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European countries are full of palaces — chateaus, palazzos and the like — that are well-preserved enough to give visitors hailing from L.A. condos and Brooklyn brownstones a sense of what life was like for nobility of another time.
These sites are typically museums where visitors shuffle from one room to the next. They’re told not to talk too loudly or touch anything, and they usually view original artifacts from behind a velvet rope.
In the age of experiential travel, there has got to be a better way — and, in fact, there is.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Four Seasons Hotel Firenze (@fsflorence) on Apr 7, 2019 at 12:17pm PDT
A post shared by Four Seasons Hotel Firenze (@fsflorence) on Apr 7, 2019 at 12:17pm PDT
Nowadays, travelers can stay in former palaces. And among the best preserved, with service fit for royalty, is Four Seasons Hotel Firenze in Florence. Following eight years of careful restoration work, the 116-room property opened in June 2008 in the 15th-century Palazzo della Gherardesca and the 16th-century La Villa convent. The hotel still feels both brand-new and incredibly old.
Take, for example, my guestroom: the Volterrano Suite, featuring a 17th-century fresco by the Renaissance painter of the same name. Located just above the bed, the artwork depicts an ethereal scene of an angel — awash in heavenly light — holding a book over a half-nude woman draped in blue and white cloths.
It’s a dreamy ceiling to fall asleep and wake up to, but it’s certainly only one clue that the room is part of a former palazzo, belonging at one time to a member of Florence’s famed Medici family.
The walls bear another telltale sign: hand-painted silk wallpaper dating to the 19th century, featuring a forest-green floral pattern that reminded one employee I chatted with of modern-day Gucci prints (a high compliment coming from an Italian).
The suite is believed to have once been called the Chinese Room, in keeping with the 19th-century nobility trend to dedicate one bedroom to the Far East. And clearly it was an important room back then — the doors at the window open to the building’s only Juliet balcony, now flanked by flags from several countries and overlooking a quiet street and community park.
During my stay, I felt like a different, more elegant person, but not only because of my guestroom, which is one of many accommodations that features perfectly preserved frescoes and a Renaissance-style theme. (The 2,518-square-foot Royal Suite Della Gherardesca, for example, is filled with period furniture, chandeliers, ceramic and marble flooring and more. Rumor has it that Beyonce and other modern-day queens have stayed here.)
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Four Seasons Hotel Firenze (@fsflorence) on Oct 4, 2018 at 1:00am PDT
A post shared by Four Seasons Hotel Firenze (@fsflorence) on Oct 4, 2018 at 1:00am PDT
For starters, the hotel features the 15th-century Giardino Della Gherardesca, one of the biggest gardens in all of Florence. Even in one of the greatest cities of the world, a place of abundant nature and quiet — with artwork, a pool, a spa and plenty of space to roam — is much appreciated. Through the 11-acre garden is the hotel’s second building, La Villa, which has its own entrance. Filled with 37 beautiful rooms, it’s a bit more private than the palazzo, and is ideal for a buyout.
The palazzo building is the site of the lobby, a small library (the palazzo’s former chapel), the concierge, the Atrium Bar & Lounge and Il Palagio Restaurant. Il Palagio is a Michelin-starred venue that feeds herbivores as well as it does carnivores via dishes that are artful, modern and delightful. The bar doles out classic Italian cocktails — such as an award-wining negroni — as well as an innovative and at times funky cocktail menu. (During the warm weather months, outdoor restaurant Al Fresco Trattoria serves handmade pizzas and grilled dishes.)
Of course, this is a Four Seasons, so memorable experiences are a hotel specialty. My favorite surprise was opening my door and finding a staff member with a rollaway table set with the ingredients and tools needed for making a negroni. I invited her in, and she got to work — pouring, mixing and slicing off a bit of orange peel — while we exchanged pleasantries. The room filled with the smell of citrus and the feeling of a time long ago.
The DetailsFour Seasons Hotel Firenzewww.fourseasons.com