Nicholas Chrisostomou travels to Tuscany to explore Florence from the divine surroundings of the city’s most fabulous accommodation, the DUOMO PRESIDENTIAL SUITE at Hotel Savoy.
I would never normally open an article with car talk, but there’s nothing like a slick airport pick-up in a fancy motor to snap one out of a state of overtiredness and awaken the senses. A 3.30 wake-up call and 6am flight had rendered me zombie-like upon landing at Bologna airport. But all that changed when a gleaming, dark blue Maserati Quattroporte glided into view, to whisk me the 100 kilometres to Firenze. Better still, my driver Bruno was Florentine through and through, having been born and lived his entire life in the city. A five-star stay experience is all about the details, and Hotel Savoy nailed it from the very start. As we almost flew down the autostrade at 150kmph and I luxuriated in the scent of expensive Italian leather, it was obvious that my Florentine weekend had already begun at a pace and in inimitable style.
Glimpsing for the very first time, a city that you are genuinely excited to be visiting, is a special moment. It’s a feeling that I rarely experience these days, having travelled the world and been lucky enough to see so much of it. But crossing the river Arno in the back of a Maserati, and catching sight of the Duomo, gave me such goose bumps, that any tiredness I had felt was instantly replaced by anticipation, akin to being plugged into Italy’s national grid. As I chatted with Bruno, he deftly weaved his expensive charge down narrow back streets, past the magnificent Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and between hordes of people, until we were in front of our destination.
An imposing, long and narrow 19th century rectangular building positioned in the heart of Firenze, Hotel Savoy has been welcoming travellers for more than a century, and is renowned for being one of the finest places in the city to rest one’s head. So far as its location is concerned, the Savoy simply cannot be beaten. The hotel takes pride of place in the very middle of everything, on Piazza della Repubblica. The Duomo is mere seconds to the right and the Ponte Vecchio a few minutes’ walk to the left. The Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio are five minutes away.
The piazza, with its tacky carousel and rotating street musicians, is not the draw here. The hotel’s proximity to the Duomo is. Some older European city hotels are often sited close to landmark monuments, because they were erected before the idea of marketing the view was a concept. The Savoy is one of these, and consequently boasts a number of rooms with an incredible view that set it apart from the crowd. When visiting Florence there’s no more desirable view out of one’s bedroom window than the Duomo, especially for a Florentine newbie.
The Savoy’s first-time collaboration between Rocco Forte Hotels’ design director Olga Polizzi (also Sir Rocco’s younger sister) and Laudemia Pucci, daughter of the legendary designer Emilio, is immediately evident upon entering the hotel’s lobby, where brightly pattered fabric-covered armchairs make a sassy yet sophisticated statement against the sleek white paintwork and marble floors. It’s a wonderfully executed lobby and although noticeably devoid of a lounge, it does the job admirably. Beyond the lobby the feel is more classic, and a more traditional Italian elegance prevails, accented by the liberal use of fine fabrics and soft furnishings. My check-in is warm and swift and I’m in the lift in minutes. I do like a hotel where you don’t need a key-card to get to your floor, since too much tech can so easily destroy an otherwise fabulous arrival experience!
Exquisite fabrics and plush soft furnishings are a hallmark of the Savoy’s Duomo Presidential Suite, which was unveiled in 2018 as part of a complete remodelling of the hotel to reduce the number of keys to 80 and create more than thirty spacious and predominantly Italian suites.
Occupying its own wing on the fourth floor of the hotel and flooded with natural light thanks to the generous fenestration of the building’s façade, the Duomo Presidential Suite is the Savoy’s top room category and was to be my sumptuous home-away-from-home for the weekend.
A large, airy dual-aspect lounge boasting incredible views of Brunelleschi’s iconic cupola, Giotto’s beautiful bell tower and the façade of Florence’s signature monument; a separate dining room with its own balcony; a chic guest cloakroom; a spacious master bedroom and bath with large walk-in closet, and a second bedroom with its own en-suite, together make the Duomo Presidential Suite a veritable super-luxe self-contained serviced apartment in the very center of the Italian Renaissance world.
Dominated by a huge mirrored low-slung square table, laden with coffee table books, candelabra and other gorgeous items, from one of the sofas in the lounge it was possible to laze and gaze at the Duomo, which I did, many times, with a glass of Gavi in close proximity. Yet despite the room’s immense size, wooden parquet floors, an abundance of cushions and an array of tasteful objets d’art, books and artwork in the form of sculptures, contemporary Baroque-style busts, paintings and prints – not to mention scented fresh flowers subtly positioned throughout – combined to render the space warm, welcoming and entirely usable.
Despite being in the very center of Florence, just four storeys above its teeming streets, The Cultured Traveller felt as though he were gliding above the city, since the height somehow mitigated the noise of the piazza.
An oversized fabric-covered headboard dominated in the perfectly proportioned master bedroom, which was also dual-aspect thanks to three separate balconies, and furnished with a sofa and armchair, desk and huge bed adorned with just the right number of pillows. Again, divine fabrics prevailed throughout, and the original wooden window shutters were supplemented by heavy, flowing silk curtains to ensure truly restful slumber.
I intended to make the most of my 72-hours in the suite, so no sooner had my luggage been delivered that I was unpacking and getting comfortable in my lavish surroundings. I even made the acquaintance of an elegant, life-size ceramic hunting dog guarding the entrance.
After a jam-packed first day of visiting Galleria dell‘Accademia di Firenze and the Museum of the Opera del Duomo, having a tour of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and climbing 463 steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s cupola, it was a delight to return to the turquoise accented Duomo Suite to relax and recharge in such elegant comfort. As one would expect of a hotel with the Savoy’s pedigree, room service was prompt, housekeeping efficient and literally nothing was too much trouble for the friendly front desk team. Whilst I would have been happy to meet (and thank) the housekeeping team, we didn’t run into them once during the weekend, despite darting in and out of the hotel like yo-yos.
The Savoy is located so close to all that matters in Florence, that we could literally walk everywhere and need never worry about whether our ‘phones had enough juice. Staying in such a central location really changes the dynamic when visiting a city like Florence, for when we tired of the crowds (and there are a lot of people, everywhere, in Florence) we escaped the mêlée and retreated to our five-star sanctuary at the drop of a hat.
As the weekend progressed, some of the Savoy’s other star qualities soon became apparent, quite apart from the exceptional lodgings. Not least, the hotel’s superb concierge team, which in fact started organising places to go and sights to see well before my arrival in Italy. One can often rate a hotel well before one’s arrival, based on the promptness of email communication and the willingness of a concierge team to go that extra mile. The Savoy’s concierge team was second to none, before and throughout my stay, to the point that I actually missed the chaps after checking-out.
If money is no object, there is no better place to stay in Florence than the Savoy’s Duomo Presidential Suite. Striking a flawless balance between luxury and informality, the suite’s perfect proportions and contemporary Italian décor provide an incomparable urban haven from Firenze’s busy streets. If your budget doesn’t stretch to the best in the house, there are plenty of other rooms and suites at the Savoy which also boast the same unrivalled view of the Duomo. Either way, you’ll be gazing at one of the world’s architectural marvels and staying at Florence’s finest hospitality address.
Nicholas Chrisostomou stayed in the Duomo Presidential Suite at Hotel Savoy in February 2019.
The average nightly rate for the suite is EUR5,000 including breakfast for two and airport transfers.