So, 1903 isn’t new new, but in the heart of Renaissance Florence it’s practically au courant; and indeed, the art nouveau Palazzo Pola e Todescan proved controversial when it was built. And it’s still causing a stir as home of Etra Collection’s luxurious ode-to-Italian design apartments (replete with Pontis, Castiglionis, Lissonis and some lavish chandeliers), but more by piquing the interest of aesthetes in its sleek, even more modern form. And here you’ll be unlocking both your swish new Florentine crashpad and door-opening experiences (private Uffizi tours, artist-studio visits, hush-hush wine-cellar calls), and you’ll have the Duomo nearly on your doorstep; so yes, the past is impressive here, but Etra shows that it’s equally good as new too.
10am, but flexible, subject to availability and on request. Earliest check-in, 3pm. The concierge carries out check-in and check-out in person.
Double rooms from £1893.08 (€2,200), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include a choice of three breakfast menus: sweet, savoury (or vegetarian) and à la carte. A three-night minimum stay is required.
While the hotel’s vintage is part of its charm, it unfortunately means that these apartments are unsuitable for guests with mobility issues.
At the hotel
Concierge (on call only), charged laundry service, free WiFi. In rooms: smart TVs with Netflix, Sonos sound-system with speakers throughout, Dr Vranjes’ Oud Nobile room diffuser, and Jo Malone and Perricone bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Etra Collection’s homes-from-home could be said to be the most inviting design showrooms we’ve slept in. You’ll certainly feel warmly welcomed; the sofas might be the Flying Landscape collection by Piero Lissoni for De Padova, but they’re soft and squishy; your kitchen might be elegantly minimalist with a gold sheen, from the Boffi K6 series, but they have a wine store (which can be stocked with very fine bottles on request) and all you need to try out your Italian-cookery skills; and that dark-wood parquet is exquisite. Couples, move into the Presidential Suite for a while, where the bedroom has a four-poster with a huge Mucha-print headboard and Gio Ponti Pirellone lamp and there’s a full kitchen. The Family Suite benefits from two bedrooms and double balconies overlooking the cathedral, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower and the Baptistery; letting you admire some of the colourful Cantagalli friezes and Officine Michelucci ironwork adorning the façade. And, if you have a larger group, ask for both apartments to be connected to form the lavish Signature Suite, which sleeps six.
Guests can get treatments or a workout at Etra Collection’s partner spa and gym (from €30 entry). If you’re feeling lazy(ish) Pilates sessions and personal trainers can run with you through the Tuscan hills; or if you’re feeling very lazy, meditation sessions somewhere ravishingly beautiful can be booked, and in-room treatments and beautifying are just an ask away.
These hideaways lend themselves well to long-term stays, so bring everything but the sleek, Corian-lined kitchen sink.
The concierge can help to book exclusive bespoke itineraries, re-stock your wine store with fine bottles, and arrange for a chauffeured car on request.
We might keep a wary eye on the Gio Ponti lamps and Tavolo 95 table around little ones, but otherwise kids are very welcome here, if not catered to, with kitchens for flexible dining and a Family Suite sleeping up to four.
Etra’s apartments use smart devices to monitor electricity consumption and maintain air-conditioning temperatures efficiently; plus they have LED lights, use no gas and each has a bioethanol fireplace.
Channel the gilding and florals of the art nouveau style for dinner parties, otherwise PJs will do.
Make use of your state-of-the-art kitchen and Florence’s many spectacular delis and markets. Or ask the concierge to call the private chef – you are on holiday after all. And Etra has some secretive yet very special dining experiences too, including romantic dinners at its partner restaurant and omakase experiences.
Your concierge can arrange to stock your wine store with bottles (from Etra’s noted suppliers) on request. Otherwise it’s BYOB or mix-your-own cocktails.
Food can be ordered to your door from 9am to 10pm.
Food can be ordered to your door from 9am to 10pm.
Etra Collection’s highly glamorous apartments sit over the piano nobile of the Palazzo Paggi Tainti, a uniquely art nouveau building set mere steps from the Baptistery, cathedral and Duomo.
Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci Airport is about a 30-minute drive from the hotel. The concierge can arrange transfers on request. Or, you can touch down at Pisa International, which is an hour’s drive away, but is the more scenic route through the Tuscan countryside.
You’re just a 10-minute walk from Santa Maria Novella Station, from which you can easily travel direct to Italy’s major cities.
You’re set dead centre in Florence, so you won’t need a car – a good thing, because many streets are old and narrow or restricted. A car will come in handy, however, if exploring the outer reaches of Tuscany; if you plan to do so, you can park up at the charged garage on Via delle Terme, a five-minute walk away. And, on request, Etra’s concierge can arrange a chauffeured car (for a charge) if you’re not too confident navigating the city.
