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Old Oct 26, 2012, 11:31 pm
Join Date: Oct 2003
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the luxury hotels of Florence

This is the second of three hotel reports from my site inspection trip to Italy; my reviews of Milan are yet to come. As always, I do not pretend that this is anything but my own, very subjective, opinion based on my personal design preferences. Readers can and should disagree!

Four Seasons Firenze

Four Seasons is the WOW of Florence hotels, about a 15 minute walk north of the Duomo. I made the walk myself just to get a sense of the actual distance; it would have taken a bit less than 15 minutes had I not kept stopping to consult my map. The hotel also provides a complimentary hourly shuttle service each way. As the city center is crowded with tourists, many guests will appreciate escaping to the secluded retreat provided by the Four Seasons after a busy day of sightseeing or shopping.

A small hotel with just 79 rooms in the Palazzo and 37 rooms in the Convento, Four Seasons is set within its magnificent private 11 acre garden. Literally an urban resort, guests can enjoy the large outdoor swimming pool (open in the summer), heated outdoor jacuzzi (open year round), spa, and fully equipped gym.

The original palace and convent have been meticulously renovated over seven years. Frescoes and painted wooden ceilings have been restored, and the specialty suites feature these amazing decorations. The custom designed guestroom furnishings, including Morano glass chandeliers, help create a unique sense of place.

I was able to see just a few rooms because of high occupancy, but even the lead-in Superior Room was extremely spacious. The bathrooms had beautiful marble with everything you'd expect in a FS bathroom — dual vanities, step-in shower, soaking tub, and separate WC. I was not able to see a Deluxe Room but was shown a Four Seasons Room, the highest guestroom category which was a larger room with garden views.

A few specialty suites that I saw: The Duomo Duplex Suite, the only two-story suite in the hotel, features an upstairs loft with sofabed. The suite has two full bathrooms and would be a great accommodation for a family of 4 or 5. It's the only accommodation in the hotel with a view of the Duomo.

The Royal Suite (in the Palazzo) has restored frescoes, the original ceramic tile floor in its entry hall, and is furnished with antiques. The Presidential Suite (in the Convento) likewise has original frescoes on the ceilings.

A word about the two buildings. The Convento is a more intimate building with its own street entrance, reception desk, and concierge staff. The intent was to create a "villa within a hotel" boutique experience. It is less ornate (which makes sense, as religious living in a convent had a more humble lifestyle than noble families living in their palaces), the Convento offers a quieter and more homey feeling. It is closed during times of lower demand, although it can be opened for a group.

A word about driving in Florence. There is a restricted area in the center of Florence into which only specially licensed cars can enter. The entrance to the hotel's car park is located outside the restricted traffic area of the city so guests can access the hotel without incurring traffic fines. However, guests checking in are able drive to the main entrance; the doorman will park your car, and Four Seasons has arrangements to get the fine rescinded. If you want to rent a car while in Florence, Europcar will drop off and pick up your rental car via the hotel's car park.

Hotel Lungarno

Hotel Lungarno has an unique location on the banks of the Arno River with an iconic view of the Ponte Vecchia from the lobby lounge (Picto Louge) and most guestrooms. The small outdoor patio off the Picto Lounge offers two small tables overlooking the bridge that were constantly occupied.

The hotel is part of the Lungarno connection which including three other properties in Florence; guests have cross-charge privileges at its sister properties. Guests receive free WiFi throughout the hotel, and bikes are available for rent at 12€ per day, an fun and effective way to get around the city! This is a boutique hotel with just 73 rooms, most overlooking the Arno. The few entry-level rooms (called Relaxing Rooms) have a city view.

You would expect attractive interiors from a Ferragamo-owned hotel, and this is very much the case. The lobby's color scheme — white furniture and walls with blue accents — carries throughout the property (except for lead-in city view rooms which, because they get less light, have yellow walls to brighten the rooms). Bathrooms have light beige marble, and along with the art on the walls, everything works to create a light, airy, and elegant guestroom environment. I found Hotel Lungarno to be quite appealing, and this would be my top recommendation for guests wanting to stay near the city center of Florence.

As with other properties that have converted old, historical buildings into hotels, rooms are quite small. Studio Rooms and above offer the kind of space that most luxury guests would expect. Bathrooms are small throughout the hotel with single vanities and tub-shower combinations.

Il Salviatino

A new 45 room hotel that opened just two years ago, Il Salviatino is a remarkable property located in Fiesole, just outside Florence. I was part of a group of travel agents that stayed here for two nights in order to introduce the property to a wider market.

The current owners purchased a 16th Century Florentine villa, once the home of the Salviatori family, that had fallen into ruin. The villa has been restored, including some frescoes, marble fireplaces, mosaics, and its formal Italian garden. It is set in a parklike setting in the Fiosole hills with a commanding view of Florence.

I stayed in an impressive second floor Junior Suite (room 25) on the front corner of the building and could see central Florence and the Duomo from my window. The suite featured a large bedroom and separate living room with sofa and table and had 20 foot ceilings and its original eight foot wooden paneled doors. The bathroom, like all those I saw at Il Salviatore, had one large pedestal sink, a step-in rain shower, and a separate WC (no tub).

