Choosing a hotel in Florence is like playing a lottery in which everybody wins. Some win a lot, some not so much. First-time visitors often like to stay in the center, where they can wander the city on foot, while repeat guests want convenience, predictability and the chance to revisit favorite spots.
Can one hotel target both clients? Grand Hotel Minerva can and does. We love the location — within easy walking distance of the SMN train station (aka, within “suitcase dragging distance;” no taxi needed), and a short stroll to the Duomo, the museums, the Arno River and restaurants. Now spiffed up and home to several good hotels, the formerly slightly seedy Piazza Santa Maria Novella is a terrific base of operations, a pedestrian-only square away from the hordes near the Ponte Vecchio and Uffizi, yet near enough to walk to the Palazzo Pitti for a fashion show. While the piazza may have some activity at night, it’s nothing like the merry-go-round scene in Piazza Repubblica.
We also love the rooftop bar and pool area. There’s room for a private dinner up there, as well as space to unplug. Our perfect photo op: At dusk, when the sky turns pink and the lights are turning on across the city, the Brunelleschi dome in the distance. Did we mention that Florence is reputedly the home of the Negroni and that bartender Kareem Bennet makes a tasty one?
The Frescoed Suite offers 650 square feet of space and has antique furniture and 19th-century frescoed ceilings.
There are 97 rooms and suites in the recently renovated hotel, which is transitioning to a four-star luxury level. Naturally, the rooms are all different shapes and sizes in this former medieval hospital for orphans. Sara Maestrelli, the general manager, is the third generation of her family to work in hospitality and is excited that the Grand Minerva is celebrating 150 years in 2019. (The men in the family run the fruit and vegetable business, while the women rule the hotels.) She points out the mark on the wall from the 1966 flood, as well as the pervasive mid-century modern imprint of the Venetian architect, Carlos Carpa, who worked on the property in the 1950s. This latest renovation was led by architect Piera Tempesti Benelli, who used Florentine and Tuscan fabrics and artisans for the project. Maestrelli ([email protected] .com) positions the Grand Minerva as a true Italian experience in a non-chain atmosphere. Here, she says, luxury is about living like a local.
Anyone who meets Andrea Bargigli, the Grand Minerva’s sales and marketing director, will remember his high energy and contagious excitement about the property’s renovation and upgrade. He is ready 24/7 to answer questions at [email protected] or on his mobile, 011-39-340-832-1880.
Above the lobby, with the restaurant and interior garden, are the rooms and suites. The 25 suites were designed to have separate living rooms and bedrooms and range from 400 to 1,200 square feet; almost all overlook the piazza and the magnificent Santa Maria Novella church.
On the first floor, the duplex Suite 111 has two full baths and two walk-in closets. The upper level has a walk-in shower, while downstairs there is a tub. The small study upstairs could suit a child by adding a daybed or be used as an office. The main bedroom is on the second level and there are two sleeper daybeds on the lower level. This suite might work a variety of ways: For multigenerational guests, a family group or business travelers who need office and entertainment space.
Suite 101 overlooks the piazza from the piano nobile, with frescoed and beamed, high ceilings and one full bath. Suite 102 is huge, with vintage doors and an original Moreno glass chandelier, a king four-poster bed and a tub with shower in the bathroom.
The 650-square-foot, one-bedroom Frescoed Suite 104 can be joined with the Frescoed Room to make a 1,200-square-foot apartment. Suite 104 also includes an office and dining area, making it a flexible space for both business and leisure travelers.
Junior Suite 211 (300 square feet) overlooks the piazza through two windows and comes with a cushy sofa to rest weary feet, plus some intriguing original art. The twin beds can be made up as a king.
The living room of Suite 201 has two large windows, a separate bedroom and one bath with a walk-in shower (ask for a suite with a tub if you prefer). There’s a walk-in closet, as in many of the suites, which could be a good place to stash extra luggage and shopping bags.
On the fourth floor, Suite 412 has a small terrace with a view of Brunelleschi’s dome, along with a separate living room outfitted with a single sleeper sofa. Off the bedroom is a double marble bathroom with a walk-in shower.
The Romantic Suite overlooks the cloister and church from a Juliet balcony.
The Romantic Suite 428 overlooks the cloister and church from a Juliet balcony. This 550-square-foot space is full of light, and includes two full baths. It’s possible to close off a Private Floor of the hotel with a romantic suite, plus two to three additional rooms or suites, creating a spacious home-away-from-home for a large group on the fourth floor. The combination comes with its own floor butler.
Before stepping out into the wealth of restaurants in Florence, we recommend spending an evening in the hands of the Minerva’s talented young chef, Tommaso Calonaci. Not just because it’s the hotel’s 150th anniversary and there’s a special menu, but because the food is really good. After that, Maestrelli suggests her favorite, Trattoria Cammillo, in the Oltrarno neighborhood (Borgo San Jacopo 57R); or, the nearby Trattoria Sostanza (Via Porcellana 25R), an authentic trattoria where diners may be required to share a table (try the Tortino ai Carciofi); or, the more upmarket Il Santo Bevitore (Via Santo Spirito 66R in Oltrarno) and its wine bar, Il Santino, next door. Ask Leonardo Palermo at the front desk to help with reservations.
Also near the hotel is the Trattoria 13 Gobbi (Via del Porcellana 9R), which, we must divulge, was filled with Americans eating not-so-great food (so unnecessary in this town of culinary riches). The Central Market (Piazza del Mercato Centrale) could have inspired Eataly, with its dozens places to eat pastas, seafood and light lunches. Outside are kiosks crammed with leather purses, scarves and souvenirs. Ristorante Cafaggi (Via Guelfa 35) is a good bet for a traditional Tuscan lunch, as is Cantinetta Antinori Firenze (Piazza Degli Antinori 3). Order a glass of the “house” Antinori wine.
We discovered the Perfume and Pharmaceutical Officine of Santa Maria Novella (founded 1221), Via della Scala 16, decades ago and have been devoted followers ever since. Even the proliferation of stores around the world and the tourists crowding into the Florentine flagship shop can’t keep us away. That said, we have also discovered Dr. Vranjes’ range of scents for self and home (Via della Spada 9 is one of four flagship stores in the city), as well as Sue Townsend’s Ortigia Sicilia (Borgo S. Jacopo 12), founded in Sicily, produced by local families near Siracusa, and headquartered in Florence. Besides the evocative scents, Ortigia is known for its product design, with scarves, bags and caftans now added to the line of bath and body oils, perfumes and lotions.
The Rooftop Pool affords sweeping views of the city of Florence and its significant landmarks.
Acrylic glass, aka synthetic crystal, by Mario Luca Giusti has become de rigueur for outdoor dining. There are several shops in Florence, including one at Via Della Vigna Nuove 88R and another at Via Della Spada 20R. The compelling gemstone colors keep drawing us back for more pitchers and more water glasses.
Finally, on the bucket list for 2019 is at least one event marking the 500th anniversary of the death of the renowned Tuscan, Leonardo da Vinci. In Florence, there are exhibitions at the Galileo Museum, the Medici Museum outside the city in Cerreto Guidi, the Uffizi, the Museum of Palazzo Vecchio, the complex of Santa Maria Novella and at the Leonardo Museum, where the permanent exhibition focuses on the futuristic machines designed by the master. You may feel guilty if you don’t make a bit of an effort to drop into one of these exhibits.