The Florence Guide
The Florentines know how to enjoy life—and they’ve known it for roughly 2,078 years. In 60 B.C., Roman soldiers named the city Florentia, meaning “may she flourish.” We’ll cut to the chase here: She did. She flourished with some of the greatest sculptures, the greatest architecture, the greatest artwork the world has ever known. She flourished with exquisite fashion, with world-class hotels, with pasta, with gelato, with wine that may well be the nectar of the gods.
To bring the Renaissance back to life, pick up a copy of Vasari’s The Lives of the Artists. After all, art is also the gateway to the city’s social and political history (and the reason there are so many exchange students here). The men who commissioned and paid for all those palazzi, sculptures, and cathedrals were the most powerful figures in Italy (and the Mediterranean) for centuries, with the infamous Medici family being the most famous among them.
For all of her accomplishments, for all her beauty and world historic significance, Florence has another side. The side of beauty to be quietly absorbed, beauty that will stay with you for the rest of your life. There is no better city in the world to walk around in, to get lost in, to stumble into a new place, to try new flavors. It’s what the Italians call “dolce far niente,” the sweetness of doing nothing. And if there is one place where doing nothing may well be life-changing, it’s in the modern, bountiful, fascinating, energetic, historical city of Florence.
Villa CoraViale Machiavelli 18, Palazzo Pitti | +39.055.228.790
For a step into the Baroque, there’s Villa Cora, which was once owned by Napoleon’s widow, the Empress Eugénie. It’s known for opulent, spacious interiors and is situated within a city park that overlooks the Boboli Gardens—it’s a perfect starting point for exploring Florence on foot.
Portrait FirenzeLungarno degli Acciaiuoli 4, Uffizi | +39.055.2726.8000
The heavenly scented Ferragamo personal-care products in the bathroom are one of the few discreet hints as to who owns this sublime thirty-seven suite hotel. The soft dove-grey interiors are designed by Michele Bonan with a nod to mid-century modernism, and little touches—cashmere throws, the ability to pick the pillows on your bed, the flowers in every room—all add to a feeling of unparalleled comfort. Book a river-facing room and enjoy breakfast wrapped in that cashmere blanket on your personal balcony right above the Arno.
Four Seasons FlorenceBorgo Pinti 99, Florence | +39.055.26261
Rooms at the Four Seasons occupy both an opulent restored palazzo and a converted sixteenth-century convent. This is Florence at its most grand: The hotel could almost double as a museum, filled with original works of art, antiques, frescoes, and decorative stucco. The setting—eleven acres of shaded, manicured gardens—is blissfully peaceful and quiet, especially after a busy day exploring the Uffizi galleries and the Duomo (a fifteen-minute walk away). Fittingly, the spa uses products from Santa Maria Novella, the Florentine beauty company, in its own stand-alone, ten-treatment-room building, and the twenty-seven-meter lap pool is heaven on hot summer afternoons. There’s even a Michelin-starred restaurant, Il Palagio, a formal dining room with vaulted ceilings and views of the garden that specializes in pasta and seafood, with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.
Hotel LungarnoBorgo San Jacopo 14, Florence | +39.055.27261
Hotel Lungarno, owned by the Ferragamo family, is designed to feel like a maritime-inflected period townhouse with incredibly views from every room. Conveniently located on the south bank of the river Arno, the hotel is also home to an impressive art collection, including a few Picassos.
J.K. PlacePiazza Santa Maria Novella 7, Florence | +39.055.2645181
With just twenty rooms, J.K. Place feels more like a Florentine’s grand home than a hotel. The guest rooms are all outfitted in designer Michele Bonan’s signature soft grey, with exquisite marble bathrooms to match. In the winter months, drinks are served by the roaring fire in the lobby, and the panoramic views from the rooftop bar draw in as many locals as guests for its aperitivi. Even if you aren’t staying here, come for the hotel’s weekend brunch, which is famous in the city.
Soprarno SuitesVia Maggio 35, Florence | +39.055.0468719
Oltrarno is the Brooklyn to Florence’s Manhattan—and Soprarno Suites is right at home in this more bohemian part of town. Owners Betty Soldi and Matteo Perduca have infused their eleven-room hotel with an artistic, relaxed bed-and-breakfast feeling. Rooms are spacious and feel more like studio apartments than hotel rooms. A stand-alone bathtub takes up a corner of each bedroom (not the bathroom), and it’s easy to linger in it while staring at the frescoed ceiling above. All the rooms are individually decorated and filled with curiosities as well as Soldi’s own artwork.
St. Regis FlorencePiazza Ognissanti 1, Florence | +39.055.27161
Occupying a fifteenth-century, Brunelleschi-designed Renaissance palace, the St. Regis is, like the Four Seasons, a sumptuous historical experience. Rooms are worthy of the architecture, with plenty of velvet and silk accents; many have views of the Arno. Take full advantage of the hotel’s knowledgeable concierge and services, which include tours of the city and countryside in the St. Regis Bentley, as well as tours of Florence’s galleries and museums with the hotel’s own in-house curator.
Ottantotto FirenzeVia dei Serragli 88, Florence | +39.055.0683669
For an urban hotel, it doesn’t get more intimate that this. Only seven rooms are spread over four floors with a lush, secret garden out back. The overall aesthetic here is botanical. The ornate wallpaper throughout features a medley of flora and fauna, the pictures hanging on the walls detail rare flowers and birds, and the little courtyard teeming with plants is the icing on the cake. Guest rooms are outfitted with old antiques, huge beds, and all the old bones of the building (like the beamed ceiling and wall paneling) have been maintained. Overall, the effect is reminiscent of an old Tuscan farmhouse that’s received a beautiful, subtle face-lift.