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Hotels of Florence, A Primer

Hotel Savoy THE DESIGN DIVA

Is there any more glamorous introduction to Florence than the Hotel Savoy?Not likely. Arrive by cab and you are greeted by a young man who does not look the least bit ridiculous in a top hat and long, dove gray coat. Either he's the greatest actor since Mastroianni or he really is thrilled to see you. Folded discreetly in his hand is a paper with the names of expected arrivals. Would the gentleman by any chance be Signor Petkanas?You bet he would.

The Savoy, which Rocco Forte Hotels refurbished for $17 million, does not disappoint. Its location, on the Piazza della Repubblica, Florence's main square, is unimpeachable. The Duomo and Prada, the Uffizi Gallery and Etro, the Arno and Cellerini—all are in luxurious roll-out-of-bed proximity, making the Savoy a natural base of operations for heat-seeking career shoppers. (Those beds, by the way, are made up with wonderfully starchy linen sheets, coverlets that are a cross between a moving quilt and a Provençal boutis, and both foam and down or feather pillows.) If your dream of Italy involves staying in the thick of a nonstop, A-list passeggiata, no other hotel will do.

Forte's sister Olga Polizzi is in charge of the Savoy's visuals, and that contagious International Boutique Hotel Sensibility comes through, with explicit references to French design idol Christian Liaigre. Razor-tailored decoration has its day, and then some, in 107 guest rooms housed in a proudly unfrivolous 1893 building owned by the Ferragamo shoe family. Bathrooms come in two varieties of marble, white or rich brown, and have ravishing mosaics and high-tech glass Soehnle scales. Shame about the Savoy's art, though. It could have been bought by the yard. Aren't we in Florence?

As for the service, it's probably the best in town, provided by a crisp, fresh-faced team whose idea of a good time is to turn on a dime. The nimble guest relations manager, who fairly bristles with finesse, missed his calling. He should have been a diplomat. "We won!" exclaimed the concierge after heroically securing an eleventh-hour Sunday lunch reservation at La Fontana, the proto-Tuscan hill restaurant in nearby Prato.

The Savoy's own food is better than it has a right to be and certainly better than you'd expect. (Hotels this design-centric often think decent food is beneath them.) Surely there is no more heavenly Florentine experience than dining on the pretty parasol-shaded platform, set out on the hotel's piazza, and engulfed by flower boxes and topiaries. A casual question about the Parmesan risotto unleashed an eloquent explanation from the waiter about how the dish is prepared (the secret: the cheese is cut into chunks, not grated, and melts as the rice cooks). Obliquely ridged penne, tossed with a sauce of crumbled shrimp, tomato, and dill, was 10 times more than the sum of its parts. Better than dessert, the Marchesa Pucci walked by in vintage Pucci. 7 Piazza della Repubblica; 800/223-6800 or 39-055/27351; www.roccofortehotels.com; doubles from $400.

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