Friday, June 29, 2012

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, part 9, Hotel Savoy Florence



This soothing Roccoforte hotel  has a perfect location on Piazza della Repubblica, a short walk from the main attractions of the Renaissance city. Best spot to chill is Hotel Savoy's popular Florentine restaurant Il Contro, which opens out onto the square. Here you can dine al fresco in summer, watching people flow by.

Piazza della Repubblica is lively but not absurdly touristy. You are among designer shops and just a short walk from the Duomo, Uffizi and Ponto Vecchia.
Not to forget the hotel’s pleasant service and a concierge who can book you Tuscan restaurants and at the last minute find you tickets for Michelangelos’ David, thus avoiding impossible queues.

Accommodation

Rooms at the Savoy (116 rooms & suites) feel tastefully and demurely luxurious – though small as five star rooms go. However, if you have views of the Piazza out front or the Duomo out back they feel much larger. Our Executive room (a mere 28 sqm) gained a summery sparkle and sense of space from the fifth floor view of the sky and the square. Rooms are contemporary with a Tuscan feel emanating probably from the bedspreads which bring in a softer country touch. The small bathroom is richly adorned with marble and mosaics, with toilet and bidet squeezed in – and shower over the bath. Roccoforte amenities add luxury touch.




Executive room with great Piazza view on fifth floor

 

With such hot real estate on Repubblica one can understand that room size is not the main allure at the Savoy. Lead in size Classic feels small (25 sqm) but as already noted Executive feels adequate (28 sqm), uplifted by higher position and better view. Deluxe definitely is more spacious at 32 sqm and studio at 38 sqm. In addition to 88 rooms there are 14 suites.

Their equivalent of Presidential (Suite Repubblica) is 70 sqm and can be interconnected with a deluxe room for more space. Highest suite with best view is Suite Brunelleschi (50sqm) including steam room (no balcony) – this is also the newest suite.

As to accommodating children, they have many connecting rooms, and deluxe rooms and suites take an extra bed for a child.

Who to stay

Those who love the buzz of a city and being right in the middle of things, who enjoy alfresco dining, art and shopping. Among child-friendly features the hotel boasts special crockery designs for kids and special food including pizzas (one called Pinnochio). Gifts are adapted to various age groups, starting at a teddy on the pillow for the little ones; learning guide to Florence for older children in English and other main languages; DVDs for kids.


Facilities / Food & beverage

The restaurant L’Incontro is under a 2 Michelin starred Chef Fulvio Pierangelini. We did not try it except for breakfast and an enjoyable cafe latte at the restaurant's tables in the piazza.


Floretine lifestyle and the Savoy's piazza dining 

Food prices did not seem over the top at L'Incontro compared with other delightfully placed restaurants – but the prices of individual items at breakfast could seem irksome so its worth having breakfast included.


Wide selecton of cured meats including Parma ham


The continental buffet breakfast does not include your eggs but is more than adequate for those who like a selection of cured meats and hunks of Italian cheeses. Not to mention the pleasant feel of eating al fresco (under sunshades), encircled by the privacy of the Savoy’s rosemary bushes, or in the restaurant opening out onto the pavement through glass doors.

The concierge was on the ball for dining arrangements and suggested authentic Tuscan food at other venues in Florence.

Nice feature is the free gym on the top floor with a view of the Duomo.

How to get to Hotel Savoy

20 minutes by car from Florence International Airport. A taxi costs 20 to 25 euro and needless to say you can meet traffic jams in the narrow streets.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, part 8, Castiglion del Bosco


A STUNNING PLACE IN TUSCANY.
Hotel Castiglion del Bosco  is owned by the famous Italian family Ferragamo. The hotel, which used to be a private members club, is like a little village high up on a mountain with fantastic views over the valleys. The property stretches over many hectares including a forest. Suites are housed in different buildings and you feel that you are in a cute medieval village among the cypresses and olive groves of Tuscany.  Some of the buildings date back to the 11th century.

Medieval belltower adds charm and authenticity

Genuine old village houses spruced up to top luxury standard


This historic estate is an important producer of Brunello di Montalcino wine and a wine tasting tour is complimentary for our guests.


