ARTISANS OF FLORENCE RETREAT with Tom Hodgkinson and Kamin Mohammadi

Florence’s Cathedral with its famous dome. Image by alh1
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Escape to Florence for our Idler Retreat in the birthplace of the Renaissance, 2-9 June 2021

[£500 deposit fully transferable to another Idler Retreat]

From making leather goods to producing delicious olive oil, craftsmanship and creativity have always been at the heart of Tuscany’s identity. Spend a week exploring Florence and the surrounding countryside through the eyes of local artisans, both past and present, and discover a lesser-known side to this magical city.

Learn about the guilds, artists and workshops that turned Florence into the most exciting and prosperous medieval city in Italy and see the frescoes that kickstarted the Renaissance. Our retreat will include visits to the monastery of San Marco, once home to the infamous friar Savonarola, the churches of San Miniato al Monte and Santa Croce, the Bargello and the Brancacci Chapel, where we’ll see Masaccio’s stunning fresco cycle.

Meet the master craftsmen who are preserving the traditional skills of winemaking, bookbinding and ironwork for future generations and reflect on how to apply the creative Florentine spirit and Italian ideas of good living to your own life.

Your tutors will be Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson, author and adopted Fiorentina Kamin Mohammadi, and art historian Molly McIlwrath.

Expect good food and wine, excellent company and plenty of time to idle in the beautiful surroundings of Pensione Bencistà and Podere Castellare.

Places are limited so secure your spot now with a £500 deposit.

The terrace at Pensione Bencistà

Pensione Bencistà
We’ll spend the first part of the week at Pensione Bencistà. A fourteenth-century villa nestled on the green hill of Fiesole, family-run Pensione Bencistà offers an unrivalled view of Florence and a perfect break from the bustle of the city. Spot Brunelleschi’s dome while enjoying an aperitivo on the wisteria-covered terraces or go for a wander among the olive trees in the garden. There is also a spa in the Limonaia for extra relaxation (treatments are not included in the price but can be booked on arrival).

A room with a view at Bencistà

Podere Castellare
The second part of the retreat will take place at Podere Castellare. An eco-resort located in the stunning Chianti countryside, Podere Castellare is also a working organic farm, producing wine, olive oil, fruit, vegetables and the first Tuscan craft gin, made using local botanicals from the estate. During your stay, you’ll have access to the pool with stunning views over the rolling Tuscan hills, the tennis court and spa.

Lounge by the pool overlooking the Chianti hills

Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson will lead sessions on medieval values, ancient philosophy and the Arts & Crafts movement

Tom Hodgkinson is the author of seven books including How to be Idle, How to be Free and a history of the ukulele. He founded the Idler in 1993.

Writer Kamin Mohammadi will lead sessions on the Bella Figura philosophy and how to live and eat like a Florentine Italian

Kamin Mohammadi is a writer, journalist, editor, broadcaster, yoga teacher, Reiki healer, massage therapist, bodyworker and olive farmer based in Tuscany. She has published two books, The Cypress Tree and Bella Figura: How To Live, Love and Eat the Italian Way (both published in UK by Bloomsbury), hosts yoga retreats in Tuscany and leads Bella Figura tours and experiences in Florence and Tuscany.

Art Historian Molly McIlwrath will lead a private tour of Florence’s beautiful historical centre

Molly McIlwrath is a professional art history guide in Italy with 13 years of experience leading tours in and around Florence. Before becoming a guide her formal academic degrees were in Italian Literature with a focus on early modern Italy and specifically late 16th and early 17th century writers in Venice during her PhD studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She now lives just outside Florence in the historic centre of Pistoia with her husband and 10 year old daughter. Her tours have been recommended by the Lonely Planet, The Guardian and The Independent.

Please note this itinerary is subject to change but gives you a good idea of what we’ll be doing. We’ll also provide reading lists and a city guide that you can use in your leisure time.

