Florence, Italy. The ‘middle’ city on the trifecta Italian tour for many. Each time I visit I am amazed about how many people I come in contact with from different parts of the world that are ‘in town for the day’. What’s the hurry? Why only a day? Don’t you feel like you should slow down a little and make it a trip beyond all comparison? Why not stay for 3 days…or 4?
I will admit, that unless you are an avid lover of The Renaissance, then Florence might not be for you. And I also understand that for most, time is limited and you’re trying to cram a lot in in a very short period of time; riding on the appeal of ‘Tuscany’ as it seems to appear in most romance movies or themed in your calendar hanging on the wall more often than, for example, Umbria (another Italian region). But, if you slow down and discover the Italian Soul of the city and what it has to offer, then I assure you that anybody will appreciate the Tuscan Capital for all of the romanticism, history, and splendor it provides.
Throughout the twentieth century, many notable families and academics residing North of the Alps have made the hotels of Florence their sojourned homes, and one of the most notable has always been The St. Regis. From Queen Victoria to modern-day dignitaries and celebrities, it remains a benchmark of elegance.
The St. Regis Signature Services
Our driver dropped us at the revolving front entrance, just steps from the Arno River. With a broad smile, a warm ‘Buongiorno’ and a swoop of his hand to keep the door revolving as we entered, Aldo ushered us in. ‘Caroline’s Four Hundred’, the signature scent of St. Regis hotels around the world, swirled around us as we made our way to the front desk for check in. It was nice to be ‘home’.
After checking in, we were escorted to our room by Anna Rosa whom had gotten everything sorted with the Bellhop. Shortly after making our way down the hallway and into the confines of the elegantly appointed Renaissance inspired room, we met Elena, our personal butler for our duration of stay. Butler service is available to guests through the Butler Service Desk. Available around the clock, the Butler Service makes sure that anything you require is available to you, no matter what time of day or night.
After a quick unpacking of the suitcase, drawing of the drapes, and taking our order for a cappuccino the following morning prior to breakfast, Elena inspected my suit that had been unpacked and insisted that it be pressed…which would be completed by dinnertime. The shoeshine, however, would be done over-night, but I was assured that they would be outside my door by morning, ready for the day’s activities.
Since my suit had been whisked away for pressing, we decided to head out for a little exploration, although it was tempting to forgo going outside and spending the time in the room itself. Our Arno River View Deluxe Room was appointed with Renaissance-style décor which made the history of the region come to life throughout the 269 square foot (25 square meters) room. Our canopy bed, had 250-thread-count, pure cotton sheets which made the end of the day something you almost looked forward to.
Everything down to the last detail was curated with a personal, yet luxurious, touch. The bathroom, designed in the elegant Art Deco marble, deep soaking bathtub and large vanity with separate double basins provided plenty of space and comfort each morning. The signature bath amenities coupled with plush bathrobes and slippers, let us all feel the regal sensation that the Medici’s of ancient Florence must have experienced every day.
But perhaps one of the most notable ‘guilty pleasures’ of our 4th floor Deluxe Room was the balcony that ran the entire length of the room and bathroom, allowing for not 1, but 3 sets of French Doors to open ushering in a breathtaking view of the Arno River, the Cestello Church, and the Tuscan hills that surround the city. Once the rest of Florence will have gone to bed, I knew that I would find myself lounging here, overlooking the quiet black of the Arno river as the reflection of the street lights shimmered on its surface with an uncompromising, Super Tuscan, red wine in my hand.
Sabering the Corks of Champagne
That evening, prior to dinner, we were invited to The Winter Garden for an Aperitivo and to experience the spectacular Champagne Sabering Ritual. Nestled beneath the great arches in the very heart of the hotel, The Winter Garden is the perfect escape at any hour of the day. Whether it be for a quick coffee or afternoon tea, we always found ourselves nestled into one of the soft sofas for an hour or two.
We were greeted by Christian, the Bar Manager, who had a table already prepared. After a quick history note of The Winter Garden, which is exceptionally fascinating to its own accord, we were presented with an array of tiny tidbits, specifically selected to compliment the champagne of the hour.
Presented before each of us was a rectangular plate with 4 distinct items; a chickpeas puree, a sea scallop with a thin slice of ‘lardo di colonnata’, a small morsel of suckling pig dolloped with pumpkin, and finally swordfish with a wasabi mayonnaise.
However, before things got underway, we were intrigued with the famous St. Regis Sabering Ritual; the most theatrical way to open a bottle of champagne, but worth the experience. Christian was kind enough to bring me to the position of bartender and preceded to explain the rich history behind the ritual, one that is performed at every St. Regis hotel around the world at Aperitivo hour.
Unbeknownst to myself, the entire bar was involved in the activity. The piano player had taken an intermittent break from Frank Sinatra's S'wonderful to accompany my sabering attempt, and was now rumbling away with a low-toned trill for added anticipation. After successfully cutting off the top of the champagne bottle, we all sat back down to enjoy the morsels we had temporarily left behind. Each of them was divine on their own, but paired with the fine French Champagne, and with the theatrical gusto of the uncorking, this particular Aperitivo hour has become one of my most regaled anecdotes.
The Bloody Brunello Cocktail
As the night moved on, cocktail hour arrived. We were offered the St. Regis Signature to get things started…as it was promised to be a libation unlike anything we would have had before.
The ‘Red Snapper’ is the original name of the St. Regis’ Signature drink, the Bloody Mary. It was first produced by Fernand Petiot at the King Cole Bar in The St. Regis New York in 1934. Today every St. Regis hotel around the world celebrates this specific cocktail, but with their own regional influences added to the original recipe; since we were in Italy, that meant Grappa. And what came of it is the Bloody Brunello.
Not usually one for vodka…I am one that loves a little Grappa, and so I was intrigued to give it a try. With the Grappa coming from one of the most revered wineries in all of Tuscany, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the cocktail takes on a unique, earthy tone in the nose and flavor where you can almost sense the vineyards being draped over the hillside. Christian was correct, we had never had anything like it before and it was truly remarkable. It was only to my delight that I could have the same cocktail the following morning as I had breakfast on the balcony of the Winter Garden. Bloody Marys…I’m sorry Bloody Brunellos…for breakfast? I don’t mind if I do.
A Bespoke Sojourn
Having breakfast on the balcony of the Winter Garden the next day seemed like I was revisiting my favorite local. It was comforting and a great way to actually start the day relaxed. There was an array of continental and European breakfast options, and yes, the Bloody Marys were available in the corner for those of us who had a stronger evening than some.
When we returned to our room after breakfast, my suit was again pressed and ready to go for the day’s adventures. My shoes had been dropped off on a silver platter just outside our room’s front door and we placed an order for cappuccinos the following morning so we wouldn’t forget later that evening.
And this is how it went from day to day while we stayed in Florence. No matter, what was on the agenda, Elena made sure that we looked our best and required nothing. As we returned to our room each night, a hand-written note was found on the foot of our bed. A delicate and personalized touch that certainly made us feel uniquely special in the cast of guests within the hotel. Every element had been carefully orchestrated over the 3 days.
As I watched and prepared myself for departure on our last morning, the Butler team repacked my bags better than what they had been packed upon arrival. With a heavy heart we had to leave Florence, but as I shook Aldo’s hand one last time, I remembered Elena’s final note: “Time to say goodbye, but farewell is not forever, only for a little while, so until we meet again…”
Dave Soucy at A Photographic Memory
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