Podcast Episode #7: Exploring Florence While Staying at the Grand Hotel Minerva

Florence simply enchants us…and some much of the Florentine experience is where you stay. Host Kathy McCabe has a favorite Florentine hotel and it is the Grand Hotel Minerva.  At the hotel’s stunning rooftop pool Kathy sat down with her friend sales and marketing director Andrea Bargigli to talk about what makes the Minerva unique and how to explore Florence from a new perspective. Whether you are visiting the city of art for the first time or 14th, you don’t want to miss the tips that Kathy and Andrea share.

Special offer for Dream of Italy fans at the Grand Hotel Minerva. Use the promo code DREAM when booking at www.grandhotelminerva.com to receive the following exclusive benefits:

  • Early check in and late check out, subject to availability 
  • Upgrade, subject to availability 
  • Free minibar throughout the stay 
  • Signature Negroni Cocktail Class  (Kathy’s favorite cocktail!)
  • Seasonal Chef Surprise upon arrival 
  • Complimentary dinner for 2 (wine excluded) with booking of a 3 night suite stay

The Dream of Italy Offer is valid from 1 January 2020 to 27 December 2020 for both Flexible and Non Refundable Rates.

Sponsors:

Thanks to our sponsors Rosapepe Retreats and to Fruits and Passion Cucina (Save 15% at fruitsandpassion.com with the promo code DREAMOFITALY15).

Transcript with Show Notes Embedded:

Andrea: I mean Florence is enjoyable all year round because it’s a city where art is everywhere and industries. So we have a lot of museums. Actually, I would like to point out two new museums.

Kathy: Oh, tell me.

Andrea: Recent two museums.

Kathy: Dimmi.

Andrea: Dimmi, exactly.

One is when you get out from the hotel you make a right hand side, over right there you have the new Museo del Novecento, which is the contemporary art museum, so just next door. There is also another very beautiful museum that I love personally, which is the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

Kathy: I have been.

Andrea: It’s amazing.

Kathy: Actually, everybody needs to go there.

Andrea: Yeah.

Kathy: This is Kathy McCabe. Welcome to the Dream of Italy Podcast. You know me from the PBS travel series, Dream of Italy, and the award-winning website and publication. Join me as we explore the sights and sounds of Bell’Italia. From the canals of Venice, to the piazzas of Puglia. From the fashion houses of Milan- Ciao, Bella!- to the vineyards of Tuscany. Hop on. It’s going to be a great ride. Andiamo!

Kathy: First some words from our podcast sponsors.

Discover Rosapepe Retreats. Feel Italy and feel great when you travel to Campagna with our friends Susan and Jerry. Stay at the family hotel built on ancient thermal Springs. Take cooking classes with the baroness, and taste regional wines at hidden vineyards. Find out more at rosapeperetreats.com.

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[00:02:02]

Kathy: Good morning on the most beautiful day in Florence and I am a very lucky lady to be on the rooftop of the Grand Hotel Minerva with my friend, the director of sales and marketing for the hotel, Andrea Bargilli.

Andrea: Good morning Kathy, good morning everybody.

Kathy: Oh my gosh. Does it get any better than this?

Andrea: No, I think no. For the season, for the autumn. It’s a perfect date.

Kathy: So do you ever work up here or they keep you downstairs?

Andrea: Unfortunately, no. And I never swam in the pool.

Kathy: Isn’t it incredible?

Andrea: Yeah. I can’t.

Kathy: But I think this swimming pool is one of the greatest in Florence. And it’s a very rare thing to have a swimming pool in Florence.

Andrea: Absolutely. Yes. I think that we were the first, the hotel boasting a rooftop terrace with a swimming pool and back in 1958 but now there are also other hotels that are having pools and not maybe on the rooftop and not all of them, but we were the first, absolutely. Oh we have the most beautiful one.

Kathy: I think so. So the Grand Hotel Minerva sits on Piazza Santa Maria Novella. So when you’re up on this rooftop, you can see the Duomo, you can see Santa Maria Novella, you have a 360 view of the Hills of Tuscany. And this is one of, as you know, because I keep coming back, it is one of my favorite places to stay. Actually, not just in Florence, but in all of Italy, which is a big deal because I go to a lot of places.

Andrea: Thank you.

Kathy: So thank you for making such an incredible experience because it’s never just a hotel anymore.

