Monday, 26 August 2013

A Room With A View

One of my eldest's shots from the living-room window at the top of the Torre Corso Donati
How’s that for a view from the living-room window? Well, it’s one that is available if you own a sensitively restored medieval tower-house in Florence. I don’t, I hasten to add, but I now know someone who does. We’ve normally been fairly abstemious when choosing where to stay on holiday, but this year we decided to push the boat out ... or, more accurately, to climb the steps ...

We all wanted to go to Florence. Pen’s been before and as both daughters were up for it – a remarkable consensus for teenagers – we thought it was too good an opportunity to miss. Who knows? it might be the last major family holiday before they start to fly the nest.

So, there we were, occupying the top three floors of one of the Torres Corso Donati, with spectacular views on three sides over Florence. The Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, Santa Croce, San Miniato, the synagogue, you name it. It was more than we’d usually pay for self-catering accommodation, but worth every Euro and the 90-odd steps up and the further 31 spiral steps up to the living-room perched at the top of the tower. 

You can find details of this splendid two-bedroom holiday let here.

We spent much of the time with our jaws dropped open. Sometimes I felt as if we didn’t need to go out at all. We could just stand there, staring out of the window.
The view of our neighbours' tower

The Torre Corso Donati is mentioned in Dante’s Il Purgatorio. I had his Inferno with me. One night, I sat up reading it, sipping some Tuscan wine, then stared out of the window as a huge crescent moon drifted between the towers of the Palazzo Vecchio and towards Giotto’s Campanile. On other occasions, I stood listening to the bells reverberating from San Lorenzo to Santa Croce and all points between. The solemn tolling rolled across the pan-tiled roofs then faded to silence.

Of course, we did venture out ... to the Brancacci Chapel, San Marco, the Uffizzi ...
I took myself up to San Miniato and joined the monks and the faithful for Vespers, and briefly, for the first part of the Mass. I also headed in the afternoon heat for the English Cemetery, dry and dusty amid the cicadas and the cypresses. A single English rose-bush grows alongside the grave of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. I pointed it out to an elegant Florentine gentleman who loaned me the plan of the cemetery the nuns had given him. He’d not heard of her but he nodded at the appropriateness of the rose. It was a macaronic conversation in broken French, Spanish and English. I’m afraid I don’t speak Italian and my Spanish is very basic. I do lapse into a kind of pidgin, tourist-English I’m afraid ... for which my daughters rib me unmercifully.

A tranquil spot and a 'community of consolation' -
The English Cemetery
The cemetery is cared for by a delightful English nun who crossed the Tiber after her Anglican bishop ‘bulldozed’ her convent. She gets the Roma children to clean and tend the graves in exchange for teaching them to read. It’s really a very special place.

Florence in August is hot, dusty and full of tourists and queues. But we found the Brancacci Chapel, parts of Santo Spirito over in Oltrarno and even San Marco relatively free of crowds. Best of all, we had a tower to retreat to, above the busy streets and a view ... what a view ...

Bird's eye view

Dusk and the Duomo

Amy (left) endures the Purgatory of a portrait with her parents

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