Florence both basks in and is at times burdened by its potent and imposing past. Why would anybody ever change even just one centuries-old pietra serena slab of stone? Today, however, several courageous and, more important, stylish individuals are undertaking meticulous restorations to reinvent distinct corners of the city.
Four Seasons Firenze
This impeccable hotel, which opened last summer, comes with just one potential caveat: Located on Borgo Pinti in the residential neighborhood of Piazzale Donatello, a ten-minute walk from the Duomo and a 15-minute walk to the banks of the Arno, it’s not as close to the city center as some might like. Get over it. Amid the summer crowds and heat, who wouldn’t trade a more central location for the hotel’s 11 acres of gardens? These have been restored to their 19th-century Romantic style, with structured paths, copses, hillocks, and ancient trees. Plus there’s an outdoor pool, flanked by lawns with classic statuary. Occupying a 16th-century convent and a 15th-century palace, the 116-room hotel is a tour de force of historical restoration. In the piano nobile suites, the quality of classic antiques and frescoes from the Renaissance to the 1800s surpasses that of any other hotel in Florence (aside, perhaps, from the Villa San Michele). The white marble spa is exceptional, too—a first in a city where day spas have, to date, not impressed. Book the Tuscan Cypress scrub, based on the fruit of this typical Tuscan tree and featuring a massage as well as the scrub. As ever with the Four Seasons, the service, both at the spa and the hotel, is perfect, even so soon after opening. From $680. At 99 Borgo Pinti; 39-055/26261; fourseasons.com/florence.
One of the first serious contemporary Italian photography venues in Florence, FOR, which opened in November, is the brainchild of three young entrepreneurs: Ori Kafri, owner of the JK Place boutique hotels in Florence and Capri; Fabrizio Moretti, a photography collector with galleries in London and New York; and Riccardo Bacarelli, who is at the helm of his family’s famous antiques gallery. FOR, housed in the historic Art of Silk building, is an anomaly on Via dei Fossi, which is better known for its traditional art and antiques. In contrast, this three-floor space showcases ultramodern work from mostly Italian photographers, including Uberto Gasche, Giacomo Salizzoni, Alessandro Moggi, and Massimo Listri, who will hold an exhibition at Palazzo Pitti this year. The third floor houses a library, research center, and gallery, which will host exhibitions and events. At 45R Via dei Fossi; 39-055/094-6444; forgallery.it.
With plans to open in Milan and Dubai, Florentine fashionista Roberto Cavalli introduced his first club here this winter, in an abandoned building once used by the adjacent 13th-century church. He appointed his daughter, Rachele, and her husband, Joseph Jacoviello, to spearhead the new Cavalli Club, which was inspired by the outré offerings of the X-rated Box in Manhattan. Cavalli covered the floors in a white-glitter resin; bathrooms have gold sinks and gold-leaf resin walls; and a live striped eel twirls in a 9-by-6-foot aquarium. There’s contemporary Mediterranean food to nibble on while the show unfolds on the altar-cum-stage, and flanking the steel bar is a treelike sculpture whose 150 LED-lit leaves extend toward the 24-foot vaulted ceilings. Outrageous? Perhaps, but the renovation also revealed delicate wall paintings on the altar, now salvaged and restored. At 8R Piazza del Carmine; 39-055/211-650.
Britta In Bicicletta
So many stores in Florence sell fine handmade baby clothes—the embroidered dresses for which the city is known can have more than 1,600 stitches—that it seemed there couldn’t be room for another. But the latest children’s clothing boutique to open, on the Lungarno Torrigiani, has carved out its own niche, offering a look that’s more Parisian than the other shops’. The selection is small but includes fine European brands like Bensimon shoes, Grevi hats, Cuini hair accessories, traditional dresses and pajamas by Altheane, and Anne-Claire Petit crocheted toys. A young local, Federica Ghisi, conceived the boutique, and she does all the buying. Ghisi also creates her own designs, choosing rich fabrics (cashmere, linen, wool) and using local specialty tailors to finish the work. At 5R Lungarno Torrigiani; 39-055/246-6703; brittainbicicletta.com.
