If I were asked – and sometimes I am asked such questions – what would be my ideal of an hotel in the enchanting city of Florence, I might well make the following response: a Renaissance-style palace overlooking the River Arno. And if I were pressed further, to imagine my ideal accommodation within this ideal hotel, I would surely reply that it would be a large and impressive suite in the traditional style. Well, my friends, I can now be more precise, for my ideal is no longer supposed. It is actual, and I have encountered it. Its name is the Westin Excelsior Hotel – a lodging as splendid as you will encounter, even in the City of Splendours.
Popularity does not always denote a good restaurant. (Often I suspect that ‘celebrities’ and their devotees congregate in some dining rooms I know simply to keep each other warm. It cannot be for the food.) Occasionally, however, I enter a restaurant which is particularly busy and think at once, ‘This place is full because it is good, and everyone here knows that it is good.’ Thus it was at the Ristorante Il Santo Bevitore in Florence. Not far from Brunelleschi’s great church of Santo Spirito and close to the River Arno, this is a restaurant which is both busy and buzzy. In its several rooms the chatter of contented diners combines with the canned music (traditional jazz – so quite acceptable) to create a youthful atmosphere which is both welcoming and stylish. You will gather that I liked it.
The Gran Teatro La Fenice is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. It attracts not only performers of the highest quality but also audiences of persons who possess wealth and exude refinement. All these excellent folk need a good restaurant nearby to provide them with sustenance. They are fortunate, for they have a good one. It was given its name, during the First World War, by one of Italy’s greatest writers, Gabriele d’Annunzio. He called this lovely dining room, ‘Taverna La Fenice’ – and thus it is called today. To it have gone such musical luminaries as Serge Diaghilev, Arturo Toscanini and Igor Stravinsky. My own musical abilities have extended no further than Grade One on the violin, but I am an experienced listener. And now I have dined at the famous Taverna La Fenice. So I am a proper music-lover.
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