lollar In Italy With Coleman Lollar

(Some) Rooms With a View in Florence
E.M. Forster misled us: relatively few rooms in Florence have views.

A charmed cityscape of narrow streets and buildings that rarely rise more than five stories sees to that. But with many hotels in former palazzo or villas, it’s easy to find a room with a past--without spending a fortune.

Florence has a cache of small, moderately priced three- and four-stay hotels in historic buildings near the center of town. Reservations are essential, of course. It is also wise to request a room facing the back, as Florentine streets can be frightfully noisy. Unless the hotel is packed, ask to see more than one room. Light, size and character can vary considerably in these distinct properties.

Staffs at all of the following hotels speak English fairly well, too.

HOTEL TORNABUONI BEACCI occupies the top floors of several 14th-century palazzi on Florence’s choicest shopping street. Enter the Tornabuoni and step back in time. This is the closest you’ll come to Forster’s Florence. Rooms in the four-star hotel are large and wonderfully and individually overdecorated. Guests gather in the hotel's cozy living room hung with tapestries for the afternoon tea or after-dinner conversation--just as they did when John Steinbeck stayed here. Breakfast is served in one of the most beautiful, sunny roof garden I have ever seen. You may find some of the “plush” beds too soft and some of the other too hard. The brightest rooms tend to be the noisiest. (Arrive early in the day so you can see both kinds and then choose.) However, the atmosphere throughout is relentlessly fetching.

HOTEL MORANDI on the Via Laura has just 15 rooms. Each has been individually decorated by the Anglo-Italian owners, who are avid art collectors. Renaissance paintings, icons and medieval manuscripts complement antique furnishings. The building dates from the 1500s and was originally a convent. Stone arches and vaulting set the tone for halls, public spaces and some guestrooms. The quietest of all the hotels listed here, the Morandi has the ambience of a genteel private house.

LE DUE FONTANE on the Piazza SS. Annunziata, in a little Renaissance palazzo, is well maintained and is permeated with the scent of lemon oil. Some of the 62 rooms in the three-star hotel are small and simply furnished--"poor art" style in the local lingo--but all have tile baths and are comfortable and inviting. Upper-floor rooms are the brightest and the quietest.

HOTEL CALZAIUOLI has 54 modern rooms in a 19th-century building on the pedestrian street that links the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria. The lobby was handsomely redone with marble and teak and a rather grand carved-stone staircase was restored. Rooms are comfortable, but I recommend this four-star hotel more for its convenient location.

HOTEL HERMITAGE occupies a little building of medieval origins in the shadow of the Uffizi Galleries. The 20 rooms are simply furnished, neat and tidy. Front rooms overlook the Arno and you can almost touch the Ponte Vecchio. The quieter rear rooms and the lobby are dark, but sunshine and fresh air spill into a fifth-floor breakfast room. The roof garden of this three-star boutique provides a tranquil refuge from the nonstop hubbub just outside the hotel’s front door.

HOTEL MONNA LISA is located in a dazzling art and antique-filled Renaissance palace near the Duomo. Originally a convent, it was converted to a hotel in 1956. The four-star hotel's art collection includes the model for Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines and numerous works by the neoclassica sculptor Giovanni Dupre, whose descendants still own and manage the hotel.

HOTEL VILLE SULL'ARNO might be the answer if you're driving to Florence and want to avoid the maze of narrow streets in the center. The 45-room Ville sull'Arno occupies a 16th-century villa on the banks of the Arno. It was totally renovated in 2014. It's two blocks to the right as you cross the Ponte Verrazzano, on the southern route in from the Autostrada. Here you'll find underground parking, elegant gardens and a resort atmosphere complete with a pool. And it's just a 20-minute stroll along the Arno from the Uffizi gallery. (12/2/2017)

This column is Copyright © 2017 by Coleman Lollar. JoeSentMe is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Coleman Lollar. This material may not be reproduced in any form without express written permission.