BELMOND VILLA SAN MICHELE: A RETREAT IN THE FIESOLE HILLS
Nestled on the landscaped hills of Fiesole, lies a beautifully renovated Monastery by the name of Villa San Michele. An intricately restored and presented property with breathtaking views of Florence alongside exceptional service can only pronounce what I familiarly know as the Art of Belmond and trust me this property is a true representation of the former Orient Express brand.
A RENAISSANCE HISTORY
Belmond Villa San Michele’s history stems long and deep into the Renaissance period as this was the area where Leonardo da Vinci attempted to launch his first flying machine in the late 15th Century. Adjacent to the area or Montececeri Park as it was then, a monastery, funded by the Davanzati family, was being built by a group of Franciscan monks. By 1600, this site was expanded with the addition of the Michelangelo façade and the loggia, which now forms the dining area.
The family filled the monastery with exuberant artworks, including, Nicodemo Ferrucci’s fresco of the last Supper, which still takes pride of place in the former refectory.
Skip a few centuries, when Henry White Cannon bought the Monastery and made a number of improvements, including landscaping the gardens and converting the courtyard into a Victorian winter garden with a glass roof. The building was badly damaged in World War II and by 1950 had a new owner, Lucien Tessier who started to restore 20 rooms on the first floor of the main building and opened part of it as a hotel.
The Belmond group purchased the villa and surrounding land in 1982, embarking on a highly skilled restoration project in co-operation with the Florence Fine Arts Authority.
I’ve said it before and I will say it a million times over, there is no reception better received than a Belmond reception! After a steep winding drive to Fiesole from Florence airport, (the villa is located just under five miles north of Florence) we were greeted with huge smiles and a drink by the hotel manager, as we alighted and gathered our luggage. It’s only when you stand outside the entrance to this magnificent villa that you can fully take in the stunning views and architecture of the renaissance styling of the building.
The check-in process is extremely slick here and you’ll be commencing your tour of the communal areas before you’ve barely had a chance to put your passports away.
One of the most jaw-dropping of the communal areas has to be the pool, which takes glorious position at the top tier of the landscaped gardens. A great suntrap in the afternoons surrounded by sun loungers for some serious relaxing with a drink in hand or perfect for an early morning swim. You choose!
It’s worthy to note than rather than flashy shiny luxury, Belmond Villa San Michele veers more towards a restrained tasteful design spectrum with the main building, forming a warren of rooms, corridors and stairways featuring charming cloister archways. Vaulted ceilings and of course the loggia and not forgetting the warm terracotta floors.
The hotel also houses some interesting contrasts in art from the old ancient to the very contemporary by a local artist who wishes to remain anonymous!
ROOMS & RESIDENCES
There are 45 rooms in total across different tiers, however the the main villa has 22 rooms of differing sizes providing sweeping views of the wooded hillside and Florence or the interior gardens. The main building has a ecclesiastic feel in terms of the vaulted ceilings of the rooms and corridors, bottle-glass window panes and antique furnishings including bed-steads and rich fabrics.
We opted for a room in the main building to capture the old world character and well staying in a cloister just feels that little bit more authentic in a building of this sort. We were upgraded to a spacious room featuring a stunning marble bathroom, with some amazing views. It’s hard to tear yourself away from the tranquillity of such a place.
Our room had all the amenities one could ever need but most of all one of the most comfiest beds I’ve ever laid in. The marble bathroom come dressing room was huge with every bathroom whim taken care of, not to mention the very welcomed BVLGARI toiletries and fragrance samples.
I do love a room with the personal touch and Villa San Michele didn’t fail, with a personally written note form the hotel manager to accompany some Prosecco and fruit.
There are 23 rooms and suites in the garden annexes nestled in between the meticulously pruned gardens. These in my opinion are less characterful but are more luxuriously decorated, are spacious in terms of the actual room and bathroom spaces with all having a private garden to enjoy the panoramic views.
