History Grand Hotel (Florence)

Grand Hotel (Florence)

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The magnificent Ball Room

A perfect network of overnight sleeper trains connect major European cities with Florence. When my train pulled into Florence station, the first rays of the sun created this stunning silhouette of towers, domes and Tuscan hills. It was early morning, the streets still empty, the city sleepy; I walked to the Grand Hotel on the river Arno. There is a collection of respectable coffee table books, among them the unrivalled classic The History of Italian Renaissance Art by the eminent Professor Frederich Hartt, next to an exquisite Leonardo volume, an exuberant Palazzi of Tuscany and the standard Firenze. No, I am not in the first and still the only English bookshop a few metres from the Grand Hotel in Borgo Ognissanti. These books are all prominently resting on a large square table in the lobby of the Grand Hotel. This is a hotel I trust. It’s 13/7/13. That’s the next, however common, difference between a Grand Hotel and the rest of them. The staircases often gap more than five metres between the floors. With dozens of steps in between. At the Grand in Florence it is 13/7/13. 33 steps from one floor to the next. I walk them. For some time now, I have imagined an invisible signboard in front of every elevator saying: ‘This lift is provided free of charge for your convenience. The stairs are provided free of charge, too, for your health.’ And so I walk. The butler service at the Grand Hotel elevates the hotel into the league of a select few around this globe. A bottle is elegantly opened on the balcony, laundry discreetly taken, trousers returned ironed. Right on time, while the bubbles of the champagne still ripple, the restaurant manager calls in to say that they have a new menu. ‘Why don’t you have dinner with us?’ Not long afterwards, I am sitting at my table under an umbrella in front of the Grand on the Piazza Ognissanti. The noise of the street has been reduced to the occasional car. Here stands a seemingly modest church. It is only once you enter that you discover its splendour, its unexpected depth and a charming courtyard, with walls paved with frescoes. In the church lies the family tombstone of Amerigo Vespucci, the Florentine after whom America is named. Like the Grand Hotel, its exterior does not give away the grandeur that awaits you inside. It needs discovering. Once you pass through the revolving door of the hotel, the hall leads you to its staircase. The next room opens to a splendid Winter Garden (above). Further stairs take you to one of the most beautiful ballrooms in Italy. This modesty is a typcial attitude of the Florentines. It makes exploring this city so interesting. Andreas Augustin

How the Stage was Set

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HISTORY IN BRIEF 1866: Opening of the Grand Hotel de la Paix. 1897: The Swiss hotelier Gerardo Kraft bought the hotel and gave it its finest hour in the heyday of the Belle Epoque. 1956: CIGA acquired the hotel. 1994: Sheraton acquired the hotel from the CIGA group, bringing it into its Luxury Collection. HISTORY IN DETAIL 1866: The hotel opened at the time Florence was the capital of Italy. It was originally called Grand Hotel de la Paix

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1870s: In those years, the Paix was one of many excellent hotels situated along the elegant Lung'Arno. It enjoyed an excellent reputation and hosted a number of star guests including Queen Victoria, Princess Frederick of Prussia and opera diva Adelina Patti. 1897: Gerardo Kraft bought the establishment, refurnished it, renamed it Grand Hotel and turned it into one of the top houses in Italy. The major attraction was the sumptuous Winter Garden, which became a high society hub. It was far and away the finest hotel in Florence - a magnet for the international jet-set - from Yoshihito, Crown Prince of Japan, to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (below) and from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to the Shah of Persia. 1943: On the deatho of Gerardo, his sons Emilio and Gerardo took the reigns. 1956: The Krafts sold up to CIGA. 1966: The hotel was devastated in the the terrible flood that ravaged Florence. 1975: The Grand Hotel close for extensive renovation work. 1981, 27 March: While across the piazza at the Excelsior the 75th anniversary of CIGA was feted with a grand cocktail, the Grand Hotel still lay in deep slumber. 1985: The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of millions of Muslims, acquired CIGA Hotels through his Italian holding company Fimpar. Enlivened with fresh blood, CIGA expanded its operations outside Italy, buying hotels in France, Spain, Austria, Japan and the United States. Funds were secured to spur on renovation works on the Florentine gem. 1986, 21 April: The hotel was partially reopened. Giuliano Corsi, dual general manager of both hotels at that time, recalls that ‘we reopened 33 rooms only, those overlooking the piazza, and the splendid Giardino d’inverno – our lobby.’ The whole hotel with the ballroom and the rest of the rooms reopened in 1991 with a truly remarkable event. Le Tout Florence dashed to Piazza Ognissanti numero uno. The house was bathed in bright spotlight. The piazza buzzed with life. Flag-wavers greeted 700 visitors that night. 1993: Finbar and the CIGA chain of Hotels had been running in the red for the previous few years, owing nearly half a billion pounds to various international banks. When they failed to pay the interest on the loans, the creditors moved in to seize the assets. 1994: Sheraton bought CIGA, and brought the chain under the title Luxury Collection and back on track. As Luxury Collection the hotels were brought under the umbrella of the global ITT Shearton reservation system, which soon allowed them to pull out of the global marketing and reservation system of Leading Hotels. In 1998 ITT Sheraton was bought by the American prince of real estate, Starwood (the ‘ITT Merger’) and renamed Sheraton Holding Corporation. Starwood developed in seemingly no time from an unknown player in the world of hotels into one of the globe’s largest hotel owning and management companies. In 1998 they also bought Westin Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. The company’s brand names include St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, Sheraton, Westin, W and Four Points by Sheraton. Through these brands, Starwood is well represented in most major markets around the world. 1998: Robert Koren managed the Grand Hotel, six years before he became vice president of the group (in charge of Italy and Malta). 2001: Opening of InCanto, Florence’ trendiest restaurant, at the hotel.

