Finding Refuge in Florence: A Hotel Update


A successful trip to Florence now requires a strategy. My recent visit was in April, which is not really high season, but the areas around the cathedral and the Piazza della Signoria were crammed with large tour groups and boisterous parties of schoolchildren brandishing selfie sticks. Having wandered about disconsolately for an hour or so, marveling at the endless queues waiting for admission to the Uffizi Gallery, I boarded the shuttle from the Belmond Villa San Michele and headed back up the hill to Fiesole, a 25-minute drive away.

One of the unexpected consequences of political instability in Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia is that more and more Europeans are choosing to vacation in places that are perceived to be safer. Visitor numbers to Italy have increased exponentially, with a disproportionate number of travelers flocking to the most-famous cities. In addition, there has also been an influx of people from newly wealthy countries in Asia. Florence has a population of 380,000, but it receives about 16 million visitors a year. To accommodate even greater numbers, much of the city center is now a pedestrian-only zone. There the stores increasingly cater to tourists, and the small food shops, where local people would once do their daily shopping, have disappeared. To an unfortunate extent, central Florence no longer belongs to the Florentines.

One solution for American travelers is to stay at either Belmond Villa San Michele or Il Salviatino, both of which look down on the city from a perch in Fiesole, where you can dip in and dip out with the aid of the hotels’ complimentary transportation. In Florence itself, the Four Seasons Firenze has a relatively central location — about a 15-minute walk from the Duomo — but it is surrounded by 11 acres of gardens, which provide a leafy refuge. Alternatively, you can visit the city in winter. I have done this several times, and in January the weather can be crisp and sunny and the crowds in front of the “Birth of Venus” thinned.

The exterior of The Duomo in Florence, Italy - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Gardens at the Belmond Villa San Michele in Florence, Italy - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

I plan to do this early in 2018, in order to stay at the Hotel Lungarno, which reopened on June 1 after a comprehensive renovation. Located just 200 yards from the Ponte Vecchio, on the southern bank of the Arno River, it is not a hotel that I would contemplate booking in summer. But I have always enjoyed designer Michele Bönan’s stylish nautical-blue interior (complemented by a private art collection that includes works by Cocteau and Picasso), not to mention chef Peter Brunel’s Michelin-starred Tuscan cuisine in the hotel’s Borgo San Jacopo. Florence is as magical as ever, but nowadays you have to plan a trip with a little more care.

The Deluxe Double River View at Hotel Lungarno in Florence, Italy - Hotel Photography
The bath of the Designer Suite River View at Hotel Lungarno in Florence, Italy - Hotel Photography
By Hideaway Report Editor Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.

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