FLORENCE, ITALY: Hotel Brunelleschi is a remarkable luxury hotel in the very heart of Florence, mere steps from the epic Cathedral di Santa Maria di Fiore and its renowned Duomo. Tucked away in the Piazza Sant’ Elisabetta this elegant property combines three ancient buildings to create a world class hotel retreat that is perfect for exploring the glory of Florence. It also features the Michelin starred restaurant Santa Elisabetta under the direction of Chef Rocco de Santis.
Open since 1988, Hotel Bruneleschi underwent 5 years of meticulous restoration to incorporate its historic structures and create the stunning luxury property it has become. Its 94 rooms include 4 Jr Suites and 7 phenomenal one of a kind suites to reward the most discriminating guest with a unique hotel experience.
Hotel Brunelleschi: The history of Florence brought to life
Combining the beauty of its original buildings with a modern architectural touch, Hotel Brunelleschi incorporates medieval, renaissance and 21st century embellishments that transcend the ages. It is named for the famous architect Filippo Brunelleschi who designed the Duomo that dominates the Florence skyline.
Brunelleschi and his family owned many properties in Florence in the 16th century including the third building that makes up the complex of historical structures that comprise Hotel Brunelleschi. Thus, the hotel is not only named for Brunelleschi. It was indeed once owned by the Brunelleschi family.
Hotel Brunelleschi: Transcending the ages to antiquity
The centerpiece of the hotel is the 6th century medieval Torre della Pagliazza, the oldest standing structure in Florence. The history of the ages can be found here. Originally built in 544 AD, it holds the casual restaurant Osteria Pagliazza on the ground floor, the fine dining restaurant Santa Elisabetta on the 2nd floor, and the stunning Pagliazza Tower Suite on the two top floors.
The gorgeous lobby is located in what was a former renaissance 12th century church of San Michele. The third building that houses most of the hotel rooms also dates form the renaissance era. 5 Years of meticulous restoration have joined the three structures in modernist architectural harmony to form a seamless historical monument to the history of Florence and a one of a kind luxury hotel.
Hotel Brunelleschi: The basement and the Roman baths
The basement museum shows the progress of the restoration from its earliest stages. The medieval 6th century Pagliazzi Tower itself, the oldest standing building in Florence, was almost entirely covered by a storefront façade. The church had been turned into a car garage. The meticulous transformation is astounding. The ancient past from two different periods brought to life in the modern age.
Moreover, in the early stages of inspecting the foundations of the buildings, an ancient Roman villa was uncovered, including intricate baths. Hence the foundations of the hotel stretch back over 2000 years. In a city built on the history of civilization, Hotel Brunelleschi is a living monument to the merging of the past with its current luxurious incarnation as a one of a kind hotel property.
Hotel Brunelleschi: The lobby
The lobby is in a corner of the quaintly hidden Piazza Sant’Elisabetta. The Pagliazzi Tower gleams to the right of the square, its golden stones rising to the sky. The entrance to the lobby beams is set between two decorative trees, bathed in the light of its decorations with a sense of grace.
The lobby itself has high 20 foot wooden beamed ceilings with a glaze of white. The Osteria Pagliazza is just off the entrance filling the lower level of the ancient tower. Beautifully appointed white couches fill the sitting area at the back of the lobby. It is a tasteful blend of modern touches and the ancient church.
A glass elevator rises to the glass enclosed walkway to leading to the third building. It reveals the small alley underneath as it crosses past the workout center. The third building extends the length of the block along the shopping street Via dei Calzaiuoli, rising 4 stories over the pavement.
Hotel Brunelleschi: The Room
The second floor superior room is beautifully appointed with 15 foot ceilings rising over gleaming white plaster walls. A large 6 foot French window opens out over the busy shopping street, brightly lit for the Christmas season. Double pane windows keep any noise from the street.
Thick floor to ceiling green silk curtains lend a regal air. Gorgeous hard wood floors with a chevron inlay pattern cover the room. A sumptuous king size bed is framed by a lush green velvet headboard rising to the ceiling. Glass side tables suspended from the wall are matched by 10 foot mirrors on either side of the headboard.
A large leather covered writing desk with a glass top fills one side of the room. A pair of modernist sitting chairs frame a coffee tables at the foot of the bed. The room is exceptionally comfortable, with a regal air accented by the grand history of the hotel.
The bathroom is covered with creamy marble on the walls and green marble floors. A cream marble framed bathtub with rain shower and hand held spray is on one side of the room. The silver glass round sink sits suspended on its marble countertop.
Hotel Brunelleschi: beautifully located in the heart of Florence
Hotel Brunelleschi is a brief 10 minute walk to the stunning Palazzo Vecchio and the Piazza della SIgnoria. The Uffizi Museum and the landmark Ponte Vecchio are just a few steps more.
