Dimora Palanca’s distinguished 19th-century villa is tucked away on Via Della Scala, just off main throughway Porto el Prato. It’s within easy boarding distance of Santa Maria Novella station and Florence’s District One sights are a 15-minute walk away.
Florence airport in Peretola is the closest, just a 20-minute drive away from the hotel; however, due to the number of low-cost airlines that fly there, many visitors opt to land at Pisa International, an hour’s drive away. The latter choice, while longer, does allow you to admire some Tuscan scenery enroute.
The hotel is practically neighbours with handsome modernist main station Santa Maria Novella, so on a quiet day you may even catch an announcement on the breeze. Maybe due to their ancestors’ straight-road legacy, rail connections are strong in Italy and you can easily reach most major cities; Rome is just a 90-minute journey, Venice two hours and Naples three hours.
A car will come in handy for forays into the Tuscan countryside, but if you’re just exploring the city then put that idea in park. Brunelleschi himself couldn’t design something more complex than Florence’s ZTLs (limited traffic zones), with their changing hours and seasons and stubborn refusal to be acknowledged by GPS. And, this was a city designed for horses and carts, so parking is somewhat limited, but the hotel has some private parking should you arrive at the tail end of a classic road trip.
While historic red tape means Florentines have no Metro, there is a tram system that’s cheap and convenient. The Porto el Prato and Santa Maria Novella stops are both a few minutes’ walk from the hotel and a tram runs directly from Florence airport.
Worth getting out of bed for
Well, you don’t come to Florence to watch monster-truck rallies, and even if you did, there’d probably be a string quartet playing and cherubim painted on the mud flaps. Therefore, the city’s cultural clout is keenly felt at the hotel, where they don’t just immerse guests in art, but fully baptise them. Frescoes burst to life across room ceilings, intricate stuccoes nod to the villa’s past, and artist Paolo Dovichi has created 50 modern works for the hotel using plexiglass screens and Italian velvets, silks and linen to create modern landscapes. Start with a sweep through the hotel admiring their collection and the attention to detail they’ve put into the design along the way. They also frequently hold literary gatherings in the garden. And, they can sketch out a bespoke trail through Florence’s galleries or artisanal workshops with private tours of the Uffizi, Vasari Corridor, Medici Chapel or the Church of Santa Maria Novella – you can even visit after-hours for a little more alone time with the masterpieces. Or stop by leather workshops, sculpture studios, ceramicists, shoemakers, papermakers, bookbinders, textile designers and calligraphers on a tour that celebrates all things crafty in a city that’s been honing them for centuries. Art classes can be organised too, and you’re an easy walk from the Accademia, where Michelangelo’s David lets it all hang out and Palazzo Strozzi, where thought-prodding modern shows are held within its Renaissance shell. But a visual feast alone can’t sustain you, and the hotel doesn't neglect the other important reason you’ve arrived in Florence: to eat. The concierge has connections with chefs and kitchens across the city, so you can make pizzas in a traditional oven, bake breads and pastries, and pick up tips and tricks in a traditional environment. Or get out into the rollicking greenery for a stomach-lining farm-to-table tour and wine tastings at noted cellars (including Antonori, Frescobaldi, Fonterutoli and Monterosola). In season, you can hunt truffles too (January to April, or June to December, depending on what kind of edible prize you’re seeking – coveted white truffles are snuffled in winter) and lunch on your rare spoils. When you’ve seen so many big-deal paintings and sculptures that you’re on the verge of Stendhal syndrome and eaten more carbs than you can bear, it’s time to get active: bike through the city (crossing the Ponte Vecchio and maybe even pumping those pedals to the viewpoint at Piazzale Michelangelo), hop on horseback or take the more elegant sightseeing solution: cruise down cypress-lined lanes past vineyards and sunflower fields and through teeny villages in a vintage Fiat 500.
Can you eat well in Florence? Is the Pope Catholic? Typically Florentines have subsisted on traditional trattorias (or slightly touristy venues around the Duomo), but the scene’s being shaken up by chefs with modern visions or at least intriguing plans for Florence’s unfaltering supply of fine produce. Take Gurdulù Gastronomia (named for an Italo Calvino character), which has a deli selling lampredotto and porchetta, fresh pasta, breads, cakes and more, and a wine shop. This is a little sneak peek at what your dinner will be made from – dishes such as pumpkin gnocchi, tagliolini with guinea fowl sauce or spaghetti with aged guanciale. Aim to get a table on the candlelit terrace. In the centre, the Gucci Osteria shows that creative director Alessandro Michele has impeccable taste in all dimensions, styling the space with grass-green walls and teal banquettes and roping in chefs Massimo Bottura and Karime Lopez to conceive the menu. The base notes are Italian, with dishes such as smoked-octopus stew or tortellini with parmesan cream; but there are elements taken from Lopez’s travels: say, the ‘Birth of Venus’ dish with scallops, tarragon and daikon; steamed pork buns; or bonito fish tostadas. Da Ruggero (89 Via Senese) is far more old school, with checkered tablecloths, wood panelling and artwork that follows no rhyme or reason. But it’s a firm favourite with the locals for it’s ribollita soup, grilled salsiccia, tripe and superlative steaks. And, Libreria Brac follows in the hotel’s footsteps as a hybrid bistro and arts space. Take tea with photographers, listen to writers talk or partake in a class, then feed more than your mind on tortellini with gorgonzola, fennel and orange; Indian-spiced meatballs; cheese tarts; and freshly baked cakes.
Mercato Centrale acts as a sort of Florentine buffet – so you can pick and mix your way through the city’s eats. There’s pizza, sushi, carne, ravioli, ice-cream and stalls for wine and beer, of course. Arrive peckish. In Italy, sad, soggy sandwiches just aren’t a thing – ask the staff at deli Ino, who’ll build you a panini towering with fine cheeses, hams, salamis or fish and your choice of sauce.
Vineria Sonora has little embellishment but vinyl sleeves and bottles of wine with artsy labels. It may be a little spare for those who enjoy Florence’s maximalism, but it attracts a young crowd and its list has some interesting natural picks. For somewhere a touch more traditional – and very serious about their wine, with bottles dating back to the Fifties – try Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina opposite Pitti Palace.