Hundreds of years ago, at the height of Florence’s Renaissance heyday, visitors to this cultural capital wouldn’t have stayed in the kinds of luxury hotels that now line its picturesque streets. Rather, the well-heeled would have come at the behest of friends, lodging in private homes whose unassuming facades in the best neighborhoods belied their sumptuous interiors and private gardens, outfitted with art and artifacts collected from around the world.
A guesthouse to its core, Casa Howard continues this Florentine tradition; there is neither lobby nor restaurant, and the husband-and-wife owners live in their own apartment here while in town (note, it can be rented when they’re away). Jennifer Howard Forneris, one of the design-conscious proprietors, is the daughter of renowned textile designer Luciano Forneris. She’s given each room its own look, with finds from her world travels. A TV room and library is the sole common area, and a private hammam steam room and a telephone-only concierge service are the only nods toward traditional hotel services. Insider recommendations are personalized according to guests’ preferences, and the honor bar feels more like a friend’s (well-stocked) fridge.
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Hidden around the corner from the elegant Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and its eponymous piazza, Casa Howard sits just outside Florence’s historic center. The guesthouse location offers a respite from the buzz but still puts guests within walking distance of both the Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station and most major sights. Neighbors include the world-famous Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, an apothecary founded by Dominican friars that dates back to 1612 and is still open to the public daily. The city’s renowned Duomo—the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore—and the many shops, sights, and restaurants surrounding it, are within a few minutes’ walk, as are the Piazza della Repubblica, with its cafés, and the picturesque Ponte Vecchio.
Need to Know
Room: 12 rooms, one with kitchenette. From $70. Check-in: 2 p.m.; check-out: 11 a.m. Dining options:The guesthouse doesn’t have a restaurant, but a breakfast of homemade pastries, fresh fruits, and jams and honey from the family’s Tuscan farm can be delivered to your room each morning for a nominal fee. Each floor has a fridge stocked with local wines and treats, and guests are invited to take advantage of them as honor bars. Cooking classes, which include a full Tuscan lunch or dinner, can also be arranged in the house kitchen, or at a nearby professional kitchen. Spa and gym details: Bathrooms are stocked with Officino Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella toiletries—hello, private spa time—and the guesthouse has its own Turkish hammam. While spa treatments are not available in-house, the concierge can help arrange them at acclaimed local spas. The hotel has no gym, but the streets of Florence provide plenty of exercise.
Who's it best for: Independent travelers who appreciate quirky style and a central location. Our favorite rooms:The Drawing Room seems to have stepped out of art deco Florence, a vision of chrome, mirrors, and geometric angles. It’s the largest regular room, the only with a separate sitting room. The Terrace Room lives up to its name with a second-floor garden terrace, also accessible from the Garden Room. The owners’ private pied-à-terre, the airy, two-story Studio Room is available only when they’re out of town, but it's worth planning your dates accordingly to get its apartment-like feel—complete with kitchenette, stylish vintage furnishings, private terrace, and rolltop tub. Local insight:In keeping with the feel of a friend’s private house to which you’ve been given the keys, the proprietors of Casa Howard have compiled an exhaustive guide of their favorite restaurants, shops, and things to do in Florence—as well as some they suggest you avoid.