a medieval city at sunset

Milan may be considered more design-forward and Venice may have the Biennale, but Florence is undergoing a Renaissance of its own. These days, artisans keep traditional crafts like mosaics and leather goods alive, while contemporary art and design studios push the envelope. Plus, a new hotel is breaking the mold and bringing a fresh, contemporary edge to the city’s hotel scene. Ahead, AD got an exclusive first look at Hotel Calimala and surveyed the city for other design hot spots to check out.

Where to Stay

a gues toom with a bed and open French doors
A guest room at the new Hotel Calimala.

Photo: Umberto D’Aniello

The new kid on the block is Hotel Calimala, a 38-room boutique hotel opening in September. Designed by Alex Meitlis, who’s behind the Ottolenghi restaurants in London, it feels fresher and more modern than the city’s traditional grandes dames. Housed inside the 19th-century Palazzo degli Angeli, just a stone’s throw from Piazza della Signoria, the property mixes original architectural features like stone walls with contemporary furniture in bright primary colors. The eye-catching bathrooms are done up with two-tone marble in a chevron pattern inspired by the nearby Battistero di San Giovanni. The rooftop restaurant and bar, where DJs will turn it up a notch, is sure to become a hot spot for drinks with a view.

an intricate hotel facade with stenciling and flowers
The Hotel Calimala’s facade.

Photo: Umberto D’Aniello

“In the design of Hotel Calimala, I set out to design a total experience based first of all on deep respect to this magnificent palazzo. I wanted only to enhance the experience of a modern traveler to this historic city,” Meitlis tells AD. “All the materials were locally sourced and almost every table, chair, carpet, and light fixture was custom made especially for the hotel. Even the font for the door numbers of each guest room was custom-designed for Hotel Calimala. I think a guest can pick up on this total dedication to the building, or at least I hope so. The colors, textures and materials are a love song both to the building and the city of Florence.”

a brown and beige building facade
The Savoy recently underwent a major renovation.

Photo: Courtesy of Rocco Forte Hotels

Want to stay just as central but with all the services of a five-star hotel? The Savoy, a Rocco Forte Hotel, is located right on Piazza della Repubblica. Last year, the property underwent a renovation that introduced custom textiles by Pucci to the lobby and restaurant. Rooms and suites mix pastel furniture and wallpaper with chic touches like sculptures and prints by Andy Warhol in the rooms.

a white bedroom with a chandelier
A guest room at the J.K. Place Firenze.

Photo: Courtesy of Leading Hotels of the World

Another fantastic option is J.K. Place Firenze, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, just a few minutes from the train station. As soon as you step inside, you’ll feel right at home, since the intimate property doesn’t have a traditional lobby with a big check-in desk, but rather a small lounge where you’ll be offered a drink upon checking in. Book the penthouse suite, which is the only room with a private terrace overlooking the Duomo and the terra-cotta rooftops of Florence.

a green bedroom with wicker chairs
A guest room at Numeroventi.

Photo: Marina Denisova

For something less traditional, you can book a room at Numeroventi, as long as there’s a room that hasn’t been taken by an artist in residence. The vibe is traditional Florence-meets-Scandinavian minimalism. The service is more like an Airbnb than a hotel, as guests are encouraged to prepare their own breakfast in the communal kitchen, but that means you’ll have a chance to socialize with the artists.

Where to Eat & Drink

an ornate dining room with chandeliers
The dining room at Il Palagio at the Four Seasons Firenze.

Photo: Courtesy of Four Seasons Firenze

If you decide to forgo breakfast at your hotel, stop by Caffè Gilli—Florence’s oldest café—for a cappuccino and a pastry. For a quick lunch, stop by the Mercato Centrale, which has stalls selling everything from oysters to traditional lampredotto sandwiches on the top floor of the historic Mercato di San Lorenzo. Stop by Gelateria La Carraia or Vivoli for a midafternoon gelato made the old-fashioned way. For an aperitivo with a view, head up to La Terrazza at the Continental, a member of the Ferragamo family’s Lungarno Collection, and watch the sunset over the Arno River with the Ponte Vecchio below.

If you want to splurge on a romantic meal, Il Palagio at the Four Seasons Firenze is the place to go. The Michelin-starred restaurant is nestled within the property’s beautiful gardens and serves elevated Italian dishes like cacio e pepe cavatelli pasta with baby squid and red prawns. For a more casual meal, book a table at La Ménagère, a creative concept with an all-day bistro in front, a shop selling flowers and tabletop items, and a restaurant that serves innovative dishes like cold spaghetti with anchovies and lime in the back.

What to Do & Where to Shop

a long courtyard in an italienate structure
Galleria degli Uffizi.

Photo: Davide Seddio / Getty Images

You’ll find plenty to do beyond visiting the Uffizi, the Accademia, and Florence’s other famous museums. Once you’ve checked those off your list, dig a bit deeper into the city’s artisan heritage. Florence is well known for producing high quality leather goods, and at the Scuola del Cuoio, you can learn all about the artistry that goes into the making of handbags, jackets, and more. The family-run school was established in the postwar era in order to give orphaned young people a way to learn a trade and earn a living. You can learn about another traditional craft—paper marbling—at Il Papiro. Though the shop has several locations, the one on Via dei Tavolini does demonstrations so you can learn how their beautifully patterned stationery and book covers are made. Though there are few ateliers that still make Florentine mosaics using precious stones, you can watch the artisans working at Scarpelli Mosaici. They make intricate works of art and design—including tables once prized by the Medicis—the traditional way, without the use of modern technology.

a long mosaic table with two men at the end of it
Scarpelli Mosaici.

Photo: Courtesy of Scarpelli Mosaici

To get an inside look at these places and more, you might want to enlist the help of an expert guide like Elisabetta at Imago Artis Travel. She can also take you to visit the aristocratic palazzo where the grandson of a former mayor of Florence—a concert pianist—now lives. If you’re lucky, he’ll even serenade you.

[“source=architecturaldigest”]