Does one of the best-known hotels in Italy live up to its reputation? Read our Belmond Villa San Michele review to find out.
Sometime when Napolean Bonaparte entered Italy in 1796 he settled upon a Renaissance monastery just outside of Florence as his private headquarters. Choosing the monastery’s decorative library to rest his head, the French military commander was afforded the most strategic view in the land, gawking over Florence and the charming Chianti countryside via a large window that stared down a winding road from the property’s mesmerising Michelangelo-designed façade.
If any of his enemies would try and come for him, Bonaparte was surely ready. And if he wouldn’t spot them from his room, his compadres would have easily spied approaching danger from the many viewpoints around the property, all of which currently provide bountiful views filled with the sheer beauty and immense history of Tuscany.
That monastery library where Bonaparte spent so many nights – no doubt huddled with a nightcap by the outrageously large fireplace – is now one of the most illustrious accommodations at Belmond Villa San Michele: the Michelangelo suite. As I place my foot on a small carved step and stare out the very same window mentioned above, my imagination starts incessantly jogging back to the 18th century to try and imagine the mixture of pomposity and paranoia that occupied the space at the time.
Stepping down from the window, I’m overwhelmed. It was the last hour of my last day staying as a guest of the newly refreshed Belmond Villa San Michele and I hadn’t even had time to explore the surrounding woodland. The very same site that Leonardo da Vinci used as a training ground for his flying machine in 1506 (if the legend is to be believed).
As part of the renovation, a sensitive renewal of all common areas overseen by local firm Luigi Fragola Architects, the woodlands are increasingly becoming more accessible for guests of the one-of-one Belmond luxury hotel.
New paths have been laid so you could easily reach previously inaccessible areas of the forest, and then back down to some of the hotel’s prime areas like the lovely pool sitting on the top layer of the immaculate terraced gardens.
An outdoor swimming pool, mind you, that feels like it was torn from the cover of a magazine titled La Dolce Vita, flanked by pristine white lounge chairs and umbrellas, adjoining a pool bar and diner as well as the hotel’s small but well-equipped gym. A trendy infinity pool is not needed here; the retro charm of the pool area is by design.
As I walk back to my Junior Suite, I find myself doing exactly what I’ve been doing for the past few days I’ve spent at the Belmond Villa San Michele – being distracted by the view. Just about every step taken across the property’s beautiful gardens, once nurtured by Franciscan monks, makes you want to look back and scan the all-encompassing vista.
But the view is far from the only thing about this historic Belmond property that keeps well-heeled travellers coming back. Not only do you feel like you’re soaking in history by staying at this former 15th-century monastery-cum-villa, but you gain a deep appreciation for hospitality in its most classic form.
And classicism is most definitely what defines Belmond Villa San Michele, from the entry lobby – the monastery’s former church – to the sprawling garden which, on my visit, was to be the site of an old-fashioned cocktail party. One that, unfortunately, had to be moved inside because of the erratic weather.
You can see below for our full Belmond Villa San Michele review.
Belmond Villa San Michele Review – Table Of Contents
You’re not exactly right next to all of Florence’s many tourist attractions at Villa San Michele, but rest assured you are still very much connected to one of the world’s most beautiful cities through history, service (more on that below) and a free shuttle.
Given Belmond Villa San Michele is in the hills of Fiesole, you’re just outside of Florence. Grab the shuttle for an easy 20-minute drive and it’ll drop you in the very convenient Piazza della Repubblica. From there, it’s an easy walk to just about all of Florence’s musts including the Uffizi Gallery, Accademia Gallery, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Piazzale Michelangelo.
It may sound inconvenient to stay outside of the city center, but Belmond makes its distance feel as short and unobstructed as possible. If you only have a short time in Florence, it doesn’t feel like you’ve made a mistake choosing to stay here. I was only there for two days and still feel like I spent ample time between Florence and Belmond without needing to compromise on either.
Design & Features
This would be a 4,000-word review if I talked about the endlessly exciting, historical design features that touch on every inch of this heritage hotel. From the slightly faded original 14th century fresco of ‘The Last Supper’ in one of two elegant lounge areas and the stylish bar with its monastic grandeur to the veritable Garden of Eden that offers numerous nooks and crannies for guests.
Walk through the property and you’ll be taken through a complete union between Renaissance architecture and modern comforts. Both worlds are blended beautifully, balancing all the create comforts of a contemporary luxury hotel aligned with such pride in the property’s rich history.
Because the blend is done so well, nothing about the Belmond feels overdone. That’s not an easy feat for a property that has more than enough to justify Europe’s typically braggadocious luxury trappings.
There are 22 rooms in the main building and 23 in the garden annexes. I stayed in one of the Junior Suites that open out into the garden and by the looks of things, it’s the most common room category here.
You’ve got a private terrace to wake up, leading from 40-square-metre rooms that consist of one bedroom backed by vast wall-to-wall marble bathrooms with double vanities, separate showers and bathtubs, as well as an exclusive Aqua di Parma scent crafted just for Belmond.