The hotel does need some work to complete its full potential, most notably better lighting in the guestrooms, bathrooms, and other public areas of the hotel. (Management is aware of and will address issue). This is not a property for individuals who have difficulty climbing steps.

Il Salviatino does not attempt to recreate the kind of Renaissance grandeur that the Four Seasons offers. Rather, the intent is to give the feeling of an authentic Florentine villa with the kind of home environment that a prosperous family of merchants enjoyed in centuries past, and I think the renovation was largely successful. The hotel offers personal service and a homey environment, with an informality that the more formal Villa San Michele does not.

We were all charmed by the setting, with the caveat that the room product still needs some work. However, the price point is extremely reasonable. Lead-in rooms start around 250€, and with the Virtuoso amenities, this is a very good value.

Rocco Forte Hotel Savoy

Located on the Piazza Republica on the Piazza Republica, the Savoy is a historical palace in the very center of Florence. Like other Rocco Forte hotels, Hotel Savoy intends to create a contemporary, residential feeling while maintaining a sense of place. With 102 rooms on five floors, it is a boutique hotel. The Savoy has no spa, but there is an exercise room available 24 hours daily.

Classic rooms are too small for the American market, and these are not included in the Virtuoso contract. Executive rooms are also quite compact and come either with Queen or Twin-Twin beds. Deluxe Rooms (which feel like a typical "Superior") have King beds and can also accommodate a rollaway. Like other hotels in historical buildings, guests considering this hotel should be aware that bathrooms are small. A few rooms have a step-in shower instead of a tub/shower combination; this should be requested if desired. The Executive Suite category and above provides the kind of space that most luxury guests will expect.

With wooden floors and a muted, understated color scheme, the Savoy's contemporary, understated elegance creates a restful feeling, but it may feel a bit bland to many guests.

Starwood options — St. Regis and Westin Excelsior

The St. Regis (formerly the Grand Hotel, part of the Luxury Collection) underwent a recent 25 million euro renovation and emerged a St. Regis. Guests enter a large, formal lobby with antique crystal chandeliers and sconces, a marble floor, and dark wood paneling.

The room categories feature three different design motifs, all quite ornate but, to my taste, a bit overdone. However, if you are looking for a large room in a luxury hotel near the center of Florence, this may be your best bet. Lead-in Deluxe rooms feel like what American guests would expect of this category, and Grand Deluxe rooms are even more spacious. Beginning with the Premium Deluxe rooms and above, guests receive complimentary butler service.

Bathrooms are compact but fully featured, and most (but not all) bathrooms have double vanities and step-in showers. The renovation also provided television screens within the bathroom mirrors.

The Westin Excelsior is right across the piazza, and guests at either hotel have charging privileges at both Starwoods. Rates at the Westin are more economical, the rack rate being 100€ less than the St. Regis for the comparable room category. Rooms are large, and the availability of interconnecting rooms make the Westin a good choice for families with young children. Rooms are not as elaborate as the the St. Regis. Some have separate showers.

Perhaps the outstanding feature of the the Westin Excelsior is the rooftop restaurant with its commanding view over Florence.

J. K. Place

J. K. Place is a young (2003), extremely small, boutique hotel with just 20 rooms. The hotel was created by design to offer a more personal experience than a typical hotel. There is no public lobby; guests enter by ringing the doorbell (as in a private home). There is no reception desk. Guests are greeted as they enter, and check in takes place seated in the living room. The intent is to create a feeling of being "at home" within a relaxed, luxurious atmosphere.

The outstanding feature of this hotel is its personalized service. Claudio, the general manager, is a native of Florence and sits down with guests to help them plan their stay in the city. He has authored a concise guide to Florence — which the hotel gives to guests — which looks to be a very helpful resource.

The breakfast room is perhaps paradigmatic of the hotel's style. There is a single, large table around which guests sit for breakfast — with a choice of eating in the TV room just off the breakfast room. After breakfast, the room turns into a kind of Club Lounge, providing refreshments throughout the day. All soft drinks, coffee, and tea are complimentary (not only in the Lounge but from the minibar in your room). WiFi is complimentary throughout the hotel.

I was only able to see several rooms because of high occupancy. Room #3, called a Master Room, is an open plan Junior Suite located in front of the building with a view of Piazza di Santa Maria Novella and its the church. At 60 sqm, it is extremely spacious, though also quite pricey at 1100€. The Penthouse is a duplex suite, also large at 50 sqm. Its extraordinary feature is a large rooftop terrace with a fabulous view of the Duomo for 900€. Junior Suite #22, also with a Duplex arrangement, is a better value at 700€ as it offers enough room for four guests. The living room sofa converts into a King bed, and the suite has two full bathrooms. Children up to age 12 stay free; extra adults are 100€ per day, including breakfast and Club access. I was not able not see any of the regular guestroom categories.

Most rooms have a separate step-in shower and tub and single vanity. Some have a separate WC.

Helvetia & Bristol

With limited time in Florence, I chose not to visit Helvetia & Bristol, as the property is leaving Virtuoso at the end of 2012. Very conveniently located near the Duomo, the hotel has a heavy old-world Italian feeling. One of the sales managers I did meet with described Helvetia & Bristol's style as "chandeliers and carpet". It is a reasonably priced four-star option in the center of Florence.

Last edited by DavidO; Oct 27, 2012 at 1:45 am
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