The Helvetia & Bristol is a lovely, traditional hotel which offers everything a lovely, traditional hotel should: comfortable luxury, a wonderful location and excellent food – indeed, the kitchens are now run by a young chef of very considerable talent. Of course, there are numerous very good hotels in and around Florence. But the Helvetia & Bristol is the only deluxe establishment which manages to be both in the very heart of the city and yet removed from its hustle and bustle. Doubtless, this is why Igor Stravinsky, Giorgio de Chirico, Pirandello and Bertrand Russell liked it so much. (Composers, painters, playwrights and philosophers deserve the best hotels, after all.) Right across the street is the magnificent Palazzo Strozzi and only a few steps away is the Piazza della Repubblica. The hotel is a Renaissance-style building, erected in 1894, and it looks entirely at home among its distinguished neighbours.
The Four Seasons Firenze is, without doubt, one of the most impressive hotels in Florence. It inhabits both a 16th Century convent and the 15th Century Palazzo della Gherardesca, and it has one of the largest gardens in Florence (11 acres). These wonders have been restored with flair, sensitivity, taste and, I feel sure, eye-watering expense. If you like frescoes, stucco, carved stone, gilt, crystal and sumptuous fabrics, you will be very happy indeed here. Such an establishment should have a wonderful restaurant and a brilliant chef. It has both. The wonderful restaurant is Il Palagio and the brilliant chef is Vito Mollica (pictured). And, I must note, the latter is a gentleman who combines culinary genius with an engaging charm.
The Hotel Regency in Florence has long been a member of the ‘Leading Hotels of the World’ organization. And one can see why. It is a mansion full of fine paintings and antique furniture. Built in the 19th Century, for much of its life it was used as a retreat for senior government officials. From precisely what they needed to retreat, I do not know, but they must surely have enjoyed their time at this handsome villa, with its private garden and its quiet location overlooking the public gardens of the piazza Massimo d’Azeglio. I certainly did. And it was a retreat for me, too – not from affairs of state, but from the occasionally crowded wonders of beautiful Florence.
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