Sunday, 25 April 2010
A room with a view
The blond and I had been invited to the grand launch of the new Ferrari 599 GTO, due to be unveiled for the first time at the Military Academy in Modena. Ferrari had kindly offered to put us up at their expense in Bologna to join a world wide gathering of rich and enthusiastic Ferrari addicts who had already reserved one of these new supercars. Only problem being I got the date wrong and arrived in Italy, completely over excited, a day too early. This could have been an anti-climax, after tearing through the autobahns of Germany and then the Brenner Pass in my runabout to get there. However, this mistake created an opportunity of its own - to stay for a night at the famous and ludicrously expensive Hotel Villa San Michele, on the outskirts of Florence.
It is situated on a hill in Feisole, looking down towards Florence and the has enjoyed a reputation only matched by Le Splendido, and a handful of other Italian hotels. Perhaps, such a august establishment is not used to its punters ringing at the last minute for a room, but I was not able to elicit much of a choice of rooms below one thousand euros per night. Upon arriving, it came down to a cramped double bedroom with a view to Florence and a better appointed room, with a view to San Michele's superb gardens. The blond, without hesitation chose the garden room. I can best describe the decor as "shabby genteel", that air of once being fashionable and "polished" daily by an infinite army of servants to keep up appearances. The bath was fascinating, in that the only way to reach the on-off tap was to lever oneself out of the prone position, crawl to the other end of the bath, make the adjustment and fall back again.
We took cocktails in the bar before dinner; pleasant enough, but had the weather been warmer, sitting on the terrace over-looking Florence would have made the drink truly memorable. What I do remember is that the bar steward was one of the best I have ever come across. The right mixture between efficient, friendly and smart - definitely management material and a delight to pass some light banter with.
Moving to the fairly formal dining room, which seemed to have its normal mix ( for Florence ) of Asians, Americans and possibly the odd Russian, the service was still at the highest level. Clearly they have had some old hands who have been around for donkeys' years and taught some of the young bloods how to serve. The food itself does not match the setting or the service; don't get me wrong its hard to fault it, but it lacks inspiration and any flair in its presentation. Put Gordon Ramsey in there for a week to shake them up and/or recruit some brilliant young chef from a less august establishment and it would be transformed.
The next morning we had what was described as an "American Style buffet breakfast". I think that's a completely inappropriate way to describe the very Italian fare that was laid out on a several substantial tables. It included various cured Italian hams and salamis, cheeses, fruit, pastries etc. All of the very highest quality, fresh and well presented. A steward was on hand to keep pouring coffee and rustle up some boiled eggs for the blond. In short, nothing American about it and could better be described as a "brunch" rather than a breakfast.
Check-out was quick and painless, apart from the staggering price. One of the senior concierge team, Massimo, was most helpful and can be seen above, standing next to me and the runabout.