Carla Bastos: Think Tuscany when a mid-winter getaway is in order

Photo by Cheryl Boyd for Dispatches

It’s Valentine’s Day! It’s the start of Lent! It’s (sort of, almost) springtime! A great article in the current edition of one of my favorite local news magazines, “The Florentine,” highlighted suggestions for Valentine’s Day getaways in Tuscany. “Where to spend Valentine’s Day in Florence + Tuscany 2024” was thought-provoking, not so much for the venues themselves, but the time of year we’re in, and the mindset of both visitors and locals.

Winters here aren’t exactly dreadful — the climate remains fairly moderate, and the rains are actually a good thing. But, there’s a certain psychological dreariness this time of year, no matter where you are in the world. Once the holidays are over and we’re settled in to the inverno season, our psyche tends to hibernate a bit. It’s as if we’re just biding time during these days of chilly temps and limited daylight.

Mid- to late-February is when anticipation set in. Of course, we’re in the throes of Carnivale season, and celebrations are ongoing. Tourists of all stripes are in Tuscany in search of fun, food and wine, plus culture, art and history.

But we mustn’t forget the couples seeking that romantic getaway; or the spiritually minded in search of a post-Carnivale, tranquil retreat to usher in the Lenten season; or even those just desperately needing to break out of the winter doldrums.

Tuscany fits the bill in all cases, but getting outside of the city center is often key.

Affordable escapes

The Florentine’s piece suggests a number of wineries, resorts and wellness spas for your escape. While some are luxurious and cost-prohibitive, many are surprisingly affordable. And, depending on the purpose of your getaway, there are always the countryside drives, hikes and bike rides that will afford you that same peaceful, replenishing hiatus but cost you little to nothing.

Even this time of year before things are blooming, I enjoy heading out to Lucca, just an hour west of Florence. Home to my first apartment (and my first friends) in Italy, visits to Lucca are still special. Morning walks on the city’s walls have always been times of peaceful introspection, and inspiration. With respites on a quiet bench under the trees to read or write, I would often end up spending several hours without even realizing it.

Another recent escape was a reminder that an affordable, peaceful oasis can be found even in the city centers. After taking a pretty hard tumble one rainy day a few months ago, the old body wasn’t healing very quickly and I found myself longing for my jacuzzi back home in the States.

There are plenty of spas around Tuscany, but I was looking for the privacy (and quiet!) that would allow me to linger and soak as long as I wanted. Of course, most apartments here don’t even have bathtubs; a good soak is hard to come by.

Life is suite

So, when my birthday rolled around, I decided the one gift I would give myself was a bath. The Palazzo Alfieri Hotel in Florence sits along the Arno River, a five-minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio. I’d passed it countless times, but the nondescript front door looked no different from all the others. And, navigating through the crowds in this tourist mecca, it’s hard to imagine any venue as an oasis.

But, that deceptive little door opens onto a beautiful, quiet courtyard with guests reading and sipping coffee or wine under the trees, at tables spaced well apart.

My jacuzzi suite was huge — a rarity since Europe is known for its tiny hotel rooms. With picture windows overlooking the Arno, a comfortable living area with two sofas, and a jetted tub for two, it was even more impressive than advertised.

After just a little online research for private jacuzzis, I’d found the Alfieri suite at a price comparable to many average hotel rooms in the area.

And, while I was really just in it for the bath, my relaxing birthday spa weekend was just what the doctor ordered on a bunch of levels.

For tourists absorbing all the excitement and activity of Tuscany, a “getaway from your getaway” may be in order; for locals, perhaps it’s a spiritual retreat. Whatever you may be celebrating, for whatever reason you may be seeking an escape (or, for no reason at all), a mid- winter break is not a bad idea.

So, don’t overlook the peace and tranquility that this amazing region also has to offer.


Read more about Italy here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Carla here.

Website | + posts

Carla Bastos is an expat writer living in Italy.

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