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):
- Welcome to our Guest House - Casa Howard is neither a hotel nor a B&B. As the door will open, you will step into an eccentric guest house that will make you feel at home and will inevitably capture your heart. The Guest House is a large family house that is only partially used as such. Each room recreates a different setting, where the well-finished details emphasize the experience for the traveller. Casa Howard is the perfect alcove for couples who dream of a romantic retreat, as well as the most comfortable solution for families travelling with children or domestic animals. Choose one of the rooms with a view and seize all the emotions that transpire while looking at the rooftops of the Renaissance neighbourhoods. A stay in Florence has never been more emotional, sophisticated and enchanting. You will be given the house keys, and you will be able to live the city as local inhabitant. You will realise that this Guest House is the ideal starting point to discover the wonders of the city centre. Its location is at a walking distance from Santa Maria Novella and from many other major touristic sites, such as the David of Michelangelo (at the Galleria dell’Accademia), the San Frediano borough, the Mercato di S.Ambrogio and of San Lorenzo. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Casa Howard Guest Houses Hotel Florence