A review of JK Place

City: Florence Style: Perfection

Stella McCartney
November 3, 2005

Unlike most people, I am usually filled with a sense of dread by the thought of a few days in Italy. Not because I have anything against its people or their magnificent country, but because in my profession a three-day trip to Italy usually equates to a huge amount of hard work in a less-than-glamorous factory on the outskirts of Milan. Touching down in Pisa with nothing more than a romantic weekend on the agenda is a delightful novelty.  

It’s a warm and clear afternoon when my husband and I pull into Piazza Santa Maria Novella, one of Florence’s many beautiful and bustling squares. Situated close to the train terminus, it’s famed for its impressive Basilica and world-famous perfumery (a favourite place of mine, with ancient frescoes and implements, though it is the scents lingering in the air that make the strongest impression at Via della Scala). It’s also, we discover, the perfect Florentine bolthole. Tucked away on the corner of the piazza, between ordinary hotels and an Irish bar sits JK Place. It is unassuming and discreet – only a modest plaque indicates we are in the right spot and not at a private home.


This 20-bedroom boutique hotel exudes style, privacy and sophistication; it’s a place where everything is whispered rather than shouted. On ringing the bell, we’re met within seconds by an immaculately turned out member of staff who offers a welcome you would expect from a friend you haven’t seen for years. As the heavy doors close, screaming Vespas and constantly blaring car horns are locked out and a sense of calm descends. Surrounded by framed life drawings, sculptures, Fellini-esque images and books ranging from Helmut Newton to Umberto Eco, we are in no doubt that we’re in one of the world’s most beautiful and culturally stimulating cities.


The sense that you are staying not in a hotel but in a private residence is most apparent at check-in, or rather lack of it. Our friends at JK Place have done away with the conventional bowl-of-boiled-sweets-style reception desk and have plumped for a more personal approach. We’re handed our key in a small library, finished in dark wood, with mirrored doors that cleverly disguise the elevator. A refreshing glass of iced tea and a nibble on the torte of the day (served every afternoon in the courtyard), and we are shown to our room.


Having witnessed a very successful blend of modern and traditional downstairs, I’m glad to say our room doesn’t disappoint. High-painted ceilings, panelled walls, a Louis XV fireplace, and extremely well-edited modern pieces sit comfortably alongside every audio-visual requirement. While not enormous, the room is sufficiently spacious to accommodate a large sofa, two winged chairs, a writing desk, side table and a super-comfy modern four-poster bed. As someone who loves her fabric and is a sucker for detail, I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the perfectly pressed heavy damask curtains that are pleated into a fan-shaped ‘puddle’ on the floor. While wanting to avoid any clichéd reference to EM Forster’s tale of romance, I’m finding it virtually impossible, confronted with three floor-to-ceiling windows, opening onto a small balcony in front of the Basilica. Our romantic weekend is afforded the full Merchant Ivory stage setting, and we have, without question, a room with a view.


Despite having polished off a generous piece of chocolate and amaretto biscuit torta, my husband enquires about dinner. We’d planned to be lazy and eat in on our first night, only to discover it is but a basic bar-style menu – and when you’ve just arrived in Italy, a club sandwich doesn’t cut it. Being in the heart of the city, we know fantastic restaurants must be only minutes away. We conclude it is probably a good thing that JK doesn’t really do dinner, as we would probably have never left the comforts of Room One.


We feel in the mood to go rustico – or should I say, I am desperate for a real Italian pizza. L’Antica Porta is deemed by those in the know as the best place for it, so we take a cab off the tourist trail to an eatery full of locals. Having said ‘ciao’ to my health drive, so far, I suggest a romantic stroll back across the Ponte Vecchio to work off a few of the calories.


The following morning my Mr. Smith heads downstairs to take breakfast in the covered courtyard. There is only one large table, encouraging guests to chat over coffee and the papers. (Though they can’t immediately oblige when The Times is requested, someone pops out to the local newsstand, quickly remedying the situation). I ask for some fresh fruit and a soya-based smoothie – a tall order in most hotels. But in true JK style they duly deliver one banana smoothie with soya milk – big brownie points from this vegetarian. Our Saturday lunch venue turns out to be another success.


Cantinetta Antinori is owned by the famous family of Tuscan wine-producers of the same name and is only three minutes from JK. In a relaxed, buzzy atmosphere we enjoy pasta with zucchini flowers in a light saffron sauce, which my husband deems one of the best he’s ever had – and he knows his pasta). This was accompanied by a robust red from the family vineyard, which goes down all too easily. We feel content in the resignation we have left ourselves with little option other than to return to Room One, take out a DVD from the library and spend the remaining part of the afternoon enjoying the company of our new-found friend: the four-poster.


All too quickly the morning of our departure comes around. We’re lying in our canopied crib, savouring the sun breaking through the curtains and the sound of the bells of Santa Maria Novella ringing out (the perfect backdrop to our final hours in Florence), when we realise we still have no idea who our host for the weekend has been. Having spent the last two days enjoying JK’s hospitality, it seems strange, somehow, that we haven’t enquired. We eventually agree that it doesn’t matter; whoever he or she is, we feel like we’ve known them for years.


This feature appears in Mr & Mrs Smith, European Cities published by:

Spy Publishing

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