Since its construction in 1870 by architect Pietro Comparini, at the behest of Baron Oppenheim, Villa Cora has been known as the most beautiful residence in Florence. Guests arrive through wrought-iron gates, which reveal manicured, rose-filled gardens and an imposing white mansion whose tall windows seem like eyes peering out.
The villa’s blend of Baroque, Renaissance, and 1950s styles is harmonious and elegant, with original frescoes complementing antique furnishings and pastel hues. Grand, ornately decorated halls are used seasonally as restaurants, bars, card rooms, and whatever else suits guests’ whims. Underground tunnels wind their way between the Roman-inflected spa, glamorous pool, and cigar bar, setting the stage for your very own Much Ado About Nothing intrigue. Service is understated and yet somehow manages to anticipate every whim, with that glass of chianti or an Aperol Spritz arriving at your poolside lounger just as you were thinking of it. If Villa Cora has always been this magical, it’s no wonder the likes of Emperor Akihito and Princess Eugenia (Napoleon III’s widow) have chosen to stay here throughout the centuries.
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Perhaps the most impressive thing—in a laundry list of impressive attributes—about Villa Cora is how it’s just around the corner from the popular Boboli Gardens (a haven in its own right) and yet manages to feel as if it’s a million miles from anywhere. Actually, this low-key Oltrarno neighborhood on the south side of the Arno, less popular with tourists and thus more popular with locals, is just a 15-minute walk away through some of Florence’s most beautiful gardens. The neighborhood is filled with popular local eateries and traditional craftsmen’s shops and workshops. Also within easy walking distance are the Palazzo Pitti and Villa Bardini, as well as the Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato al Monte, both of which offer panoramic views of the city below.
Need to Know
Rooms: 46 rooms, six suites. From $470. Check-in: 2 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options:In the winter months, the hotel’s restaurant becomes Il Pasha, housed in the dazzling Moorish Hall, whose ornate, “oriental” style is accompanied by an original Antonio Caremmi fresco. From April to October, the restaurant moves to the winter garden—a breezy, window-lined dining room overlooking the grounds and the pool—and becomes Le Bistrot. Both restaurants take advantage of the freshest of local ingredients in order to offer refined but unpretentious Tuscan cuisine, including an extensive breakfast buffet. In the warmer months, Le Pool Bar also serves poolside cocktails, cool drinks, and snacks; in the cooler seasons, sip drinks in the sultry, black-and-purple Le Bar Long. Brandy, scotch, and cigars can all be found in the basement cigar room, while afternoon tea can be ordered to the Card Room. Spa and gym details:Not only does Villa Cora have a small modern gym, lounger-lined swimming pool big enough for laps, and the option of private yoga and Pilates classes, but it’s also home to the decadent, subterranean Bené spa. The spa offers a full range of treatments in coordination with Sarah Chapman and Officino Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, as well as a sauna, hot tub, hammam, and tepidarium.
Who's it best for: Visiting royalty, wannabe princesses, and luxury lovers with a sense of history. Our favorite rooms:For a truly royal stay, book the Imperial Suite, where the Japanese Emperor Akihito stayed in 1982; in addition to soaring ceilings, panoramic views of the grounds, and a red velvet four-poster bed, the suite has original frescoes by Pietrasanta and Samoggia. Sunset views:Make your way up to the fifth floor of the main building and you’ll find an expansive rooftop terrace with postcard-worthy skyline views of the historic city. Bring drinks up at sunset for a scenic aperitivo.