The Hotel da Carlos is a little gem of a find and we thoroughly enjoyed our 4 night stay there. We chose the hotel after reading the other reviews and I was initially concerned because we didn’t intend to hire a car while we were there and, instead, wanted to get around by bus. I emailed the hotel beforehand to see if this would be do-able and they gave me assurances that it would be. On the whole, everything worked brilliantly – once we got used to the wacky system of needing to buy a bus ticket at the tobacconists before getting on the bus (you can’t seem to pay the driver!). I will discuss the bus situation in more detail toward the end of my review in case anyone is interested.
The hotel staff were very kind, friendly and helpful and the atmosphere was relaxed and informal. Most importantly, the room was spotlessly clean with modern bathroom fittings and everything was in good order. Breakfast takes place in the restaurant where the staff provide lovely coffees and cappuccinos etc. Our room had a balcony although I don’t think all of the rooms have one – something to ask about if this is important to you. The restaurant opens at 8.30pm and we ate there on just one of the evenings because we normally prefer to eat at lunchtime when we are out and about. The food was good - in fact, the restaurant was surprisingly full so it must have a good reputation. The hotel is located on quite a busy road so if your room is at the front some road noise is inevitable. For us, the roadside location was a bonus due to our reliance on public transport so we didn’t feel that this was in any way a problem.
The buses! We were advised by more than one person that the bus service to Florence is much more efficient than the train. To catch the bus to Florence, it is necessary to travel first to Lucca. To do this you need to use the tickets you buy at the tobacconist - or I think you can buy them at the information desk at the airport – remember to ask for Lucca district tickets. You buy them in books of 4 for 3.50 euros or 2 for 2 euros. To catch the bus from the hotel to Lucca you cross the road, turn right and you find there is a fork to the left which leads up to the village square with a war memorial. Its about a 5 minute walk. Once on the bus you push your little ticket into the machine and it gets stamped. You can’t use that ticket again – its for one journey only. When you arrive in Lucca you pull into Piazza Verdi and you need to cross the piazza to go to the office and buy your ticket to Florence. It is best to go for the direct bus as some buses go via Montacatini which is a bit of a windy route and takes half an hour longer. However, if you miss the direct bus its handy to have the Montacatini bus to fall back on – which is what happened to us the first time and which we wouldn’t have realised had it not been for a kind Italian lady! The queue for tickets was quite long (though not unbearable) and some peoples’ transactions seem to take so long you wonder if they are setting up a mortgage rather than simply buying a ticket! Tickets to Florence were 5.20 euros for a single fare. We didn’t realise that we were only buying a single ticket (we don’t speak any Italian!) and, apparently, you can’t buy a return ticket from Florence to Lucca in the Lucca ticket office. Instead, you need to call at the ticket office in Florence when you arrive (which is right beside the drop off point) to buy the ticket back! This is a pain but it’s also a handy opportunity to check the times back for the direct buses. You get the buses back from Bay 1 which is just around the corner. You also need to be mindful of whether or not it is school holiday time as there are little symbols on the timetable indicating whether or not a particular bus is running on this basis. If you are unsure the ticket office will advise on that. Once on the bus, the trip to Florence is very speedy and efficient and takes 1 hour with the journey almost all on the dual carriageway through lovely Tuscan countryside. On the return trip from Lucca to the hotel, don’t be perturbed when the bus shoots past the hotel – it turns around and then terminates in the village square where you got on.
On our trip back to the airport to come home, we were able to catch a bus from the bus stop conveniently situated opposite the hotel – a no. 54 bus. I assume therefore that you can catch the bus from the airport to Santa Maria Guidice (the village where the hotel is located) which I believe is a 53 bus. Once again, the information desk at the airport will be able to help with this. Final comment re: buses – they don’t seem to operate on Sundays which would have been very disappointing for us had the hotel staff not kindly offered to give us a lift to Lucca and collect us at an agreed time later in the day. We were obviously very happy to pay them for this service.
Now that we have all of this sussed, we will be able to hit the ground running the next time we visit. And I’m pretty sure there will be a next time as this is such a pleasant place to stay and we enjoyed it all so much. While we were there, we managed a brief visit to the leaning tower which I thought was well worthwhile. We also spent one and a half days in Florence (an indescribably beautiful and fantastic city!) to see the Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, Santa Maria Novella church and Santa Croce church. I happen to be an art history student so this was incredibly exciting if not essential for me! We also spent a wonderful day in Lucca which is well worth a visit. It is the most beautiful walled town (also the birthplace of Puccini) it is possible to walk all the way around the walls which are as wide as a road. This takes approx 1 to 1 ½ hours to complete. There are also lovely buildings and piazzas plus the beautiful oval piazza which was once the roman amphitheatre and where you can have a lazy lunch and people watch.
This was our first visit to Tuscany and it was absolutely perfect – I really hope we go back and, if we do, we will definitely stay at Hotel da Carlos.