The Luxuries of Five-Star Florence

by  Donna Heiderstadt | May 12, 2010
Four Seasons Florence
Four Seasons Florence / Photo courtesy of the property

Cradle of the Renaissance and home of Michelangelo (and his marble masterpiece, David), red-roofed Florence, which the Italians call Firenze, straddles the River Arno in the heart of Tuscany and makes an ideal romantic escape for art- and history-loving couples. I just returned from a visit and can highly recommend a trio of luxury properties, each of which combines historic architecture and ambience with thoroughly modern amenities and stellar service:

The Four Seasons, Florence Don’t let the nondescript façade fool you: Once you’re through the front doors, a serious wow factor kicks in – beginning with the ornate 15th-century courtyard lobby that is as much a museum as it is an entryway. Barely two years old, this central Florence hotel is housed in a 600-year-old palazzo and a 500-year-old convent, both filled with priceless frescoes, bas reliefs and other architectural details that took seven years to restore. But the most beguiling surprise is the 11-acre private garden (the city’s largest), which makes a tranquil oasis after a day of dodging the sputtering scooters that zip through Florence’s narrow streets. This 19th-century Romantic-style botanical Eden is even home to a towering sequoia redwood, which at nightfall becomes a majestic sentinel backlit by stars and moonlight. The serene pool, with its oversized whirlpool, and adjacent two-story spa, featuring products from Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the world’s oldest herbal pharmacies (founded by 13th-century monks), brings the property’s ancient-meets-modern vibe full circle.

The 116 rooms and suites – no two alike – are private havens brimming with original details (the 11 specialty suites feature particularly magnificent artwork and architecture – see photo, left) and decorated in soothing shades of green and pale yellow. They are divided between the main building, the circa-1490 Palazzo della Gherardesca, which also houses the Tuscan-themed Il Palagio restaurant and a wine bar serving more than 50 wines by the glass, and the early 16th-century Conventino, tucked at the far end of the garden. One long, lingering bubble bath for two as custom-blended Lorenzo Villoresi toiletries scent the air and you’ll feel as regal as the Florentine nobility who soaked here centuries before you (from $632).

Il Salviatino It is a rare property that can make you feel like both a Lilliputian and a Goliath, but this newcomer located where Florence proper meets hilltop Fiesole manages to do both with a striking amount of panache. The reasons: The 14th-century villa’s rooms and suites – 45 in all, featuring massive carved wooden doors and oversized tufted leather sofas – create the feeling you have somehow shrunk, while the exemplary hospitality (guests are catered to by Service Ambassadors who will gladly book museum tickets and make dinner reservations) generates a satisfying feeling of elevated stature. And it doesn’t hurt that there are stunning views of Florence from the lounge-like terrace, a shuttle to the city center, a small but blissfully exotic spa and an innovative gourmet restaurant.

The centerpiece is the villa itself. Each room or suite is unique, but all feature an indulgent blend of palatial authenticity (gargantuan armoires and silver candelabras) and high-tech modernity (plasma TVs – some imbedded in giant mirrors – and Wi-Fi light control). A favorite is the Tegliacci Suite (see photo, right) with its enormous fireplace. There are also four Green House Suites, set below the Italian Garden and each boasting a large glass-paneled sun room. The Thai-inspired Devarana Spa (the first in Italy) offers a signature Devarana Massage that’s the perfect afternoon wind down and a pool is scheduled to open by late June. Come nightfall, flickering candles dot the pathways through the manicured Italian Garden, leading to Le Serre restaurant, where Florentine chef Saverio Sbaragli creates a modern gastronomic twist on local Tuscan fare, served in an intimate space divided by large suspended paintings. Like all of Il Salviatino, it is unmistakably unique (from $646).

Villa San Michele For a room (and a swim and a dinner) with a view (see photo at top), this ultra-romantic Orient-Express property tucked on a hilltop in Fiesole delivers the vista of your dreams morning, noon and night. Set in and around a former monastery that dates to the 15th century (the present building’s facade was designed around 1600 by none other than Michelangelo), its public spaces evoke the serenity of a one-time sanctuary while many of its 46 rooms and suites (the spacious Deluxe Junior Suites with Terrace are particularly romantic) are terraced into the hillside overlooking landscaped gardens bursting with soothing scents and colors.

The panoramic heated pool at the top of the property is easily the most relaxing spot in Florence, while walking trails let nature-lovers ramble. A highlight of any stay is dinner in The Loggia restaurant, located on a terrace where the fading tangerine and mauve of sunset behind the Duomo’s red cupola transitions to a magic carpet of twinkling lights. Here, executive chef Attilio di Fabrizio transforms traditional Tuscan ingredients and fresh regional seafood into savory courses that will have you praising their flavor as much as the view. And foodies who want to learn how to recreate these dishes at home can attend the hotel’s Cookery School (open April to November, Super Saver rates from $760).

For more trip-planning information, see our Florence Travel Guide.

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