Imagine with me a beautiful, large garden, the largest private garden in Florence, Italy bounded on one side by a castle where the Medici family once lived and on the other side by a convent dating from the 15th century. There are frescoed ceilings, sculpture and artwork everywhere and gracious people taking care of your every need. Is this a fantasy? No, it is the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze. The hotel is the epitome of understated elegance. In fact, its outward appearance is so subtle that it is easy to pass it right by. However, a knowing cab driver delivered my husband and me to the front door where we were warmly welcomed.
Because we had a tour, we dropped our bags and did not check in until we had spent the morning on a day tour of the Ufizzi Gallery. The doorman was helpful every day in every way. My husband and I stepped into the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze and felt as though we were in an extension of the Museum. The frescoed ceilings were there as was the architecture, the floors, the artwork and furniture. And, this was only a sample of the amazing offerings at the hotel, which must rank among the grandest and most interesting hotels in the world.
The hotel is a living museum, comprised of two Renaissance palaces whose previous residents include a Pope, an order of nuns, Italy’s first railway company, five centuries of Florentine nobility and a Viceroy of Egypt (who sold it when his harem was barred from moving in). Located on the edge of Florence’s historic center, it is comprised of two protected buildings that are the 15th century Palazzo della Gherardesca and the “Conventino”, a 16th century Palazzo which was once a convent, with 11 acres of botanical gardens between them. Within the 116 bedrooms and suites are original works of art and architectural detailing, some of which we had the chance to see. The Coventino was acquired by the Fingen Group in 1999, while this group acquired the Palazzo Della Gherardesca in 2000. Seven years were spent in restoration and remodeling. No two rooms are the same, with guest rooms designed by Pierre Yves Rochon. The hotel opened in 2008.
As we were checking in and discovering the lounge, bar and dining room in the Palazzo, others were doing the same at the “Conventino”. The pool, exercise facilities, spa treatment rooms and Trattoria are shared. The “Coventino” houses an amazing ballroom with a cathedral ceiling that had been an actual cathedral, the presidential suite, and an intimate breakfast area, La Magnolia. The Palazzo houses a smaller, cozier ballroom, a room with original wallpaper from China, the Royal Suite and our room among others, and the Winery, the Atrium Bar and Il Palagio.
We had the opportunity of meeting some of the charming people who top the list of people who create “the welcoming service that is inspired by the warm hospitality of a Tuscan home”. We felt welcomed and cared for.
These are some of the people we met:
The welcoming General Manager, Patrizio Cipollini, the charming and lovely Public Relations Coordinator, Claudia Porrello. Patrizio Cipollini who is from Tuscany was at the Four Season’s first property in Milano since it opened in 1993. He then took the helm of the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze’s pre-opening team in 2007. “It has always been a dream of mine to be the opening General Manager for a Four Seasons Hotel in Italy” Cipollini shared. “But I never imagined I would be coming back to my home region to open a property as historic as this.”
Soon the delightful Executive Chef, Vito Mollica, who is in charge of the One Star Michelin Rated Restaurant, Il Palagio, came to greet us. Chef Mollica previously worked in Toronto and Bologna. In another article I will share our dinner experience with the wonderful food and terrific staff at the restaurant.
Later, while exploring the garden, we met Mario Esposito who took care of our dining experiences during our entire stay. Mr. Esposito told us about his experiences at the Four Seasons in the south of France, Milan and elsewhere before coming to Florence in 2008 and opening the restaurant in Florence.
Eliana Mirazo efficiently checked us in.
We had a sense of disbelief as we opened the door to our room and saw the beautiful paintings in the entry way, then there was the bed, generous and beautifully made up. Walking into the room there were original ceiling frescoes of angels that had been restored. Can you imagine waking up and looking at angels keeping watch over you? There was more to amaze. There was a sitting area, a desk, another hallway with lots of storage space, and then a beautiful modernized bathroom space. Two sinks, a huge tub, a stall shower. The blend of state-of-the-art TV, computer hook-up, etc with what was in place from the 1400’s was remarkable.
Settled in our room, we went exploring. We went past the pool and whirlpool and then went inside where there is a Hair and Beauty Salon, two changing rooms and ten treatment rooms that use Officina Profumo-Farmacceutica di Santa Maria Novella products. This company is one of the world’s oldest herbal pharmacies that date back to the 13th century Florentine monks.
We tried some of the state-of-the-art equipment in the two-story workout space that is bordered by a Yoga room with weights of many kinds, balls and more. Classes are offered here as well as the services of a trainer.
Walking through the garden was a delight. Whimsical, labeled sculptures charmed us as we walked along. There were strategically placed benches and hammocks, historic, labeled trees and a surprise. We thought we saw an animal moving across the lawn. Then we realized this was a cordless robot grass cutter. There were several of them black and white on various sections of the lawn. Having once used an iRobot Roomba to vacuum a rented apartment, we were especially charmed by these little robots.
We had the chance to have meals both at the restaurant and the Trattoria, which serves meals in a covered space and can cater for events held outdoors and on the lawn. The food and the service were wonderful whether for breakfast or dinner. In a place that is so quiet and protected, it is remarkable that a 10 to 15 minute walk brought us to the Duomo, Michelagelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia and Piazza dell Signoria, the cultural heart of the city.
Whether one has the opportunity to take part in a 5-day Incentive Group Activity or to arrange a dinner at Il Palagio, a one star Michelin rated restaurant, an elegant place to dine no matter where you are staying in Florence, exploring Four Seasons Hotel Firenze is a magnificent and rewarding experience. It is also perfect for special events like weddings and meetings. For reservations and price information, contact [email protected].
Photos: Leon Keer