From the World of Politics Queen Victoria of Brandenburg Maharajah Raiaram Cuttraputti Princess Frederick of Prussia Prince Czartoryski Baron and Baroness Oppenheim Duchess of Windsor Princess Margaret Elena of Romania Imperial Romanov family Kaiser William II of Prussia (above) Constantine and Sofia of Greece Shah of Persia and wife Soraya Winston Churchill Lord Robertson (NATO) Lionel Jospin From the World of Entertainment Adelina Patti Johann Strauss Beniamino Gigli Maria Callas Josephine Baker Maurice Bejart Carla Fracci Marcello Mastroianni Gina Lollobrigada Duran Duran Cortes Luciano Pavarotti Elizabeth Taylor Liza Minelli Paul Newman Sylvester Stallone From the World of Fashion Naomi Campbell From the World of Business Rockefellers

image A Royal Visit Vittorio Emanuele di Savoia with General Manager Antonello de Medici *********** In 1503 Leonardo da Vinci returned to Florence, where he commenced a Madonna with Child with St Anne. He worked closely with Michelangelo at the Sala del Consiglio in the Palazzo della Signoria. Around 1504 he completed his most important work Mona Lisa in Florence. ************ No other place is better designed as a hiding place from the world. The Grand Hotel was home, for instance, to famous US basketball and movie star Michael Jordan for several days, but nobody noticed the 6’6’’ guard until the day he checked out. *********** General manager Dr Antonello de’ Medici welcomed Vittorio Emanuele di Savoia. Kathleen Turner promised to come back ‘I imagine, many times!’. Among the famous guests to sign in were Sofia Vari, the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hillary Clinton, Harrison Ford, Santiago Calatrava, Tony Remis, Fernando Montenegro, Fernando Torres, Mila Schoen, Umberto Ecco, Adrien Brody, Al Gore, the Duke and the Duchess of Kent, Lance Collins, Zucchero, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise and Anthony Hopkins. Our book shows the photographs of International flamenco star Joaquin Cortés posing for a snapshot with director of sales and marketing Judith Otto, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Sylvester Stallone. Woody Allen left his signature in the guest book, so did Alberto Sordi and the sweet Natalie Cole. Kevin Kostner visited the Grand Hotel with his charming wife Christine Baumgartner.

Managed by: Starwood - The Luxury Collection; Marriott
94 Rooms
13 Suites

Using only the finest fabrics the rooms of the hotel radiate a rich, a luxurious atmosphere – creating the desired ‘dream-like unique experience’. Room are furnished with fine reproductions of XVIth century originals, while the upholstery and other fabrics are handmade using the finest materials and following authentic Florentine styles and techniques. The walls are covered with Frescoes featuring scenes from Renaissance life.

Masaccio Suite

Restaurant InCanto, InCantinetta, InCanto Caffe ---------- Winter Garden Lounge Bar

Enjoy a refreshing drink under the sumptously frescoed ceiling of the Winter Garden or have a coffee on the hotel terrace and watch the world go up and down the Lung'Arno. While in Florence, it would be a crime not to visit Michelangelo’s David, which now stands under a glass dome in the Galleria del Accademia.

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Our Select Member Hotel

Grand Hotel (Florence)
Country: Italy
City: Florence
Opening date: 1866, Autumn

Note from the Host

General Manager

Antonello De'Medici


Concierge: Paolo Basagni

Coordinates

Piazza Ognissanti 1
50123 Italy, Florence

Tel: +39-055 288 781
Fax: +39-055-217 400 / direct 055 21 8336

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