Villa San Michele Florence, Italy
A Renaissance feel: and five-star luxury without the bling
It's not every hotel that can boast a facade designed, it's rumoured, by Michelangelo. But then not every city is packed with the work of Michelango and other Renaissance greats who have attracted visitors to Florence for hundreds of years.
Brits on the Grand Tour usually opted for Fiesole, high above the city, still packed with fabulous villas including the 15th century monastery which evolved into the Villa San Michele. This lovely old property is a flagship of the Orient Express group and one of the most beloved hotels in the Florence area.
The fact that the villa looks down on Florence's Duomo and is far from the city's madding crowds is one of its great appeals. There is utter peace here in the vaulted lounges, exquisite Loggia restaurant open to the hills and city view and beautiful semi-formal Italian garden.
The best rooms are, in fact, those hidden high above the garden in a modern extension which feels thoroughly Renaissance on the inside. Tiled floors, dark furniture and huge marble bathrooms are cool, comfortable and gracious - this is five-star luxury without the bling. The garden suites have private terraces overlooking the wisteria-clad wall of the old monastery, and a magnificent flower-ringed lawn.
Dining in the Loggia is a special summer pleasure, and one of the reasons the hotel opens only from April to October. But perhaps its best secret weapon is the concierge who makes it possible to enjoy Florence without tears.
Anyone who's queued hours for the Uffizi or Accademia will appreciate a hotel which can make online bookings.
Tickets can also be arranged for visits to the slick new Gucci Museum and rather more fascinating archives of Ferragamo.
Florence is a shopping magnet, thanks to its legions of artisans, and the Villa San Michele opens secret doors to the leather school where some of Italy's most covetable handbags are designed, and the master shoemaker Daniel Day-Lewis gave up the movies to apprentice for a year.
Not to mention the silk mill which once wove for the Medicis, and still uses an ancient foot-loom designed by Leonardo.
TEL: 0121 200 0600