Italia with La Famiglia
When I first thought of traveling with my mom (Judy Seligson), the genre of a mother daughter trip seemed rather limited and uninspired. Fortunately, neither my mom nor I are spa aficionados, nor can we imagine going on a cruise. We both eat gluten-filled food whenever possible, we love cities, and bodies of clear salt water.
I wanted a trip where we could have wonderful experiences—the stuff, they say, that is a better use of funds than stuff. We wanted to see cities, ideally of some antiquity with the right dose of fun, good food, and a few days of rest and relaxation on a beach. Italy, a bastion of beauty, ample carbohydrates, and culture is a foolproof destination.
On top of that, I knew that my mom, a professional and accomplished artist, had been planning her first trip to Florence and Rome for many years. So we'd start in Florence, the birthplace of many of the great Renaissance painters who had inspired my mom's own work. Then we'd continue to Porto Ercole, on the coast of Tuscany, for some sea air, and finish with two days in Roma. But first, the lodging. We essentially planned our entire trip around the availability of a room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence. Both of us were captivated by a picture on their website of an enormous outdoor emerald green pool that was even more enchanting in person.
The hotel is in the middle of Florence, a few steps from the Duomo, yet sits on the largest private gardens in Florence. It provided a sanctuary from the crush of tourists that descend in droves upon Florence. It is worth the trip to a city that has no direct flights from the U.S. (I advise flying La Compagnie, the new all-business class airline to Paris; then it's a two-hour hop to Florence.) We stayed in the part of the hotel called the Conventino, a sculpture-filled four-minute walk to the main part of the property. The former nunnery had the intimate attention of a boutique hotel.
We wanted to splurge on a great hotel, and discover restaurants with good food and reasonable prices. We enjoyed a memorable meal on our first day in Florence at Il Sadona Allegro, a small café on via Luigi Carlo Farini. A two-course lunch including beverage, with perfectly seasoned al dente rigatoni, put us back 10 euros (each). Our pace in Florence was breakneck. We climbed the 417 stairs of the Duomo, an experience during which my mom asked, "We paid money for this?" The view from the top, however, is worth the exertion and the 10 euros. My mom told me about Giotto's role in the beginning of Renaissance perspective drawing as we gazed at his frescoes at the Franciscan church of Santa Croce.
Food was crucial to our time together (my mom and I both relish eating and at regular intervals). The cacio e pepe—a minimalist pasta of cheese and pepper—at the Four Seasons set the standard for pasta for the rest of the trip. Il Borro, an elegant lunch spot on the Ponte Vecchio, serves somewhat lighter fare such as pea soup, smoked salmon salad, and risotto with burrata. Ristorante Borgo San Jacopo has a wonderful view over the Arno River and puts a modern twist on Italian classics with inventive dishes such as five ziti pasta with asparagus and vegetables from the Tuscan garden with black truffle.
At the Ferragamo museum, which is worth a visit if only to see the walls of shoes, I stumbled upon a quote that said, "A visit to Florence is not only good for the spirit but a chance to improve one's aesthetic appearance." So we took that to heart and visited the Sonya Boutique, owned by Florentine Caterina Buono. She sells a very well-curated selection of D. Exterior (a brand with limited availability in the U.S. or online), Missoni, and Roberto Cavalli.
Continuing in the spirit of improving our aesthetic appearance, we went to the famous outlets—known as "The Mall"— so you don't have to. We put our retail armor on to contend with the crowds. It is worth the trip if you can hit the jackpot—which we did. I found a pair of shoes at Bottega Veneta in my mom's size that had been reduced to 90 euros. After three strenuous days of seeing, eating, shopping, and walking (by our count, we clocked over ten miles a day) in Florence we traveled two and a half hours southeast to Il Pellicano, a hotel in Tuscany overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. A chic woman from Milan told me, while we bobbed together in the water, that this is "the best sea in Tuscany."
Our plan, aided by the fact that we didn't have a car, was not to go anywhere for three days. We passed the time swimming in the clear, silky water (one of Il Pellicano's best features is that it has direct beach access), taking steams in the Turkish bath, swimming in their heavenly pool filled from the sea below, perusing their boutique, and then after dinner catching up on mediocre American television. My mom observed that the 50-room hotel felt like a camp, albeit one with movie-star gorgeous vistas over the water and a somewhat overpriced Michelin star restaurant.
Refreshed, we were ready to head to Rome, the last leg of our journey. We arrived in the late afternoon on Sunday, and headed straight for the Colosseum. We had to be strategic about how to use our 36-hours. Our hotel, the St. Regis, was centrally located on the Via Vittorio (and had some of the most gracious, read: largest rooms I've ever seen in Europe). With our time constraints, we couldn't see everything, but we saw a lot. My mom wanted to see in particular Michaelangelo's sculpture of Moses, in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli. Our highlight reel also included the Roman Forum, the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, the Spanish Steps, and the Villa Borghese gardens. We dined al fresco in the magical and delicious Secret Garden, Le Jardin de Russie, at the famous Hotel de Russie. You don't know how good Spaghetti Pomodoro can be until you've tried it here.
Before we left on our Italian odyssey, I had asked, half joking, "Can two adults, particularly those who are as closely related as a mother and daughter, travel harmoniously together?" The answer, I'm happy to report, is yes. The proof? We even tried, without success, to extend our time in Rome.What made the trip such a success? Yes, it was well-planned and we stayed in beautiful places. Still, anyone who has ever navigated a foreign city—not to mention one where neither one speaks much Italian beyond "grazie"—with another human being knows that travel can be a test of endurance and patience.
What made it work, we both agreed, is that my mom and I both accommodated to each other at different parts of the trip, not so much out of a sense of duty but because we wanted to. This is the great part of traveling with a parent as an adult: I didn't have to rebel or prove my autonomy. (At 33, I'm just about over that phase.) We could relate to each other as people. I learned about art and saw my mom in a new light: She's a road warrior with incredible stamina. My mom also got to see me in professional action. She became my indispensable right-hand woman as I reported two separate stories during our eight days in Italy. Also, as my mom keenly and humorously observed, "Neither of us makes the other person get up at 7 a.m. to go look at ruins or Renaissance art."
For your Trip
The Four Seasons Florence; fourseasons.com/florence
Luciano Gloves—sells well-priced and colorful gloves; amoitaly.com/firenze/lucianogloves.html
Sonya Boutique—visit for their selection of Missoni, and D Exterior; Lungarno Acciaiuli, 24-26 50123 Firenze, +055 2396709
Il Sadona Allegro—serves a two-course 10 euro lunch
Via Luigi Carlo Farini, 1, 50121 Firenze, Italy
+39 055 234 4020
ll Borro Tuscan bistro—owned by the Ferragamo family; ilborrotuscanbistro.it/?lang=en
Ristorante Borgo San Jacopo; lungarnocollection.com
COAST OF TUSCANY
Hotel Il Pellicano (open April to October); pellicanohotel.com
St. Regis Rome; stregis.com
Ginger—an organic Italian restaurant that has casual outdoor dining; ginger.roma.it
Le Jardin de Russie (Secret Gardens at Hotel de Russie); roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/hotel-de-russie/restaurants-and-bars/le-jardin-de-russie/
Getting to Florence
La Compagnie, the elegant all Business-Class airline, has daily non-stop service to Paris from Newark, lacompagnie.com/en. There are easy and ample connections both to Florence (and Rome).