Helvetia and Bristol is a C19th palazzo in the heart of Florence. Located in the heart of the historical centre of the city – which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s just a short walk from Palazzo Strozzi and the Duomo.
Since the late 19th century, Hotel Helvetia & Bristol has been offering travellers from around the world a luxury bolt-hole in the heart of Florence. Staying at this historic palazzo, you can breathe in the heady atmosphere of the Renaissance – an ambience that was part-and-parcel of the journeys made to Italy by the international élite, and was nowhere more evident than at the get-togethers of the literati in our very own Winter Garden.
These, then, are high-class surroundings, and accordingly they have been the destination of choice for such illustrious Italian names as physicist Enrico Fermi, poets Eugenio Montale and Gabriele D’Annunzio, playwright Luigi Pirandello and actress Eleonora Duse, who chose the hotel as her Florentine residence for extended periods.
In stark contrast is Star Hotel’s Rosa Grand. In the heart of Milan it overlooks the historic Piazza Fontana, behind the city’s imposing Duomo cathedral. The art collections of the Palazzo Reale and the Museo del Novecento are all within strolling distance as are the world-famous La Scala opera house and the famous Galleria, home to historic cafés and chic boutiques.
The rooms and suites are elegantly furnished, each with distinctive style. Exuding refinement down to the very last detail, all have recently been refurbished. The dominant colours are pink, gold and peacock blue, with each room a calming oasis away from the vibrant energy of Milan.
Some of the rooms enjoy romantic views over the Duomo cathedral, adding to the magical atmosphere of the hotel. This is enhanced by the cosy lounges, refined wood finishes, luxurious velvet and valuable artworks that grace the hotel’s spaces. Magnificent decor accented in gold and pink reflects quintessential Italian craftsmanship.
In Florence I was given a room so full of heritage and charm I considered convincing my boyfriend to get a last minute flight from London to sneak in and join me. Antique furniture, artworks and decorative items combine perfectly with marble and 17th-century paintings, roaring open fires, classic textiles, heavy curtains, wooden shutters and soft furnishings. The bathroom was kitted out with Acqua di Parma toiletries and a vast languorous tub.
In stark contrast, the Rosa Grand in Milan enjoys sleek lines, bright colours and contemporary styling – the perfect pit stop for business or fashion travellers. It even has a rooftop sauna and terrace overlooking the Duomo, ideal for a power detox between meetings.
Who goes there:
Helvetia and Bristol is all about soaking up Florence’s heritage and culture, and its well-heeled, leisurely guests reflect this.
The Rosa Grand is faster-paced. Ideal for the fashion and design set, as well as a base for international corporate events.
The worst bit:
The Rosa Grand in Milan was perfectly situated, with views of the Duomo – in a city like Milan you can’t just build a hotel in such a historic area, so this is hugely unusual – but the rooms were modern, which isn’t quite as romantic (even if I was travelling solo).
And while Milan had a wonderful penthouse spa with steam room, I missed out as I hadn’t known it was there.
The best bit:
The rooms in Florence are glorious. And with its position on Piazza degli Antinori, two of my favourite places were within spitting distance – the historical fashion archive emporium Gucci Garden, and historical C17th pharmacy, Santa Maria Novella.
The Rosa Grand is bang in the historic centre of Milan, all the must-see places of interest are within walking distance: the Teatro alla Scala, the Palazzo Reale, the Castello Sforzesco, the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, Santa Maria delle Grazie with Leonardo’s Last Supper, the Roman columns of San Lorenzo and the nearby Parco delle Basiliche.