We had decided to go to Florence, although neither of us can now remember whose idea it was. What we do remember, however, was that it was January and cold – we had unwittingly arrived during giorni della merla, the last days of the month and, legend has it, the coldest of the year. With chilly winds blowing in from the north, tourists stay away and residents remain hiding in their warm houses, it was the epitome of a low season. We had the Uffizi to ourselves, cruising in from the street without a pre-booked time slot; we were able to wander the corridors of Museo San Marco – its medieval Dominican bleakness punctured by Fra Angelico’s colourful murals – undisturbed; and we got to see Masaccio’s Trinità in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella with no other tourists in sight. And, apart from a few American foreign students, we seemed to be the only ones speaking English in bars and restaurants.
We stayed at Il Salviatino, an opulent and recently restored villa on a hill that marks the border where the city meets the countryside, and which only added to feeling that we had all of Florence to ourselves – during our three-night stay, we only bumped into other guests twice. I was there for Condé Nast Brides and we stayed in a suite with the best views possible: from the windows at the front we had a picture-perfect view of the Duomo, while the side windows gave us a glimpse of Tuscan countryside. On our last day – just before catching a taxi to the airport – we took a long walk along the road winding up the cypress-clad hill towards Fiesole and Maiano, walking so far that we worried we might never make it back in time for our flight to London (or perhaps we worried we didn’t want to make it back in time?). It was quite possibly the best way to start a new year.