Quick & affordable City Breaks to Florence and Lisbon

It is so wonderful to be back travelling after the pandemic years. However, understandably prices have gone up worldwide so my husband and I have been enjoying a couple of short city breaks. Long enough to make you feel you have been away but short enough not to break the bank.

FLORENCE

OUR GUIDE, KAMIN MOHAMMIDI

We recently went to Florence for four days with friends and had the most beautiful time. It was made special because Kamin Mohammadi, the author of Bella Figura (review here), gave us her ‘Bella Figura’ tour of Florence and all the hidden places and people she loves so much. I am rereading Kamin’s book as it is even more special the second time around as I now know the places and people she describes.

I think Florence is my favourite Italian city, maybe that is because I have now visited it twice and had excellent guided tours. We were blessed on both occasions with the weather. This last time it was not as busy as before as visitors from around the world have not all returned yet. However, I think having a good guide is so important.

Kamin suggested we had the guide, Helen Bayley, show us the Uffizi Gallery. She was absolutely brilliant as she is an artist and an expert on art history. We pre-booked our tickets for the first slot of the day and met Helen outside the gallery at 8.15 a.m. It was already very busy, but Helen managed to take us to each room where she handpicked the best exhibit, and we all learned so much about the history of the art and its development through the ages. She was extremely funny as well as so well-informed and whilst I am not an art expert, others in our group who are, said they learned so much more from Helen than many of the courses they have been on. If you are interested in booking one of the many Florence tours that Helen does, then contact her by email ~ helenbayley@yahoo.com

THE BEST VIEW OF FLORENCE
at San Miniato al Monte

What I have not mentioned is the accommodation that Kamin recommended. Palazzo San Niccolò is located on the other side of the Arno river, in an area affectionately known by the locals as the Diladdarno area; Palazzo San Niccolò takes its name from the neighbourhood where it is located. San Niccolò is the oldest district of Florence and among one of the most beloved historical areas by the Florentines. It is in the genuine and true artisan neighbourhood of Florence and within walking distance of the centre. It was comfortable, and they did not charge the normal, extortionate hotel prices.

The hotel has a private garden inside the building, and it borders the city walls. In the oldest area of the hotel, it is still possible to admire three arches which belong to the cloister of the 13th-century monastery. Some apartments and rooms, with very high ceilings and windows, are very large and bright, typical of the Florentine stately building from the 15th century. The current decorations result from the recovery and restoration of pre-existent works. You step outside the hotel into the most delightful area with restaurants, artisan shops and the smallest and best Gelato parlour which I found myself in daily!

I will not bore you with all the wonderful things we saw and places we ate, as there are so many. However, one place I must mention is the Rowing Club, Società Canottieri, in the basement under the Uffizzi Gallery on the banks of the River Arno. A truly idyllic spot, and we were privileged to eat there as Kamin is a member. Coming from Henley-on-Thames, a centre of rowing, it was great to enjoy the ambience of another club.

Here is a great book to guide you around Florence.

Next stop Lisbon.

LISBON

Another mini-break but this time with the family for a wedding. This was my first visit to Lisbon, and I was told by everyone who had visited that it was a city to fall in love with. It has everything that I love. It is small, so you can walk to most parts though Ubers are so cheap. (I have no idea how Uber drivers survive, so I always added a tip to my booking). It is coastal, and we spent a few days on the beach. Finally, the food is totally delicious.

This is something that both cities have in common, their food. You can go into a local café and eat like a king. We have wonderful restaurants in London, but the average eaterie is not so good. Fresh fish was the order of the day; of course, sardines are a local delicacy.

On one day we visited the Berardo Museum of Arte Deco, which was once a private house and now houses a very large collection of art deco furniture and art.

We stayed in an Airbnb in Alfama, which is quirky and full of small restaurants and artisan shops. Once again, I found a Gelato shop which I regularly visited as it was at the bottom of the hill that led to our apartment, so I reckoned that I was burning off a few of the calories I had just consumed. Did I mention the hills in Lisbon? According to my phone app, I have returned having walked miles and up many ‘stairs’. One of the hills is so steep that they have installed an outdoor escalator!

The wedding was 45 minutes from Lisbon in the village of Sintra on top of a hill with the most spectacular views. There are fantastic palaces and extravagant villas, and the ruins of a 10th-century Moorish castle are hidden among its majestic pine forests.

As is the way nowadays the wedding was for the young. No great-aunt Mauds were necking a cheeky sherry in the corner. This makes a wedding so youthful and fresh; however, for the oldies that do attend, it is a marathon, and you need to be wearing your best and most comfortable dancing shoes. The wedding was beautiful, not least because of the setting but also because the bridal couple’s friends had flown in from all over the world. The glass marquee was full of love for them both and their families. We enjoyed soaking it all up until 2 am. However, our young did not return until 4 am, and then we were back on the beach the next day for another day and night of drinking, eating, dancing and socialising, albeit a little more subdued than the day before.

Finally, it was time to pack up and go home but feeling that the change in scenery had been a real uplift in these less-than-happy times. Now it is back to the laundry though I gather from Martin Lewis the money expert, that we must only turn our washing machines at night when energy is cheaper. So it might be an all-nighter for me, not nearly as much fun as the all-nighters in Lisbon.

This book was invaluable in guiding us around Lisbon and finding the best coffee shop, beach, best Portuguese restaurants.

Now it’s time to hunker down for the winter in the U.K.

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LynnNadjsrian
LynnNadjsrian
1 month ago

Annabel,
Just loved your travel tales, especially Lisbon, brought back many memories for me, of roaming around up and down hills and wonderful reviving meals. Sintra is stunning isnt it, what a spot for a wedding.
I note your comment about washing at night, that is what I have done for years as a working Mum, now a retiree, still doing it, two reasons, firstly, if its fine the folliwing day, its up in the line very early or secondly, if its summer, I hang it up at night and its often dry by 11am. Of course, that woild not always be possible or practical in the UK.

Caroline von Behr
Caroline von Behr
1 month ago

Hi Annabel no need to buy books which soon go out of date. Urbs Travel app, my sons creation covers Lisbon and Florence is being added next month. Information is constantly updated and you don’t need buy or to carry around a heavy book! Caroline