Just steps from the mediaeval arches of the Ponte Vecchio, boutique hotel Portrait Firenze sits bright white among the saffron-hued buildings lining the River Arno. This view-blessed setting at the heart of historic Florence isn’t the only ace up its sleeve, however: inside, designer Michele Bönan has worked his mid-century-inspired magic on luxurious velvet-and-marble suites and a riverside café just made for people-watching.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of wine and Salvatore Ferragamo bath products
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £774.68 (€880), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €8.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates exclude breakfast (€38 for a Continental breakfast with hot à la carte dishes).
The Ferragamo family owns the hotel; try to spot a young Salvatore in the framed portraits on the walls. The shoe design maestro’s workshop opened in nearby Palazzo Spini Feroni in 1938 and still houses an archive of sketches and shiny shoe lasts. Portrait Firenze guests get free entrance to its museum and a 10 per cent discount at the Salvatore Ferragamo boutique on via Tornabuoni.
At the hotel
DVD library, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, online film library, iPad, pre-loaded iPod with dock, kitchenette with hob, microwave, kettle and Nespresso coffee machine, minibar and Salvatore Ferragamo toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
Ask for any of the River View suites for those postcard-worthy views of Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti. With its private terrace, whirlpool tub and Santa Maria Novella vistas, the Rooftop Suite is worthy of a Grand Tour. Suites with balconies are charged an extra €150 a night, but make for rather romantic breakfasts and memorable sunsets. An elegant muted palette, cashmere throws and marble bathrooms offer respite from the Michaelangelo-stalking throngs below; if you can’t face the queue at the Uffizi, feast your eyes on the stack of fashion and photography books on your coffee table instead.
Swap heels for Ferragamo flats when sightseeing; bring a sketchbook to capture the view from your window.
Massages and beauty treatments are available in-room or at the White Iris Spa at the nearby Continentale hotel.
One dog, under 20kg, can stay per room for €50 a night, and they get a bed, bowl and treats. They’re allowed in public spaces (except the restaurant) on a leash, but mustn’t be left unattended in your room. A sitter’s available on request. See more pet-friendly hotels in Florence.
Welcome. Free cots for under-3s and extra beds for under-18s can be added to all rooms. Babysitting is available for €25 an hour (minimum booking: three hours).
Pick a spot by the windows for riverside people-watching.
Do Ferragamo proud with skyscraper sandals and Sartorialist-worthy togs.
A small alley leads to Caffe Dell’Oro, a light-flooded space dressed in white brick, dark wood and soft greys, with large windows overlooking the riverbank. Lunchtime calls for a taste of artisanal salamis, Florentine breads and sharing platters laden with trout, grilled octopus, melon and aubergines; dinner is a more traditionally Italian affair starring tempting dishes such as tuna tartare, suckling pig and Tuscany’s fragrant summer truffles. Breakfast will be served to your room (booking is required).
Stop off at the bar for a quick aperitivo before a sunset stroll on the Ponte Vecchio. For something a little more spectacular, head to sister hotel Continentale, just around the corner: perched on a mediaeval tower, its sleek, pretty terrace is the place to sip cocktails with picture-perfect views of Florence’s red-tiled roofs.
Breakfast is served 7am–11.30am, after which lunch and dinner menus are available until midnight.
Sample Caffe Dell’Oro’s menu in-room until 11pm, after which light snacks can be ordered round the clock. Ask staff to stock the minibar with a little bit of what you fancy, should the regulation crisps and nuts not do the trick.
In the heart of Florence’s historic centre, Portrait Firenze is on the north bank of the River Arno, a 10-minute walk from the Pitti Palace.
Florence airport (also known, confusingly, as Peretola airport) is a 20-minute drive away. A taxi will cost you €20; or, for €6, you can hop on the airport bus, which leaves every 30 minutes for Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station, a short stroll from the hotel. From the UK, flying into Pisa airport will give you more choice; there’s a direct train to Florence for €5 one way, which takes about 45 minutes.
Portrait Firenze is a 10-minute walk from Florence’s main train station, Santa Maria Novella, which can be found just behind the piazza of the same name. Trains go from here to Milan, Naples, Pisa, Rome and Siena, as well as Nice and Vienna. You can get to Rome in under two hours by high-speed train, and to Milan in about three.
