I was invited by Cap Viaggi and Beyond Healthcare to pay them a visit in Florence where they wanted to try out a tour focused on tourists with health and/or access issues. I was the only wheelchair user, the other members of the group were from other European countries representing senior citizens. Our help was needed, they said, to design the tour and explore possibilities. The three days were available for getting away, so I agreed, intriqued as much as anything else. I had not realised how warm it would be at this time of the year.
I was met at the airport by the lovely Ciara with an accessible van with driver and our hosts and the staff were as warm as the temperature.
The hotel was Best Western Grand Hotel Adriatico, well centrally located with automatic doors and I had an accessible room, well, accessible to a certain degree. The shower was a boxed in area with no grab bars for support or side transfer possibilities from wheelchair. It did have a bidet! Ciara did learn about the logistics of acessibility with me – that having the right equipment is not all that is required but it depends on the access needs of the individual and having them at the right place. Having a personal care assistant is not always the answer either, the structure has to have sufficient space to allow for a second person to support as well….
We had great food (antipasti and fantastic beef) and local wine (Cianti) from the hotel restaurant after introductions from our hosts. They explained their purpose was to offer a worry free holiday for people with health issues, for eg. medical reasons that would prohibit time away from home as a result of missed medications or health conditions needing constant attention like monitoring blood tests. We had a local doctor there who would facilitate care needed. What they would like to offer is a customised package where you can have exclusive visits to the cathedral or a concert. It sounded like the possibility of doing the bucket list in Florence! I did point out that travellers would not like to be called patients even if they have medical needs, something everybody agreed upon. Also the need for accessibility. At the dinner, I sat opposite the very charming Fabio Cacioli who put me to shame by speaking really good English after only having studied it for 3 years.
After breakfast the next day, we drove to a fantastic new and accessible winery belonging to the Antinori family. We had a film on the greatness of the family and then a tour of the cellar and the wine making process. It was gleamingly modern, but still awesome in the cathedral like dimensions of the cellars.
We had some splendid wine tastings and a great lunch at the restaurant there, we were certainly well fed. No spag bog in sight, not in Tuscany apparently.
After heading back to the hotel and two hours rest, we had a guided tour of the city where the history and some of the architecture was explained. But it was a very hot day to be traisping round the city, even if it is such an impressive city! I ve many photos of our walk here but legend has it that if we rub the nose of this pig we shall return! I wouldnt be then, because I could’nt reach it.
While the route chosen was more or less accessible albeit cobbley, I did remark that most of the shops had at least one step to them, which was good for my wallet because even as I was curious at the beautiful wares on display in the shop fronts, I couldnt get in! thus saving me from emptying it.
That evening we were at Harrys for dinner. That was truly a culinary experience – I ‘ve eaten at many places but here we had stuffed corgette flowers with potatoes, Tuscan tomato and bread soup and organic rabbit! I cannot get over the simplicty and the sheer deliciousness of the pappa alla pomodoro.
The next day was the last day, we had a debriefing with our hosts. We made a few suggestions stressing on the need for access, that every person old or young is different and might want different itineraries. We also said that a ball park figure on the costs of such a package trip would be useful, each customised item would of course add on to total costs. Older tourists have similar needs to disabled travellers but they might not have the same requirements or need level access such as wheelchair users. We had not even began on other impairments or those access needs (for blind people for example)
My suggestion would be that they have a few scooters or wheelchairs for those who might be able to walk but not great distances and need places to rest and sit. Some sort of access guide to the city of Florence would be useful as to gauge as whether it s feasible for a visit.
Ciara was mindful of my shop inaccessibility remark and took me to the local supermarket where the staff promptly laid out a ramp as well as the restaurant across the street. Well, perhaps I should have asked at the Gucci shop!
for more photos of the trip – see my flickr album