When we started our business, almost 10 years ago now, our initial inspiration was very much related to our enjoyment of staying in European cities.We loved both the space an apartment can offer over a hotel, as well as the authentic experience of living as a ‘local’. Particularly for a longer stay, there is the advantage of cooking and dining in your apartment, after shopping in a nearby food market, as well as getting to know your local shops and restaurants. Between us, at The Luxury Travel Book, we have visited all our destinations and stayed in apartments in many of the cities we feature. We can also recommend tried and tested experiences and activities to enhance guests’ stays, including history tours, cookery classes, art exhibitions and food market tours.
City stays have definitely suffered since the Covid pandemic as those who are still travelling, understandably, tend to be looking for more rural, or beachside locations, where there is a better chance of social distancing. But we are hoping that over the next few months, with vaccines now becoming available, that people will come flooding back to enjoy the culture, history and culinary delights of the great cities we feature – Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, Lucca, Siena, Milan, Barcelona, Madrid and Seville, as well as London, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Dubrovnik, Bordeaux, Prague, Vienna, Amsterdam, and Berlin.
PARIS, FRANCEParis is one of our biggest city destinations and one that we travel to regularly in normal times. When asked what I am missing the most about Paris at the moment, it is probably just wandering around the Marais, with its historic 17th buildings, the beautiful Place des Vosges, the museums (the Carnavalet, Pompidou and, in particular, the Musée Picasso) – and of course, the shops and inviting restaurants. I also miss walking down to the Seine and crossing over to the beautiful Ile St Louis, and then to the left bank, to St Germain and the Luxembourg Gardens. When I have time to venture further afield, I always love going up Montmartre, with its cobbled streets and artistic vibe and, in particular, to the Musée de Montmartre, overlooking the Montmartre vineyard, and with the atmosphere of its former life as a meeting place for many artists and writers.
There are always several art exhibitions in Paris I want to see, and a couple of years ago, I discovered L’Atelier des Lumières, situated near République, a huge space with paintings transposed onto 10 metre high walls. With the use of 140 video projectors and a spatial sound system the atmosphere is quite magical – with two visits so far, I managed to see both the brilliant Klimt and the Van Gogh exhibitions. Other museums I love visiting whenever I can are the Musée de Luxembourg, right by the Luxembourg Gardens, and the Musée Maillol, a very manageable small museum which focuses mainly on the work of sculptor Aristide Maillol. Another favourite is the Musée Bourdelle (originally home and workshop of the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, a pupil of Rodin) – a longer walk, to the 15th arr. but well worth it.
Paris also boasts some of the world’s best restaurant experiences and we, of course, have a list of our favourite Parisian eateries.The historic and atmospheric Le Procope, situated at the heart of St Germain, is the oldest restaurant in Paris and is famous for being a meeting place for many artists and literary figures in the 18th and 19th centuries. We have always loved returning to the restaurant Hotel du Nord, situated on the edge of the Canal St Martin, and still with much of the atmosphere of the 1938 film of the same name, by Marcel Carné.
Another regular for us is Chez Janou, just off the Place des Vosges, which is also reliably very good.For anyone staying at an apartment in the Marais, the Marché des Enfants Rouges in Rue de Bretagne is well worth a visit. Dating back to 1615, it is Paris’s oldest food market with stalls selling fresh organic produce, an Italian deli, and both Lebanese and Japanese food.
VENICE, ITALYTwo of us were lucky enough to get back to Venice just for 3 nights in late September last year, primarily to visit a selection of outstanding apartments. The locations included San Marco, the Dorsoduro, Castello and Cannaregio, so there was plenty of walking involved. Venice is such a magical city, and just wandering around (and getting lost sometimes!) is always enjoyable, especially if you end up in a pretty piazza with a good restaurant!
