Live, Breathe and Taste History in the Magical City of Firenze with Anji Connell

Paola Navone interprets Dante's world in the 25hours Hotel Piazza San Paolino in Florence

Inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, Milan based designer Paola Navone and her team Otto Studio, have fully embraced the 25hours Hotels hospitality group's essence, with imaginatively recreated scenes of hell and heaven in her recognisable eclectic, playful style.

Florence is one of the world's most exciting cities with a wealth of history, culture and well-preserved Renaissance art and architecture. It’s also a trendy, artsy city full of chic boutiques, historic cafes, and bars mixing the famed Florentine Negroni - the drink was invented here in 1919 by Count Camillo Negroni. It's a fabulous place to visit that offers something for everyone, and the perfect base in which to discover its many delights has to be 25hours Hotel Florence Piazza San Paolino - the first Italian property from the smart, culturally resonant hotel brand 25hours, known for its irreverent yet functional aesthetic in provocative urban locations for the cosmopolitan urban traveller.

The 25hours Hotel Group was founded in 2003, and now has 15 hotels in 12 cities, each one tailored to the location, which in this case is the Piazza San Paolino in the Santa Maria Novella district in the heart of Florence between the elegant Via de Fossi with its numerous antique shops and the popular Via Palazzuolo connecting two neighbourhoods largely ignored until now. The hotel occupies an entire block, the former premises of Monte dei' Pegni – the historic loan company of the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze – and the original ancient mediaeval monastery that long ago was a pawn shop run by priests annexed to the eponymous monastery church of San Paolino. The hotel encircles an open courtyard and comprises two main parts and the ancient fully restored three-story building. The architectural interventions and recovery were undertaken by the GLA - Genius Loci Architettura Studio, and the historic building is now beautifully restored and injected with a new creative energy that embodies the city's rich history, with modern elements and a lot of whimsy. 66 rooms are housed in the old monastery and 104 balcony rooms in a new annexe. Plus the absolutely dreamy "Casetta del Giardino '' Garden Loft, a small apartment with a private garden and swimming pool.

Making an Entrance

One of the three hotel entrances is accessed via the Piazzetta through the aptly named I Golosi, meaning gluttony in Italian. The Alimentari [Deli] is stocked with divine artisanal Italian goodies and serves fresh cakes, pastries, pizza and filled focaccia all come from the famed Oltrarno bakery S. Forno - a bakery with over 100 years of history. For 40 years, baker Angelo has arrived every morning to prepare fresh bread for the locals. Supplementing the real thing, faux crochet, fabric and paper-mâché salami and prosciutti hang from aluminium pots and pans overhead. The deli is furnished with Gervasoni pieces, and inout bistro tables in unique colours, with terrace dining on the restored Piazzetta which leads to the fabulously funky reception.

The Reception

The reception certainly has the wow factor - as does every space in the hotel. The counter to the side of one wall is wittily imagined as a "lost luggage office in hell”, with vintage suitcases painted in a silver-green in teetering piles. The suitcases have been sourced throughout Europe by vintage collectables dealer Davide Mariani, created by the artist Patrick Bailly, and backdropped by super-sized Florentine marbled paper designed by Studio Otto-Paola Navone made by Vescom, topped with an All' Origine, and Dollar lamp, designed by Lapo Binazzi in the 1970s. But the star of the show is the hotel’s restaurant and lounge. 

San Paolino Restaurant                                                                     

Off the reception, situated in the heart of the hotel in the centre of the historic building, the restaurant is a lush inner courtyard sitting under an immense steel-and-glass cupola embracing and infusing an abundance of light, and dotted with electrically mismatched vintage and recycled plastic chairs, custom metal and marble tables all surrounded by a collection of large Tuscan terracotta planters, and a jungle of greenery - some plants are real, some are not. The ersatz greenery has sound-absorbing leaves made from recycled textiles and polymers commissioned from Dutch artist Linda Nieuwstad to absorb sounds in this impressive voluminous space. A purely Tuscan menu is served with an emphasis on 'la griglia' (grill). Breakfasts include fresh croissants, pastries, and a good choice of fresh bread, yoghurts, fruit, cheeses and charcuterie, egg dishes, sausages and bacon. The sumptuous lounge, and floriferous courtyard follow on from San Paolino.

The Companion Bar

A third entrance takes you directly to this moody boîte which alludes to the first part of Dante's poem, Inferno, where drinking was deemed a sin. Navone, however, dubs it a "church for alcohol." All lead into the grand main space of the hotel, where the San Paolino restaurant sits beneath an immense steel-and-glass cupola.

