Dream, feel, taste the very best of dolce vita in one of Europe’s most aristocratic hotels
On a very warm and sunny late afternoon, probably the hottest end of September in Florence, in many years, I woke up from a nap and felt so lazy and relaxed. Yet, I couldn’t resist going out on the terrace to breath in the amazing smell of the botanical garden, the largest private garden in Florence. As I was preparing to leave for the SPA I found myself pause for a minute to think whether it was appropriate to walk through the lobby area in my bathrobe. Imagine centuries old, Renaissance frescoes, bas-reliefs, stuccoes, silk wallpapers, statues – all beautifully restored to reveal the most vivid details. And this very thought made me reflect on whether the hotel has a soul of its own… And then, while I was walking through, I could sense a warm and comfortable feeling, like I was home, like I belonged, without feeling intimidated by the grandeur of the surroundings.
Housed in a separate building, also entirely restored, the SPA is one of the piece de la resistance of the hotel. It is a contemporary, yet aristocratic feel at the same time, which is recreated in the SPA by the perfect blend of white, black and grey marbles. The SPA was happy to arrange for me a tailor made treatment, a combination of Swedish massage to relieve muscle stress and candle oil, especially created for the SPA by one of Florence’s most respected establishments, Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, whose origins date back to 13th century order of ingenious chemist-friars. Lucia, the SPA Manager shared with me that it took 8 months for the Farmaceutica to produce the actual jars of the candle and the special oil. I felt so pampered and taken care of, that I wouldn’t leave…
Then, while I was walking back to the main building I couldn’t help but hear a piano, a pianist playing live in the garden, on the terrace of the restaurant. Back in my room, with the windows wide open partly overlooking the terrace of the restaurant, I could hear the piano music. Although I was planning to order something light in my room, I couldn’t resist and went down to have dinner. Serving traditional Tuscan cuisine with ingredients sourced from artisan producers. I was fortunate to meet Chef Vito Mollica who was eagerly looking forward to speaking to me about the famous fois gras of Hungary (I am half Hungarian, half Romanian). The ambiance, the food and the flawless service made a truly memorable dinner. I couldn’t help but notice the dressed up couples and groups of friends speaking Italian. I thought they were tourists, but no, the waiter told me they were Florentine who are regular guests of the hotel and the restaurant. I was so pleased to observe the very elegant ladies, wearing exclusive perfumes and commanding the most aristocratic manner. I later learned from the concierge that locals are among the loyal customers of the Sunday Brunch which is considered the best in Florence.
A carefully placed Santa Maria Novella ‘’Elisir di China’’ digestive liquor was waiting for me in my room. My plan to take a long bubble bath in the antique style freestanding bathtub was overturned, climbing up into my bed and falling asleep like a baby…
I woke up refreshed the next morning and after a healthy breakfast I went out. After a pleasant 10 minute walk, I arrive in the heart of the city, where the newly opened Gucci Museum was first on my tourist agenda. I was impressed more by the contemporary installation hosted by the Museum than the museum itself, which all looked almost too new, crisp and fresh. It was probably the interior design that made all exhibits from Gucci’s 90 year history look almost new. I was not impressed by the bookshop which features some tacky red double G leather accessories (an IPhone case and an Ipad case as well as a USB memory stick). Museo Gucci branded mugs and candles, one type for each, were also on sales, along with carefully selected art books, featuring only Gucci Group (PPR) brands, so don’t expect to find a book on Chanel or Vuitton. The cafeteria reminded me of the Emporio Armani Café concept, very sleek but lacking character. Attendants and staff throughout the museum were all uniformed like sales assistants in regular Gucci stores, hence the newness and shopping perception rather than being in a museum. By contrast, the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum, which is 5 minutes walk, is much more ”real” and historical. It is not only a testimony to the heritage of the house of Ferragamo, one of Italy’s most prestigious, but also a showcase of the history of shoemaking in general, in the 20th century.
I spent my next morning lying by the pool and sunbathing. While swimming I could smell the potpuri, from the open door of the nearby SPA… The pool area is surrounded by majestic trees, an evergreen Sequoia and a centuries old Cedar tree from Lebanon. I took a stroll through the garden that day, to discover the other building of the hotel, which is called Conventino (monastery in Italian), a former convent from the 16th century, which provides the utmost in privacy. Inside the building, I discovered a former church, entirely restored, which is now the main ballroom of the hotel. Looking at the garden of the Convent, I could instantly imagine the most lavish wedding, in the most unique location. I don’t know why, I was thinking of those ultra-luxurious weddings of the wealthiest Indians who prefer European destinations such as Venice or Florence for their weddings.
On the last day of my stay, I was amazed how the hotel handled an exclusive business event and a private reception set up in the garden, both happening simultaneously, proving the hotel is well equipped for both leisure and business guests and events.
And there were so many things I planned to do…especially shopping. I was planning to take a trip to the Prada outlet, 40 minutes by car from Florence. It is apparently the biggest outlet of the brand and with the widest selection, being known that most of luxury leather goods are actually manufactured in ateliers and manufacturing facilities in and around Florence.
I promised myself – I’ll be back !