Native and adoptive Florentines frequently have friends and family who visit and rely on our assumed expertise when planning their itineraries—this is nothing new. Most of us have an arsenal of answers when asked where to dine, shop and sightsee, but where these guests should ‘hang their hats’ often stumps us. Ritzy hotels can feel too impersonal while budget hostels pose the opposite problem. Enter Palazzo Belfiore: these elegant apartments are the automatic response you need.
Tucked on a sidestreet not far from piazza della Passera, the 14th century palazzo changed hands back in June 2013 when dynamic brother-and-sister duo Federico and Francesca decided to take a leap of faith. Federico had been working as an accountant and was growing weary of the daily grind. Right as he was approaching a milestone birthday, the opportunity to go into business with his sister arose. The moment begged to be seized and he knew the time had come to take a risk. ‘Otherwise I would have gotten stuck,’ he admitted.
Though Francesca and Federico are born-and-bred Florentines, they didn’t grow up in the Oltrarno. The lively Left Bank was always on their radar, however: ‘I often hung out with friends in the area, going to restaurants, bars. But since we started here, I’ve discovered so many different sides of the neighborhood and met so many more people,’ Federico explained.
It’s this interest and direct involvement in the community that sets Palazzo Belfiore apart from standard hotels or rental agencies. From the outset, marketing-minded Francesca dove headfirst into Florence’s vibrant on-and-offline community of tech-savvy tour guides, writers, bloggers, photographers and more, bringing about collaborations and friendships with many creative people in town. In late 2014, Federico and Francesca opened their doors for the first edition of ‘Live it Local,’ a festive evening celebrating Florence’s contemporary community. The event took place at the height of the Crazy for Pazzi crowdfunding campaign, a successful fundraising effort for the restoration of the Pazzi Chapel spearheaded by Opera di Santa Croce in collaboration with The Florentine. Palazzo Belfiore proudly backed Crazy for Pazzi and screened the campaign video throughout the evening.
Though this active involvement with Florence’s long-term residents and organizations may seem unrelated to the out-of-town guest’s experience, in fact, the two go hand in hand. Talking with everyone from tour guides to trattoria owners allows Federico to keep a finger on the Florentine pulse, ultimately enriching each guest’s experience. Being on the ground with his visitors every day, Federico happily shares his recommendations, and for travelers who want tailor-made suggestions, Palazzo Belfiore even offers custom itineraries. Guests can take part in artisan workshops, day trips to Tuscan farms, cooking lessons, family-friendly activities with local group Arte al Sole and more.
The guests at Palazzo Belfiore run the gamut in terms of age and nationality. On TF’s recent afternoon visit to the Palazzo, we were greeted by Australians, Argentinians and Americans coming and going, all in the span of a short 20 minutes. What these guests all tend to have in common, Federico explained, is a desire to experience Florence more fully than the average tourist.
Federico expressed his joy in helping others see both the highlights and the hidden corners of his hometown: ‘I love helping people discover Florence. I always suggest that guests stay for at least five days,’ he said with a smile. Five days seems almost too short a stay once you see the spacious, fully-equipped flats. Each is named after a famous figure from Florentine history, from Bianca Cappello to Francesco de’ Medici (the latter, located on the ground floor, is handicap-accessible).
Even a quick perusal of Palazzo Belfiore’s glowing guestbook entries and TripAdvisor reviews proves that this is a real ‘home away from home,’ marked by dedicated service, friendly faces and an unbeatable location. Pop by via dei Velluti for a visit, and the next time you need to advise someone on where to stay in town, point them toward Palazzo Belfiore. In Federico’s and Francesca’s hands, they won’t feel like a tourist, but a temporary Florentine.
PALAZZO BELFIORE Via dei Velluti 8, Firenze+39 055 264415www.palazzobelfiore.it