Worth getting out of bed for
Much like Etra Collection’s art nouveau building, which broke the mould of Renaissance styling (to some disgruntlement), the range of exclusive experiences offered divert from Florence’s more typical distractions. You could spend a solo evening at the Uffizi or walking along the Vasari Corridor, alone with the world’s greatest artworks; take a tasting tour through Tuscany’s secret or hard-to-access wine cellars; get front-row seats for F1 and Grand Prix races around the Mugello circuit; ascend above the city and countryside in a hot-air balloon; have tennis lessons with professionals; or sail along the coast. The staff can organise a day-trip to the Peccioli village and Landfill Museum, where stone giants emerge from the earth, raised tunnels are wrapped in sunset-evoking, stainless-steel ribbons, and curiosities await around every turn. Take it all in from Palazzo Senza Tempo’s mod terrace where films are sometimes screened too, before a pit stop at rainbow-hued hamlet Ghizzano. Or you could be taken to visit multi-talented composer, flautist, comic-book artist and musicologist Federico Maria Sardelli in his studio (formerly home to American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne), where you’ll meet and greet, admire his collections and visit the antiques bookshop next door to purchase his artwork if you wish. And, gents can get the royal suiting and booting treatment at historic Florentine tailors Eredi Chiarini. And, if you want to do the classics, well, you’re steps from the cathedral and its iconic duomo, Baptistery, Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza Strozzi and its art-filled palazzo; handsome library and cultural centre Gabinetto Vieusseux; and the Ponte Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria.
Considering Tuscany is famous for its cucina povera, it’s got a staggering wealth of restaurants. Put in the legwork (just 12 minutes’ worth) to dine at Enoteca Pinchiorri, which holds three Michelin stars and has fantastical tasting menus; say, the plant-focused ‘Mother Earth’ with the likes of pumpkin crisps with stracchino-cheese cream, pear mustard and black truffle; or avocado mousse in a coconut and lime sauce. Or the ‘evolution’ menu, with passionfruit duck and Jerusalem artichokes with bergamot and juniper-infused lobster. By the Arno, Ora d’Aria is a touch more traditional, serving chestnut-flour pappardelle with hare ragout and raspberry powder; and tortellini stuffed with beef cooked in chianti with a lemongrass cream. Family-run Osteria della Pagliazza sits in a 6th-century tower (Florence’s oldest), but even this prestigious setting doesn’t overshadow the food: glazed guinea fowl in hollandaise, suckling pig with bitter orange in a mustard sauce, ‘bottoni’ ravioli stuffed with cuttlefish and pecorino. And, La Giostra has vaulted ceilings and a very maximalist traditional look to go with its hearty dishes: veal osso buco, white-truffle carbonara, and fillet steak stuffed with goose liver and Armagnac-soaked apples. For an extra special evening, ask the concierge to arrange a car to chauffeur you to mediaeval city Pistoia for the tasting menu at Atman restaurant, which you can customise to your own tastes (if in season) – we recommend including the spaghetti tossed with clams in a black-tea-smoked jus; pumpkin with dandelion cream; and the roe deer cooked in smoked hay with persimmon.
In Piazza della Repubblica, try Giubbe Rosse, once frequented by Futurists, including Umberto Boccioni, Ardengo Soffici and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Close-by Caffe Concerto Paszkowski also has a vintage feel, with its wood panelling and high arched doorways, plus it’s the setting for a lot of live music; and Gilli Café is one of the oldest in Florence, just shy of 300. And for chilled desserts, Grom is a bit of a legend, serving gelato, granitas, ice-cream sandwiches, sorbets on a stick, affogato and more. The stracciatella, tiramisu and mango sorbet are stand-outs, but the flavour of the month is always worth a try, too.
Stone vaulted ceilings, flowers trailing from the ceiling and climbing up walls, Crittall-glass windows: La Ménagère is a belleza for sure. But, not just that – it’s a cocktail bar, florist, bistro and concept store. So you can knock back some inspired libations, then take some glassware home with you. And – shh – we can’t give away all of Etra’s secrets, but we can tell you about Rasputin, a sultry speakeasy hidden behind a chapel frontage in Santo Spirito, where the cocktails are classic and the mood is seductive. And for the night-closer, take a drink on Grand Hotel Minerva’s roof terrace.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from these art nouveau apartments in Florence and unpacked their vintage couture finds and Santa Maria Novella fragrances, a full account of their live-like-a-Florentine break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Etra Collection in Tuscany’s historic city…
Architect Giuseppe Paciarelli caused quite a stir in turn-of-the-century Florence when he built Palazzo Pola e Todescan in the art nouveau style – a radical change from the mediaeval and Renaissance look the city had been rocking for centuries. And, Etra Collection honours this spirit of reinvention with an offering that feels fresh, while paying its respects to age-old Italian craftsmanship. Large, even more modern apartments, set over the piano nobile, were built to three tenets: use strong lines for an eye-catching aesthetic, make it a natural environment for iconic design objects, and use scenography and warm colours for an elegant feel. And, with burnished-gold minimalist kitchen units from Boffi, heated dark-wood parquet flooring, caramel leathers and blue velvets, and stone bathrooms, they’ve achieved the trinity. Alphonse Mucha prints blown-up on the walls (a nod to the Czech Pola counts who commissioned the building and the cast-stone heads and other art nouveau flourishes on the façade) embellish the glamour, but otherwise this is an ode to native design achievements, with De Padova furnishings, Piero Lissoni sofas, Achille Castiglioni tables, Gio Ponti lamps and Florentine chandeliers. You’re just steps from the Duomo, but Etra’s keys also unlock rare experiences (solo tours to the Uffizi, intimate artist-studio visits, wine-tastings in secret spots). Altogether, Etra shows that even in a city of staggering historic value, a change can do you good.