It was as I reclined in the garden of the Riva Lofts in Florence listening to the light wind lazily loosen the leaves, sipping on my coffee and watching the spring sun lighten the curls of a similarly reposed Mrs Smith that I recalled the great cultural sermon delivered by Orson Welles’ peerless antihero Harry Lime in The Third Man. ‘In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’ Having spent the previous day marvelling at the many wonders of Santa Croce, I found myself silently giving thanks that Alice Nardi, the patron of Riva Lofts is a contemporary hotelier and not a Renaissance princess for her speciality is tranquillity and though it might not be conducive to the creation of epoch-defining art, it is pretty much perfect for a weekend away.
We had arrived the day before and were immediately charmed and calmed by Alice who runs her Lofts – the buildings were converted by her highly regarded architect father, Claudio – with the pride and attention to detail that only a family business can inspire. She showed us straight to our suite, which boasted a perfect blend of contemporary artworks and understated 20th-century furniture. Despite considerable competition, the room’s centrepiece is a massive white bed that Mrs Smith eagerly stretched out on like a cat in the sun. ‘It’s heavenly,’ she declared. And it was hard to disagree. From the silky string drapes that hung from the ceiling in a clever twist on the four-poster, to the low lighting that illuminates the white walls, the space is dreamily ethereal. Thankfully this otherworldly atmosphere hasn’t come at a price: the Riva Lofts caters for all the earthly pleasures too. As well as complimentary soft drinks and a bowl of chocolate-covered hazelnuts, we were supplied with handpicked mood music, a flatscreen TV and an intriguing selection of art books. Most impressively of all, though (particularly for those of us from the nation that once considered a Teasmade the height of sophistication) was the freshly ground coffee, the discreet little designer hob and the proper espresso maker.
As soon as Mrs Smith had guiltily finished the last of the chocolates we felt ready to venture into Florence to gorge on churches. From Croce’s faded frescoes, to the Duomo’s chintzy campaniles we embarked on a beauty bender that would have had a dizzy Stendhal hallucinating wildly before he crawled off to bed. Being made of sterner stuff (or having less refined sensibilities) exposure to such amazing art made us thirsty not mad and we couldn’t have chosen a better spot to quench our thirst than Dolce Vita, a contemporary Italian bar that complements its Chianti Classico with delicious contorni, such as salmon ravioli and ricotta tart.
The next morning feeling great and headed down to breakfast, which was served in the high-ceiling communal room. In the evening the room can be used for film screenings or perusing Riva Lofts surprisingly fine library, but in the morning its vast table is laden with little yoghurts, fresh breads and a constantly replenished jug of freshly squeezed mandarin juice, an amber nectar so sweet that it is worth the visit alone.
We took our coffees out to the shared gardens, where we sat by the pool imagining what a boon the tranquil outdoor area would be were we seeking respite from Tuscany’s summer heat. Unsurprisingly, such serenity can’t be found bang in the anarchic heart of old Florence and Riva Lofts is tucked down an unassuming street a brisk 20-minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio. At the time of reviewing, the route isn’t always pretty, a situation that will be ameliorated by the completion of a riverside path that will link the hotel and the city centre. Once this has happened, the proud upright bikes that Alice keeps for guests will be the finest way to travel into town.
Even with the situation as it is it doesn’t take long to get to the river and we walked along the north bank marvelling at the beavers and turtles gaily coexisting in the shallow waters. After we’d fortified ourselves with a quick carafe of rose we headed south of the Arno to the part of town where the locals congregate to escape the tourist hordes. The area around Santo Spirito is the city’s counter-cultural heart with many a fine little restaurant and a delightful antiques market that we happily browsed in between restorative rounds of vino rosso.
Fashion world people are forever jetting off to Florence for the biannual trade fair at Pitti, which makes them great people for clever little tips about the city. Our insider told us about Sostanza, a classic Florentine restaurant that is reputed to be Miuccia Prada’s favourite place to eat. That evening we found out why. The decor is clean and simple, the food simpler still. When you order steak you get just that. But it’s the size of Wales and it’s so good that the guy sitting next to me managed two. The butter chicken may just be chicken but it is the finest treatment that I’ve ever encountered.
Florence is a wonderfully over-the-top kind of place. Its great lashings of gilt and its tumultuous history make it one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Now with the addition of Riva Lofts this Tuscan city can now justly claim to have mastered the fine arts of simplicity and tranquillity too.
Anonymously reviewed by David Annand (Model editor)
Reviews of Riva Lofts from Smith members
Whenever you book a stay through us, we’ll invite you to comment when you get back. Read the Guestbook entries below to see what real-life Mr & Mrs Smiths have said about this hotel…
The rooms, garden and communal sitting room are simply beautiful. Real attention to detail and a designer's eye has gone into perfecting this hotel. Our room was huge and split level, with a cosy little terrace off the bedroom where we drank red wine into the small hours. Most of all, I liked the little quirky touches. Our breakfast cappuccinos were served in dainty tea cups and saucers, there was a yoga mat and weights in our room, and a satisfyingly powerful hairdryer (so rare in even the best hotels!) which was made full use of. Alice and her team were so welcoming and friendly. When we asked to borrow the hotel's bikes, Alice not only provided us with a map, but sat me down and plotted a route for us, highlighting the dangerous areas for cyclists.
Nothing to improve in terms of the hotel, but the taxi from the airport seemed rather expensive at €25, considering it was no more than an 8-minute drive. Apparently, we should only have paid €20 (standard charge from airport into the city) plus €1 for each of our two bags, so we were only slightly overcharged. Other visitors to Riva Lofts might find this useful.
Emily, BlackSmith stayed on 28 Sep 2012