Andrea: No.

Kathy: It’s an experience. So tell me, how did the Grand Hotel Minerva get started?

Andrea: So this is an Italian independent family owned and operated hotel and we are very proud of it. We sit in the beautiful square of Santa Maria Novella as you know, we are in the middle of everything. Everything is walking distance from five to 10 minutes and we overlook the Duomo or which is right in front of us.

Kathy: Right behind us, right there.

Andrea: On the left hand side there is the facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella. The family who owns the Hotel just terminated the multimillion dollar investment for it’s total renovation of the 97 rooms and suites and public spaces in the preparing for the 150 anniversary of the hotel.

Because Kathy baby, you don’t know, but this hotel opened it’s door as the Inn, as the Locanda della Minerva in 1869. So this year, 2019 we are celebrating our hundred and 50th anniversary.

Kathy: Happy anniversary! I didn’t realize that.

[00:04:38]

Andrea: Yeah. So I’m very excited to share with you this news, that a few days ago the Grand Hotel Minerva made third place amongst the Florentine hotels in the 2019 Conde Nast traveler to reader’s choice awards.

This is a great thing to celebrate our history in the hotel business and as the other two hotels are five-star deluxe property, we can officially say that we are the best four-star deluxe property in Florence.

Kathy: I think that’s true.

Andrea: Yes.

Kathy: And I think I might’ve voted for you because I read through Conde Nast. I went through and voted for some of my favorite properties-

Andrea: Thank you.

Kathy: In Italy. And that’s the thing, you can come here and have a very luxurious experience at the Grand Hotel Minerva but not spend buckets of money like you would at a five star.

Andrea: Yeah, there is a difference of course between a four and a five star deluxe property, but sometimes there certain times of the year where we are very close to the….

Kathy: The cost.

Andrea: The cost of a five star deluxe, especially in the spring and summer, thanks to the rooftop swimming pool that it’s really a unique selling point for us.

Kathy: Yeah.

Andrea: But yes, it’s true. There is of course a difference between the top international hotel chain, five-star deluxe property and ours in terms of the race, but not in terms of service.

We try to provide our guests the best experience possible in a four star deluxe property.

Kathy: I’ve definitely found in the years that I’ve stayed here, the service is top notch. And what I love is when I come back and it’s all the same faces and I get to say hi to all my friends at the front desk.

And the people who do the housekeeping are the same and they’re fantastic.

And the food, let’s talk about the food. It’s nice when you’re at a hotel where you can also, if you want to stay in and have a truly, there’s so many places to go in Florence, but having a really delicious meal. So chef Tomasso is here.

Andrea: Yes, absolutely.

Kathy: And what are some of his specialties?

Andrea: Oh, well Tomasso Colonaci is a very young and talented chef. And what he does is a reinterpretation of the typical Florentine cuisine, which is very pure and simple in its origin and to re elaborate it. And he works a lot with contrast. So with the salt and sweet with the creamy and crunchy, with all these differences, sour and sweet. So it creates really, and so it may sound a little bit strange when you read the menu, but all the different flavors melt perfectly together in your mouth and gives you an amazing experience.

[00:07:33]

Kathy: Oh, delicious. And one of my favorite things, I actually think you have one of the prettiest breakfast rooms in all of Italy.

Andrea: Yeah.

Kathy: It’s very, it feels like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It got that feel, that blue and the glass and the selection is quite delicious.

Andrea: Thank you.

Kathy: And so it’s a great way to wake up and start the day down there. I love that.

Andrea: Breakfast is very important to us. Although Italians are not very keen on breakfast, we just to have a coffee.

Exactly. But for a hotel that works on an international level as we do, for a deluxe property breakfast is very important. So what we wanted to do is to create a very special atmosphere and architect Piera Tempesti Benelli who did the renovation wanted to have this room particularly important, very home oriented in the same ways with the 50 flares-

Kathy: Yes, very 1950’s.

Andrea: Using different colors, beautiful paintings on the wall, and an amazing display of food in a very, in a dedicated room. Food that goes from amazing cookies, homemade cookies and homemade cakes.

Kathy: Pastries.

Andrea: Pastries. Also sour and a hot, to dishes, eggs, cold cuts. There is a Tuscan corner. So we tried to fulfill the needs of all of the different tastes of the different guests that we have from all around the world.

