Italy is perennially a favorite top travel destination in the world, and with good reason. And if you are visiting Italy, it is hard to beat Florence, a city of immense art, culture and history that also happens to be the gateway to Tuscany, one of the world’s most iconic fantasy vacation spots. Just about everyone headed to Tuscany will get there through Florence, where most will stay a few days – and all would be hard pressed to choose a better hotel than the stunning Four Seasons.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been two years since the last entry in my “Hotels I Love” series – that is how hard it is to make the cut.
For readers not familiar with this recurring column, here is the three sentence lowdown: I travel a great deal and stay in many exceptional hotels worldwide, but only the very best qualify as Hotels I Love. In almost every case (including this one) these are properties I have stayed at multiple times over many years, so I know the great service was not a fluke. It’s not enough to be a “Hotel I Like” or even a “Hotel I Really Like,” and in good years I only manage to find a few – if any – they have to be that good. The Four Seasons Florence is that good, a standout even among one of the world’s standout luxury brands. I first visited shortly after it opened about 8 years ago and most recently last month (as a guest of the chain) and it just keeps getting better.
This property is about as far from cookie cutter as Four Seasons gets, a true “urban resort” comprised of two stunning Renaissance buildings and an immense 11-acre private park. It was once owned by Pope Leo XI, the shortest serving Pope in history (26 days) – but brief tenure or not, the bottom line is that there are not a whole lot of former papal residences you can sleep in.
The 15th century Palazzo Della Gherardesca houses the main hotel (79 rooms and suites), lobby, bar and most restaurants, while La Villa, a former 16th century convent, is a smaller (37 rooms and suites), self-contained hotel wing that lends itself to takeovers for weddings, events, and VIPs with its own entrance, check-in and privacy. Both have been meticulously renovated and preserved as living museums adorned with magnificent original artwork, some more than 500 years old. The villa also has a freestanding one-bedroom cottage – the convent’s old greenhouse. The two are set in and connected by the walled Gherardesca gardens, the largest private park in the city, which also contains the pool, spa, fitness center and seasonal outdoor dining for both the Michelin Starred Il Palagio and the aptly named Al Fresco trattoria. The impeccably maintained park and gardens are filled with a vast array of ever changing sculptures and artwork, and the hotel seizes every opportunity to capitalize on this truly unique asset, offering gourmet staffed picnics and two different romantic single table private dining venues, the sort normally found on remote clifftop peninsulas at tropical island properties.