The finest place to stay in Florence

Ruth Jackson picks the best place to stay amid the rich renaissance history of Florence.

To revel in Italy's rich renaissance history and see some of the best art in the world there is only one place to go: Florence. It's a busy, popular city, but there are two things to do to avoid battling with too many fellow tourists.

First, time your trip. Don't visit Florence in July and August; summer holidays and hot weather mean the city is fit to burst. Winter is less busy, but the weather is pretty miserable. So spring or autumn are the best options. Second, pick your hotel carefully. There are plenty of hotels right slap-bang in the middle Florence, but a stay here makes it nigh on impossible to escape the hubbub of the crowds. As Florence is a very small city, a stay away from the centre can mean you are just a 15-minute walk from the main sights, but also able to enjoy a little peace. For this reason alone, the Four Seasons, a short walk from the Duomo, is an ideal base for a Florentine break.

The hotel was created from two restored Renaissance palaces. Previous residents have included a Pope, an order of nuns, five centuries of Florentine nobility and a Viceroy of Egypt (who sold the palace when his harem was barred from moving in). Both the buildings are protected owing to their magnificent artworks, which include the ceiling fresco above the reception area.

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The Four Seasons maintains the brand's high standards. Since it opened in 2008 it has quickly become "Florence's luxury hotel of reference", says Lee Marshall in The Daily Telegraph. Service is such that you almost feel the palace is your own home during your stay. You can enjoy the 11 acres of gardens, knowing a waiter will swiftly appear should you want to take a break and enjoy some refreshment. That said, the service is never intrusive.

Standard rooms (from around e300 per night) are large, with king-size beds, enormous marble bathrooms and views of the grounds. There are also intricate chandeliers and antique furniture in most of the rooms. For a really special stay, book one of the suites. These aren't cheap e1,000 a night for a junior' outside the peak summer months but they are enormous, each one is different and they offer a level of luxury that would make Mariah Carey blush.

Florence is home to some fantastic eateries (see below), but the hotel's own restaurant, Il Palagio, shouldn't be overlooked. Chef Vito Mollica's authentic Italian cuisine was rewarded with a Michelin star last year. Whether you choose a simple asparagus risotto with chorizo or a more adventurous dish, such as pigeon cooked in pork bladder, the food is all sublime. I can't remember ever having eaten a better Italian meal. There is also a top-quality wine list long enough to keep even the most ardent wine enthusiast happy.

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Three excellent eateries

Ora d'Aria ( on Via Accademia dei Georgofili "goes from strength to strength", says Lee Marshall on For nouvelle-Florentine cuisine of this quality (prepared in an open-to-view kitchen), it's not at all bad value either. Meat and fish share equal billing among the convincing mains, and the desserts are "superb". There's a good selection of artisanal beers here, too. Dinner costs from £50 per person, including a decent bottle of wine.

Il Santo Bevitore ( is a "relatively-new enoteca-trattoria that has achieved near-legendary status as a raucous night out on Florence's Left Bank, the Oltrarno", says Dana Facaros in The Times. "Laid-back, upbeat, candlelit, warm and vivacious, it buzzes until midnight with arty young Florentines and expats who love the creative cuisine." Dishes have included "melt-in-your-mouth squid-ink risotto with orange zest, topped with shrimp carpaccio and gold dust". Mains from £15.

For Michelin stars, head to Enoteca Pinchiorri ( on Via Ghibellina. The three-starred restaurant "lays on the full Medici treatment silver, crystal, starched linens, and a jasmine-scented courtyard," says Facaros. A la carte dishes cost around £75, "so try a tasting menu".