City Guide: Florence, Italy

Birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence was once the epicentre of the intense growth, innovation, artistic abundance and scientific discovery that swept across Europe in the mid-14th century. Inspired by a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman cultures, medieval values were eschewed in favour of new philosophies and modes of living that saw the beginnings of humanistic thought and an immense cultural shift.

The ideals of the Renaissance seeped into every part of ; it was a confluence of art, philosophy, science and literature that culminated in some of history's most important works of art and scientific discoveries.

More than a third of the world's most valuable art pieces reside within the remnants of the city walls; salient works include Michelangelo's David, Caravaggio's Medusa and Botticelli's Birth of Venus. Renaissance notions of order, beauty and rationality are demonstrated in the city's architecture; perfectly symmetrical domes, courtyards, arcades and fountains. A short walk through the city's historic centre will take you past countless museums and churches including the Uffizi Gallery (home to the world's largest collection of Renaissance art), Galleria dell'Accademia (for Michelangelo's David) and Il Duomo di Firenze.

Climb to a lookout point and you'll recognise the archetypal image of Florence: terracotta rooftops, rolling Tuscan hills, the prominent outline of the Duomo and the flowing Arno river that divides the city. A series of bridges connect the historic city centre to the south bank, including the iconic Ponte Vecchio. Marked by the overhanging shops that line its edges, locals say the bridge escaped damage in World War II because Hitler thought it too beautiful to destroy.

The Oltrarno District on the south side of the river, is slightly more removed from the hoards of tourists that descend year-round. Once overlooked, it has seen a revival in recent years. Residential dwellings are interspersed with trattorias, wine bars, artisanal boutiques and antique shops, along with hip cafés and bars set in restored medieval buildings.

Although the tourist traps are inevitable, our guide to Florence aims to entice you away from the obvious and towards the alternatives that the modern day city provides.

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Ad Astra

Florence, Italy

Occupying the first floor of a 16th-century palazzo, Ad Astra is one of the city’s greatest hidden treasures. The hotel is nestled on a quiet street lined with vespas, and the building – once a luxurious hideout for aristocrats – belongs to one of Florence’s most noble families, whose members are immortalised in the oil paintings lining the stairs. Ad Astra’s main living space is about as chic as it gets. With a soundtrack of jazz, there’s a frescoed ceiling, bookshelves, twinkling glass chandeliers, a tiled fireplace and plush velvet sofas. Each room is unique, with sumptuous textiles and colourful antique furniture – think standalone roll-top baths surrounded by walls covered with gilt-framed artworks. A patio wraps round the edges, opening out onto the largest private garden in Europe, flecked with roses and graceful statues. Leaving the hotel would be impossible if it weren’t for the surrounding area of Oltrarno, a bohemian district brimming with artists’ studios, boutique shops and independent cafés. Rooms from £220 per night.

Address

Via del Campuccio 53 50125

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Tasso Hostel

Florence, Italy

Centrally located in the city’s Oltrarno district, it’s barely recognisable as a hostel. Set in an old school hall, Tasso Hostel’s common area and bar has been transformed with industrial-style furnishing and a stage for live music. Events are held each weekend; expect parties, live music, open-mic nights and poetry readings.

Address

Via Villani 15 50124

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Palazzo Guadagni

Florence, Italy

Offering an idyllic panorama of the city skyline from its rooftop garden bar, Palazzo Guadagni is a boutique hotel with a historical feel. Set in a 16th-century palace, it features antique furniture, frescoed ceilings and grand fireplaces in some of the rooms.

Address

Piazza Santo Spirito 9 50125

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SoprArno Suites

Florence, Italy

A bed and breakfast set in an historical palace, SoprArno Suites was created by an architect, a carpenter, a designer-calligrapher and a lawyer “with a passion for vintage furniture”. Artwork is carefully selected for each space, and each room is uniquely furnished; antiques from Tuscany and around the world are paired with original pieces such as a fire hydrant-turned-lamp.

Address

Via Maggio 35

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La Martellina

Florence, Italy

Set in an ancient mill that dates back to the 13th century, La Martellina is surrounded by nature. This bed and breakfast is 5km out of Florence on the Arno river, but well-connected by bus routes and a bike path along the river. Rooms are decorated with antique furniture and wide wooden shutters open on to a picturesque view of the surrounding valley.

