What and where is it? Old-world charm meets quirky modern at this bolt-hole in the Oltrarno quarter of the Italian city of Florence, south of the Arno river. Each of the nine rooms is configured and furnished in a mix of shabby chic, antique furniture, Anglo and American pop art, and mid-century pieces.
Ad what? AdAstra, which is Latin for “to the stars”. The hotel is named after the 19th-century neo-Gothic observatory in the garden.
What’s the big deal? For starters, the hotel sits on the piano nobile of a grand palazzo (a fancy way of describing the principal floor of a large house) that has been owned by the noble Torrigiani family since the 15th century – they’re still in residence, on the ground floor. Secondly, the 7-hectare English-style garden, which borders the original Medici walls of Florence, is the largest privately owned garden in Europe. The best rooms in the house are located in the garden, in what were once the sheds. Rooms eight and nine are shaded by cedar, cypress and oak trees.
How’s the breakfast? The small open kitchen in the piano nobile’s high-ceilinged living room (top) turns out freshly baked pain au chocolat and jam-filled brioches, alongside cakes from the local bakery, Tuscan salamis and hams, pecorino, ricotta, and blocks of cotognata quince.
Tell us about Oltrarno. The name means “beyond the Arno”. Florence’s answer to Paris’ Rive Gauche, it’s firmly off the tourist track and stuffed with indie shops, bars and restaurants, Renaissance churches and lively piazzas. Cross nearby Ponte Santa Trinita bridge and you’re in the main via de’ Tornabuoni drag, where Gucci, Prada and Ferragamo hold court. Perhaps of most interest are Castorina, a family-owned atelier specialising in handmade objets d’art and decorative home furnishings, and – a few doors down via Santo Spirito – Studio Puck, purveyor of handmade prints, paper and glass decoupage.
Any interesting places to eat in the ’hood? Many, but the pick of the bunch is the family-run Al Tranvai, in Piazza Torquato Tasso, barely a minute’s walk from the AdAstra, which offers authentic, unfussy Tuscan fare such as beans gently stewed in olive oil and oregano, crisply fried rabbit and ricotta dumplings.
What else should I do while I’m in town? Pay a visit to the newly refurbished Ospedale Degli Innocenti, in Florence’s old city orphanage: the collection of Renaissance oils, terracotta and porcelains of Madonna and Child is first rate. And don’t miss the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the monumental new museum that houses original statues and artwork of the Duomo, including an unfinished Michelangelo.
What should I bring home? The beautiful calligraphy and graphics decorating the AdAstra are by Betty Soldi, one of the hotel’s owners. In her private studio, in via Maggio, she applies delicately wrought lettering, designs and Florentine illustrations onto ceramics and leather.
What’s the bottom line? During the high season, March to October, a room starts at €250 (HK$2,060), including breakfast. At other times, rates start at €150. For more information, go to adastraflorence.com.