With its winding streets, busy piazzas and pedestrian areas, Florence is best explored on foot. If you’re keen to venture into the Tuscan countryside, Portrait Firenze offers valet parking at a nearby car park (€35 a night). As the hotel is in the restricted central zone (ZTL), you’ll need to send staff the vehicle details in advance so they can arrange a temporary permit to avoid a hefty fine.
Worth getting out of bed for
Pack some trusty sandals and a stylish sun hat: Florence is made for walking. You’ll find a wealth of museums, palaces, churches and serene gardens on either side of the Arno – plenty of excuses, if any are needed, to browse the quaint wooden jewellers’ stalls lining Ponte Vecchio. A word of warning: if the Botticellis, da Vincis and Caravaggios at the Uffizi Gallery (+39 055 238 8651) are on your hit-list, make sure to book ahead to avoid temper-fraying queues. Head to Mercato Centrale to stock up on hams, porcinis and truffles to rustle up fantastic risottos back home. There’s always space in a bulging suitcase for a pair of butter-soft leather gloves from Madova (+39 055 239 6526), just across the bridge: the sales assistants are such old hands they can tell your glove size with just one look. Take up the challenge of a drive through Florence: once you leave the city centre, the rolling hills of Tuscany will be yours to explore.
Just across the bridge, Borgo San Jacopo (+39 055 281 661) has memorable river views and equally scintillating dishes making the most of Tuscany’s freshest fish, meats and vegetables in artfully presented dishes. Formal and glamorous, Cibreo Trattoria (+39 055 234 1100) dishes up classic Tuscan fare from tempting terrines to towering tiramisus. Florence favours Neaopolitan-style pizzas: thick dough, slowly matured, flecked with generous toppings. Prepare to queue in the evenings at Il Pizzaiuolo (+39 055 241 171), reputedly the best in town.
After a leisurely stroll through the Boboli Gardens, make a pit-stop at Enoteca Pitti (+39 055 212 704), just across the piazza. Sample local cheeses and wine from small producers, with imposing views of the Medici’s Pitti Palace. No trip to Italy is complete without a scoop (or five) of gelato. Grom (+39 055 216 158) uses only the ripest, juiciest fruit in its seasonal menu; if you spot it on the board, the dark chocolate sorbet is quite something, too. Cosy, wood-panelled Procacci (+39 055 211 656) stocks some of Tuscany’s finest produce and wine; little has changed since the deli opened in 1885. The finger-long truffled brioche sandwiches are quite moreish and go down well with a glass of syrupy Antinori wine.
Ensconced in Smith favourite Gallery Hotel Art, the Fusion Bar (+39 055 2726 6987) has a long list of quirkily named cocktails; sip on a Framboise Bon Bon (Caldvados shaken with fresh raspberries) and take in an exhibition or live jazz session at this fashionable Florentine hangout.
My wife, covered in nothing but fragrant bath foam, answered the apartment door when I knocked. She needed the bath because an hour earlier, stalled in traffic, she had unwisely opened the car door. Do this in Florence in summer and it is like putting your head in an oregano-infused steam bath with a top-note of sweaty handbag pedlar and diesel.
Florence’s high-season traffic exceeds in its horror Dante’s conception of the Inferno: futility, discomfort, heat, punishment, irrationality and eternity jostle each other as your tormentors. We had been trying to get to the Portrait Apartments. I had checked if there was parking and they helpfully said, yes, there was. Less helpfully, they forgot to say that, being hard by the Ponte Vecchio, the Apartments are in a ZTL (a Limited Traffic Zone) and are entirely inaccessible to alien vehicles. Only special forces, emergency services and cab drivers know the way. But if you’re a pedestrian: rejoice.
So we abandoned the car in the Mercato Centrale and taxied to our destination. She had sunk into the tub and I had taken Portrait’s valet parker back to the car to retrieve our bags. So that was why, an hour later, I was knocking on my own apartment’s door. I blew away an amusing amount of foam, admired the revelation, ordered a large glass of cold vernaccia, felt some relief as the collar of tension slipped off my neck, and sat back to reflect on Florence.
I have been coming here since I was a student. Accommodation on my first visit was a wobbly tent in the public campsite by Piazzale Michelangelo in Oltrarno, the other side of the river. This was dignified only by a view of Brunelleschi’s stupendous duomo, which is (and it cannot be stated more simply or clearly) one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Yet the reality of some great Florentine landmarks is sometimes blurred by over-familiarity. My wife has a professional designer’s eye, but, blinking and mischievous, said of this glorious ramshackle structure: ‘The Ponte Vecchio is actually hideous, isn’t it?’ An Englishman I know who has been resident for 30 years often jokes that Florence is an ugly place with an extraordinary number of beauty spots.
