16th Century Medici Villa was converted into a hotel in 1948 and then renovated in 1998 by the owners of the renowned Villa d’Este. It’s set right on a bend in the river, across from fields and gentle hills. It’s about a twenty minute drive from town and they have a shuttle that regularly drops you near the Ponte Vecchio.
You can take your café or aperitif next to pool, there’s a small but elegant spa, and walking paths through a 22-acre garden, with rosemary, irises and pear trees. This is a much less formal affair than Villa d’Este (coats are not required for dinner, but you are in Italy, so why not?). It’s a low-key pastoral setting that’s intimate, handsome and contemplative.
Villa La Massa succeeds beyond its setting: You can attend cooking classes, wine tastings, eat white truffles in October or head out to visit distinguished towns and churches around Tuscany. But it doesn’t make you do more than you want to: You can sit by the river, read a book and drink your Negroni. Villa La Massa understands that you want to travel on your own terms. And in this setting, those terms are always good.