Italian adventures: five-star hospitality and fine dining from Bologna to Florence

We all need and deserve a spot of luxury at some point in our lives. If Bologna is on your bucket list (and it should be) head to one of the Leading Hotels of the World and the finest jewel of Bolognese culture, the Grand Hotel Majestic ‘Già Baglioni’. The oldest hotel in the city, this 18th-century gem has accommodated Paul McCartney, the Dalai Lama and even Princess Diana over the years. On visiting, it’s easy to see why. If you want a slice of the high life and a real knockout of a stay, then the Grand Hotel Majestic is a must. It is the tiramisu of hotels – picking you up and casting its spell from the moment you step through the doors on Via dell’Indipendenza.

Duetorrihotels have got it very right with this place and there are a variety of rooms to cater for all budgets. If you want to take a furry companion with you, pets can also enjoy their own little slice of VIP living as they are welcomed at no extra cost. Five stars mean many things to people. If views are your thing, then ask to see the glorious Art Deco Terrace suite – and take something bubbly with you. Accessible only by its own private lift and stretching across 65 square metres in room space with an additional 70 square metres of sun terrace, enjoy some privacy high above the streets with your own private sunbathing area. From here you can see the old and new areas of the city side-by-side and the panoramic view across which takes you up into the hillside – truly enchanting.

Image: Grand Hotel Majestic ‘Già Baglioni’

The culinary experiences on offer at the Grand Hotel Majestic are also incredible. Able to cater for both carnivores and veggies alike, go for The Emilian Tradition menu at the I Carracci Ristorante, where you can try the classic dish of Tagliatelle al ragù a punta di coltello. Like our treasured and well-known Spag Bol, the traditional recipe uses tagliatelle, not spaghetti, with a huge amount of Parmesan for seasoning – the more cheese, the merrier! For vegetarians, try the green risotto with rhubarb puree or sample a traditional take on Aubergine Parmigiana. A tip: don’t forget to look up when seated in I Carracci, to marvel at the splendid ceiling.

If you have the luxury of time on your trip to Bologna and want to venture about town, there are a number of attractions, which are well worth a visit. Number one has to be the famous Bologna towers. For the athletic amongst you, climb the 498 steps up one of the city’s iconic symbols and admire the city views from 97.2 metres up, taking in the old and newer parts of Bolognese culture for just €5. There is also the University of Bologna which, having been founded in 1088, is the oldest in continuous operation. Known for its expertise with medicine and particularly anatomy and dissection, take a look around the cadaver room where such investigations began and students learnt their craft and profession.

Bologna. Image: iStock/starmaro

For a true highlight, visit the San Colombano music museum. Tucked away in the back streets of the city, this place is like Mary Poppins’ handbag. Endless rooms, secret corners and depths reveal themselves as you progress throughout. Containing the Tagliavini collection, as acquired by the renowned musician Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini over 50 years, there are harpsichords, spinets and pianos from different centuries as well as wind instruments, which the new curator will demonstrate for you with pleasure. A welcome break from the sun and a very educational visit, this is a must for all music fans and those who want to get up and close with history – entry is only €7.

From Bologna, journey to Florence – Italy’s tourist hub and holder of what must be the most beautiful Duomo in the world. The capital of Tuscany, it is home to the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’Accademia – which houses Michelangelo’s ‘David’, no less. For your choice of hotel, look no further than Bernini Palace: situated mere moments from the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, this 15th-century building is perfectly placed and offers the intimate and beautiful Chiostrina Ristorante. Situated in what looks and feels like an indoor courtyard, it is elegantly lit with fairy and tea lights and the menus are out of this world. Innovative regional dishes include Parmesan hunks with asparagus and delicately twisted spinach gnocchi, tortellini with goats’ cheese and mixed vegetables, filled courgettes with chianti mousse and Italian almond cake with berry coulis.

Image: Bernini Palace

Depending on what you’re looking for in a room, Bernini Palace ticks a lot of boxes. Alongside Classic and Superior rooms overlooking the courtyards and Medieval Florentine streets, some Junior suites overlook Piazza San Firenze and the magnificent Duomo. Each room offers a style of its own and, on top of ensuring your every need is catered for, the management team here will be more than happy to assess which room would best suit you.

Stepping out of the hotel, grab your shots of the Duomo before the tourists flock – this can start as early as 8am, so be prepared to make it an early one if you’d snap some incredible images. Next you could try the Gucci Museum; opened in 2011 on the 90th anniversary of the fashion house, it reveals through beautiful (and sometimes totally out-there) clothes the brand’s story from its early days to the modern age as we know it. The museum can be found in the Palazzo della Mercanzia and contains many exhibitions of bags, garments and flamboyant accessories. You could treat yourself to some eats and beverages here, too, as several cafes and even a Michelin-starred restaurant have opened on the lower floors. Elsewhere, give nearby Ristorante Frescobaldi a try to indulge in a classic Caprese salad or Parmesan tart with leeks and truffle – the perfect Italian lunch.

Florence. Image: iStock/NickolayV

For those seeking a truly unique experience of Florence and its fashion history, the Antico Setificio Fiorentino silk mill offers the chance to witness an incredible feat of engineering and skill. ‘Welcome to the home of magnificence’ features in its heritage statement, and how true this is. Dating back to 1786 and located right in the heart of the city, this impressive mill continues to function to this day, using original looms from the 18th century. Founded by noble, aristocratic Florentine families and later supported by Grand Duke Leopoldo di Lorena, it displays Renaissance textile art and history throughout – many of which you can buy there and then.

There’s something very special about seeing this ancient industry in the middle of a bustling and more modern functioning business hub. Against the backdrop of this busy city, the mill will weave its magic upon you, as will the city of Florence.

Words by Hannah Ramsden

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