Discreet as an opium den, the entrance to JK Place Firenze is on a low-key corner of Piazza Santa Maria Novella. And here we are, after a small hop from Paris, pressing a magic button to enter a secretly sumptuous 20-room bolthole. Once inside, this musk-infused former mansion doesn’t even seem like a hotel – it’s for this kind of hideaway that such clichés as ‘island of tranquillity’ and ‘haven of peace’ were invented. African headdresses surmount a sombre and imposing Charles X fireplace, and 1960s paintings share space with 18th-century sculptures and art deco furniture… Everything here is cream, grey or black; marble, wood and geometric – clashing eras all edited together beautifully. I sense Mrs Smith’s pupils dilating.
Etchings, drawings and a Regency-era fireplace furnish JK Place’s take on a reception, a snug space in the property’s former library. Staff are elegant, friendly, well-groomed and as gracious as can be – and this coming from someone who knows what it takes to be a world-class concierge. Next to us, there’s a tiny little glass-roofed former courtyard, where we’ll eat breakfast communally at an impressive walnut table from the 1800s. Just beyond is a lounge where we plan to relax with a glass of chilled prosecco – on offer gratis at cocktail hour – under the cool glow of a huge Bang & Olufsen TV. It’s funny how, in Italy, it’s ubiquitous in bars to have a giant screen playing glossy fashion and music shows on a loop – even when you’re already somewhere so glamorous.
Our high-ceilinged room is a junior suite, and it riffs on the same chic monochrome theme. Cream and black architectural drawings line the walls, stacks of his and hers fashion magazines sit bedside a hi-tech telephone, and there are even two marble bathrooms treating us to a separate shower and bath. As if that doesn’t underline luxe living strongly enough, there’s thick grey carpet all around, fresh white roses, and an inviting plate of fresh fruit with cold Acqua Panna and Pellegrino at our disposal. We are entirely enamoured. We want to live here. Forever.
After a quick glass of the delicious Tuscan white Vernaccia di San Gimignano in the lounge, we head out to explore this city, the crucible of the Renaissance. In 10 minutes flat, we’re at the La Bottega grocery store
at the corner of Via dei Neri. I confess we’ve sidestepped the many cultural offerings of this diminutive but distinguished city – the way to this pair’s hearts is through our stomaci. Soon we’re laden with charcuterie, pecorino, and a cheap bottle of Lambrusco opened for us on the premises. We set out across the river for a wander along vertiginous and winding streets, to find an ideal evening picnic spot.
Up the road past Galileo’s house, we end up at the Forte di Belvedere. The riverside grounds of this fortification in the Oltrarno district have wonderful views over the city. Eating, drinking and merriment ensues, interrupted only by a peculiar puss intent on sampling our ham and the occasional Asian and Russian tourist asking directions. As our bottle of wine is down to the dregs, we start to saunter back downhill and are caught off-guard by a downpour. Darting in and out of 16th-century porticoes – the vestiges of former noble residences – we end up at the artisan-packed mediaeval Ponte Vecchio and stroll over one of Italy’s most celebrated landmarks.
Rainclouds disperse, and we head back to JK Place, where a kindly night watchman sneaks us a bottle of ‘clandi’ prosecco and shows us the way to the hotel’s rooftop terrace. Empty, and cushion-festooned, it’s a heavensent spot for a pair of romancing weekend-awayers like us two.
A word on the concierge credentials of JK Place: being one myself lends a different perspective when visiting other establishments – and to encounter such intuitive service is a delight. Coming back weary from a day’s walking, eating and drinking, unable to think for ourselves, being steered up here with a bottle on ice and glasses and given a view of the nearby Duomo lit up in all its magnificence has created an unexpectedly memorable end to our evening. The bubbly goes down well under the bright Florentine moonlight, and Marvin Gaye on my iPhone completes a night that has been filled with an antipasti picnic, mirth, and a little too much of the local vino.
Day two of our all-too-short weekend treats us to a more formal feast, care of the closest Michelin stars. La Tenda Rossa is a half-hour taxi ride away in the village of Cerbaia. Mrs Smith suggests this family-run affair was last decorated when nouvelle cuisine was at the height of fashion. (I ponder whether the menu is also somewhat trapped in the same timewarp, but we both agree the food shines thanks to the use of superb produce.) After a tasting of locally produced olive oil, we dine on langoustine ravioli with white beans and orange marmalade, a light and delicious version of fritto misto, all the while quaffing a splendiferous local chardonnay named Batàr. How does the rest of our evening play out? Ahem. It in fact continues well into the next morning, care of pints in the neighbouring Irish Pub – well, it is St Patrick’s Day…
Finally we retire to our room for more music and wine. Cosseted in this corner of paradise, we realise what makes this hip hotel so special. A place that can make you feel so at home, seemingly without too much effort, yet enveloping you in chic luxury, must surely be prized. We salute you, JK.