Accommodation

All rooms are very individually designed in different colors, some with balconies or terraces, including 23 spacious suites, and nine villas with private heated pools.

View from junior suite Della Pieve

We can recommend Junior Suite Della Pieve (one floor up). It has steps up to its terrace, which has a marvelous view. The suite has a lovely bedroom, living room, walk-in closet and two bathrooms. We also looked over terrace suite Orcio, with a terrace and  darker fabrics in the rooms, and Terrace suite Macine, which is much brighter, boasting a huge terrace with more sun on it and a great location. These 3 suites are all in the Old Winery building. Some of them are connecting.


Terrace of a terrace suite

Living room of a terrace suite


Bedroom of a terrace suite

Another terrace suite

Every day you get 2 bottles of water (one still and one sparkling), fruits or different cakes, and fantastic service. Free wifi, 24 hour room service, lots of books to read and of course private sun chairs on the larger terraces all help to make your stay very private and cozy.


Food & beverage

The main restaurant (Il Drago) serves great breakfasts with local products, and all is á la carte. The restaurant is also open for more formal dinners.



Dessert tray at the casual restaurant Osteria La Canonica

 Osteria La Canonica – more informal for dinner, lovely lunches, has also a bar; a shop where you can buy the locally produced wines and olive oil. I really recommend their Sangiovese and the Brunello! Of course if you want to buy larger quantities you visit the Cantina – about 10 minutes walk from the hotel, where they have their winery and shop.

Facilities

Their Daniella Steiner Spa is lovely, decorated in white, and they have a wide range of treatments. A classical massage for 1 hour costs about 115 euro.

An outdoor heated infinity pool with sun chairs and a bar which serves lighter meals are both fully staffed. Not far away from the pool is a little gym with glass walls so you are able to look out over the valley while you work out. There is also a boccia/bocce court.

The hotel offers a Children’s club, a vegetable garden, a little historical church (weddings are arranged), and much more can be experienced at this wonderful little hotel in the middle of Toscana/Tuscany! Many different excursions are available including a Ferrari to rent for the day. And, of course, for golfers...

Golf




The Golf Club is 5-minute  complimentary transfer from the hotel. It is a privately owned golf course with only 52 international members (a membership costs around 60000 Euro) – as a hotel guest you are allowed to play four rounds per year as a temporary member. The green-fee is 225 euro excluding golf cart. Quite expensive but the service level is amazing! Once you get there they show you into their lobby where your already cleaned shoes are waiting for you, and then they take you to the driving range where they clean your clubs after each practice. The course is difficult and very long so you need a golf cart, but it is truly wonderful as you feel that you are alone on the course!

A pleasant club house with great views of the course serves lighter lunches.


Who to stay

This is a fantastic place for anybody. It is fine for families because of the kids club and pool, but best for couples or incentives. You don’t have to play golf at all. Indulge in wine tasting, cooking classes, excursions or just spending time in your wonderful suite (all with both living room and bedroom and nice terraces).




How to get to Castiglion del Bosco

3 hours by car from Rome Fiumicino International Airport; 1 hr 45 min from Florence International Airport. If you order a transfer (worth it if you are not sure about driving in the land of "La bella macchina") your driver meets you right after arrival hall. A really nice car takes you to the hotel, and you get water, towels and candy in the car. From Florence transfers go via Sienna and then further south in the fantastic Tuscan landscape. Price for a car (for up to 5-6 persons) is around 330 euro per way from Florence.


Added values

Select added value: complimentary wine tour with tasting at the on-site winery.








Tuesday, June 19, 2012

HOTEL CHECKS ITALY, part 7, Four Seasons Firenze



ROMANTIC FLORENCE.
For good food, history, art, wine, shopping and romance, Florence is tops. And all can be enjoyed at Four Seasons Firenze, even your baroque fetish. Housed in a 15th century palazzo and convent, this Four Seasons gem is the ultimate in history and opulence. Meticulously renovated it recreates a fairytale baroque world among a  feast of frescoes and bas reliefs.

Yet Four Seasons Firenze is soothingly comfortable and up to date. What is more it enfolds a 4.5 hectare private park providing a green refuge, only a 10 minute walk from the Duomo and the crowds.