Address

Via della Martellina 19 50014 San Jacopo Al Girone

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Ottantotto Firenze

Florence, Italy

With only seven rooms, Ottantotto Firenze offers the kind of intimacy that we all look for in a boutique hotel. Enjoy your breakfast out in the cosy garden surrounded by botanicals before a day spent exploring the hip Oltrarno district.

Address

Via dei Serragli 88 50124 Florence Italy

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JK Place Firenze

Florence, Italy

If Marie Antoinette, Karl Lagerfeld and Solange Knowles collaborated on a design project, this would probably be the end result. Floor-to-ceiling windows, frescoes and panelled walls are complemented by scrupulously edited modern pieces. If you could call a hotel charismatic, you’d dub JK Place Firenze as precisely that. Positioned in front of the Basilica, the hotel has it all: generously-sized rooms, a roof terrace, in-room spa treatments and a prized view of the Duomo.

Address

JK Place Firenze Florence 50123

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Continentale

Florence, Italy

The top choice on our list for those in search of somewhere with a contemporary vibe. While the Continentale hotel is no less charming than other entries on our list, it’s sleek minimalism debunks classic Florentine Room with a View-style pensions. Inside, walls are dotted with black-and-white fashion and classic European films run on a loop on a giant plasma screen in the foyer. During your stay, don’t pass up the opportunity to zen out at the white iris beauty spa, which uses a range of products developed in Parma.

Address

Vicolo dell’Oro 6r 50123

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Villa Cora

Florence, Italy

Opulent to the extreme, roses and spectacular frescoes proliferate the premises of Villa Cora at every turn. Built by Baron Oppenheim for his wife in the 1870s, the hotel is a love letter in art and architecture. Ask for a room on the first floor (the piano nobile), all of which are protected by the Italian government as historically important. If the beauty of your room becomes to much, rest up by the massive heated outdoor pool – the only one in Florence – and order a martini from the outdoor cabana bar.

Address

18 viale Machiavelli 50125

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Il Salviatino

Florence, Italy

This restored 15th-century villa is furrowed high in the hills of Fiesole. Filled to the brim with museum-worthy artworks, the grandeur of its setting stops short of overkill, with bedrooms furnished with gilded bed frames and velvet-covered sofas. Restored fresco ceilings and imposing fireplaces at the grandiose feel of this art-laden abode. Nestled in a verdant green corner of the hotel’s grounds is the The Spa Il Salviatino where the terraced pool area has three heated, cascading infinity pools.

Address

Via del Salviatino 21 50137 Fiesole FI

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Numeroventi

Lofty ceilings and plenty of natural light make this the ideal Italian retreat. Wander through the tree-lined archways following the scent of the lemon groves to the historic Palazzo Galli Tassi, which dates back to 1510. A handful of the rooms are left completely blank, acting as floor-to-ceiling canvases for creatives to immerse themselves in. The unique touch of the Numeroventi is their complete investment in the growth of artist; at the end of the residency they invite them to show their work in the grand palazzo.

Address

via dei pandolfini 20, Uffizi, 50122 Florence, Italy

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Antica Dimora Firenze

Nestled down one of Florence’s quieter streets, this intimate guesthouse channels the character of old Tuscany. A homely vibe is unmistakable throughout the six well-equipped guest rooms, thanks to silk curtains paired with striped sofas, walls painted in washed rose or pistachio, four-poster beds and antique chairs. After a long day of exploring Italy’s finest art collections, it’s an ideal place to finish with a wine-tasting class in the dining room. Enjoy a breakfast of homemade cakes and jams with your hosts and fellow guests who will be more than happy to share their travel tips.

Address

Via San Gallo, 72 50129 Firenze

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Sovigliano

Halfway between Florence and Siena, this ancient but recently renovated farmhouse stands among vineyards, olive groves, cypresses and pines in the Chianti hills. The walls are covered with rough stucco, while handmade Florentine terracotta floors, ceilings featuring old wooden beams and arches throughout the building compliment farmhouse furnishing – think four-poster beds, warm-coloured textiles, pinewood drawers and oil paintings. On top of the views, a spacious pool and an exercising area in the tree-dotted garden, alfresco dining is available throughout the day. If you’re visiting Sovigliano for a romantic getaway, book into the west wing of the building for a more private stay.

Address

Strada Magliano 9 50028 Tavarnelle Val di Pesa