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Hotels of Florence, A Primer

Florence is such an engaging and romantic city, it hardly matters where you lay your head, right?Anyone who thinks that has obviously never spent the night in one of these long-lived, long-loved hotels. Their styles, from reassuringly traditional to briskly contemporary, couldn't be more dissimilar.

Neither could their constituencies, who swing all the way from scholars of E. M. Forster to subscribers to Next. You can spend your whole life looking for the perfect Florence hotel. Or you can read on.

Grand Hotel Villa Medici THE RETRO REDOUBT

Though I should have been drafting a lawsuit—my bags had been left out on the tarmac in Milan for two hours in the rain—all I could think about was my reservation at the Grand Hotel Villa Medici. The place has my idea of a great reputation: it's known for being princely, stylish, and slightly démodé. But delays caused by a violent storm had made it almost certain that I would not be spending the night in Florence.

Then an angel appeared, in the form of the rare pilot who hadn't taken advantage of the bad weather and gone home to a spaghetti dinner and mamma's bosom. When the skies cleared, he flew me and a couple of other stragglers to Florence. It was midnight before I finally pulled up to the Medici, an early-18th-century palazzo that became a luxury hotel in 1961, but the night manager was there to greet me with an easy smile. "Welcome!" he exclaimed, knowing who I was without asking. "No need to register right away. You have two friends waiting for you in the bar. Why don't you relax and join them for a drink?"

You have to hand it to a hotel that can make you forget that your three favorite Borelli linen suits have just been reduced to used paper towels. The barman matched the kindliness and efficiency of the manager with a model Negroni (the trick is the vermouth—it must be sweet). Urns of gladioli and little wedding reception-style bouquets had been set out on the tables, and piped-in, terrifically schlocky old-school Italian pop music filled the bar. As more of the Medici's decorative details began to kick in—effete blackamoors, life-sized ceramic greyhounds balancing potted ferns, ceilings painted with cloudscapes—it hit me that the hotel had not been oversold.

Size and location also recommend the Medici, a haven for travelers of a certain age with a layered knowledge of Florence and no need of a scene. With 103 guest rooms, the hotel is neither so big that the concierge looks at you blankly no matter how many dinner reservations he's made for you, nor so small that you always have the same nattering neighbors at breakfast. The hotel is a block from the Arno and a 10-minute, million-dollar walk from the Duomo. In other words, it's perfectly central, minus the notorious foot traffic that ensnarls many of the city's best-situated hotels.

A charmingly biomorphic swimming pool is snuggled in a walled garden furnished with teak lounges. Seduced by the garden as a setting for lunch, but not expecting much of the food, I was knocked out by white-bean bruschetta draped with satiny, nearly liquid ribbons of lardo, creamy fatback that had been infused with herbs in a marble box. Room-service breakfast had arrived with a lid (porcelain, not paper) thoughtfully placed atop my caffè doppio. When I called for the morning papers, and forgot to remove the Do Not Disturb sign, the bellhop shyly apologized for bothering me. Only in Italy. 42 Via Il Prato; 39-055/277- 171; www.villamedicihotel.com; doubles from $550.

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