SOLD OUT: Artisans of Florence Retreat with Tom Hodgkinson and Kamin Mohammadi

Florence’s Cathedral with its famous dome. Image by alh1
Unit price


Out of stock

We have curated a brilliant new Idler Retreat in the birthplace of the Renaissance, 3-10 June 2020

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 Alan Pascuzzi. The hosts will be Tom and Idler Literary Editor Cathleen Mair.

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
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
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, love and eat like an 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 and sculptor Alan Pascuzzi will lead sessions on Renaissance art and craftsmanship with a focus on the works of Michelangelo

Alan Pascuzzi is a painter, sculptor, and professor of art history. A Fulbright scholar to Florence, he obtained his PhD from Washington University with specializations in Greek and Roman sculpture and Italian Renaissance art. He has been teaching Renaissance art techniques to students for more than 20 years. An expert in traditional Renaissance drawing, painting and sculpting techniques, he has appeared in TV documentaries on Renaissance art, including the BBC’s The Color Blue and Inside the Mind of Leonardo, and on 60 Minutes. Recently, an exhibition of his sculptures, The Ten Madonnas, opened at the Vatican and in Florence. He has just published his first book, Becoming Michelangelo, which deals with the early drawings of Michelangelo. He lives in Florence, Italy.

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 3 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
– Evening Lecture: Tom Hodgkinson on medieval values and the city-state revolution

Details of Masaccio’s frescoes in the Brancacci chapel

Thursday 4 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: Alan Pascuzzi on Renaissance Art & Craftsmanship, plus a guide to the artworks we’ll see over the course of the week

The courtyard of the Bargello

Friday 5 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
– Optional Extra: Art Workshop with Alan Pascuzzi. Try your hand at Renaissance sculpture and drawing in Pascuzzi’s studio
– Evening Lecture: Kamin Mohammadi on La Bella Figura

Saturday 6 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 7 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 8 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 9 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 with Tom and Cathleen
– Final Feast

Wednesday 10 June
– Travel back to London

Standard room (single occupancy only): SOLD OUT
Superior, double room (if sharing): £1,499 per person
Superior, 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 recommend the following flights for which we will arrange group transfer to and from the airport in Florence (this will be subject to an extra charge):

OUTBOUND 03/06/2020
Vueling flight from London Gatwick to Florence
Departure: 9:05
Arrival: 12:20

RETURN 10/06/2020
Vueling flight from Florence to London Gatwick
Departure: 14:05
Arrival: 15:25

Alternative flights for which we can also arrange group transport to and from the airport in Florence (subject to fee):

OUTBOUND 03/06/2020
British Airways flight from London City Airport to Florence
Departure: 11:15
Arrival: 14:15

RETURN 10/06/2020
British Airways flight from Florence to London City Airport
Departure: 15:10
Arrival: 16:10

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
– If your booking is cancelled less than 8 weeks before the start of your holiday 100% of the total price is forfeited. 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.