As the days grow shorter and the mercury begins to drop, our thoughts begin to shift from beach vacations on the Mediterranean to visiting European metropolises. After all, the colder months are a great time to explore different passions: food, history, culture – not to mention the fact that cities on the mainland (especially in the north) often look great when the leaves turn brown. .
Here we present four urban destinations that are sure to delight. Two of them – Florence and Vienna – have been favorites of British travelers for centuries; the others – Ghent and Rotterdam – are rising stars, quickly becoming cult among city dwellers for their grainy authenticity, design credentials and that refreshing sense of a place still unknown to others.
Best for: Art lovers
Botticellis and Da Vincis can stain the city’s galleries, but in Ad Astra, on the streets lined with artisan workshops of Oltrarno, Florentine art takes on a modern twist. The 14 rooms of this 19th-century palace – all in different sizes, colors and styles – are an affordable and quirky mix of old and new. Think burgundy rugs, plum walls, and two-story bathrooms. Overlooking the manicured gardens of Torrigiani Garden – the largest private green space within the European city walls – it is a quiet but colorful resting place, far from the more formal beauty of the city center.
Stella likes: The free-standing bathtub in every room – the way to unwind after a day of walking around town.
Moving : Lots to do at the hotel – try one of co-owner Betty Soldi’s ‘inksperience’ workshops, which include calligraphy classes, bespoke art tours, and scent explorations. His partner Matteo is co-owner of a magnificent steak restaurant, Regina Bistecca (reginabistecca.com). You can’t leave town without trying the Bistecca alla Fiorentina – the 1kg meat feast (for two) – at Trattoria I’Raddi, a three-minute walk from the hotel (trattoriairaddi.it). If you have room, try the pistachio ice cream in Sbrino, a few steps away (Via dei Serragli).
Rooms from £ 171 a night, b & b; adastraflorence.it. Read the full expert review here