Sanctuary in the Borgo Pinti
It's hard not to fall in love with a city as glorious as Florence. Sauntering out of the Santa Maria Novella train station for the first time, the tourist could well be forgiven for thinking he has stepped into a vast outdoor museum of Renaissance art and architecture.
Throw away the map and get lost in a maze of cobblestone streets. Take your chances stumbling across grand palazzi, bustling piazzas, churches, galleries, and museums. If you need to find your bearings, it is difficult to avoid the awesome Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower), more commonly known as the Duomo, the architectural showpiece which dominates the historical district. Brunelleschi may not approve, but his iconic dome also comes in useful as a waymarker. Art and history combine effortlessly with the present and colourful kerbside markets animate the the piazzas and laneways. Pop-up stalls buckle under the weight of authentic Florentine leather, expertly crafted into handbags, belts, wallets, and all manner of goods, while just steps away, intriguing shop windows beckon the tourist to a more genteel, expensive world of big name labels and showcase the art of the fashion designer.
And while you are window shopping, don’t forget to indulge in a gelato, a work of art in itself.
Trish at Ponte Vecchio
If you are looking for somewhere to stay in the historical area of the city, there are almost as many famous hotels as there are piazzas and statues. The Hotel Degli Orafi on the banks of the Arno was made famous by honeymooners Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson in the film Room With A View. The Hotel Porta Rossa, the oldest hotel in Florence having been first established in the 14th century, was often home to English poet, Lord Byron - and these days is a favourite with actors and film directors. Pensione Sorelle Bandidi was used in the movie Tea with Mussolini. No longer a pensione, and after a full renovation the Bandidi, will soon reopen as the more upmarket Palazzo Guadagni.
Florence - Ponte Vecchio and River Arno
However, it is by no means necessary to book into a luxury hotel to get the most out of a visit to Florence. Staying in a B & B or a pensione leaves more cash to spend on the important things like food, concert tickets, gallery entry, and tours. The newly renovated Sanctuary B & B is located in the centre of Florence, close to the Duomo. The place is unique in that it is run by an order of nuns, the Suore Oblate dell’ Assunzione and the location is ideal for exploring the tourist sites on foot.
Sisters at The Sanctuary B & B, Florence
The convent building is a former 15th century palazzo once owned by the noble Medici family and single people, couples, families, and groups are welcome to stay here. Recently the convent ‘hotel’ has undergone a substantial facelift and the facilities for guests have been upgraded. Rooms with ensuite bathroom are available and cheaper rooms are offered on a share bathroom basis. The spotlessly clean guestrooms are roomy and well-furnished and windows are double glazed with reinforced glass, though noise is not a problem as the street has recently undergone traffic restrictions. Guests will be pleasantly surprised by the large, tranquil garden to the rear of the building, a peaceful place to relax at the end of a tiring day. Breakfast is available daily and facilities include elevator, internet kiosk, and air conditioning in all rooms. Shops and restaurants are close by.
Religion isn’t spruiked here. However, guests are welcome to join the sisters in daily Mass if they so wish.
I stayed here some years ago and the two sisters in charge were friendly, helpful, and surprisingly knowledgeable about the city – especially the good restaurants! One of their recommendations was the Restaurant La Giostra, just steps away from the convent and where the gregarious chef traded in his life as a Hapsburg prince to devote himself to culinary art. The restaurant is well-patronized by the locals, is open seven days a week, and the prince and his twin sons still work the floor.
The Sanctuary B & B is a comfortable, inexpensive base in Florence and with a brand new website up and running, bookings can be made online.
Sanctuary B&B Firenze
Suore Oblate dell’Assunzione
Borgo Pinti 15
50125 – FIRENZE Tel: +39 334 372 7669 email: info[at]sanctuarybbfirenze.com www.sanctuarybbfirenze.com
Restaurant La Giostra: ristorantelagiostra.com
Hotel Porta Rossa: nh-hotels.com
Hotel Degli Orafi: hoteldegliorifi.it
Palazzo Guadagni: pallazoguadagni.com
Feature photo: Sanctuary B&B
Trish Clark is author of Good Night and God Bless: A Guide to Convent and Monastery Accommodation in Europe, Vols I and II,
both published by Hidden Spring, an imprint of Paulist Press NJ. She
writes a monthly column for wanderingeducators.com as the Travel with a Spiritual Twist Editor.
You can find her at http://goodnightandgodbless.com/