Wednesday 2 June
– Arrive at Pensione Bencistà
– Welcome and introductions with Tom and Cathleen
– Local walk to Fiesole, the hilltop village overlooking Florence, and visit to the Franciscan monastery dating to 1399

Details of Masaccio’s frescoes in the Brancacci chapel

Thursday 3 June
– A Tour of Historical Florence with Molly McIlwrath
We’ll wander through the historical streets of Florence, learning about the city’s Roman origins and its place in the Italian Renaissance. Through the diverse lenses of art, history and architecture with perspectives of great Florentine literary figures such as Dante, Boccaccio and Machiavelli, we will explore merchant life and guilds in the 13th century through the period of Medici rule for over 300 years while walking through the most important piazze of the city: Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza della Signoria to Ponte Vecchio and visiting small churches while winding down the city’s narrow alleys along the way. We will also visit the Palazzo Davanzati, a 14th-century merchant’s home to discuss daily life, historical recipes and family customs of Florentine merchant families
– Lunch at a traditional Florentine trattoria
– Visit the Friary of San Marco, home to the beautiful Fra Angelico frescoes and the cell of Savonarola
– Evening Lecture: Tom Hodgkinson on medieval values and the city-state revolution

The courtyard of the Bargello

Friday 4 June
– A Walking Tour of the Bohemian Oltrarno
Visit the craftsmen and artists, like bookbinder Giulio Giannini and ironworker Giacomo Giachetti, in their studios and stop for coffee and gelato in the picturesque Piazza della Passera
– Lunch at the locals’ favourite in Piazza Santo Spirito
– Visit the Brancacci chapel to see Masaccio’s famous frescoes
– Evening Lecture: Kamin Mohammadi on La Bella Figura

Saturday 5 June
– Visit Florence’s famous Sant’ Ambrogio market with Kamin Mohammadi. We’ll meet local producers, sample Tuscan specialties and discover why shopping, cooking and eating well is so key to the Bella Figura lifestyle
– Lunch at one of Kamin’s favourite spots near the market
– Early evening visit to the 11th-century San Miniato Church, perched on the hill overlooking the city, where we’ll listen to the monks singing Gregorian chants. After admiring the view from Piazzale Michelangiolo, we’ll wander back through the old city gates and stop for a quintessential Italian aperitivo in the neighbourhood of San Niccolò

Mosaics in the church of San Miniato al Monte

Sunday 6 June
– Visit the Bargello, Florence’s often overlooked yet fascinating sculpture museum, housed in a 13th-century prison. See works by Michelangelo, Donatello and Ghiberti
– Visit the beautiful church of Santa Croce, the burial place of famous artists and statesmen
– Lunch at a typical paninoteca for a taste of Florentine street food
– Travel to Podere Castellare followed by leisure time at the pool
– Evening Lecture: Tom Hodgkinson on ancient philosophy and its relevance today
– Aperitivo: Try Peter in Florence, the first Tuscan craft gin

Monday 7 June
– Visit to Castello di Nipozzano, a 1000-year-old castle home to a renowned Chianti wine and owned by the historic Frescobaldi family. The visit will include a wine tasting with light Tuscan bites & cellar visit
– Optional extra: Cooking class with the chefs at Podere Castellare (Note: there will be an extra charge for those interested. Estimated at 20€ pp depending on numbers)
– Evening Lecture: Tom Hodgkinson on William Morris and his legacy

Castello di Nipozzano in the Tuscan hills

Tuesday 8 June
– Local hike and picnic among the vineyards and olive groves of the beautiful Chianti countryside
– For the stay at homes: a lazy day with the chance to read and lie by the pool. Plus an optional cooking class with the chefs at Podere Castellare
– Concluding Discussion
– Final Feast

Wednesday 9 June
– Travel back to London

Standard room (single occupancy only – limited numbers): £1,499
Double room (if sharing): £1,550 per person
Double room (if single occupancy): £1,695 per person

All rooms are ensuite.

The price includes room, board, wine with meals, excursions, entry to museums, tutors and tour guide. Vegetarian options for meals will be available. Flights, transport to and from the airport in Florence and dinner on the evening off are not included.

A non-refundable deposit of £500 is payable now, the remainder is due on 2 March, three months before the retreat. Call us on 0203 176 7907 for more info and to pay over the phone.

The Ponte Vecchio at dusk

We shall recommend flights a little nearer the time for which we can arrange group transfer to and from the airport in Florence (this will be subject to an extra charge):

You can also make your own way to Pensione Bencistà. It is possible to fly to Pisa or Bologna airports, where there is more choice in terms of flights. Alternatively, you could travel by train. We recommend the website for advice on train travel. For any other questions related to travel, please email

Terms & Conditions
– Deposits are currently fully transferrable to another Idler Retreat. Please ensure you take out travel insurance.

– It is a condition of accepting your booking that you provide proof of personal travel insurance, including cancellation insurance for medical reasons, redundancy, jury service etc. for all members of your party. Please note that the use of Pensione Bencistà and Podere Castellare (the facilities, grounds and swimming pool) are entirely at the user’s risk.