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Belmond’s Italy

My first two nights were spent at Belmond’s beautiful Villa San Michele, set on a hillside with magnificent panoramic views across the red roofs of Florence. With stunning gardens, a heated pool and a complementary shuttle service to and from the city centre, the Villa is the perfect place to combine a relaxing and exploratory stay in the birthplace of the Renaissance, whose myriad and world-renowned attractions need no introduction.

The high speed train from Florence to Venice took just two hours. I was met at the station and whisked along the Grand Canal through the heart of the city to the Cipriani Hotel, Belmond’s iconic flagship on the island of Giudecca with views across the water of Venice’s spectacular skyline. Again, the Cipriani runs a 24-hour private launch service to St Mark’s Square and so it is easy to enjoy the facilities of this truly wonderful hotel and to explore Venice as and when you want. One can never tire of Venice. We had a specialist guide escort us around the Doge’s Palace, which was fascinating, but I like nothing better than losing myself in the city’s web of narrow streets and waterside alleyways, absorbing its sights and sounds and smells, lingering over an expresso in a secluded piazza far from the madding crowd that gathers around St Mark’s, and watching day to day Venetian life unfold as only it can.

Doge’s Palace, Venice

My journey home was equally memorable. Boarding the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express mid-morning, we were welcomed by our steward with a glass of vintage Champagne before being shown to our cabins that double as a lounge and a bedroom. Each of the 1920’s cars has been lovingly restored and each is unique, as are the three dining cars. Indeed, meals are an intrinsic part of the journey, with lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, breakfast and brunch served variously in the dining cars and your cabin as the train takes you from Italy to Switzerland, then north across France towards Calais. Dinner is particularly glamorous, with pre and then post drinks served in the bar car while your cabin is made up for the night by your steward. A coach was waiting at Calais to carry us through the Channel Tunnel to Folkestone, where we boarded the Belmond British Pullman for the final leg of the journey through the Kent countryside to London Victoria.

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