Additionally there is the Limonaia villa and suites, which are the epitome of top-tier luxury. The leafy private garden has an enchanting waterfall and a plunge pool within its private grounds. The villa has the ability to be converted into one, two or three bedroom for that perfect luxury stay.
RESTAURANTS & BARS
LA LOGGIA RESTAURANT
A fantastic American breakfast including a vast buffet and cooked to order options are served in the La Loggia restaurant including eggs, your way, bacon, French toast or pancake stacks – you choose!
Should you wish, you can splash out on a champagne breakfast for two, including smoked salmon, caviar.
I have to say though, this is a beautiful place to start the day watching the sunrise before you. Grab an open window seat, if it’s not too windy!
As a staying guest at Belmond Villa San Michele, you have a priority over dinner reservations at the 15th century setting restaurant.
This is a truly romantic restaurant and more so in the evening when the light goes down with the twinkly view of Florence in the distance from the arched terrace. Lunch and dinner are served here however, Dr C and I booked our evening meal here. The food is local Tuscan fare used creating locally sourced ingredients. It’s very much fine dining with daily specialities with a superb wine list supported by the friendly and helpful sommelier.
Our dinner started with a amuse bouche of chickpea cream with a chilli crisp and nasturtium flower.
We skipped appetisers and moved straight on to mains, which consisted of roasted Sea bass fillet with green tomatoes and thyme scented baby vegetables.
Dr C opted for his usual choice consisting of lamb; baby lamb chops grilled, coated in porcini powder and with breadcrumbs, served with stewed vegetable caponata and caramelised mint drops.
Both dishes were beautifully prepared and plated to perfection.
The meal was completed with our favourite choices of sweet treats from the menu, a traditional Tiramisu for him and a chocolate soufflé with ‘fior di latte’ ice cream and orange scented honey. I can well and truly confirm the 20 minutes prep time is worth it!
And obviously you cannot leave with out sampling at least one of the many petits fours that accompany your coffee!
LA LOGGIA BAR & GARDEN BAR
The perfect spot for pre and post dinner drinks amongst the Italian gardens with live piano or violin music in the background until late.
POOL RESTAURANT & BAR
Lunch and light snacks can be enjoyed beside the stunning hilltop swimming pool. It’s pretty casual serving light salads, pizzas, ice-creams and obviously the usual selection of wines and alcoholic beverages.
THE CLOISTER BAR
Probably one of my favourite parts of the villa is this small cloister bar, which fuses antique styled furnishings with a contemporary glass roof. A small but cosy bar, which is flooded with light during the day and dimly lit by night.
ADDITIONAL HOTEL SERVICES
Belmond Villa San Michele’s executive chef, Attilio di Fabrizio offers a very hands on cooking class suitable for all ages where he guides you through preparing, tasting and cooking regional dishes such as pasta, pastries and desserts. A must for those with an interest in the culinary styles of the region.
There is a dedicated massage Gazebo located in a secluded corner of the Italian garden, however these can also be undertaken in-room as there is no formal Spa as such.
For you fitness fanatics, there is a gym, providing panoramic views, obviously! Alternatively you can have a tailor made fitness programme, which takes you jogging into the hills of Fiesole or the Chianti region.
The hotel is located a five minute walk from the small town of Fiesole. I would highly recommend taking the hotels short cut into the town and having a mooch around.
It’s a cute little town with a couple of museums and a main square, which holds a market every Sunday where there are an array of artisan shops and of course plenty of restaurants and bars to people watch from.
In my opinion, Belmond Villa San Michele, is the perfect luxurious hillside retreat. It’s a place to go and get away from the hustle and bustle of Florence but still close enough to be a part of it. It’s relaxing, the service is exceptional in line with Belmond brand and the views well, just the fact that I’ve mentioned them so many times, just speaks volumes!
PURE UNADULTERATED PERFECTION FOR
Honeymoons, couples, special occasions, families, weddings.
Should you wish, you can read more about my love for Belmond here
Belmond Villa San Michele
Via Doccia 4
Tel: +39 055 567 8200
For best rates, book directly through this link: Belmond Villa San Michele