When you are saturated with the astounding heritage of Michelangelo and Giotto, this urban resort offers an enjoyable break at the pool lined with sunbeds. The park is a sight in itself, sculptures and arches, fountains and flowers, gigantic trees. In the Four Seasons restaurants facing the park you can enjoy al fresco dining and bar. Not to forget a good sized Jacuzzi that breathes its warmth into cold air in winter.


Reception at Four Seasons Firenze

Bar in a glassed-over courtyard at Four Seasons Firenze


The indoor restaurants (one Michelin star) ooze style, art and gourmet lifestyle, and a cleverly titivated sense of history. The bar and reception lounge are both housed in former courtyards, where you can see the upper storeys towering above a glass roof. A floor was added every century or so, when the owning family felt their power and influence merited concrete (or rather stone) proof.

For events, you can hire a terrace on the top of the hotel with romantic park view. Or the Gherardesca ballroom with its astoundingly beautiful 18th century French chandeliers and its murals. Those dazzling chandeliers even outshadow all the beautiful Murano glass ones sparkling around the hotel.


Weddings

Romance comes high on the list of reasons for choosing Four Seasons Firenze. Delightul spot for intimate weddings with a teeny chapel astoundingly rich in frescoes and dazzling spots for dining and celebrating. Its lavish historical suites invite the prince and the princess to honeymoon. Not to forget an opulent couples treatment room with baroque gold decorated massage beds, and spa rituals for total rejuvenation. And so they lived happily ever after…


Murals on the 15th century chapel ceiling and walls




Four Seasons has also been the venue for large weddings with up to 1000 guests. Just ask us for information on how to put together your wedding on a couture basis...everything from opera singers to Michelin-starred menus for your guests.








Accommodation

The hotel offers 2 buildings, Palazzo Gheradesca and the Convent. You can’t choose which building you book but you can always request which one you prefer. We preferred the Palazzo, more grand in a way and brighter, whilst the convent was darker with velvet or silk bedcovers (but beautiful paintings on the ceilings).

Of course Four Seasons does not have any rooms that are not at least 39 sqm with marble bathrooms, bathtub, and glass encased cabinets for shower and toilet bidet. The starting categories – Superior, Deluxe and Premier rooms, and Four Seasons rooms (51 sqm) – are all luxurious but more corporate in style uplifted by well placed artwork.


Four Seasons Room

All the Four Seasons category look into the green park, as do many of the others, and are placed both in the old convent and the Gherardesca palazzo.

It takes the suites to get the real flights of fancy and magic. Silken bedspreads and drapes and gossamer butterfly wing effects as in the bedroom of the Royal suite… the kind of shot colours you imagine Cinderella must have had in her ballgown from the Fairy Godmother.


Royal suite bedroom


Gallery suite

Our favourite room in the convent is the Presidential Suite. Not only an amazing suite with frescos but also the most wonderful view and terrace towards the park.

Another category worth mentioning is La Villa Garden – a small villa in the garden close to the Convent. This is a wonderful villa for honeymooners with a private park in the park. Bright , light and modern.

We also recommend the Junior suites for their natural light.

Note: facilities are up to date but WIFI is chargeable at Four Seasons.



Who to stay

Four Seasons Firenze is great for lovers of renaissance culture, and for lovers in love, and those including families who want connecting rooms, resort style peace, spa and pool, a short walk from it all, with the soothing service of Four Seasons wrapping you in contentment.

How to get to Four Seasons Firenze

15 to 20 minutes by car from Florence International Airport. A taxi costs 20 to 25 euro depending on how much they wish to charge you for your luggage. Or arrive in style in a limousine.

Tip: Book in advance to avoid hours in queues to see Michelangelo, Giotto and Botticelli etc in the Uffizi and Galleria Dell'Accademia (the original of the David is in Accademia).

(c) Above are informal images snapped during site inspection, by Aleah L Stanbridge Photography, except the wedding images provided by Four Seasons.

