This was my fifth visit to Casa Howard, which is a beautifully designed set of rooms near the train station and next door to the wonderful Officina Farmacia Santa Maria Novella.
The rooms are all different and I have had enjoyable days before in the Drawing Room, Library, Fireplace Room and my favourite, the Owner's studio. I have always had excellent service and love the location and aesthetic. This time I booked and prepaid for the Fireplace Room - a lovely room to share, with both a free standing bathtub and a walk in shower. As it was my fifth visit I was told I would receive complimentary breakfast.
On arrival, the first thing I noticed was a rather funky smell in the downstairs lobby area which I had never noticed on previous stays. Once inside the hotel the smell was diminished but it was still a little off-putting every time we returned to the hotel.
I was greeted by one of the two Filipina housekeepers - she tried to charge me again for the rooms and was quite put out when I showed her the confirmation email acknowledging full pre-payment. She then offered me breakfast at 8 euros per night. Again I was able to dig out an email confirming that it was complimentary. And on being shown, somewhat brusquely into the room, I had to dig out my blackberry again to prove that I had asked for twin beds.
Being proved wrong didn't help her mood but her blatant surliness (we didn't get a smile or a civil word from her for the rest of our five night stay) didn't live up to the promises I had made my guest about the excellence of the establishment.
After some rather derogatory and insulting grumbling to her colleague which I only understood in part - my Tagalog being a little haphazard - the initial hiccups were glossed over without apology. Thereafter whenever possible I tried to deal with Mina, who we dubbed "Smily", rather than her colleague "Surly".
Breakfast was actually very good by Continental standards with fresh fruit, yoghurt, a rather sweet croissant, toast, honey, butter and Nespresso coffee with warm milk. On one day when there was no yoghurt it was replaced with a perfectly soft boiled egg. We supplemented it with some sliced salumi and cheeses from the central market and it made a lovely start to each day.
The only issue is that each day you have to write in a logbook the time you want your breakfast the next day. One day we were doing a day trip to Sienna and San Gimignano, so the book was not out when we left at 8:30am. And by the time we got back at about 10:30pm I forgot. I remembered the next day at 6:00am when I heard movement in the pantry next to our room - I am a light sleeper - and I got up to find Surly setting out three breakfast trays. I asked if it was too late to order for 8:00am. I was told that two of the trays she was preparing were for 8:00am so I could have it at 9:00am. (We had had breakfast for the first three days at 8:00am each morning).
Now I said the breakfast was good but it was hardly Heston Blumenthal and cutting up and apple wasn't likely to take an hour. But I wasn't Surly's favourite person so I left it.
Maybe three stars is harsh. I got what I ordered eventually though I had to fight for it. And the apartments are as pretty as they always have been and in the same excellent location.
Perhaps if I had not had such good service on my previous stays, and if the lobby had not smelled like a street sleeper was living in it, I would have given five stars. But I could not in all conscience say that this stay was very good. The apartments are not cheap and in the circumstances it is things like cleanliness and service which make the difference between an okay stay and something better.
I will be looking other options next time I visit Florence.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- CASA HOWARD Guest Houses – Rome and Florence The Art of Hospitality. Casa Howard Guest Houses are not hotels. Each Casa Howard is a beautiful private house, in an outstanding location whether an apartment, palazzo or farmhouse, which gives personal service, and where some typically "hotel" ideas, methods and services have been borrowed. With uniquely designed, cosy rooms it’s like staying in a very relaxed, stylish friend’s home – as guests you get the keys of the house, you enjoy the original furniture and objects, you feel the atmosphere of the house. A mix of quality-to-price ratio, uniqueness of location, private home heritage and introduced guests approach deserved Casa Howard many featuring on the international press. Last but not least, CH are now in the bestselling 1000 Places to See before You die !!• A SENSORIAL EXPERIENCE : how different is the feeling of spending some days in a real private house rather than in a public grand hotel, in the top art city of the world! LUXE: we may not define CH a luxury place, rather a true exclusive place (nonetheless we are featured on most of the luxury guidebooks in the world, like the LUXE city book of Grant Thatcher or the LOUIS VUITTON guidebook). Casa Howard (Florence) is located close to Santa Maria Novella, Casa Howard (Rome) close to the Spanish Steps – the ideal spots for accessing the city’s profusion of architectural treasures and shopping! Urban chic close to the action. Suave and surprising, the Casa Howard is located close to the Santa Maria Novella – an ideal spot for accessing the city’s profusion of architectural treasures. This is a Guest House, it is not in the hotel category (e.g. they do not have a concierge, nor do they provide porters etc); it is a private family’s houses partially opened to introduced paying guests. Former guests have a priority booking channel. A mix of quality-to-price ratio, uniqueness of location, private home heritage, and introduced guests approach deserved Casa Howard some awards and many many featuring on international press. It is an intriguing mix of private mansion and hip hotel, providing guest accommodation in stylish apartments. Eco attitude : see down *All the original floors and ceilings have been maintained, there are flourishes of pure silk taffeta at the windows, and many love the chic designer touches such as the occasional black silk sofa, sunken marble bath, full-wall padded bed head, mosaic inlay or 18th century French writing desk. For relaxation after a day’s exploration along the Via Tornabuoni, unwind in the hammam. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Casa Howard Guest Houses Hotel Florence