The Belmond Villa San Michele knows something about history. Michelangelo designed its facade, Franciscan monks tended its gardens, and Brigitte Bardot stayed here. But, like any elegant host, it’s not brash about its pedigree. Manicured Italian gardens—designed by 15th-century friars—beckon you for sun-soaked strolls. The colonnaded loggia is a pleasant place for a sunset aperitivo or candlelit dinner, especially with a view of Florence and the Arno Valley. The hotel’s expansive rooms are already decked out in the most tasteful, almost understated interpretation of Renaissance luxury—terra-cotta tile floors, heavy wood furnishings, just a dash of red velvet, and plenty of cream-colored walls—and then the panoramic views, original frescoes, and modern Carrara marble bathrooms steal the show. There’s a real-deal cooking school, where the chef actually works with each person in hands-on preparations—no demonstrations-only here. Other perks include the hillside pool, the concierge service that can get you into locked rooms at the Uffizi, and the Etruscan ruins down the road.
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Presiding over a hillside in Fiesole, looking down on Florence and the Arno Valley, Belmond Villa San Michele is a sprawling, luxurious retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Fiesole is a sleepy town, known for its Roman and Etruscan ruins, as well as a number of villas with private gardens and the Convent of San Domenico. Further out into the countryside, active pursuits such as golf, tennis, and rafting are available. The hotel’s top-notch concierge service can arrange activities, from Vespa tours of Tuscany to a private guided tour of the Galleria degli Uffizi’s Vasari Corridor. Central Florence is just 15 minutes away, and the hotel provides a free shuttle to and from the city, putting sights like the Duomo (the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore), Ponte Vecchio, and Basilica di Santa Croce within easy reach. The hotel also caters to children, with special activities and classes.
Need to Know
Rooms: 47 rooms, six suites, one villa. From $667. Check-in: 2 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options:La Loggia’s gourmet Tuscan cuisine has earned it a reputation as a top Florentine restaurant, matched only by the romantic atmosphere of the terrace (loggia), with its original stone arches and views over the city’s rooftops. The La Loggia Bar serves drinks and snacks on the loggia and in the gardens throughout the day and late into the night, accompanied by a pianist in the evenings. Perched atop a scenic hillside, the Pool Restaurant & Bar offers breakfast on weekends, lunch daily, and dinner seasonally on its breezy patio; cocktails are always available at your poolside lounger. In keeping with what must have been a popular activity for the monks who once inhabited the historic monastery, the Cloister Bar is a library-inspired watering hole best paired with a glass of a local vintage or a craft cocktail. The hotel also has its own cooking school, where small groups learn and lunch with the restaurant’s chef. Spa and gym details: In lieu of a full spa, the hotel has a “massage gazebo” hidden away in a secluded corner of the fragrant Italian gardens; in-room massages can also be arranged. The heated pool overlooks Florence below, and is just large enough for some morning laps. A small fitness center has modern equipment, though the sprawling hillside gardens and wooded park are way better than a treadmill; personal trainers can also be arranged upon request.
Who's it best for:Luxury lovers of all ages, with a sense of history. Foodies who like to both learn and eat. Our favorite rooms:Once the Prior’s private quarters, the spacious, fit-for-a-king Donatello Suite is flooded with sunlight, thanks to its corner windows, which overlook Florence, the Arno Valley, and the villa’s 15th-century gardens. Plan ahead:The acclaimed La Loggia restaurant offers intimate weekly wine tastings in the cellar with the sommelier and dinners with the chef; be sure to book in advance.