Soak in the modern bathtub under murals (Renaissance suite) 

Shopping in the rain with a Four Seasons umbrella

Monday, June 18, 2012

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, part 6, Santa Caterina





ITALIAN ROMANCE.
For a romantic journey on the glittering and sunny coastline of Italy we recommend combining the Amalfi Coast with Capri for 2 or 3 nights in each destination. The time and distance is small between hotels and transfers so scenic they feel more like an excursion.

We do not recommend selfdrive as the roads too windy, the cliff edges too dramatic and some Italian drivers too unpredictable. Instead we think you should book transfers and let us arrange all the meet and greet etc to ensure it is as smooth as possible with porters there to assist for the ferries.


In our blog we have taken you from our Select Collection gems Hotel Caruso and Le Sirenuse on the Amalfi Coast to Capri Palace and Caesar Augustus on Capri. Now we visit Santa Caterina. This a very Italian family-run establishment where the cliffside setting and the exuberance and traditions of Italy revitalize you. The hotel has been run by the same family for four generations and you will find many members still there.

Santa Caterina is located in Amalfi town itself, a popular destination for tourists. From here you can take a ferry to Positano and a bus to Ravello.

The picturesque hotel clings to a cliffside, amidst rocky and verdant gardens, and has elevators cut into the rocks, running down to the sea and saltwater pool.


Accommodation

Continuity is the word. Rooms have the mood of past times, with colorful drapes and 19th century antiques, many with balconies looking towards the Amalfi yacht harbour. Of these 53 rooms are in the old mansion, while 13 rooms are housed in villas in gardens. The most dramatic accommodation is the Romeo and Juliet chalet on the edge of the rocks.

Sea view balconies


Dining

One of its two restaurants is high up with Lapis lazuli floors and views, the other is beachy and casual with wood fired pizza oven.



Facilities

There is a small spa. For swimming, elevators take you down the cliff to the rocky bathing area and saltwater pool below.


Late afternoon at the pool


Who to stay

For those nostalgic for the past, seeking beauty, spontaneous Italian style and authenticity. This hotel is built on a cliff edge on many different levels and is not a classic family destination but children of all ages are accepted.


How to get to the romantic coastline

Flight to Naples with Lufthansa takes around 4 hr 30 mins with connection in Munich or Frankfurt. From London you can fly direct to Naples with BA in 2 hrs.

Naples – Amalfi Coast (Ravello, Amalfi, Positano) approx. 2 hrs drive

Naples – Anacapri approx. 2 1/2hrs. Transfer from the airport to the port is 20mins, hydrofoil is 50mins, transfer from the port of Capri to Anacapri is 20 mins.

Capri – Positano is 25 mins by boat

Capri – Amalfi is 50 mins by boat

Capri – Ravello is 50 mins by boat to Amalfi then 30mins by car to Ravello.




Monday, June 11, 2012

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, part 5, Caesar Augustus, Capri


VIEWS FOREVER.

The views from Caesar Augustus are truly incredible and belong right up there with the best we have seen anywhere on our travels. Perched literally on the cliff edge (this is not a place for those with vertigo!) overlooking the shimmering ocean and picturesque Capri harbour, you can spend your days, evenings and even nights just mesmerized by the beauty.

A spacious terrace and outdoor restaurant face the sunset. And with hidden garden paths along the cliff edge, there is always a great spot for you to watch it sink in to the sea. 


Sunsets blaze your mind

Caesar Augustus lies in Anacapri (see also previous blog).


Accommodation

The 55 rooms are rather small but cosy and well presented. All have terrace or balcony. We suggest at the very least a deluxe sea view room. But for utmost delight go for a junior suite cliff seaview. We didn’t stay in one of these but having seen this room need to return just to have that dizzy and delightful experience. They perch on the cliff themselves with the balconies hanging out over the edge. For any room category do request the best view possible – for that is what Caesar Augustus is all about.




Deluxe sea view room


Facilities

The infinity pool looks over the ocean and is heated in colder months. There is a small gym and Turkish bath and spa treatments can be done in the gardens/room.



The terrace is main feature of the hotel and receives afternoon and evening sun (as do the vast majority of the sea view balconies) and is an ideal spot for an afternoon and evening drink.