For those with limited time, and would rather have a planned schedule, we can recommend a local wine expert friend who can arrange walking tours to recommended ‘bacari’ (wine bars) to sample wine and ‘cichetti’ (tapas). In fact, after doing an early evening tour, you will probably not be needing dinner as well! Among the restaurants we enjoyed recently, and would definitely like to re-visit, are the Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti, a traditional taverna in Dorsoduro, and A Beccafico, where you can sit outside in the beautiful Piazza Santo Stefano.We also recommend taking a vaporetto (water bus) to the islands of Burano and Murano, each with its own character – Murano for its- renowned glass-making, and Burano for its pretty colourful painted houses, and also home to one of Venice’s best restaurants, the Trattoria al Gatto Nero.
Our recommended art galleries definitely include the Palazzo Grassi and the Pinault Collection, but if I had to choose one, which draws me back each time I visit Venice, it would have to be the Guggenheim Collection! Situated in Dorsoduro, on the edge of the Grand Canal, the gallery features a wonderful collection of works by famous artists, including Dali, Kandinsky, Klee, Picasso and Pollock, and also a sculpture garden. For guests on the lookout of the spacious traditional Venetian apartment for a long-term stay, take a look at our newly added residences.
FLORENCE, ITALYFlorence is also very high on our wish list of cities we are wanting to return to as soon as we can. As well as being one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it has the advantage of being relatively small, so the city can be easily explored on foot. I don’t think I could ever tire of wandering down to the beautiful Piazza della Signoria, for a morning cappuccino and croissant at Rivoire, and looking across to the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Loggia dei Lanzi with its beautiful open-air sculpture gallery. Right behind here is also the famous Uffizi Gallery, leading down to the edge of the River Arno, and just a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio.
The last time we stayed in Florence it was in the Oltrarno, at the beautiful villa we rent in Via Bellosguardo – a wonderful place to stay and just a 15 minute walk down to the Ponte Vecchio. The residence features a spacious garden and rooftop terrace with jacuzzi, with sensational views over the city. The property manager here prioritises the wellbeing of guests, offering the choice of 5-star hotel services, or leaving them in complete privacy. A personal shopper, chefs, and babysitters can be arranged on request, as well as exclusive bespoke experiences for guests during their stay.
At times of the year when the main sights in Florence are very crowded, exploring the Oltrarno is a less frenetic area where you can wander around discovering street markets, antique shops, and quiet squares. One of these, which we return to often, is the Piazza Santo Spirito, where you can relax in a café or bar and watch the world go by. The piazza is also home to the Hotel Palazzo Guadagni, where you can climb the stairs to a top floor covered balcony for a glass of wine while enjoying the views, particularly beautiful at sunset.
We are missing exploring leather shops and markets, our favourite restaurants, and just wandering around on a hot summer’s day enjoying a gelato! Restaurants on our list for when we return include Osteria dell’Enoteca in the Oltrarno, always very special. The waiters here discuss guests’ food preferences before taking them down to the wine cellar to help select the perfect wine accompaniment for their chosen menu. We will also return to Pitti Gola e Cantina, a lovely wine bar directly opposite the Palazzo Pitti, run by the same owners of Osteria dell’Enoteca. It is perfect if you are looking for a relaxed atmosphere and small plates of delicious fresh food. Another restaurant we are missing is Trattoria Cibreo, on the other side of the Arno, very close to the Sant’Ambrogio food market, and a few minutes walk from the Piazza Santa Croce. Next to the more famous Cibreo restaurant, the trattoria has a relaxed atmosphere, and excellent food at much lower prices.
ROME, ITALYGetting back to Rome is another priority on our wish list. We always enjoy returning to Monti area, with its authentic village atmosphere, antique and artisan shops, and trendy bars and restaurants – and having a morning coffee in the historic Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. Just a few minutes walk down from here will also bring you to La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, a very good family-run trattoria serving homemade pasta, as well as other traditional dishes. Also close by is another restaurant we are missing, Ai Tre Scalini, an ancient and very atmospheric wine bar, also serving good food. A short walk down from here will bring you to the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum.
We love returning to the Via dei Coronari, a beautiful historic cobbled street just off Piazza Navona, with interesting boutiques, antique shops and restaurants. A short walk to the south of Piazza Navona is Campo dei Fiori, with its food and flower market and, from here it is an easy walk across the Tiber River (via the charming cobbled street, Via Giulia, the oldest street in Rome) for an evening meal in the Trastevere (another area of Rome we are missing). We have memories of a lovely meal at Cajo e Gajo, close to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere.
