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Hotel review: The sophisticated Savoy Florence

Words by Rob Chilton

An unbeatable location, cool interior design, and the complete works of PG Wodehouse – the Savoy Florence is a refined and contemporary cubby hole in an historic city

Nowhere does a town square quite like Italy. The ancient buildings that surround it; the cobblestones, shiny from centuries of footsteps and horse and carts; the sleepy cafes where you sit and watch the world go by; and the buzzy trattorias filled with tables laden with food – these squares are the heartbeat of Italian life.

One such square stands in Florence: Piazza della Repubblica, whose name alone is pretty marvellous. Lined on one side is Via dei Medici, another name that adds to the grandeur of this historic market site that was the centre of the city in Roman times. It’s an elegant square in a posh part of what is already a posh city and boasts the impressive Column of Abundance monument from 1431. Topped by a statue of the Goddess of Plenty by Donatello, the column used to have a bell that would signal the beginning and end of the busy market. An arch on the eastern side draws the eye, as does the famous Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and Filippo Brunelleschi’s famous dome that peeps over the top of the square, tempting you to come over and say ciao.

Florence's bustling Piazza della Repubblica

Facing that magnificent arch and blending seamlessly into the beautiful facade of the piazza is the Savoy Florence. For somewhere so central in such a busy city, the hotel is surprisingly light and bright. Usually, what you gain in terms of location when staying in hotels in the middle of European cities you lose when it comes to space, as you clamber up tiny staircases into rooms that feel like shoeboxes to find spluttering plumbing and no light, even in the middle of the day. But not at the Savoy.

Built in 1893, an extensive refurbishment in 2018 paid careful attention to brightening the place up, especially in the lobby, which has five-metre high corniced ceilings. Repositioning both the furniture and the reception desk immediately created a welcoming and peaceful space that is most welcome after a day pounding the cobbles, ticking off the landmarks of Florence.

The Savoy Florence's facade

Interior designer Olga Polizzi clearly worked hard during the six-month facelift, ably assisted by local craftspeople to retain the hotel’s Florentine authenticity. She introduced prints from local fashion label Emilio Pucci, while ornate planters decorated with ceramic lemons and cute fruit-shaped vases stand in the lobby, all of which can be bought from the hotel’s official florist Fiori Sebastian Flowers around the corner on Via delle Belle Donne. Florence’s city emblem, the Fleur de Lis, has also been incorporated into the décor, just in case you forgot where you were.

Repubblica Suite

Outside on the square, the bar and restaurant Irene (named after hotel boss Sir Rocco Forte’s mother) is a must for a cold drink on a warm day – their extensive Negroni menu is especially creative. Inside, there are plenty of armchairs to sink into. For a hotel in such a historic location, you might expect antique furniture but actually it’s more in keeping with angular styles from the 1960s, which gives a youthful energy to the place.

Upstairs, rooms have wonderfully high ceilings, again a rarity in many central European city hotels. Tall bookcases are stacked with the novels of Ernest Hemingway, Anton Chekhov and PG Wodehouse’s hilarious Blandings series, which are rather inviting to take to the couch and devour when you’ve had your fill of sightseeing.

Brunelleschi Suite

In the suites, floral wallpaper and squishy furniture in creamy greens and cooling whites provide a calm space, with windows stretching up to the ceiling allowing that beautiful Italian light to flood in, as well as a little of that Piazza della Repubblica chatter and the click-clack of horse and carts.

There’s a nice appreciation of well-being at the Savoy Florence, with eco-minded organic toiletries, and healthy breakfast choices – including homemade energy bars that are handy for your tourist backpack.

Restaurant Irene

Staff, such as the top-hatted doorman Eugene and Luisa in the restaurant, were smiley and chatty – the latter quick to bring more strong Italian coffee or a newspaper at breakfast. When quizzed, expert concierges such as Roberto cooly suggested three restaurants in 10 seconds and booked one faster than you can say 'pronto.'. One such place, the rustic Ristorante Paoli nearby, was his excellent recommendation for the famous steak dish, Bistecca alla Fiorentina that was served simply with roast potatoes and a mixed salad that was sliced and diced by waiters tableside.

Ponte Vecchio

Ristorante Paoli is only a few minutes’ walk from the contemporary cosiness of the Savoy and you’ll be eager to settle into your room for the night, but on that journey home expect to be diverted by one last look at those beautiful Florentine town squares.

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