Sunday, April 06, 2008

Escaping Florence

Everyone loves the art, the history, the architecture of Florence. But people tend to forget that in the city’s central district beauty is often balanced by teeming, bustling and intrusive street life. Tough as it is to admit, downtown Firenze can be daunting, with long lines creeping into favorite museums, pollution, crowded avenues and unrelenting traffic. People come to Florence to shop and to gawk. That is why comfortable inner-city lodgings (like the previously-reviewed Baglioni Bernini Palace) are necessary oases as a counterpoint to the rigors of a typical day of exploring.

Compounding the oppressive climate, there’s a new Florence metro under construction –completion expected in 2009, so they say. The locals aren’t happy with the noise, the congestion and the grime it has brought along. A recent referendum prohibiting putting the metro near the Duomo passed, but city government has decided to go ahead and allow the damn thing anyway, irking nearly everyone. City Hall is entertaining proposals to ban cars or radically change traffic circulation in the city center, another sore point. Strikes and demonstrations endemic in Italy are sure to continue as a regular feature of Florentine life for the near future.

The good news is that Villa La Vedetta, a small ultra-luxury property of 18 rooms perched on a hillside overlooking the city, just next to the Piazzale Michelangelo, might be the perfect antidote to the current stresses and strains of bella Firenze. This outstanding hostelry was created out of an historic neo-Renaissance patrician villa dating from 1850, a structure which remained a private residence until 1970, then lived an incarnation as an exclusive nightclub. In 2003, following a complete renovation, the hotel opened, preserving many of the unique original architectural details. It’s set on sloping, perfectly-manicured grounds, surrounded by walled gardens, adjacent to some of the most beautiful homes in the neighborhood. You immediately sense the tranquility of the place after a walk through the gateway portal into the compound. The main house doesn’t look like an hotel, it looks like a mansion; in fact, reception is tucked into a modest corner under the stairs at the back- you hardly know it’s there. This dovetails perfectly with the hotel’s ambience and philosophy, where travelers are treated more as house guests by a staff who are more like a family. This is a leisure property which likes to think of itself as an “urban resort’, with few business travelers, family-friendly, and probably suitable as a private hideaway to be booked in its entirety, sleeping up to 40 guests at a time.

No two rooms are alike, each with its own unique décor, headboard, bed, drapes, and a variety of views, all utterly alluring. “The bed is the heart of the room,” management believes, and a good night’s sleep a guest’s sovereign right. Room 101, floating above the Italian Garden -and facing the Duomo which hovers below in the distance- boasts a stunning blue bath with lyrical mosaic floors. This is the property’s grand deluxe suite, all space and light, ideal for honeymooners (€1500/night). Alternately, the Bellavista suite’s bi-level configuration has astonishing views as well, with a modern flavor to its furnishings (€2000/night). Lots of little extras including top-quality amenities and a Damiani spa products welcome kit and discount coupon for top clients. Standard double rooms can be had at €900/night.

It’s impossible to go hungry at Villa La Vedetta, owing to the presence of the Onice Restaurant, domain of the exceptional 32-year old chef Massimiliano Blasone, whose elegant table has made the property a popular food destination. This chef likes to offer unexpected sweet and savory tastes, always sublime. A recent lunch featured a foie gras and crème brulée combination which worked delightfully well. Chef Blasone then sent out a succulent ravioli paired with zabaglione, garlanded with oxtail, asparagus of the season and tomatoes. A Zen-like dessert presentation grouped a profiterole variation with a airy mousse, house-made gelato and berry accents. Hats off to the kitchen! The restaurant’s comfortable décor and modest number of tables assures you of optimal service and attention, and the patio terrace with its classic view is recommended as an al fresco experience par excellence.

Villa La Vedetta has special programs designed for women traveling alone, families with kids, and pet fanciers traveling with dogs or cats. A property of this caliber can arrange anything you need, including expert guides, a personal shopper or hard-to-get museum admissions. On a sunny afternoon in Spring or Summer, why not treat yourself to a tantalizing picnic out on the compound’s grassy hillside, with the red roofs of Florence and the river Arno spread out before you, as echoes of the Medicis murmur from the surrounding honeysuckle and vines.

Villa La Vedetta

A Relais & Chateaux property

Viale Michelangiolo 78

50125 Firenze ITALY

Tel +39 055 681631

Fax +39 055 6582544

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