The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - DIANE ARM­STRONG

A royal re­cep­tion in fab­u­lous Florence

AS soon as I walk through the wrought-iron gates em­bla­zoned with the Feroni fam­ily’s heraldic sym­bols — an arm en­cased in ar­mour hold­ing a sword and a golden lily — and reach the im­pres­sive en­trance foyer, I feel as if I’ve stepped into a Floren­tine palace.

Palazzo Mag­nani Feroni is a ho­tel, but it was a palace when built in the 1550s; an an­ces­tor of the present owner bought the build­ing in 1735 and it has been in the fam­ily since. Although the palace was con­verted into 12 suites in 2002, it doesn’t feel like a ho­tel.

The re­cep­tion area is so un­ob­tru­sive I al­most miss it and, like their of­fice, re­cep­tion­ists Francesca and Anna Lisa are dis­creet and un­der­stated, and could not be more help­ful if I were their per­sonal guest. No re­quest seems to faze them, whether to ar­range a visit by a tai­lor, to or­gan­ise a babysit­ter or print out a map of restau­rant and mu­seum lo­ca­tions.

The guest suites range from merely lux­u­ri­ous to over­the-top op­u­lent, all dec­o­rated with an­tiques, and huge enough to host a swish party. A quaint wooden lift with a crim­son vel­vet love seat wheezes up to my sec­ond-floor suite, the Gi­u­lia, at the far end of a high-ceilinged foyer that re­sem­bles an art gallery.

All suites are equipped with WiFi, satel­lite tele­vi­sion and CD play­ers. My enor­mous lounge­room is fur­nished with bro­cade-cov­ered couches, arm­chairs and pe­riod lamps. In the ro­man­tic high-ceilinged bed­room, wo­ven hang­ings and gilded mir­rors hang above a canopied bed. In case I don’t like the per­fume of the cus­tom-made toi­letries pro­vided in the mar­ble bath­room, there are six fra­grances on of­fer.

Lin­ger­ing over an in­dul­gent buf­fet break­fast (in­cluded in the tar­iff) in the sump­tu­ous din­ing room, served by white-gloved wait­ers be­neath a mag­nif­i­cent Mu­rano glass chan­de­lier, is one of the high­lights of my stay at Palazzo Mag­nani Feroni.

The ho­tel is so peace­ful it’s hard to be­lieve you’re in the heart of Florence, just five min­utes’ walk from the Ponte Vec­chio, the Uf­fizi Gallery and Pitti Palace. But stay­ing on this ‘‘other’’ Ol­trano side of the River Arno also gives me the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the less touristy parts of the city, such as the bustling morn­ing mar­ket in the Pi­azza Santo Spir­ito, where an an­cient church con­tains rare artis­tic trea­sures, in­clud­ing a large cru­ci­fix sculpted by Michelan­gelo when he was 17.

Tak­ing the re­cep­tion­ists’ ad­vice, I dine at the de­light­ful garden restau­rant Pan­de­mo­nio on via Leone and, on via Por­cel­lana, a few blocks away, at 13 Gobbi, a charm­ing trat­to­ria. Late in the af­ter­noon, af­ter ex­plor­ing the city, I can’t walk past the Car­raia ge­la­te­ria where crowds queue for some of the best gelato in Florence — even though back at the ho­tel com­pli­men­tary tea, cof­fee and cakes are set up for guests in the foyer.

Sun­set is the best time to climb up to the huge rooftop ter­race for a panoramic view of Florence. From this oa­sis of calm, above the madding tourist crowds, guests sip Cam­pari and soda and chilled prosecco and gaze at the bridges, domes, tow­ers and dis­tant hills of this mag­i­cal Ital­ian city.

Palazzo Mag­nani Feroni is so peace­ful it’s hard to be­lieve you’re in the heart of Florence

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