WHEN a gorgeous Italian man collects me from Pisa's Gallileo airport all murderous thoughts towards Michael O'Leary quickly dissipate. The combination of returning to lovely Tuscany and Paolo's charm as he speeds towards Florence eradicates any lingering effects of surly service.
Like most people, I adore this corner of Italia. Seven summers have passed since I last visited. Then I stayed with my mother in a villa about 15 minutes' drive from Florence and where Niccolo Machiavelli ('The Prince') lived and wrote. I'm still in gilded territory.
This time, I'm in one of the hotels owned by the Ferragamo family. Less than a minute's walk from the Ponte Vecchio, the Continentale is a cool boutique hotel. They've kindly upgraded me and sent me to the tower, a stylish room dressed in pristine white linens, with matching orchids, a glamorous mezzanine bathroom and a terrace with marvellous views across Firenze's terracotta roofscape capped with the drama of the Duomo. (It's a long way from my student tour of the Tuscan cities where penury meant we stayed in fleapits. Literally. The erstwhile girlfriend I was travelling with got a mosquito bite on her eyelid which swelled to the size of a golf ball.)
With an afternoon at leisure, I wander those enchanted streets. Sunday afternoon mid-September and naturally the place is heaving with tourists so I avoid the scaffold-clad Uffizzi and manage to get inside the Cathedral and gaze in wonder at its frescoed ceiling. I purchase a pistachio gelato and mosey up to the Palazzo Pitti full of intentions of visiting it and going onwards to the Boboli Gardens. But suddenly, even though it is only five in the afternoon, the sky darkens and a violent storm follows. It only adds to the romance of this Renaissance city – you get the sense that those wild Medicis (the dark dynasty who ruled the city in medieval times) are at war once more.
We dine that night on silky veal cheeks and fragrant hazel pannacotta at another Ferragamo property – Hotel Lungarno – home to the largest modern art collection in the city, as the hall lined with Cocteau drawings and a Picasso over the fireplace testifies.
Next morning, we visit Villa Le Rose. A short drive outside the city, it's also Ferragamo-owned and it's for hire at €40,000 a week. For this sum, you and your 14 best friends can enjoy a fully staffed residence with 17th-Century trompe l'oeil frescoes, a cypress walk and a swimming pool. (Nota bene: this doesn't include food or drink!)
We return to a glorious palazzo housing Museo Salvatore Ferragamo where an exhibition tells the story of "the little shoemaker". Born 11th in a family of 14 children in a small town near Naples, he made his first pair of shoes at the age of nine for his sister's communion.
Salvatore followed his brothers to Boston before chasing his dream to Hollywood where he ended up cobbling for all the glamour sirens of the day – Loren, Garbo, Monroe, Hepburn, Garland – before finally settling in Florence.
Despite bankruptcy, he laboured and prospered, was the man responsible for designing both the cage and the wedge heel till his untimely death from cancer aged 62, leaving behind six children aged from two to 18.
Leonardo Ferragamo is one of the six – and CEO of the family's holding company – and I met him in the company boardroom; with its inscrutable butler serving shots of espresso, and gilt laughing cherubs tumbling out of an exquisite Rococco ceiling, it's unlike most boardrooms. "I was seven when my father died – I remember him as very caring, strong, charismatic. After his funeral some of his craftsmen came to my mother and said, 'Madam you must continue.'"
And continue she did. Aged 92, Mamma still comes into the office and the company has flourished, designing all manner of luxury goods and extending its property portfolio, the latest of which – Leonardo's project – is the Marina di Scarlino.
It's located on the Maremma, that relatively undiscovered stretch of land on the Tyrrhenian coastline, referenced in Dante's Divine Comedy. I think of Tuscany as Italy's rich interior with its beautiful art-filled cities, quaint villages and sunny vineyards, so it's enchanting to discover its maritime side – a lush coastline dotted with pine forests and virgin beaches which overlook the fabled islands of Elba and Montecristo.
Marina di Scarlino has all the Ferragamo hallmarks – style, comfort, timelessness. The large apartments have vast wrap-around terraces with wonderful views of the Tuscan archipelago and the development has all manner of services – medical, retail, social – as well as an impressive yacht-servicing operation. The main selling point is of course the actual marina – a state-of-the-art docking station with 950 moorings, where the sumptuous yachts equal any you'll spy in Saint Tropez.
The location is idyllic and we spend an hour cycling through the woodlands of the nature reserve, which is serene despite the sound of the ocean crashing away beside us. The young, energetic management are keen to cater for those who don't have the sea in their blood – we pass cyclists and walkers and there are plans to introduce Segways.
For those who simply want to lounge and sun themselves there's the Purobeach Oasis del Mar – a very chic beach club with pool, Japanese restaurant and permanent DJ on tap. We spend our last evening there, enjoying tapas and prosecco watching the sun set before dining nearby at the fantastic fish restaurant which hangs above the thrashing waves.
Here's hoping seven summers don't pass till my return.