Destination Guide

Florence

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Firenze, famously dubbed the “city of stone” by writer Mary McCarthy, regards itself as a living museum. And considering that it has counted among its residents the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael, Dante, Donatello, Brunelleschi and the entire Medici clan, it certainly has the cultural cachet—and monumental works of art—to substantiate that claim in Italy, and beyond.

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Lounge at Portrait Firenze, Florence, Italy

Portrait Firenze

Florence has had its fair share of impressive hotel openings over the last several years, including the palatial Four Seasons in 2008 and lavish Il Salviatino in 2010. In early 2014, a new star has been born along the river Arno, belonging to none other than Florentine style mavens, the Ferragamos. Just steps from the Uffizzi and Piazza della Signora, Lungarno Suites has been remodeled into “Portrait Firenze,” a larger and sleeker version of the debut Portrait in Rome.

Upon entering Portrait Firenze, guests are immediately transported to their own pied à terre in the heart of the city. Michele Bönan – the mastermind behind Portrait Roma, JK Firenze and Palazzo Vecchietti – expertly crafted each of the hotel’s thirty-seven suites into chic mini apartments. Designed in gray neutral tones with pops of metallic, turquoise and black, suites feel comfortable and lived-in despite being brand new. Books sit on the shelves, framed photographs adorn the walls and cashmere throws are strategically placed, tempting guests. The real game changer, however, are the views, which from over half the rooms overlook the Ponte Vecchio, Arno and city beyond.

Bönan has brought Portrait to life, offering guests a throwback to Italy’s past and leap into the future. Throughout the hotel, vintage photographs portray the heyday of Italian fashion in the fifties and sixties. Spotlights on Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco, Maria Callas and Salvatore Ferragamo illuminate the rooms and public spaces. As a contrast, modern technology – iPad check-ins, ultra-flat screen TVs, and in-room Bluetooth – catapults guests back into the 21st century. The juxtaposition of old and new blend harmoniously to create one sexy hotel.

What the hotel lacks in amenities it makes up for in design. Gym fanatics may obtain passes to a local facility and spa-goers can book a treatment in their room or head to sister property Continentale next door. The ground-floor restaurant, Caffe dell’Oro features an excellent breakfast spread and all-day dining, but with Florence’s top restaurants just steps away, guests typically dine off property.

Suite at Four Seasons Hotel Florence, Florence, italy

Four Seasons Hotel Florence

The Four Seasons Florence occupies two lovingly refurbished mansions with 116 rooms and suites spread between the main 15th-century Palazzo della Gherardesca and the 16th-century Conventino. The two buildings bookend a beautifully groomed eleven-acre park, where enormous trees offer shade and wildflower-dotted lawns create a veritable oasis in the midst of Florence. There’s a large outdoor swimming pool area (with adjacent whirlpool tub), a freestanding spa and a gym for guests.

No two of the Palazzo rooms are alike, and many offer original details, like friezes and bas-reliefs, as well as brightly colored frescoes and vividly painted ceilings. Considering the wealth of artwork and intricate architectural details including restored frescos, skylights, balconies and small terraces, it’s no wonder that the restoration of the palazzo and the convent took eight years (the Four Seasons opened in June 2008).

The public spaces are grand and formal and offer a nice place from which to escape the hustle and bustle of the city without sacrificing grand Florentine style. The gardens are a real highlight of the property as they are expansive and well manicured; in the early spring they are filled with blooming wisteria. The location is plus or minus, depending on what you’re looking for in a hotel. It’s about a 10-minute walk to get to the Duomo (but mentally, you feel removed from the busy centro storico). And to get to the excellent restaurants in the Oltrarno area, you need to take a taxi. On the other hand, the geographically removed setting allows you to enjoy the spacious grounds, outdoor pool and expansive spa with products from the local Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella. The hotel’s Il Palagio restaurant, helmed by Executive Chef Vito Mollica, has earned one Michelin star.

Exterior view - Belmond Villa San Michele, Tuscany, Italy

Belmond Villa San Michele

With just 45 rooms and suites, the Villa San Michele is a retreat perched in the hills of Fiesole, a ten-minute drive from the center of Florence. The rooms and suites are scattered throughout the outer buildings and main structure – a converted 15th century monastery with a façade by Michelangelo – and are traditionally decorated with rich dark woods, subtle floral patterns and antique furniture. The expansive specialty suites in the main building have beautiful views over the city (Napoleon stayed in one during a trip to Italy). Limonaia, built as the villa’s orangery in the 17th century, can be turned into a three-bedroom villa with private gardens and plunge pool for a larger family. The heated pool and large open garden are perfect for relaxing after a day of sightseeing, made easy by the private shuttles that run from the property into the city every half hour.

La Loggia, Villa San Michele’s renowned al fresco restaurant, has one of the most romantic views of Florence. Guests can enjoy meals on the terrace or try their hand at Tuscan cuisine in one of Villa San Michele’s famed cooking classes, and wonderful kid’s amenities make the property family-friendly. But the best way to spend one’s time is lounging in the pristine tiered gardens, sprinkled with lemon trees and white loungers


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