Ristorante e Terrazza Bardini
Chef Umberto Montano, of Florence’s trendy Alle Murate restaurant, opened this spot last summer, inside the 16th-century Renaissance-style Bardini Villa. Surrounded by a garden that’s often used to exhibit sculpture, Ristorante e Terrazza Bardini has two expansive terraces overlooking the Arno and hills beyond Florence, and the restaurant hosts live music and performances. But beyond the outdoor seating and view of the city, it’s the fresh fish crudo appetizer that makes this place a must. An array of thinly sliced monkfish, black-striped sea bass, tuna, and amberjack, the dish is served with scampi and mazzancolla shrimp beside a small bowl of Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. So simple but so perfect. Dinner, $130. At 67A Costa San Giorgio; 39-055/200-8444; moba.fi.it.
Roman interior designer Ilaria Miani has finally given Florence its first city-center apartment rental that’s as good as—if not better than—any hotel here. On Via Lambertesca, a two-minute walk from the Arno and the Uffizi museum, the third-story, four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot Loft House feels a bit like a New York converted-warehouse apartment, with exposed brick walls, rough lime-coated beams, and a mezzanine library. But there’s a distinctly Italian spirit in Miani’s classic moderne style. She combines the building’s 16th-century bones with contemporary Italian and English art, a bold color palette, her own furniture designs (including mod four-poster beds), and Italian wools and linens. And the apartment’s sunny 750-square-foot terrace, accessible from the master bedroom and sitting room, affords views of the city’s terracotta rooftops and church domes. One thing to keep in mind: With its smallish kitchen, the Loft House may be best for those who want to eat out and aren’t traveling with young children. From $10,600 per week; 44-20/7788-7815; cedricreversade.com; email@example.com.
Via Santo Spirito
The recent openings on this quiet street, which runs between the Arno and the Santo Spirito church in the southwest part of the city, have maintained the area’s artisanal feel even as they modernize its aesthetic. The boutique 46 Santo Spirito (39-055/210-659; 46santospirito.com) sells of-the-moment limited-edition women’s clothing, shoes, bags, and accessories from the likes of Lulu Guinness, Philip Treacy, and Alessandro Dell’Acqua, while also exhibiting local artists’ work and holding wine tastings. Area (11 Via Santo Spirito; 39-055/277-6482), which opened in 2003, designs and produces its own Renaissance-style furniture. And Aprosio & Co. (11 Via Santo Spirito; 39-055/290-534; aprosio.it), having opened in 1993, helped pioneer the neighborhood’s new look; it specializes in handcrafted beaded jewelry and accessories. Despite its proximity to the tourist-packed city center, the area has held on to its local identity. This is thanks in large part to L’Associazione Via Santo Spirito Rive Gauche, a recently founded organization of store owners and residents—including members of the Frescobaldi family—who have banded together to preserve the area’s peaceful nature. The association now holds regular cultural events here, and the fascinating interior garden at the Frescobaldis’ palazzo is open to visitors. (Contact the president of L’Associazione Via Santo Spirito Rive Gauche, Francesca Bruscoli, at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Luisa Via Roma
The biggest news at this sprawling fashion-forward shop, which reopened in June after a major refurb, is the store’s four new suites, each available for overnight stays. The rooms—not unlike the fashionable flats at 10 Corso Como in Milan—overlook the Duomo and provide access to a butler, a chef, and personal shopper Silvano Vangi, the women’s buyer for Luisa Via Roma. Vangi takes phone orders in advance or guides guests through the store’s dynamic—and sometimes special or exclusive—collections of Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, and Missoni, among others, before laying out his picks in a guest’s suite for a private fitting. Rates available upon request. At 19/21R Via Roma; 39-055/906-4116; luisaviaroma.com.
Il Ristoro Dei Perditempo
Golden View Open Bar, a former fast-food joint and now a trendy bar with great views of the Arno, is overpriced and full of tourists. Much more to our liking—and much more authentic—is Il Ristoro Dei Perditempo. Opened just over a year ago, it has the same up close view of the Ponte Vecchio but without the mobs. Don’t expect glam—there’s not even a waiter. The small, 38-seat café is decorated like a sixties-style Italian kitchen; diners order at the counter; tables are shared; and it’s strictly clean-up-after-yourself. Typical Tuscan cold cuts, appetizers, and dishes like pappa col pomodoro, a thick tomato, bread, and garlic soup, are saporiti (“tasty” in Italian—though for an American palate the word can also imply salty, especially here). But it’s the least expensive dish on the menu—it costs only one euro—that makes locals nostalgic for the merenda (afternoon snack) from their childhoods: pane, vino, e zucchero, bread dipped in red wine and sprinkled with sugar. Lunch, $40. At 48R Borgo San Jacopo; 39-055/264-5569.