Michelangelo’s David at the Academia Museum is a 10 minute walk in the other direction. The Piazza Duomo and the grand Cathedral featuring Brunelleschi’s Duomo is literally 50 yards away from the hotel.
Hotel Brunelleschi: Dinner at Santa Elisabetta
Dinner at the fine dining Michelin starred restaurant Santa Elisabetta is a glorious affair. The room holds only 7 tables, filling the 2nd floor of the ancient Pagliazza Tower with a cozy elegance. Chef Rocco de Santis brings his own special touches to traditional Tuscan dishes. He has just been awarded a Michelin Star for this restaurant and over the course of a leisurely evening it is easy to see why.
The restaurant is situated on the 2nd floor of the Pagliazzi Tower. Golden brick from the 6th century forms a semicircle around the main room, set against crème colored plasters walls. The floor is covered with hardwood plank in a soft brown color. Thick wooden beams cross the 12 foot ceiling and a stunning Murano glass chandelier hangs in the center of the room.
Santa Elisabetta and Michelin Chef Rocco di Santis
Chef de Santis has developed a style that is a reflection of his influences, with an emphasis on embarking on a culinary tour of Italy and especially Tuscany using the freshest ingredients prepared in an innovative fashion.
The menu is a selection of different themed courses with wine pairings, or it can be ordered ala carte. The wine list is extensive and impressive for the number of small proprietors with limited but exceptional output of wines.
The evening starts with a glass of Prosecco and a series of six amuse bouche finger foods to signal the start of a wonderful evening of Haute Cuisine. The standout is a seared scallop with a crust of black cuttlefish skin deep fried like a potato chip.
Santa Elisabetta: Prawns, mullet, and pasta
Sicilian red prawns served crudo with a dash of lime, caviar and wild mushrooms is a sensational starter. The prawns are simply rapturous, and are accompanied by a delightful dry Maso Furli Alto Adige sauvignon blanc from the Dolomite region of Veneto.
Red mullet in a saffron crust is a tour de force of culinary delight, served with dabs of white garlic cream. The mullet is crispy on the outside, firm and tender on the inside. Served with a rare Vetere vosato San Salvatore 100% Aglianico rose’ wine from Compania, it is a stand out signature dish from Chef Di Santis.
Buttoni pasta stuffed with Provola cheese and served in a fish broth with chard and candied lemon is simply phenomenal. Buttoni is literally buttons of pasta, like a ravioli. The counterpoint between the pasta and the fish broth is fantastic. It is served with an Il Rio Toscana Pinot Noir from Tuscany that is rich and full bodied, but light on the palette in the tradition of French burgundy.
The main courses: Turbot and Calf sweetbreads
The evening is capped with a brilliant Turbot with stewed endive, piazzola and herring milk. The turbo is exceptional, perfectly cooked, with a flaky interior that melts in the mouth. It is aloso accompanied with the Il Rio Pinot Noir.
Glazed Calf sweetbreads served with fiolaro broccoli, mushrooms and Mugello chestnuts is another signature dish from Chef di Santis. Throughout the evening his command of innovative takes on traditional Haute Cuisine is breathtaking.
The evening comes to close with a raspberry and caramel tart served with a Franz Haas Moscato Rosa, a dessert wine that is rich and fruity, but not overly sweet. Sipping coffee at the end of the meal, it is a moment to reflect on an evening of delightful Haute Cuisine. Of how Chef Rocco di Santis conducts a culinary opera of exquisitely innovative fine dining.
A grand evening of elegant historical glamour
Chef Rocco de Santis is amicable and gracious as he greets us in the gallery of the kitchen. The staff, in the kitchen and on the floor, operates like a fine Swiss watch. Delicately precise in execution. Delivering each course with ceremonial precision, explaining each ingredient. Creating an evening of sheer delight.
Three hours pass in a fever dream as the glow of the evening is reflected in the soft golden stone of the Pagliazza Tower. An evening at Sant Elisabetta is a Michelin starred dream where every element is beautifully specific, like a finely tuned culinary procession of the arts.
Hotel Brunelleschi: The essential Florentine experience
Florence is a crossroads for the worlds historical culture. The legacy of the renaissance comes alive on a daily basis on its streets. On the Via dei Calzaiuoli tonight throngs of locals and visitors are engaged in the passegatta of the early evening. Strolling the shopping streets and soaking in the atmosphere.
The Hotel Brunelleschi is not only located in the heartbeat of Florence. It is the living embodiment of its history through the medieval Pagliazzi Tower, the renaissance church, the former property of the Brunelleschi family itself. Two days pass like a dream in its presence, but its impact is unequivocal.
This is literally a luxury hotel for the ages. Its historical heritage, its Michelin star restaurants, and the sheer majesty of how it integrates all of that into an exceptional hotel experience is particularly unique. The majesty of Brunelleschi’s accomplishments in his life now include the hotel that bears his name.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal