Two days after leaving Florence, several visual images of Four Seasons Firenze come immediately to mind. One is Girlahead’s steak-cooking lesson (and for those who missed it before, see the video below). Another is a dawn tour of the amazing grounds, currently dotted with truly memorable sculptures. Shown above is one of the stylised heads, almost Klein-blue in colour, by local artist Antonio Nocera: nearby are several white marble sculptures, lifesize and almost floating as if dancing Isadora-Duncan-style.
This is a true resort in the city, by the way. Stay here and you could be in a distant parkland rather than under 15 minutes’ walk from the Duomo. This visit, before breakfast I first walked the exterior of the hotel’s estate, and it took 25 minutes’ walking fast. I then moved inside the periphery, to explore the 11.2 acres of manicured grounds, supposedly designed in 1430 by Lorenzo de Medici as a wedding present for his sister. It would be easy to spend many hours out here, admiring well-labelled trees that include a Cedrus Libani, Cedar of Lebanon (as big as a two-storey house with at least five bedrooms), and a Celtis Australis, which for some reason translates to a European Nettle Tree. Summer long, some arrive at the outdoor pool here, and, well, just stay put. A few yards away is a sandy-coloured classic stucco building, the Spa – a 100-ft underground walkway connects this building with a near twin, the two-floor Technogym centre. I discovered another small pavilion that is the Kaffeehaus. Somewhere out here, too, is the private villa, with its own pool, but the word ‘private’ is so apt it remains hidden from inquisitive guests. I did come across the semi-private kids’ club, and a surprise indeed, a mini-mountain with 51 cobble-tread steps that go up to the Bellosguardo Terrace, topped by a grotto ideal for betrothals.
And then there is the evolving lifestyle of this hotel. When it opened in 2008 it commanded awe and respect. Today it is possible to add empathetic fun and an appreciation of a new generation. Culinary genius Vito Mollica, who has been here from the start, notes a growing clientele of 20-ish food lovers who want simplicity and the best products, and explanations of provenance. Without being fanatics, they eat well as part of their lifelong wellness: Mollica loves nothing better than being asked to prepare his renowned Bistecca alla Fiorentina (see the video at the end). He uses Chianina, cut across to give a steak that is at least 1.2 kgs – anything less than that is considered by locals as ‘merely carpaccio’. Mollica’s version, flavoured with fine salt, and coarse salt for crunch, is drizzled with Puglia olive oil and served with grilled vegetables and a raw mushroom salad rather than the beans that are traditional.
This is not to say the hotel cannot provide the over-the-top if that is what you want. On the food side eat your fill of Florentine desserts as the finishing touch for the weekly Sunday family lunch that starts this very Sunday, 11th October. Check the hotel’s boutiques to buy the tooled leather bag you had always coveted. And when you go to bed, you notice the do-not-disturb could only be Florentine (it’s an orange leather disk, on a brown leather hanger).
I always admire how designer Pierre-Yves Rochon transformed these ancient buildings into a 116-key hotel. My favourite room is #112, up three internal steps into a space that looks down into the central, glass-roofed lobby courtyard and also, the other side, out into the tree tops. The windows all open. The walls are hung with gold-framed old prints. I have enough USB ports to satisfy half a dozen techies, simultaneously, and YET, at the same time, a written message is delivered, on a silver salver, in an envelope showing a full-colour likeness of one of the historic cherubs on the ceiling of the hotel’s Della Gherardesca Royal Suite. In the morning, at breakfast with the hotel’s GM, Max Musto, we sit under four gigantic, three-tier Murano chandeliers – clear crystal, so much more stylish than that company’s kaleidoscope offerings. The table is set with Richard Ginori china, Agrimontana preserves. Yes, there are Tuscan, and American, breakfast ‘sets’ but I can still get a superb plain yoghurt followed by an omelette, and YET, at the same time, I can order three-bite ‘avocado croutons’, which result in at least half of an avocado-addict’s daily fix. As I get into the hotel’s Mercedes to leave, I realise nothing really changes at this Florentine retreat for all seasons: it is just that memories seem to make it even better, at each visit.
AND NOW, LEARN HOW TO COOK THE ULTIMATE STEAK