Grand Hotel Minerva
Timeless, $$ ($240)
The Church always has the best real estate. Even in the darkest of times, in the hardest-to-reach places, in the most strict and solemn of monasteries: The views are amazing. This is what you come to realize when you travel throughout Italy, and certainly when you book into the Grand Hotel Minerva in the famous Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Fresh off a multimillion-dollar renovation completed in 2018, the building, which once served as a home for the monks of Santa Maria Novella, is celebrating its 150th birthday.
Operating as an inn as early as the 19th century, the hotel morphed into the Minerva at the hands of primo Italian architect Carlo Scarpa. Scarpa's approach in the 1950s was to marry historical design details from the original building — frescoes, hand-hewn beams, columns — with Italian Modernist architecture — geometric black-and-white marble floors, custom-designed furniture. (Scarpa took his trademark style of past-meets-present to the grave: He's famously buried standing up and wrapped in linen, in the tradition of medieval knights.) For the recent renovation, local architect Piera Tempesti Benelli paid homage to Scarpa by showcasing existing landmarked structures and objects using light, space, and furnishings, and mixing base materials with precious ones. The spaces are a balance between old and new and, at the best of times, feel daring.
At a Glance
The Vibe: Grand Hotel Minerva is a family operation (three generations and counting) and one of the oldest hotels in the city. It feels local — a relevant reflection of the city right now.
Standout Detail: There's no mistaking you're in Italy with this kind of historical-modernist-contemporary design mash-up.
This Place Is Perfect For: Design junkies of all ages and types.
Rooms: Nearly every one of the 97 rooms and suites has views of the Duomo or another iconic Florentine scene. Because the building is set back on the square, the views have depth and spaciousness. There are connecting rooms for families, minibars, flat-screen televisions, Italian marble bathrooms, WiFi, and twice daily housekeeping.
On Site: The private rooftop terrace can be reserved for exclusive use and has a heated swimming pool overlooking the city. Interior green gardens and outdoor terraces add space and light. Italian Modernist banquet and meeting rooms are dying to be photographed for an esoteric artsy magazine. Other amenities include a fitness center and calidarium (in Florence, they like it fancy), children’s programming, pet services, bicycles, and valet parking.
Food + Drink: The restaurant and bar (newly relocated to the front of the hotel) have big windows overlooking the piazza. There are indoor and outdoor tables, street-level and sky-lounge tables: excellent options in a central locale that don't care to be tourist traps. An elaborate buffet is served in the Il Chiostro breakfast room. You can order contemporary Tuscan dishes from La Buona Novella dining room or Bistrot Al Fresco patio, and get a coffee until midnight at the Bistrot bar.
What to Do Nearby
The hotel is remarkably close to Florence's iconic cathedral (Duomo) and the railway station (where high-speed trains come in via Rome, Venice, and Milan). Florence is luckily, charmingly compact — you can get around the whole city on foot or by bicycle — and you can't walk 50 feet without running into something truly remarkable, like the Boboli Gardens, Palazzo Pitti, and Uffizi, Michelangelo's sculpture of David, or a refreshing Aperol spritz. Nearby Mercato di San Lorenzo sells the leather and paper goods Tuscany is known for. Museo Novecento (refreshingly) caters to modern and contemporary Italian art. San Miniato al Monte and Santa Croce are incredibly scenic churches — even by Italian standards. To stay on the former-monasteries-with-incredible-views theme, take a taxi just outside the city to Fiesole.