December 16, 2011 9:57 pm

Postcard from ... Florence

Elegant dining and charming views at the new St Regis hotel

If you happen to book the first-floor Stanford suite at the new St Regis hotel in Florence, sit straight up as soon as you wake and look to your left, through the four-metre-tall French doors facing the Piazza Ognissanti. This supposes that you’ve left open the heavy pewter-coloured damask curtains – which you should, because when the sun comes up you’ll be privy to one of the more picturesque moments this city (no slouch in the sigh-provoking views department) has to offer: a panorama straight down the green-gold Arno, up the cypress-crossed hills above the boho-chic quarter of San Niccolò. The whole of the Oltrarno is before you, crowned by the Belvedere Fort and the 12th-century church of San Miniato al Monte, its Romanesque façade sitting more or less full-frontal in your sight line, glowing rosily in the morning light.

It’s one view – one charm – of many to be found at the St Regis, which had its official launch in September. The hotel is housed in a narrow palazzo designed in 1432 for the noble Giuntini family by Filippo Brunelleschi (author of the city’s most famous landmark, the church of Santa Maria del Fiore – the Duomo, to most).

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The palazzo changed hands a couple of times among the aristocracy before becoming, from the mid-19th century onwards, the venerated but faded Grand Hotel de la Paix (a name later shortened to simply the Grand Hotel by parent company Starwood, which also owns the St Regis brand).

After a closure of several months – laudably brief, in hotel-renovation years – the St Regis debuted with the bold and opulent interiors that have come to characterise the most rapidly expanding luxury hotel brand in the world. (St Regis in 2011 opened in Puerto Rico, Tibet, Abu Dhabi, Hainan province, Bangkok and here; it will open five more properties in 2012, with emphasis on the Gulf states and China.)

Bedrooms diverge in style: the Stanford suite, with its herringbone floors, silver-and-gun-metal palette, and elegantly leggy furnishings, subtly evokes 1930s Fifth Avenue; the Renaissance rooms showcase original frescoes; the Medici rooms are sparingly but strikingly accented with regal reds and ecclesiastical purple. The library bar, accessed just off the piazza, has a meticulously edited selection of fashion, design and culture books set in dark walnut shelving, with day beds and Chesterfield sofas casually grouped around leather steamer trunks serving as tables.

All very fashionable – but, for those people who care less about claret and mushroom tones in the décor and more about actual claret and mushrooms, the real news is the restaurant. Etichetta di Giorgio Pinchiorri opened in October under the aegis of Pinchiorri and Annie Féolde, the Italian-and-French husband-and-wife team whose Enoteca Pinchiorri – with its 150,000-odd-bottle cellar, five elegant dining rooms, and starchy, formal waiters – has been a mainstay on the international circuit of gastronomic pilgrimage sites since opening across the city on Via Ghibellina in 1972. Situated in the St Regis’s gorgeously restored winter garden, Etichetta Pinchiorri is a sort of entry-level survey of the Pinchiorri experience, with prices hovering around €85-€90 for a three-course menu (rather than the daunting €90 entrées and €75 pasta courses that still occasionally give pause to even the deeper-pocketed patrons of the Enoteca).

The dining room opens on to the bar, with chic club-style seating arranged under a soaring stained-glass ceiling. Pinchiorri built the wine list; Feolde, with three Michelin stars to her name, enlists signal Tuscan and Italian standards for creative presentation. A Caprese salad, for example, is elevated to a little bit of art on the plate: a millefeuille of card-thin, saltless Tuscan bread toasts, mozzarella di bufala from Capaccio, organic tomatoes and a light-as-foam pesto. The thick hand-rolled pici pasta of Siena province, normally paired with a ragu of meat or game, here is matched with meaty monkfish fillets in breadcrumbs. Pecorino from the Val d’Orcia and delicate lavender honey melt over pillowy ravioli filled traditionally with spinach and ricotta. The menu is impressively brief, broad in reference, and beautiful in execution. The ambience is grown up but relaxed – the picture of 21st-century refinement, with plenty of the more timeless variety just outside the door.

Doubles from €330, www.stregis.com/florence

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