These rooms definitely do not have as much character as the ones in the main building. Much of the character comes from the garden outside, pulled in each morning by the front door. Yet they are still perfectly fine and supremely comfortable.
But there is a sense that these Junior Suites are not wearing their time as well as the rest of the property. The interiors feel dated when compared with the retouched common areas. This most likely means there will be a refurbishment sometime in the near future.
Food & Drink
During the recent fresh, the opulent dining area that sits under the skylight has now been turned into a more relaxed lounge room for guests to just take a load off. The dining has now been fully focused on the property’s long, narrow 16th-century loggiato that maximises those billion-dollar views of Florence.
The signature fine dining experience, La Loggia Restaurant, is a stunner. Locals often travel up for it and guests are spoilt by having direct access to what Alessandro Cozzolino’s has done with the kitchen. The Caserta-born chef has created dishes rooted in Tuscan culture and heroes sustainable ingredients, working into three different set menus that are offered during dinner.
Given the dishes change regularly there’s little point in me taking you through everything I had, but it’s clear what Cozzolino’s strengths are. An extraordinary noi d’altronde pasta cooked in “cacucco” fish broth with Grosseto cuttlefish and Viareggio prawns, texturally perfect and moreish, was the highlight for me but just about everything had elements that I’d struggle to find fault with.
With a property like Belmond, you’d be quite surprised if the wine list didn’t reach a few notches higher than you’d expect. The extensive list is well-written, primarily with drops from all over Italy. You’d be wanting bottles here as the by-the-glass list could do with a bit more variety, but as long as you’re cashed up -and if you’re staying at Belmond, you are – then it’d be a waste not to explore the sommelier’s prime picks.
When morning rolls around, breakfast is split between a la carte options in La Loggia and a buffet in a nearby space, which is where you’ll also find the head-turning walk-in wine library. Everything is invariably delicious, with various pastries, bread and condiments served alongside eggs and omelettes.
With Belmond’s reputation, I knew that the hotel experience would be elevated by good, old-school service. I just didn’t expect how good it’d actually be. The concierge especially was amongst the best I’ve personally experienced to date, with hard-won museum tickets locked in the morning of without hestiation. Tickets, mind you, that some expatriates I spoke to couldn’t secure despite trying every day for at least the past month.
Having a good concierge in Europe is like having a well-connected friend. It’s essential, and Belmond just reiterated to me – someone who barely makes use of a concierge anymore.
With everything tight and efficient at the property, Belmond’s hospitality also extends outside of the hotel. There seems to have been more of a concerted effort over the past few years to better connect the luxury hotel with Florence in more socially-minded ways to up the guest experience and give them a bit of behind-the-scenes access to the city.
That much is formulated as various tours that guests can book into, run exclusively by the hotel and distinguished by theme. There’s a maker’s tour that takes guests around to local artisans, as well as a foodie one that explores Florence’s best restaurants and hidden gems. Considering how well-connected the staff is, I wish I had time for the foodie tour.
Other services on offer at the hotel include a noted cooking school with both adult and kids cooking classes amongst a myriad of other things to keep one occupied at the property.
There is, however, no spa. You can get a massage in the open-air gazebo or order an in-room treatment but there’s no dedicated spa to think of. Given many European luxury hotels offer one, it may be seen as a downside for some that there’s no dedicated wellness centre. But I feel everything in the hotel makes up for it so well, that one would hardly be missed.
Verdict & Value
A Junior Suite, the room I stayed in, would start at €2,078 (~AU$3,248) a night in the quieter seasons. Although do note that the hotel is closed in winter.
If I was to book a Junior Suite for two nights in May 2023, for example, I’d be looking at €5,960 (~AU$9,320) in total. Choosing to stay at the hotel is not the kind of investment you’d make without serious consideration, so I hope this Belmond Villa San Michele review has done its job of giving you a bit more insight when it comes to experience at the hotel.
Because it’s not just enough to have a breathtaking building with a tremendous amount of history behind it. Belmond San Villa Michele wouldn’t be quite what is without the high standard of service, privacy and efficiency I experienced.
So is that worth just under $10,000 for 2 nights? If you have got the cash to justify it, then yes. The Belmond Villa San Michele is a memorable stay just outside of Florence and one of the city’s most unique.
Belmond Villa San Michele, Florence
Address: Via Doccia, 4, 50014 Fiesole FI, Italy
Contact: +39 02 8295 5790
Junior Suite rates start from $3,248 per night.
Belmond Villa San Michele Review – Frequently Asked Questions
When did Belmond Villa San Michele open?
Belmond Villa San Michele was founded as a monastery by Franciscan monks.
How much is a night at Belmond Villa San Michele?
If you want to book a Junior Suite at Villa San Michele then expect to pay at least €2,078 per night.
Is Belmond Villa San Michele a good hotel?
Villa San Michele is one of the most famous luxury hotels in Italy and counts many celebrity guests as regulars. While it is expensive, staying at the hotel is a superlative experience filled with exceptional service, great food and incredible views.
The author, Chris Singh, stayed at Villa San Michele a guest of Belmond for two nights.
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