JEWEL IN the crown
If there were such a thing as a royal family in Florence, the Ferragamos would be it. The brothers and sisters, their children and mother - Wanda Ferragamo, widow of Salvatore and a powerful Italian matriarch - are the most famous people in this gorgeous, historic city, but remain respected, private, unsullied by gossip and tabloid-worthy shenanigans.
The family's style imprint is everywhere, including their growing Lungarno Collection brand, helmed by family scion Leonardo Ferragamo and comprising a portfolio of hotels in Florence, Rome and Tuscany.
The Hotel Lungarno in Florence is something of a jewel in the company's crown. The first time I stayed there, I remember being almost ridiculously grateful for its location - right by the Ponte Vecchio, my room looking out over the River Arno. In this city, at its best when discovered on foot, it was a relief to be able to step out through the door and be at the Uffizzi, the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens and the Duomo in minutes.
Despite the Ferragamo high-fashion association, there is a warm and earthy feel to the hotel - more like staying with friends than at a super-stylish hotel. Even the restaurants have an elegant but casual feel about them - and of course, perfect people-watching views. None of the concierges looked askance when I lumbered through the door of the hotel, its walls covered with original Picasso paintings, juggling generic souvenirs from the San Lorenzo market.
On a subsequent trip, after a warm June day traipsing through cavernous exhibition halls covering the Pitti Uomo menswear trade show, I made the colossal mistake of wearing high heels and pantyhose.
'Where can I find some flat, inexpensive shoes and some breezy clothes to get me through the next couple of days?' I asked one of the hotel staff. Unfazed by the word 'inexpensive' and with that enthusiastic Italian charm, he directed me not to a Ferragamo boutique, nor one of the other ritzy stores on the nearby Via Tornabuoni, but to a small out-of-the-way place owned by a friend of his, where I picked up summery linen dresses for a song. The next day, seeing me descend from my room in a pale blue, ankle-length linen dress that screamed 'summer in Florence', he raised a brow and asked: 'So my friend took care of you?'
Still, on my way back to the Lungarno later, I stopped in at the nearby Ferragamo boutique and invested in a slender pair of sandals. It just seemed like a good fit.
Hotel Lungarno, Borgo San Jacopo 14, Florence, Italy. Tel: 39 055 27261.