But if I tell you that the façade of the Belmond Villa San Michele in Florence was created by one of the giants of the Renaissance, it all becomes clear. The designer was none other than Michelangelo himself. In between reinventing sculpture and painting, the turbulent Florentine became an early master of the neo-classical architectural style that came to define his native land. Once a monastery, the building that houses one of Florence’s most beautiful small hotels is a symphony in golden stone.
Its location on a hilltop in Fiesole, with breathtaking elevated views of Florence and the Arno valley, simply adds to the appeal. If you’re a traveller looking for respite from crowded city streets and European traffic, you won’t be disappointed. A clever restoration of the property has retained all the tranquillity of its semi-rural location, with acres of lush gardens and open space.
During my travels I’ve found that every Belmond property typically occupies the most privileged position in its area. The Belmond Villa San Michele is no exception. It’s subtly integrated with the landscape, with a terraced layout that follows the curve of the hillside. Many of the suites are chiselled into the terrain and camouflaged with vines and creepers.
The whole delightful oasis is just minutes from the shops, museums and street life of Florence. A complimentary shuttle leaves every 15-minutes so you can pop out for a spot of culture any time you like. Slightly further afield are the beautiful towns of Siena and San Gimignano, not to mention the villages and vineyards of the Chianti region. You can easily do as we did, and hire a car, or alternatively, ask the hotel’s concierge to organise a private car with driver so you can sample the region’s fine wines with a clear conscience.
We were looking forward to our Tuscan sojourn and were greeted warmly on arrival, as if we were being invited into someone’s private residence. This style of gracious, old school hospitality is synonymous with the Belmond brand.
It’s charming and entirely appropriate for an exclusive boutique resort.
Our residence – one of the hotel’s Junior Suites is designed around a large open-plan area containing a king-size bed, lounge area and easily enough room to accommodate our two children in separate single beds. Antique furniture complemented the original stone floors, with modern touches such as an LED TV hidden inside a cabinet at the foot of the bed. After viewing it slips back into its cabinet, so as not to infringe on the glorious scene.
Speaking of vistas, it was a real bonus to have our own private terrace. We could drink in the Tuscan valley views while enjoying a glass of wine or two, or even book a private dinner by candlelight. The bathroom was another highlight, with His and Hers dedicated areas, a deep tub, and a marble shower with plenty of room for the multitude of Bulgari toiletries that Belmond lays on for its guests.
Staying in the heart of Tuscany, you just know you’re going to eat well. The Belmond Villa San Michele has its own cooking school for those who wish to master pasta, but we were more in the mood to be served. La Loggia restaurant is, as you’d expect, situated in the building’s loggia. You enjoy quite remarkable views towards Florence while waiting for your meal, and when the meal arrives, the evening goes up yet another notch. If I could have sampled every classical Italian dish on the menu, I would have stayed for a fortnight. As it was, I enjoyed the best gnocchi I have ever tasted, made even better with one of the region’s loveliest red wines.
During the day there are many activities to choose from, including Vespa tours and the aforementioned cooking school. A ramble around the hill towns and villages is highly recommended – ask the concierge to put together an itinerary. But it’s not a mistake if you decide to stay put. This is such a lovely place that you could enjoy the most restful holiday imaginable without leaving the premises.
Special mention must go to the large outdoor pool, set in the midst of the hotel’s immaculate grounds. A rock path leads you through the layered Italian gardens until you arrive at a pool with its temperature maintained at an idyllic 26°c. We spent many relaxing hours here, enjoying the informal atmosphere and taking advantage of the opportunity for a dip. There’s also a superb little poolside bar and informal dining area, serving lunch alfresco style. What more could you ask for?
Every Italophile knows that the Italians have mastered the art of living. Yes, Michelangelo and Leonardo et al will always draw the culture-loving tourists – and deservedly so. But if you want to make the most of your time on this planet, you owe it to yourself to spend some time in Tuscany, simply enjoying the good things in life. The Belmond Villa San Michele is waiting for you. It’s calling us back, too.
Category: Luxury Boutique Hotel.
Suite Reviewed: Executive Junior Suite.
What’s great? The fabulous elevated location provides panoramic views back over the city. The privilege of space,
being set amongst acres of manicured Italian gardens and yet just 15-minutes from Florence.
What’s not so great: Save your washing
for later, for some reason the laundry charges are eye-watering.
Editor’s tip: Book a table for lunch on the 15th century terrace at La Loggia for lunch. Charming, old-school silver service matched only by the superb Tuscan inspired cuisine. A glass of local Chianti, the best gnocchi I’ve ever had and a
view that I will remember forever.
Without question one of the best restaurants in Florence.
Rate: From NZ$1095 per room per night. From NZ$2010 per night for an Executive Junior Suite.
Overall: One of Tuscany’s spectacular treasures.