Palazzos abound in Italian cities, but it is not often you get to stay in a villa built by Baron Oppenheim as a love gift for Princess Eugenia and later bought by Napoleon III’s wife, Empress Eugenié. Take one look at the baroque splendour of the hall of mirrors, the Moorish opulence of the Moresque room or the grand marble fireplace in the white salon and you will see why Villa Cora was the most prestigious address in Florence at the end of the 19th-century, when Florence was the capital of Italy – and remains so to this day.
Now, at the Grand Hotel Villa Cora, the building has been restored to its full splendour, while also providing for modern-day comfort, including a subterranean spa, with jacuzzi pool and Turkish baths and an all-year-round outdoor heated swimming pool. I swam outside on a sunny February afternoon, admiring the beauty of the villa and the glorious Tuscan countryside that surrounds it. We stayed on the rose floor, where all the rooms and suites have rose-scented toiletries and floral fabrics in honour of Princess Eugenia’s love of the flowers. But each floor is different, so you could stay here several times and have a slightly different experience.
Downstairs in the Mooresque room is a destination restaurant called Le Pasha, serving modern twists on Italian classics in sumptuous surroundings, with original frescoes by Antonio Caremmi in the domed ceiling. Breakfast is in the more informal surroundings of the bistrot by the pool, where you can also order lunch. The hotel is exceptionally child-friendly with all the staff making a fuss over little guests. Villa Cora will also provide age-appropriate activities on request, such as a treasure hunt through the grounds, or a painting session with a local artist who loves working with kids. From your first welcome to your final farewell you will get exceptional five-star service at this unique hotel.
Visited by Antonia Windsor, February 2015