FLORENCE, Italy (TheStreet) -- Long before such books and movies as Eat Pray Love and Under the Tuscan Sun made these parts of Italy all the vogue, the Medici family was making Florence and other cities fabulous for a certain set of gilded aristocrats. But a history of opulent palazzos, stunning eateries and lavish drinking halls doesn't keep that good life from being hard to find in Florence -- regularly ranking as one of America's favorite foreign cities -- during the summer months from May through August, when tourists outnumber actual residents.
As summer cools to an end, though, and the vacation masses retreat, the locals and the air of an illustrious past returns.
FLORENCE'S LATEST HOTEL HOT SPOT
With its high design and stylish clientele, the
has been one of the city's most beloved hotels, an epicenter for fashion editors and
-toting tourists looking for something cool in a city better known for something old. But that was until June 2008, when the Four Seasons Florence was unveiled.
It isn't the Xeroxed new Four Seasons you'd recognize stateside. Instead. it follows a European model of renovating historic landmarks such as Budapest's
into something that is equal parts luxury hotel and art museum.
is in the 15th-century Palazzo della Gherardesca and a neighboring 16th-century convent. Previous residents include Italian noblemen, a Pope and an Egyptian viceroy, who sold the property after his harem was barred from occupying the property.
The buildings surround the private Giardino della Gherardesca garden, where tea is sipped with pointed pinkies and more than a few Americans stare in awe at marble sculptured temples and one of the prettiest pools you will ever see. Inside the hotel, a four-story center atrium with frescoes commissioned by Alessandro de Medici makes the 10-minutes walk to the town's official museums seem not so urgent, especially if guests are staying in one of the eight upgraded suites -- including the Noble Suite, with its own gold-emblazoned fresco of a renaissance market scene. If it weren't rented by the night, it would likely require a ticket to see.
Among eight upgraded suites at the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze is the Noble Suite, with its own gold-emblazoned fresco of a renaissance market scene.
Guests get quite comfy with the Medici life and tend to retire their cameras after the first day to better fit in. Breakfast is of locally sourced
eggs on real silver service, which can be brought to your bedroom door -- before or after a concierge delivers athletic shorts and running shoes in your size for a jog in the 11-acre private park. Afterward, perhaps a Tuscan Cypress scrub by spa staff with sultry accents and a rubdown with local
FLORENCE'S TOUGHEST DINNER RESERVATION
But leave your hotel you must, possibly in a private tinted-window S-Class Mercedes arranged by the hotel, in time for dinner reservations at
-- surely the toughest reservation in Florence, if not all of Italy. Two dramatic granite columns in the center of town lead to the humbling entryway of this former Renaissance palazzo, complete with sculpture of male nudes and a garden courtyard that is idyllic during Florence's warm fall months.
A main enoteca with a loft and series of more casual rooms maintains the feel of a private residence with Empire-style antiquities, pink tablecloths and a ceiling rich with hand-carved wooden detailing. Chandeliers or candelabra are never far from sight. Immaculate service is expected at this heralded, dual-chef eatery along with the beauty of the setting, but the three-star Michelin rating maintained since 2003 also honors the food: Agnolotti with saffron ricotta cheese tossed with prawns and tomato, or duck breast cooked on the spit with smoked Penja pepper and vanilla peaches -- best accompanied with a bottle of 1990 Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux.
A LITTLE ITALIAN NIGHT MUSIC
For anyone visiting Florence in July or August, nightlife is left to the tourists. The city's handful of top nightclubs close for the season so the locals can hit the beaches. With a bit of an effort, though, you'll still be able to find rooftop and outdoor lounges such as the
. It's on the edge of town, but worth it for the perfectly cast summer garden party scene of local singles and a handful of tourists seeking a party and jetliner views of the city.
There's no VIP fashion model dance action quite like in Rome or Milan, but
will satiate any 1 a.m. electronica craving. It's a multilevel club with pop neon displays and LCD-lit dance floor and prides itself on being all things "glamorous and sexy." The weekly event lineup includes Saturday night's much-loved
Italians Do It Better
. As long as you can get past the bouncer, you will likely agree.
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Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.