SINCE seeing A Room with A View in 1985, I've been enthralled by Florence. However, it took 17 years and a bruised heart before I managed to make it there, at the kind invitation of my parents. It was the last stop on a beautiful trip around Tuscany, the first proper 'holiday' I'd taken in eight years of publishing dSIDEMagazine.

The minute we drove into the Piazza della Republica I knew this place was special.

And more beautiful than even Merchant Ivory could portray in their stunningly-shot film. The wealth of the city's culture and heritage seemed to seep from every brick.

What I love about Florence is that on one hand you have the most opulent of galleries, cathedrals and museums to explore, on the other, you've some world-class shopping to feed your more superficial muse. You can reward culture with a spree, history with browsing. Climb to the top of the Duomo, admire the views and the incredible architecture and then fall into the Miu Miu, Gucci or Pucci stores nearby.

Everywhere is a stroll apart . . . the Ponte Vecchio is on the way to the Pitti Palace, the Galleria Dell'Accademia is surrounded by outdoor restaurants and designer stores.

We took up residence in the Savoy Hotel, one of Rocco Forte's brilliant boutique properties that exudes calm, contemporary ambience. Built on one side of the Piazza della Republica, it's a hotel that sums up all that Florence is about for me . . . the perfect fusion of history and tradition with that clean, sophisticated style the Italians are so famous for. You can't beat lunching on the hotel's sunny terrace on a Sunday, overlooking the busy piazza whilst a street performer sings the most alluring aria. It's the very essence of la dolce vita.

We returned to Florence as a family last winter, to celebrate a 'significant' birthday for my father. I think the sign of a really good place is one you can revisit and find even more to excite, entice and enthrall.