Although we travel often, we usually don’t plan our trips very far out since R’s long weekends pop up pretty sporadically here-and-there. Our longer trips [winter, spring & summer breaks] are typically the ones we can count on and plan farther in advance. This year’s Spring Break in Italy was an exception and definitely challenged my trip-planning skills. The dates were confirmed fairly late this time and since we were still waiting to get internet at our new house, I quickly fell behind on planning. This is how I wound up still searching for a hotel in Florence only two weeks out – during a holiday weekend, no less! Yikes. Not an ideal situation.
I was getting very frustrated by the options coming up in my search. We usually stick to lower cost accommodations, as that is one of the many ways we’re able to keep travel costs down and maintain our busy life of travel. I ruled Airbnb out pretty quickly based on the less-than-stellar options that remained. On to booking.com. Our usual price range for accommodations was clearly entirely out of the question at this point. I raised the budget. Still no great options. I was about to settle for one of a couple “good enough” options I’d been eying when I ran my booking.com search one last time. And this time a very intriguing option popped up.
Palazzo Ridolfi. Brand new, zero reviews. The pictures looked gorgeous, but they also appeared to be interior design renderings, not actual photos. At 116 Euros a night it was more than we like to spend, but in line with the cost of the other places I was considering. But did I dare book someplace that was such an unknown, such a risk? I weighed the pros and cons, then clicked to make a reservation with the option to cancel… and said a little prayer to the travel gods that I hadn’t just made a huge mistake. [And for the record, I did do a fair amount of online sleuthing afterward to make sure there was some indication of the place existing]
So, fast forward a couple of weeks to our arrival. The verdict? WOW. Talk about a risk that definitely paid off!
The hotel, officially called Residenza D’Epoca Palazzo Ridolfi, occupies a portion of the second floor of the 16th century palazzo that it takes its name from. The palazzo is also the home of the Institute of Art & Restoration. From the moment we stepped into the reception area, all of my doubts melted away. There was no question that this place looked great! These days, with increased tourist demand, it isn’t uncommon to find places that, although perfectly nice, were clearly put together on the cheap [I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recognized Ikea furniture!]. This is not one of those places. There wasn’t a single detail that was overlooked in its creation, and they are all upscale.
When we checked in we were informed that our room had been upgraded [woohoo!]. As it turned out, it was their opening weekend and we were the first guests in our room! We were then led to our king-sized room and, as we walked inside, I struggled not to squeal with pure delight. The room was very spacious and elegantly furnished but, unquestionably, the true centerpieces had nothing to do with the recently-added decor. The entire ceiling of the room was covered in a beautiful old fresco in pastel colors. And the giant window perfectly framed an unbelievable view of the building across the street, Palazzo Bianca Cappello. I had, in fact, commented to R on the gorgeous facade of that very building as soon as I caught sight of it while walking down the street toward the hotel. And now we had a direct view of it?? I mean, this room was beyond perfect for my architecture-loving self! Seriously – there was nothing more I could ask for.
I know, I know – a nice view does not a perfect hotel make. But all the other details were there, too. An elegant bathroom fully equipped with double sinks, towel warmer, bidet, spa-quality toiletries & slippers. A hand-written letter [welcoming us as first guests in the hotel!] and some [absolutely scrumptious] fresh biscotti. A ridiculously comfortable king bed. It had all the creature comforts, and then some. As for those interior design renderings on booking.com, they have now been replaced by actual photos [although they were an accurate representation]. I assume that the hotel was still being finished until shortly before the opening, i.e. they didn’t have photos to post ’til they were up and running.
My sole complaint was that their internet was horrendously slow. Like, we were struggling to use it at all. So, if you depend upon internet to do work during your stay… it’s maybe not an ideal situation for you, until they’ve addressed that issue.
In addition to our enjoyment of the hotel, itself, we also found the entire surrounding neighborhood quite delightful. It’s slightly off the usual tourist path, which already gives it a great vibe. And it’s home to some great artisan shops & top-notch food. A few highlights:
[Via dello Sprone, 5]
There are two locations of this cafe, with the other being near the Uffizi. This one is much bigger, so I’d recommend heading here, especially if you want to eat-in. The colorfully patterned mid-century decor lets you know as soon as you enter that this ain’t your average Italian caffe. They serve coffee made from their own roast [including my favorite, cold brew] and excellent brunch food. And at night it turns into a gin bar! The negroni I had there was hands-down the best one of the trip, and same for R’s aperol spritz.
[Piazza Santo Spirito, 17]
We were tired and looking for a quick, simple lunch. I remembered the man who welcomed us at the hotel mentioning a nearby square having good food options. So, we headed there. After passing by some very average-looking restaurants [the kind with the standard patio seating, all nearly identical to each other] and an unexceptional-looking pasta place, we spotted Pitta from across the square. Sandwich menu handwritten on a chalkboard? Ding ding! We have a winner! Our sandwiches were a mere 3.50-4.50€ each [and plenty big]. R had prosciutto with pecorino and I had grilled zucchini with provolone, both on a crunchy baguette. Yum! Our drinks [a negroni & a spritz] were a little pricier, at 6€ each. But 10€ per person for a tasty lunch complete with cocktail? That’s really not bad!
[Via dello Sprone, 17]
We headed to another nearby square [right smack between Palazzo Ridolfi & Ditta Artigianale] for dinner one evening. There were multiple restaurant options, but it was this tiny restaurant that caught our attention with their hand-written menu posted outside. The food lived up to our expectations, as did the cozy atmosphere. There are only about half a dozen tables, though, so expect a slight wait. We ordered glasses of wine and sipped them outside while we waited.
Decor Shops on Santo Spirito
Several incredible shops on this street grabbed my attention, despite being closed when we first walked by. Sadly, because of the holiday, only one was open while we were in Florence. But it was glorious! I don’t even know the names of some of these places! There were no store signs. My favorites were Via di Santo Spirito 20 & 32 [both have gorgeous Italian rustic chic decor] and Castorina [hand-carved wood decor & furniture].
[Piazza Nazario Sauro, 7]
There are plenty of places to buy leather goods in Florence, but this place stands out for a few reasons. First of all, it’s not in [or near] the tourist market. Secondly, they sell Italian-made leather shoes that are surprisingly affordable. And, in case you weren’t convinced yet, they also have an outlet shop across the street from the main shop.
So, really, what I’m saying is: if you’re headed to Florence you should absolutely stay at Palazzo Ridolfi & get to know the neighborhood! I mean, how often do you get the chance to stay in a 16th century Italian palazzo?? I promise you’ll feel like royalty.