The Sala Delle Celesti Armonie

The Hall of Celestial Harmonies, aka the music room, has supersized polythene globe lights hanging suspended planet-like over the lounge, which give it its name, Sfere Celesti, meaning Celestial Spheres. Walls covered in marbleize super-graphic fabric that serves as the backdrop to a portrait gallery of Italian divos and divas has a library, a billiard table, a turntable and vinyl LPs. The fireplace has an ancient frame in pietra serena. In front of it stands the large Housse sofa by Navone for Baxter. Studio Otto-Paola Navone da Amura designed the upholstered seats while the chairs, armchairs and small tables are salvage finds.

Ready for Relaxation

After a stroll through the city, what better than to chill in the spa? You'll find a Finnish sauna in a garden shed in the hotel garden. There is an uber cool Turkish bath and chill lounge designed in soothing shades of green, where due to the lack of natural light, Navone has created a fantastical garden with an effusion of green plastic watering hoses.

The Gym

The 700 square feet fitness centre covers two floors. There's a cosy room on the ground floor for yoga and pilates, and a fully equipped fitness room with Technogym equipment for cardio and strength training awaits one floor below.

The 25hours Shop

On the ground floor, right next to the reception, the curated shop is brimful with hand-picked delights from 25hours partner Todo Modo - a charming bookshop with coffee and coworking just around the corner from the hotel. Must buys include the hotel plates with drawings made by hand by Ceramiche Nicola Fasano based on a design by Studio Otto-Paola Navone.

Movie nights at Cinema Paradiso

Chill and watch movies at the Cinema Paradiso lounge while sipping a cocktail or a bottle of wine and aperitivo of Tuscan cold meats and cheeses. The exposed brick walls are the original ones of the building. Hanging on the walls, the large portraits, which can also become table tops, depict scenes from classic Italian films, such as La Dolce Vita, Roman Holiday, An American in Rome, Yesterday Today and Tomorrow. The upholstered chairs were made by Amura, based on a design by Studio Otto-Paola Navone, and sit alongside two vis-a-vis armchairs by Casamilano, a selection of chairs, and recycled tables. Lighting consists of wall lamps equipped with large lampshades, illustrated with images of well-known Italian films by Karman. The floor is made of compacted stone tiles in green and grey colours, made by the La Pietra Compattata Company.

The Lifts

Ascend to Heaven or descend to Hell to discover the four fun-filled floors.

The Corridors

Wandering through the many areas and corridors of the hotel is a fascinating experience that evokes a wonderful feeling of discovery, surprise and delight. Eclectic finds are everywhere. Vintage pieces combine with specially produced works from the design studio. The spaces embody the effortless chic we expect from Navone with a tailor-made personalised collection of finishes and furnishings juxtaposed with enticingly beautiful and eclectic objects specifically chosen for the project. The whimsical, eccentric style runs through all areas of the hotel discovered as you journey through the vast building. Lights intensify along with a soundtrack as you enter and proceed through the corridors. Each room has a name, number, and relevant "Nik Naks" on a shelf outside the room with a handwritten ode to its origins.

The Rooms

Rooms come in various sizes, from 'medium' to 'gigantic', with a choice of Paradiso or Inferno - Heaven or Hell.                                                

Paradiso Rooms                            

Heaven is a breezy cloud-white retreat with ethereal blue accents reflecting the heavenly spheres of Dante's Paradiso with trompe l'oeil wallpaper, sets of silver angel wings, and televisions hidden behind oversized t-shirts with 'Fly to Heaven' emblazoned across the front.

Inferno Rooms

Hell is blood-red and black, with 'Welcome to Hell' daubed on mirrors, slate grey bed linens, black loos and sinks, and – over the bed – massive mobiles made from cards inscribed with the Seven Deadly Sins. The suites have custom-made armchairs and sofas from the More collection, with mirrors (and night tables) from the Beds collection, while the chairs are from the Gray collection. The 'Large Plus' rooms come with private gardens and outside showers.

Casetta Del Giardino

The ultimate room is the Casetta Del Giardino with 4,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, a terrace with a private pool, a kitchen with a pizza oven and barbecue and dining room, a divine round metal tub, outdoor dining under a pergola, a terrace with seating, sun loungers, and a private pool surrounded in a verdant garden.

Best way to explore the City

Walk or take a leisurely bike tour of the old town on one of the fleets of Schindelhauer bikes with the 25hours team of the city's sights. And if you fancy discovering the surrounding area of Tuscany on foot, the Jogging Corner has everything you need for both short and ambitious running trails starting from the hotel.             

Stay tuned for Anji Connell’s Florence Hot List of Where to Go 

Words: Anji Connell
Photos: 25hours Hotels
Published on December 02, 2022