The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Love letters to fabulous Florence...
FLORENCE… birthplace of the Renaissance – the most glorious period of art in history – and home to the marble-encrusted Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral and the Accademia, where Michelangelo’s David is lord of all he surveys.
Cultural attractions, beautiful cobbled streets and a wealth of restaurants and bars make the Tuscan capital ideal for a romantic trip away; after all, Botticelli’s depiction of the creation of Venus, the Roman god of love, does call the city’s Uffizi gallery home.
Surrounded by so much artistry, it’s tempting for visitors to want to create something artistic of their own. Step forward Florentine Betty Soldi, a calligrapher and designer who aims to satisfy creative aspirations through workshops.
Unlike traditional calligraphy which focuses on making every letter look identical, Betty teaches a more fluid approach, encouraging participants to develop a style unique to them – often an extension of their usual script.
My own handwriting has deteriorated so much due to lack of use that I couldn’t resist a chance to improve my style.
To help get the creative juices flowing, Betty encourages the group, a mixed bunch of young and old, to open ourselves up to inspiration from Florence.
From my base at the Portrait Firenze hotel, it doesn’t take me long to find inspiration – I can almost touch Ponte Vecchio, the bridge which is home to many of the city’s jewellers and art dealers, from my hotel room.
Perched on the banks of the Arno river, Portrait is owned by the Ferragamo family, descendants of ‘shoemaker to the stars’ Salvatore – who counted screen icons such as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe among his clients.
Ferragamo was famed for his personal service and that ethos is the cornerstone of the hotel. Guests are even invited to fill in a form before checking in giving their preferences on everything from pillows and sheets to breakfast foods and what music they’d like playing in their room on arrival.
The hotel exudes elegant luxury throughout. The creativity of Salvatore leads you to the Ferragamo museum, the company’s original headquarters, a stroll from the hotel. Set in a 13th Century palace, contemporary exhibitions rub shoulders with medieval architecture. And so we feel artistically primed before the calligraphy masterclass.
First, Betty encourages us to write with our eyes closed; with our non-dominant hand; and backwards. Then, with the assistance of tracing paper, we begin to experiment with different styles of lettering and typographical flourishes. The whole experience is unexpectedly relaxing. Embrace your handwriting quirks, she tells us; go with the flow, as it were.
Suddenly a world of possibilities opens up. Betty shows us we can use writing to express ourselves on anything – it doesn’t have to be black pen on white paper. It’s about as far removed as you can get from the strict lessons of my childhood.
We leave brimming with confidence in our new-found abilities. So my Valentine’s Day card this year will be as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside.
Keeba Roy was a guest of Portrait Firenze, which offers rooms from £503 per night based on two adults sharing, excluding breakfast. lungarnocollection. com/portrait-firenze