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Gary Walther | Photo: Antonio Pistillo | December 2, 2013
The Salviatino Collection breaks new ground with two contemporary luxury hotels in traditional Italian settings.
Another Renaissance is under way in Italy, where the Salviatino Collection—a posh hotel brand headed by Marcello Pigozzo, formerly the president of InterContinental Hotels Asia-Pacific—is staking a major claim in the luxury market with two extravagant new outposts: Il Salviatino in Florence and Palazzo Victoria in Verona. Both hotels display the brand’s uncommon flair for matchmaking, marrying venerable architecture to contemporary-cool interiors, traditional tastes to the modern lifestyle, and European service to American informality, not to mention a distinctive approach to hospitality.
The collection’s city resort, Il Salviatino, is a grand villa set on the hills overlooking Florence. Erected in the 15th century, it was vastly expanded in the 1600s by the affluent Salviati family, with their considerable means coming from the wool trade. It was American Phelps Thomas, however, who purchased the property in 1882, bestowing the structure with its present form, including a grand central staircase, cinquecento-style portals and a terraced garden.
Sitting on 11 acres of bosky grounds, Il Salviatino also boasts a spa and infinity pool, meticulous garden settings and, come late afternoon, a mesmerizing view from the terrace. From here, Florence stretches out east to west, the setting sun firing the warmth of terra-cotta roofs and pastel façades, putting the profiles of the most imposing structures in high relief: the thimbled Duomo, the crenellated Piazza della Signoria (just 15 minutes away by hotel shuttle) and the stark tower of the old wall, still vigilant on the other side of the Arno.
Panels of dark cherry wood lend hotel corridors a grand, solemn atmosphere, while the library—an aristocratic, vaulted room with windows tall enough to stand in—benefits from four black leather, button-tufted couches, injecting it with just the right dose of contemporary taste to keep the room from feeling too period—it is a space to be used, not just admired. Throughout the hotel, common areas benefit from similar treatment: while wining and dining options are all warm and intimate, grandeur is still part of the décor.
This same ethos carries over to exquisitely appointed suites and guest rooms, 45 in all. Within a classic framework, modernity peeks out from unlikely places. Ceiling mounts hold Bose speakers and mirrors obscure TVs/stereos (a brilliant way to circumvent the bane of every hotel decorator: how to conceal the ubiquitous flat-screen). In bathrooms, rain-showers send down cascades of caressing water when in use. Fifteen-foot-high arched windows and equally lofty ceilings make doubles 26 and 27 my favorite of the lot, but for a splurge, there’s only one real choice: the Affresco Suite. It was unearthed during reconstruction when, while building an elevator, workmen removed part of a modern ceiling just off the library and discovered the groin vaulted space. Adorned with frescoes from the 17th century, occupants of this chamber will want to bring opera glasses to contemplate the paintings pre-slumber.
Outside the hotel is almost instant access to major historic sights, including the heavily frescoed chapel Cappella dei Brancacci, and ideal proximity to others, such as high-quality wine producers like the Colle Bereto Agricultural Estate in neighboring Chianti. In the same vein, excellent dining outfits abound, from local trattorias to upscale eateries like Il Barretto. And the work and workshops of fine Florentine artisans, such as renowned late cobbler Stefano Bemer, flourish here.
Making an equally magnificent statement in Verona is Il Salviatino’s sibling, the 71-room Palazzo Victoria. Posing more of a design challenge, this medieval building, with roots dating back to 1380, sustained considerable damage from bombing during World War II. Here, having played among its ruins as a child, Pigozzo salvaged as much of the old structure as he could, rebuilt the rest in a contemporary style, then infused the buildings with modern décor. The results are some wonderful juxtapositions: graceful Ionic columns supporting arches of poured concrete, a wall of river stones in mortar, part of the original structure behind a white leather button-tufted sofa and brown leather tub chairs on a traditional Veronese marble floor of white and macchiato diamonds and triangles.
The hotel—which, in addition to hosting individually styled accommodations, also boasts Borsari 36 Restaurant and the Victoria Club Bar—sits just inside the centro storico of Verona, or the “cittá dell’amore,” as it’s called for its association with the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet (the ill-fated lovers’ balcony is just five minutes away on foot, but this is a minor note to a marvelous place that most Americans overlook on their sprint from Rome to Venice via Florence).
I counted five wine stores in the space of a quarter-mile along the Corso di Porta Borsari, one of the main streets in the old city. The Piazza della Erbe is a wonderful triangular space, lined by two- and three-story 13th century buildings, capped at the wide end by the muscular Palazzo Maffei, a primer of mannerist architecture. Verona lies at a long U-bend in the Po River, and the miles of still extant defensive walls, erected by the ruling Scaliger family in the 12th and 13th centuries, are an engineering marvel. But don’t allow yourself to be hemmed in: Walk out along the river to the Basilica of San Zeno to see the church and the great (and newly restored) Renaissance triptych of the “Virgin and Child Within” by Andrea Mantegna.
Of course, we flock to Italy to be immersed in history. What I like about Palazzo Victoria, though, is its balance; it walks the tightrope between past and present beautifully. It also is Pigozzo’s sonnet to his native city—a relic reborn, contemporary Italy cast in a historical light. In a city synonymous with amore, it’s a kind of love story, after all.