Florence’s Oldest Hotel Is An Artisanal Masterpiece

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The city of Florence may be filled with elegant hotels but a dedication to Italian artisanship sets Helvetia & Bristol. Built in the early 19th century as a private residence, Helvetia & Bristol was converted into a hotel in 1885 and has been welcoming distinguished travelers ever since. The property was a popular stop for elites visiting Europe on the “Grand Tour” and has hosted a myriad of local and international intellectuals and artists over the past century. A few of the notable guests include John Singer Sargent, Igor Stravinsky, Giorgio de Chirico and Bertrand Russell.

Helvetia & Bristol hotel is a true heritage property imbued with history. As you step through the lobby you’ll see period furniture and decorative objects from the 17th – 19th centuries, a working fireplace surrounded by bookshelves and Renaissance portraits on the walls. The atmosphere is cozy, like visiting a noble residence rather than checking into a hotel, but it feels anything but stuffy. After numerous restorations, including a major renovation in 2019, Helvetia & Bristol feels ever bit a modern luxury hotel, albeit one that has managed to faithfully preserve and honor its past.

Part of the Starhotels Collezione since 2016, Helvetia & Bristol reflects the hotel group’s admiration for Italian heritage and artisanship. Many of the country’s most notable craftsmen were involved in refurbishing the hotel last year, including historic brands like Maleria Locchi, Rubelli, Antico Setificio Fiorentino and glassmakers from Murano. The result is spacious bedrooms with gorgeous silk damask wallpaper, herringbone oak floors, marble bathrooms and velvet furniture in rich gemstone colors including burgundy, peacock, chartreuse and indigo. The vibe was similar to Sofia Coppola’s contemporary rendering of Marie Antoinette, offering a refreshingly pop take on an opulent era of the past. I swooned when I saw my Heritage Suite with private terrace and gorgeous views of Palazzo Strozzi, one of the city’s most dynamic exhibition spaces.

Another beautiful part of the hotel is the Winter Garden, a luminous Art Deco sitting and dining room with a stained glass ceiling, mirrored folding screens and chinoiserie-inspired wallpaper by Ottavia Moschini, an artist who specializes in frescoes and interior decoration. With its exotic birds, colorful plants and natural scenery, it is reminiscent of the frescoes discovered in the ancient Villa di Livia (now housed in Palazzo Massimo in Rome) and will transport you to the great outdoors.

The Winter Garden is home to Helvetia & Bristol’s restaurant helmed by the talented Chef Pasquale D’Ambrosio who combines flavors from his native Campania with tributes to Tuscan cuisine. You’ll find dishes like Fettucine di Gragnano “alla Nerano” with zucchini, claims and caviar, along with Lamb with cardoncelli mushrooms, burnt shallot and goat’s milk infused with chamomile. Set just off the Winter Garden, Tinello is a chic and homey tiled dining rooms that hosts the Chef’s Table with an open kitchen. The hotel can also host wine tastings or cooking classes in the space which would be a perfect way to celebrate a family reunion. And in the summer months, you can’t miss having an aperitif outside on the hotel’s stylish patio – the perfect place to see and be seen.

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