Modern Florence

Until five years ago, a visitor had the choice of staying in an older, luxury hotel or a humble pensione—only one level above a hostel. Boutique hotels with modern design were unheard of. Not anymore. The following are several of the most interesting new places to stay in Florence.

If you prefer to room in the busy centro storico yet want a calm spot to lay your head, stay along the Arno at the Continentale. This contemporary hotel is part of the stylish Lungarno chain owned by the Ferragamo family. With can’t-lose views of the river, the city’s skyline, and the famous cathedral (or duomo), it’s supermodern yet tasteful (kind of like an Italian W Hotel).

The Borghese Palace Art Hotel can’t be beat for its location: steps from the duomo in the middle of a palazzo. That said, it feels tucked away and restful. A former palace once inhabited by Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s younger sister, it’s been updated with fun new pieces: a pewter bench placed on 300-year-old marble floors, for instance.

People may tell you to avoid Piazza Santa Maria Novella, home to the Santa Maria Novella church, which houses Masaccio’s Holy Trinity (the first paintings to have used Western perspective). And yes, the historic square was once overrun with loitering beggars and pigeons. However, the area was recently made an area pedonale, or pedestrian-only zone, and is now cleaner and more upscale. The recent opening of the high-design J.K. Place has played a major role in the piazza’s revitalization.

The UNA Hotel Vittoria is located in the Oltrarno, the boho neighborhood that also houses the biggest fashion and fresco restoration schools in all of Europe. At UNA’s popular bar, you’ll find struggling artists and older, painstakingly dressed professionals socializing, not unlike you’d come across in Manhattan’s East Village. As the funkiest hotel in the edgiest district of Florence, UNA has d├ęcor that is reflective of everything right and wrong with Italian design: loud, overdone, but somehow endearing (think Stanley Kubrick meets Boogie Nights).