It might be unconventional to begin an article about Florence with the work of a French artist, currently on display in Milan. However, until I saw Rodin’s sculpture, The Kiss, as part of an exhibition entitled Rodin – Il Marmo, la Vita, currently at Milan’s Palazzo Reale, I had been unaware that it depicts the adulterous Francesca da Rimini and her lover, from The Divine Comedy, by Florentine poet Dante Aligheri.
Dante’s poetry had such an effect in shaping the language that he is often called ‘the father of the Italian language’. I first encountered his masterpiece during my travels in Asia (Inferno was the only book I could find that was in English – a complete translation alongside the original 13th century Tuscan). I fell in love with the powerful imagery and, since that time, longed to visit Florence, the city in which Dante himself lived, fought and loved, and from which he was eventually exiled. Fortunately for me, it was shortly after leaving the Palazzo Reale that Charlotte and I made our way to the railway station in Milan, to catch an evening train to Florence.
Being on a train in the dark was a poor way to approach the city of lilies through the Italian landscape, to the point that I am unsure whether or not the landscape visible on that particular journey is indeed as beautiful as I imagine. We arrived in Florence just after six o’clock in the evening, hurriedly exited the Santa Maria Novella station and took a taxi through the narrow cobbled streets, across the river Arno and onto the Borgo San Jacopo. Approaching the Hotel Lungarno from the road meant that we were almost at the door before we noticed that the hotel stood right on the edge of the river, with a magical view of the nearby Ponte Vecchio, the reflections of its lights smudging across the water.
After a very efficient check in, we were shown to our room, a ‘Studio Arno’, which was decorated in peaceful blues with antique furniture and original artwork (there is an original Picasso on display in the lounge area by the entrance – make sure you don’t miss it!). The studio had an entrance area, with ample storage and mini bar, that led on to the bathroom and turned right into the living space, where there was a huge, soft sofa and a desk, upon which some delicious Italian biscuits awaited us. Further into the room, there was a partition of two pillars before reaching the sleeping area and beyond that a Juliet balcony with the same glittering night perspective of the Ponte Vecchio and, across the river, the historical centre of Florence. After flinging the door open, breathing in the chill December air with the Arno’s gentle movement directly beneath and gazing across at the labyrinthine city that I had so long wished to explore, I felt that I had arrived in paradise.
Although the Hotel Lungarno has the Borgo San Jacopo restaurant and the chic White Iris Spa on site, the city could not wait and we soon headed out to dine at the world renowned restaurant, Enoteca Pinchiorri. After making our way back to the hotel, we were grateful to sink into the luxurious pillows with the evening’s discussion about history and art wending its way into dreams sweetened by fine wines.
We opted for a buffet breakfast and, after seeing some of the Lungarno Collection’s other luxury properties across the river, the more modern Continentale and Gallery Hotel Art, made our way into the city centre to experience some of Italy’s most famous art and cultural landmarks. Florence is a very small city, so it is perfectly possible to walk across the Arno (via the Ponte Vecchio, of course) and wander towards the ever-present cupola of Florence’s Duomo. There is barely a street that does not contain something of artistic note; the elegant architecture of the Palazzo Vecchio stands beside the world famous Uffizi Museum, home to Renaissance masterpieces by Leonardo, Botticelli, Cimabue, Caravaggio and many more, as well as other schools of visual art.
It’s worth buying tickets in advance if you visit Italy in peak months, check the websites of the museum or gallery to see where this is possible. We were happy to lose ourselves in the meandering alleyways, coming upon museums such as the Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David, and Dante’s former residence (much to my delight!), completely by accident.
Guests at the Lungarno Collection are able to gain free entry into the Salvatore Ferragamo museum and we made use of this, finding the museum to be rather a surreal, but thoroughly enjoyable exploration of shoes and shoe related art since the early twentieth century. Charlotte may, I believe, have found her own paradise here!
It occurred to me that my own journey to Florence could, with a certain amount of creative metaphor, be said to have followed the shape of Dante’s journey through the afterlife, from standing beside Rodin’s marble characters, forever consigned to Inferno, through the sightless purgatory of a train journey through darkness, and our final arrival at Florence, where the Hotel Lungarno offered a kind of paradise from which to explore this amazing city. I will always remember this visit to Florence, the city that Dante described as ‘the fair sheepfold where I slept as a lamb’, and the wonderful Hotel Lungarno, where I myself first slept, in elegant luxury, under the Tuscan stars.
Borgo San Jacopo 14