High points: the hard product is unbeatable – superb rooms, bathrooms, public areas, and grounds. It’s hard to beat having a garden-set pool within the historic center of Florence.
Low points: fussy and unsatisfying food. Chilly, “In absentia” service that, when it could be found, was just a notch above begrudging, so different from the warmth of FS Istanbul and FS Park Lane. And the beds are so hard (due to a fire regulation requirement for a historic structure in Florence).
I reserved one of the four Gallery Suites, and had specifically requested and received confirmation that I would receive one of the three with frescoed ceilings and period features on the piano nobile. Ours consisted of a spacious, high ceilinged bedroom with a seating area, desk, and chair/ottoman, and then a bathroom of the same dimensions as the bedroom, with a palatial bathtub in the center beneath the frescoed ceiling.
In addition to replenishing a fruit basket daily, there were nightly dessert amenities delivered to the room, as well as bottles of water at turndown. (I only mention this since I was recently surprised by how negligible the turndown service is at Four Seasons Park Lane – no water, nothing but a cloth mat placed by the bed and the runner folded up and put away.)
The public spaces on the ground floor are magnificent – grand yet intimate, historic yet contemporary in comfort and coloration. Of all the features of this hotel, it’s the quality of the design of the public spaces that has most stayed with me – the covered courtyard, now converted into a bevy of seating areas filled with olive green and russet sofas and chairs and hardcover monographs on Renaissance artists. There’s an intimate lounge in a frescoed antechamber, the “business center” in another. And the lounge/bar, also in a former courtyard now glassed over, is similarly breathtaking.
The two-story fitness center in a renovated historic building in the gardens is superb, as good as it gets. Similarly, the spa building is impeccably beautiful, meeting the high standard set by the interiors of the main building. We had three treatments there, collectively, and all were average, despite the high cost.
We spent our first afternoon in the grounds by the pool, an experience that was the first hint that the FS Florence, while beautiful, lacks a heart. There was simply no service at the pool . . . and while that afternoon the pool was quite busy, on other days it was virtually empty, and on 6 different visits to the pool, no service ever materialized. Rather than providing umbrellas for each pool chair, a much more visually appealing – and historically apropos – solution is provided: each lounge chair is framed by a metal frame lined with cloth that can be lowered or raised as desired. The pool itself is concrete, painted a yellow-green, and while it’s easy to understand the motivation of not wanting a typical blue pool to clash with the surrounding greenery of the gardens, it’s also now easy to see why other hotels haven’t made the same choice, as the yellow-green color of the water evokes visual associations with algae and bracken. One wishes they’d invested in a pool tiled with slate or granite or mosaic tile instead of the cheap concrete. But this is a minor gripe, ultimately, as the joy of lounging by a pool after pounding the pavements of Florentine churches and museums is priceless.
But the lack of service at the pool was indeed symptomatic of the property’s overall ethos: I cannot remember a single encounter with any staff person in which I didn’t get the distinct sense that they were bracing themselves for the encounter, hoping it would end quickly or just go away. Curt professionalism was constant, whereas warmth, solicitousness, and helpfulness were constant only in their absence. We went out of our way to stop back by the concierge desk to tell them how much we enjoyed a particular gelateria, and even then we were treated as if we were taking their time away from something more important—and we weren’t even asking for anything. Despite many repeated encounters with the same staff, not once were our names used – which is something that the very best hotels have led me to expect and appreciate.
We ate breakfast there each morning and found the service to be somewhat brusque. There’s a limited menu from which eggs and other dishes could be ordered, but the primary option is a buffet which was of average quality for a luxury hotel. We dined in the formal restaurant one night, and were again plagued by service problems – waits of 45 minutes between courses, for example, and when the food did arrive, it was clear that it had been kept under a heat lamp for a considerable amount of time. The flavor combinations were eccentric and fussy, rather than truly appealing. It’s hard to make Italian classics truly unappealing, but somehow, they have done so. In addition, it seems that in a resort like this, where there is more than one on-site restaurant, it would be ideal to have one of the restaurants be adults only, as we were harried throughout our meal by the small children of other guests, whose parents were only too happy to be free of them, allowing them instead to bring their toys over to our table and play at our feet for a good 30 minutes or so. So between the long waits, other guests’ loud and obnoxious children, and the poor food quality, we finally gave up without ordering dessert.
The hotel offers a shuttle service to Florence’s center, but we rarely used it since it’s really not a bad walk at all since the hotel is within the bounds of the Renaissance city walls, and just 5 minutes away from San Marco and the Accademia, and is 1 minute away from the Protestant cemetery, which was right outside the city walls, and is where Elizabeth Barrett Browning, among others, is buried. (Not a must see, but worth 30 minutes if you’re interested in 19th century cemeteries or the expat community who lived in Florence then.)
It’s simply amazing what the Four Seasons has done in their renovation/restoration of this palazzo and gardens – making for one of the most remarkable blends of history and 21st century luxury I have ever seen. It would be among the best of the best if they could instill the same sort of care and craft within the hearts and minds of the staff – and improve the food.
Summary: My expectations were very high, and we were paying a lot of money for that Gallery Suite, so yes, I was disappointed overall. But what potential this place has – it is really impressive as a physical property.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Welcome to Four Seasons Hotel Firenze. An enchanted city sanctuary in the midst of Florence, where an art-filled Renaissance palazzo and conventino frame a centuries-old private park. Relax amidst original frescoes and sculptured reliefs, graced by sunlight and airy garden vistas. Sip espresso under majestic trees, lounge by the open-air pool or bask in Italian spa secrets. Wonders of the Uffizi and Duomo are a stroll away. Tuscan hill towns beckon. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- 4 Seasons Hotel Firenze
- Florence Four Seasons