A walk (or electric buggy ride) to the Aventine Hill is always worth it for taking in the superb city views, as well as visiting the Complex and Square of the Knights of Malta, where you can view one of the most spectacular vistas of the Dome of St Peter’s through the famous keyhole. And no visit to Rome would be complete for me without seeing the Trevi Fountain, despite the crowds. As a lover of films, top of my wish list for when I can return to Rome, is a visit Cinecittta Studios, about a 20-minute drive (there is also a train service from the centre of Rome). We work with a great local company which can arrange many (some quite unique) experiences for our clients.
SEVILLE, SPAINSeville also came up very high on our wish list for a return trip – for its beauty, its long history and traditions, delicious wine and food and, of course, its long sunny season, making it a great choice out of season as well. We love exploring the beauty of the centre of the city with its narrow, cobbled streets and tall buildings and intricately wrought-iron balconies, and also discovering the charming garden squares, such as Plaza Doña Elvira.
We enjoyed a lovely meal here in autumn 2019 at the Doña Elvira Restaurant, sitting out in the square under the orange trees. Without doubt, two of the most magnificent buildings to be seen in Seville, are right in the heart of Santa Cruz, the Cathedral and the Alcázar. This entire area is spectacular at night when the buildings are lit up – and particularly magical after sunset when the sky literally does turn a royal blue colour, for around an hour. A favourite tapas bar, a short walk from here, is Mamarracha.
Other memories of Seville include a wonderful wine and tapas tour we did there, with Devour Tours– a great way to find some hidden gems, not only about the Spanish tradition of tapas, but also Spanish culture and Seville’s history. We did a memorable walk around four traditional tapas’ bars, which have each been in the same family for over 100 years (and most having very inauspicious entrances that you would never discover on your own). Other memorable food experiences we would like to repeat include Restaurante Contenedor and El Rinconcillo.From Seville, it is also possible to do a day trip to Ronda and the Pueblos Blancos – which we would definitely love to do again. On a visit a couple of years ago we managed to visit four beautiful small, historic villages in beautiful Andalucian settings – an unforgettable experience.
LUCCA, ITALYLucca is definitely on our wish list too as a stunningly beautiful small Tuscan city. Surrounded by its impressive 16th-century walls, and picturesque narrow cobbled streets, Lucca is a delight to walk around – from the main shopping street, Via Fillungo, to the many charming piazzas with cafés, including the impressive Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, an ancient Roman amphitheatre in an oval shape. The city is also known as the city of 100 churches. From the few we have visited, we would recommend in particular the 14th century San Michele in Foro (built over a Roman forum), the Basilica di San Frediano, with its 15th-century mosaic façade, and the Duomo di San Martino, the cathedral of Lucca, with its Renaissance art masterpieces.
On our visits to Lucca, we also never miss taking the walk around the beautiful medieval wall that still encircles most of the historic old town. Originally built as protection for the city, the wall now offers over 4 km of a beautiful walkway – it is a great way to view the city from above, and also the surrounding countryside of olive groves and vineyards. Another important Lucca landmark which can’t be missed is the Torre Guinigi – a (high!) climb right to the top of the tower, with its distinctive oak tree terrace, will also provide wonderful views over the city. We have several restaurants we are waiting to return to, including Buca di Sant Antonio in the historic centre of the city with its excellent traditional Tuscan dishes and wine. In the summer outdoor tables are put on a pretty patio, just off the street. Another is Ristorante Giglio which is in a beautiful frescoed 18th-century Palazzo and also offering traditional Tuscan cuisine.
A stay in Lucca means you are also within easy reach of the coast, and we have good memories of a day on the beach at Forte di Marmi. Some of us are also missing the Lucca Summer Festival. Concerts by internationally renowned artists which take place in different locations around the city in July. At the moment, it is still scheduled for 2021.