From Room with a View to Villa with a Vista
Here’s a question for you. When it comes to being on holiday are you the type that likes to rise and shine with the lark, grabbing a swift espresso before heading off to beat the tourist queues? Or do you prefer to linger longer over breakfast, letting the day unfurl slowly?
There’s absolutely no doubt which category we fall into. While other people are busy uploading photos of their sightseeing escapades to social media, Mrs Moore and her husband are almost certain to be found still at breakfast ordering yet another round of toast.
This indolence explains, in part at least, our obsessive quest to find the perfect place to stay. My reasoning is that if a significant part of our vacation is to be spent within our hotel environs, then we want to be in surroundings conducive to rest and relaxation. The idea of holiday accommodation being little more than a place to rest one’s head is a complete anathema in the Moore household. Even when we’re only planning a single night away from home I still devote great swathes of time to scouring websites and interrogating reviews before hitting the ‘Book Now’ button.
By and large, this meticulous research has paid dividends and we’ve stayed at some wonderfully memorable establishments over the years. There was the dark, bewitchingly beautiful Venetian opulence of Palazzo Barbarigo, the cool urban vibe of Amsterdam’s The Hoxton, and the sophisticated Buddha Bar Hotel in Paris where the Oriental fuses with the Occidental to create the most striking design aesthetic. Closer to home, we've become big fans of Kit Kemp’s delightfully quirky London-based hotels where English eclecticism exudes a riot of colour and pattern. Each one I have enjoyed immensely and felt sad to leave. But checking-out at a hotel has never come anywhere close to moving me to tears. That is until the day we bid farewell to Villa Cora in Florence.
I’d wanted to visit Florence for a long time. A yearning inspired, I think, by Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Lucy Honeychurch in Merchant Ivory’s film, A Room with a View, and my subsequent reading of E M Forster’s classic novel. So when Mr Moore suggested we might take a trip to Florence to celebrate my Big Birthday year I was beyond excited. Even more so when we booked a room at Villa Cora. Lovely, luxurious and located within walking distance of Florence, it ticked all the MooreMundi boxes. That said, my enthusiasm did start to wane a little following the three-hour drive to the airport, chaotic check-in and long wait for a cab standing in the dark outside Peretola airport. It wasn’t romantic. It was tedious, the experience bearing no resemblance whatsoever to Room with a View. By the time we finally reached the cradle of the Renaissance I was like a bottle of pop gone decidedly flat.
My fizz was restored, however, when the taxi followed Viale Machiavelli out of the main part of Florence, up past the Boboli Gardens, and Villa Cora swung suddenly into view. The photographs on the website had depicted a handsomely proportioned building set in neatly manicured gardens, but the reality was far more beautiful than anything I had anticipated. Perhaps it was the effect of it being illuminated in the darkness, or maybe it was the contrast with the rest of the day, but from the moment I set eyes on Villa Cora I fell under its spell and was hopelessly enchanted.
Villa Cora’s interior is as bewitching as its exterior. Originally built in the 1860s by a German Baron for his young bride, in recent years the building has undergone an extensive, and expertly executed, programme of renovation thereby restoring it to its former glory. From the restrained classical elegance of the entrance hall and breathtakingly detailed decor of the Moresque room, with its stunning domed ceiling, to the heavily gilded and boiseried magnificence of the Mirror Room, I was wide-eyed with wonder.
Our room was located in Villino Eugenia, a smaller building named in honour of Eugénie, the ex-empress and widow of Napoleon III who purchased Villa Cora towards the end of the nineteenth century. With the palest pink facade, shuttered windows and balcony terrace, I was as charmed by this bijou villa as I was the main house. Every room is uniquely and tastefully decorated, ours having hand-painted Italian grotesque work on the ceiling beams, an elegant canopied bed and gorgeous Carrara marble bathroom. It wasn’t like checking-in at a swanky hotel. It was more like being welcomed as a guest at the most magnificent stately home.
My sense of delight continued to soar the following morning as we strolled through Villa Cora’s gardens. Typically, the Italian style tends towards formality with emphasis placed on structure as opposed to horticulture. But at Villa Cora geometric precision is softened by an abundance of roses in muted colours, many of which were still blooming in the warmth of the early October sunshine. Given that our home is an apartment situated in an urban area, forgive me for being a touch too hyperbolic at this point, but I really did have the sense of having stepped into paradise.
Later on the sublime gave way to the spectacular when we took the lift to Villa Cora’s rooftop terrace and admired the breathtaking view of Florence’s architectural skyline set against the rising backdrop of the Tuscan hills, where villas, winding roads and age-old cypress trees punctuate the countryside. I was captivated. Indeed, if I could relive just one memory of our time at Villa Cora, I think it would be sitting on the rooftop that evening watching the sun set and listening to the bells being rung from churches across the city below. The whole evening had an almost magical quality to it, although I concede that the cheeky champagne cocktail before our al fresco poolside dinner might have had some part to play in the dreaminess of my recollection.
And that brings me to Villa Cora’s restaurant where, being slightly fussy eaters, we were relieved to find an innovative menu which offered plenty of choice for vegetarians and vegans as well as meat eaters. Delicious to the taste buds and pleasing to the eye, the food and drink was top-notch fine fare. The Pizza Margherita which we ordered from room service was pretty impressive too. Takeaway thin crusts, formerly our favourite Saturday night naughty nosh, somehow don’t taste quite as good as they did prior to our trip.
Stunning architecture, gorgeous decor, fab food. But what, I hear you ask of the service? Well, that’s at the top of the leader board too. Even though we couldn’t afford a suite or a deluxe room, and ordered the least expensive dishes on the menu, we were made to feel like royalty. All the staff, from the hotel manager to the doorman were highly attentive, each one eager to do whatever possible to make our visit extra special. Everyone we met without exception managed to strike the perfect balance between being highly polished, professional and efficient with warmth, sincerity and humour. Little wonder then that when we came to leave I felt an embarrassing wave of emotion at having to say goodbye. For, as I remarked to the manager, our only complaint is that Villa Cora is so darn perfect in every way that I don’t think we’ll ever want to stay anywhere else ever again.
Copyright Pamela Moore 2017