Florence Hotel Alternatives

Small towns outside of Florence offer quiet surroundings, better dining options and a more relaxing atmosphere than staying in Florence proper.

As beautiful and charming as Florence, Italy is, it can also be overcrowded and especially difficult to get around in at night. Savvy travelers planning a Florence vacation, therefore, stay in friendlier, smaller towns in Tuscany that are still close by and ride in and out of the city on the bus or train with the locals.

Evenings are more enjoyable and less of a hassle. The experience is more authentic as you dine with locals rather than sit jammed-in with other tourists, and the food is considerably better—dining is notoriously bad in many Florentine restaurants because the bulk of their visitors are high school and college students—Florence is one of the most popular destinations for U.S. study-abroad programs.

Living on the Edge

Our family’s favorite place to stay is the Hotel Relais Certosa, a rambling villa surrounded by 15 acres of manicured gardens, Tuscan olive trees, pines and cypresses. The hotel is easy to find—it has its own exit (Firenza-Certosa) from the A1 autostrada—and it offers guests a courtesy van into Florence’s city center, a 10-minute ride away. Rates range from 80 euros for a single to 380 euros for a suite.

Initially built in the 15th century and enlarged in the 19th, Relais Certosa has 59 rooms and six suites, along with tennis courts and the requisite swimming pool for family guests. Some rooms are thoroughly modern, but we like the more rustic ones with terra cotta tile floors—my daughters especially liked the two-level one with the upstairs bedroom. In good weather, dinner is served informally at tables on the manicured lawn, where the girls often wander off to play with other children, still in sight while we linger over a bottle of wine from nearby Chianti.

Once outside of Florence, it’s easier to find small friendly family-run hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. One of these, La Torricella a family-run B&B with public transportation to Florence, is also near the Certosa exit, in the hills surrounding Florence. Friends of ours who stayed there with their older children especially enjoyed the Tuscan cooking lesson the owner offers—in English. Children under age 6 stay free. Rates start at €70 in low season, €100 in high season (summer).

Villa Life

Another option—in a much higher price range—is renting a villa for a week. While many of these are large enough for a family reunion, it is possible to find smaller ones. Wimco, for example, offers I Limoni, in the western Chianti hills, half an hour from Florence. The two-bedroom villa has a swimming pool and unlike many is not furnished in priceless antiques, so parents don’t need to hold their breath for fear something will be broken. Wimco represents several other similar villas just outside of Florence.

Excellent Europe offers smaller villas and villa apartments available to rent by the night so you don’t have to stay an entire week. Even if you choose to stay right in the city for part of the trip, a few days in a smaller town provides a different type of experience.

Local Tuscan Attractions

Some of the small cities close to Florence have considerable attractions of their own. If Prato and Pistoia were not so close to Florence, they would certainly be tourist attractions in their own right. But Florence has overshadowed Pistoia’s churches filled with art treasures and Prato’s 11th century Duomo. This cathedral should certainly be on every traveler’s list for its Medieval silver altar and the Baptistery. Carved and inlaid marble panels cover the outside of the Baptistery, and the inside is lined in coffered green and white marble.

In Pistoia, be sure to stop at the historic Liberty Café on Via degli Orafi, in one of Tuscany’s finest Art Nouveau buildings. You can admire it while enjoying a light meal or pizza. Just west of town is one of Italy’s best zoos, Giardio Zoologico di Pistoia, which emphasizes conservation. The zoo breeds jaguars; you’ll also see polar bears and elephants. Small children can visit the petting zoo where they’re allowed to safely approach animals and learn about protecting rare domestic breeds.

A mile south of town is Tenuta di Pieve a Cella, a wine and olive estate with several well-furnished guest rooms overlooking olive orchards and lush gardens with a swimming pool. 

Destinations: Tuscany, Florence, Italy

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Sleep