Summer stirs up Florence into shades of intensity: a rolling heat hums through the city under bright blue skies, making cool, secluded spots away from the tourist hordes deeply attractive.
Moving from the jam-packed swirl surrounding the Duomo, past the crowds around the Uffizi and across the crammed Ponte Vecchio (the oldest bridge in Florence), sit the quieter, shaded streets of Oltrarno. It is astonishing how different in atmosphere, pace, and mood this area is, considering all that separates it from the other side is the glittering Arno river.
Known as the artistic district of the city, Oltrarno has tiny jewellery shops with modern resin-based earrings, local clothes-makers selling Italian-only modern crafts, and vintage shops offering Pucci at a steal. Around the corner from Palazzo Pitti—the magnificent and utterly decadent Renaissance palace—is AdAstra hotel, barely discernible by a tiny plaque and hidden behind high cream walls. The modesty of the entrance belies the sprawl of this 19th-century palazzo, which has been converted into a luxurious bed and breakfast.
From the moment guests step through the cast iron gate, there is a departure from the hot, chaotic streets of Florence. A divine fragrance, subtly present but not overpowering, wafts down the long stone steps lined in red carpet; it’s a special amber wax, also used in Chanel stores, to mark a sensory entrance to the property.
The walk to reception is a mere taste of the city’s museums but is exquisite nonetheless, with impressive works of art lining the walls and statues serenely regarding passing visitors along the way. Once checked in, a short wander before heading to the room is highly recommended.
“It’s something spectacular, isn’t it?” says a concierge named Leonardo. Spectacular doesn’t quite cover it; the hotel has a view unlike any other as it overlooks the sixteenth-century Giardino Torrigiani, Europe’s largest private garden within a city.
Although guests can’t walk around the garden, they can enjoy its soothing aura from the rear of the palazzo, which spreads out onto a wide terrace with a lattice stone balcony and sun loungers. Some events during 2018’s Pitti Uomo, the most important trade event for men’s fashion, were held on hotel grounds, and immaculately dressed business folk would retreat here for a glass of wine (as this isn’t a hotel with a staffed bar, AdAstra has a fully stocked fridge and an honesty bar in the adjoining elegant lounge). Once the serene surroundings have been soaked in, a trip to the room uncovers a different personality to the formality of the entrance.
Hotel co-owner Betty Soldi says that the nine rooms here are all individual in their own way; keeping with the architectural bones of the building, each suite is a quirky mix of vintage and modern. This author’s is a vast, softly-lit space that faces the main road, but still holds the quietness of the palazzo. To the right are shelves with an impeccable collection of coffee table books—a personal passion of Soldi’s partner and co-owner Matteo Perduca. Small, unique flourishes run through the entire room, from the packing crates that double up as bedside tables and wardrobes to the exquisite modern art on the walls. The bed, vast and pillowy, is perfect for plunging into after a soak in the Park Avenue clawfoot bath. On hot nights, however, the tub is cast aside for a thundering cool shower in the perfectly appointed bathroom with trippy geometric tiles.
After a good night’s rest, breakfast is a continental delight served by sweet and helpful staff. There are wobbling mounds of ricotta and perfectly placed slices of prosciutto; homemade crostatas—thick and sweet jam pies—and earthy, smoky coffee finish off an incredibly indulgent yet fresh feast, eaten on the still-cool terrace before the sun has had a chance to scorch the terracotta-coloured tiles.