Afternoon drink


Sundowners


The restaurant receives much acclaim. The location overlooking the ocean is superb and the tables are nestled in the gardens – very romantic but you would be disappointed if you went early/late season when the weather meant you need to eat inside.
Service is excellent.



How to get to Caesar Augustus

2 hr 30 min by car and boat from Naples International Airport. Hotel shuttles from the port are available for all pick-ups and drop offs but must be booked in advance. Do book all your transfers between airport and port too.





Who should stay

NO CHILDREN UNDER 10 ALLOWED (balconies can be considered dangerous even for older kids). Best for couples and those who enjoy totally amazing views and dizzy heights.

Sparkling infinity & peace

Thursday, June 7, 2012

HOTEL CHECK ITALY, part 4, Capri Palace



GLAMOUR AND ROMANCE.
Capri Palace Hotel is serenely located in the hills around 20 minutes drive from the port. This fabled romantic hideaway looks over the village of Anacapri with its 20 or so restaurants and cafes, and on to the sea. Comfortably away from the daytime crush of the famously beautiful town of Capri itself.

Anacapri is relatively small, you could visit every shop (typically small boutiques, curios and cafes) and see all the sights (some well preserved ancient churches and museums) in town in a couple of hours. Capri town itself is definitely worth a day trip, and you can take the local bus (good fun and very easy) for €2pp or taxi for €25ish, the journey takes around 20mins.


Capri is full of designer stores, cafes and restaurants and looks over the north and south coast – a stunning town. The narrow cobbled streets and open air cafes fill up quickly and people watching is a well practiced sport. Make your way down the cliffs to small bays where you can take a dip in the clear waters or charter your own small boat to explore further afield.


Accommodation

Capri Palace Hotel & Spa houses 78 rooms and suites, some with private pool and garden, all with terrace or balcony. Rooms are decorated in Mediterranean style, but the actual interiors vary massively by room. Here you absolutely must have a sea view.





Our sea view

Our favourites are the sea view junior suites, but we also recommend the superior double with seaview as a leadin category. The private pool suites are hill view (unless you go for the 2 bedroom Penthouse); the pools can be seen from other hill suites, which is perfect for those with new fab bikinis to show but you don’t have a view of the sea. Connecting rooms are possible although this is not really a family hotel.


Food & beverage

The hotel has two restaurants, "l’Olivo" – an elegant and refined restaurant with 2 Michelin stars. The more informal "bistrot Ragù" has an enjoyable sea view terrace.




Other spaces to get together are the artist's bar and La Dolce Vite wine cellar, as well as Beach Club Il Ricco which has an amazing 'dessert room' that has to be seen to be believed. The restaurant serves outstandingly fresh Mediterranean classics with the catch of the day always a particular stand out.


Facilities

The Capri Beauty Farm is a spa of international fame, many times awarded as the best medical spa in the world, and specializes in beauty and medical activities, such as the famous "Leg School".


For those who love sparkling sea and to swim in saltwater, a good reason to choose Capri Palace is Il Riccio, the hotel’s restaurant and beach club overlooking the ocean. It is a 15 minute shuttle from the hotel and is a private cliff terrace above the stunning coastline below. There are step ladders down to the sea itself but no swimming pool. And somewhere down there is the Blue Grotto.







The swimming pool at the hotel is unheated but a pleasant place.


How to get to Capri Palace

Private transfers must be booked for arrival/departure. All pre/post boats and airport transfers should also be arranged for you in advance. It takes 90 minutes by car and ferry from Naples International Airport.


Who to stay

Couples seeking romance and Italian lifestyle – families can stay here too but the hotel does not really have an ambience that suggests kids, despite the Italian love of bambinos.



Been shopping today in Capri town


Added values

Select Added Value Capri Palace – Bottle of sparkling wine and petit fours on arrival and complimentary upgrade early checkin/late out if available

Our Italian journey

Continuing our magical journey - in the next blog we take a look at another Capri property - Caesar Augustus. We have already given our experiences of two stunnng hotels on the Amalfi Coast: Hotel Caruso and Le Sirenuse (previous blogs).

Note that the images are all snapshots, in blog style, taken with a mobile phone camera.