Weekend Away: The Four Seasons, Florence
Why go now?
Anyone who loves Florence knows she is extra lovable in winter when the hordes have gone home and you can have her gorgeous streets all to yourself. Don’t worry about the cold. The Tuscan sun can still feel hot deep into December. Anyway, who wants to soak up the wonders of Michelangelo and Leonardo in the sweltering heat? Better still, go off-season and you can bag the smartest hotels in the city for a snip of the normal rate. Once the clocks change, prices drop by a few hundred euro, making a five-star weekend in the likes of the Four Seasons relatively affordable. Of course, you’ll have to mingle with whichever celebs are in town, but it’s worth the drag when your base is a 15th-century, fresco-laden palazzo with the largest private garden in the city.
Tucked discreetly along a quiet street a 10-minute walk from the spectacular Duomo cathedral, this treasure chest of a hotel grabs your eye the second you walk in. Step into the dazzling glass-covered courtyard and your jaw will drop at the sight of its precious artwork — a dozen bas-reliefs commissioned by the Medici family in 1555, featuring scenes from ancient Rome. Previous residents of this opulent pile have included a Pope, an order of nuns, and Italy’s first railway company, all with a penchant for medieval bling. But there’s plenty of time for artwatching later. A perky concierge bids us buongiorno and whisks us to reception where we are relieved of our credit card and passports momentarily, before getting the key to our room.
Room to book
Golden drapes, crisp linens and bay windows were just some of the joys of Room 328. The king-size bed was dreamland perfection, though I did resent being woken at 3am by the drone of the mini-bar. A quick word with housekeeping will put you right. And make sure to ask for a room with a garden view. Even if you’re only staying a day or two, you’ll find yourself putting off Botticelli and Raphael ’til the next visit just so you can soak in the marble bathroom or laze by the open-air pool. And why not? Their great works have been around since the Renaissance. Earthquakes, floods and the IMF notwithstanding, they’re not exactly going anywhere.
Breakfast, from €30 and served to the civilised hour of 11am, is the finest you’ll find in Florence. Seasonal wild berries, fresh carrot juice, goat’s milk yogurt, and egg-white frittata with green asparagus and ricotta cheese get the day off to a healthy start. Dinner is a glamorous yet low-key affair in Il Palagio, where local couples and casual groups drop in after the theatre and the mood is laid-back. My scallop carpaccio with crab timbale and heirloom tomatoes ( €30 — ouch) was simple yet sublime. The homemade fusilli with small squid, zucchini flowers and crispy bacon ( €26) worked perfectly as a main.
The pamper factor
Follow the scent of orange blossom trees in the garden and you’ll end up in the spa, where your plastic will take a hit but your body and soul will leave feeling like new. It’s one of the only places in town that uses products from the legendary Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella, the world’s oldest chemist whose herbal potions were concocted by monks in the 13th century. My organic lavender massage ( €150) applied with heated sachets and healing hands was life-changing — well, for at least the afternoon. When the weather picks up, you can doze by the outdoor pool.
What to do
In a city where art reigns supreme? Leave the bliss behind, take a right and in 10 minutes you’ll be standing at the Duomo, the world’s largest dome. Then again, if you’re splashing out on the Four Seasons, you need to savour every second of your stay. If you want to stretch your legs, the local neighbourhood is packed with hidden courtyards and cobbled streets ideal for lazy strolls.
A double room costs €295 until December 31. This falls to €250 between January and March 31. A twonight Christmas package, including gourmet Christmas Eve dinner, lunch on the 25th and two breakfasts, costs €950 for two. Getting there Florence is not served directly from any Irish airport. We flew to nearby Bologna with Aer Lingus (0818 365 000; aerlingus.com) and took a train to Santa Maria Novella in Florence, in less than an hour.
Four Seasons, Borgo Pinto, 99, San Marco, Florence. Tel: 0039 0552 6261; fourseasons.com/florence.