Since my tent days, I have sometimes enjoyed the isolation of world-class luxury at great hotels such as the Savoy, but the chance to stay in an apartment seemed a delicious opportunity for some first-hand rediscovery of this mythopoeic miniature city. Hence, Portrait. The site on the Arno is superb, and interior design miracles have been performed inside even if the building itself is a featureless block from the Fifties or Sixties. It is a part of the Lungarno Collection, a group of intimate hotels, restaurants and accommodations owned by the descendants of Salvatore Ferragamo, the magician-shoemaker whose presence is very much felt in Florence. Five minutes from Portrait you find the palazzo-impressive Ferragamo store and its extraordinary shoe museum, anchoring the via Tornabuoni and its global brands of Prada and Tod’s, now rivalling Rucellai, Strozzi and Medici as tastemakers.
Anyway, moments after blowing away the foam and downing the vernaccia, it was time to enjoy the apartment itself. Smith readers will want to know about the bed. The crackle of superb linen sounded just like the scrunch of fresh snow under skis. On a hot day, it is pleasant to experience the background thrum of air-conditioning that is too new to rattle. All was luxurious, calm and voluptuous.
While crocodiles of maleducati traipsed dolefully outside, Portrait comforts its visitors with that confident whoosh and hum that only money can buy. Reference point for the cool and comfortable style is global First Class, as improved by the heirs of Brunelleschi. You are on the grey-beige spectrum to signify a monied sophistication shared by you and your hosts. The loo paper is sophisticatedly hidden in a compartment revealed by a brightly chromed hinged door. For me, this was a landmark in the history of taste.
Negatives? Truthfully our apartment was not much more than a large room. Yes, it had a rudimentary kitchen, but the lack of cooking equipment and dining table limited prep to nothing more ambitious than an aperitivo. And if views are important, be careful to specify a room, which actually has one through the floor-to-ceiling glass. Behind the ethereal, light-diffusing, complexion-enhancing drapes in ours was the back wall of a neighbouring block with lot of mechanical and electrical clutter. Better to draw the curtains and tackle the challenge presented by the several full-size bottles of French Champagne in the fridge. And think about dinner.
Portrait has its own restaurant, but with our favourite Florentine haunts only a stroll away we went out. Turn left out of Portrait, right across the Ponte Vecchio, then immediately left by the church of Santa Felicita (with Pontormo’s Greatest Hits inside). No more than five minutes, even if you dawdle. In a tiny, quiet square is Le Volpi e l’Uva, Florence’s best wine bar. I recommend you eat bruschetta absurdly overloaded with tomatoes and olives and glistening with divine oil. This always gives me a Proustian return to my dear mother’s tomato sandwiches and reminds me why I found Florence wonderful in the first place. The cheese and sausage bruschetta is just as good. An alternative? Turn right out of Portrait, right again near Tornabuoni to find Coco Lezzone: here is unimproved cucina da nonna under tourist-repellent harsh light. Not specially fine, but indisputably wonderful. Breakfast? Left and left again to Gilli in Piazza della Repubblica, Florence’s favourite caffe since 1733. Don’t sit. Stand at the bar (al banco) as the locals do. (It’s also cheaper.)
I will return to Portrait, but without a car: incomparable bruschetta and incomparable Brunelleschi are just moments away on foot. The room without a view was my fault: I should have specified, and the space itself was ample compensation. In the ground-floor public space, the staff was notably discreet, efficient and helpful: ideal accomplices in any romantic adventure.And when I return, it will be in winter. The sense of absolute serenity in our apartment will be even more enjoyable when it is cold outside. I will remember that near Portrait is the ghost of Dante, still searching, many centuries later, for his Beatrice. One day my ghost will be there too, searching for Mrs Smith in her bath foam. The art-drenched dream that is Florence makes you say such things. And Portrait gives you the comfortable, fully serviced freedom to do so. That glass of cold vernaccia di San Gimignano, that scrunch of sheets... the beautiful memory makes me forget the traffic. Portrait made me realise that, if you are going somewhere wonderful, it is better to arrive than travel.