Kathy: It’s a great way to start the day, and I have to tell you, I usually end the day up here on the rooftop. So you have a great selection of cocktails.

Andrea: Oh, absolutely. We have Karim. He is our new bartender, he’s amazing.

So together with Sara Maistrelli who is a part of the family owning the hotel, they work together to organize a completely new cocktail selection and a way of organizing the aperitivo, the aperitivo is the American happy hour more or less, but it’s a little bit different.

Kathy: Tell us why its important to Italians.

Andrea: It’s a tradition.

Kathy: What time do you usually start aperitivo?

Andrea: Seven, seven-thirty.

Kathy: Okay.

[00:09:57]

Andrea: Here at the hotel we start at seven-thirty. So we close the swimming pool for swimming. We set up all everything with candles and everything and at seven-thirty we start serving the aperitivo on the rooftop. People from Florence are coming over because this is a very popular spot also for-

Kathy: For Florentines.

Andrea: Florentine. And we have also live music some days during the week.

And as I said, Karim and Sara put together amazing cocktail selections working on the more traditional ones.

Kathy: Like the Negroni?

Andrea: Exactly.

Kathy: That’s my drink.

Andrea: More traditional one. The signature is one, but also those may be local products. I mean they did an incredible job and we have been very successful.

Kathy: So before we talk about Florence in general, a little bit more about the hotel.

Andrea: Sure.

Kathy: Do you cater to families here?

Andrea: Oh yes, absolutely. We do cater to families because we do have interconnecting rooms that can be guaranteed at the time of booking. We have family suites, duplex families suites, and we have a services and amenities for children. When we have kids coming to the hotel, they have their own check-in. Drawing pads, crayons. Little things, lollipops if we are allowed to give them by the parents and all these types of things for them. They have their own menu at the restaurant. So we try to make them feel important.

Kathy: And the pool of course.

Andrea: And of course the pool.

Kathy: I think any family, any kind of afternoon. Its perfect. Perfect for family.

Andrea: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s perfect for everybody after a day of sightseeing on everything, but it’s also perfect for kids.

Kathy: Yeah.

Andrea: I know it was said that it’s the best babysitter that you can find.

Kathy: That’s true. That’s true. So tell me about Florence. How has Florence changed? It has in these last years?

Andrea: Oh, absolutely.

Kathy: In terms of tourism, in terms of travelers, what are they looking for when they come?

[00:11:51]

Andrea: Well now we noticed that the number of tourists in Florence increased a lot.

Kathy: Yeah.

Andrea: Tourists from new countries as well. We have to adapt a little bit and try to understand their needs and what is appealing to them in order to make, because our work is to be hospitable and we are in the hospitality award, so we need to do this, this for what concerns the hotels and the city itself has to understand.

I think that the administration of the city has done some interesting thing. For example, they are working on redecorating certain areas and for example, the square where the hotel is located.

Kathy: Changed a lot.

Andrea: Santa Maria Novella changed a lot.

Kathy: It’s fantastic now.

Andrea: It has been transforming to a pedestrian square, very beautiful, safe and clean. And of course there are new hotels.

Kathy: There’s a lot. There’s a lot of competition. But there’s a lot of people coming.

Andrea: More competition, a lot of competition, which is good competition. Which is good competition. I think that in the last years of the average of the hotels in Florence-

Kathy: Has risen.

Andrea: Absolutely.

Kathy: Because you have to be better and better.

Andrea: Sometimes though it’s nice to escape a little bit, still keeping in the city of Florence.

Kathy: Right.

Andrea: So I think that for the Florentine, and at least for sure for myself, the best area where to go now it’s the Oltrarno as we say in Florence.

Kathy: Yes, of course.

Andrea: On the other side of the river in the so called Santo Spirito neighborhood.

Kathy: Yes, I know it well.

Andrea: Which is full of artisans shops, cafes, bars and restaurants and so it’s not very crowded.

You can find there a young crowd, not only, because I’m not as young, not so young. I mean it’s really a very interesting growing neighborhood.

Kathy: Oh, I love it.

Andrea: Which is very interesting also for the tourists that I’m sure the Americans is going to love it.

[00:13:59]

Kathy: Well, part of our Florence episode for Dream of Italy and I stayed here two years ago when we were filming.

Andrea: Yeah, I remember.

Kathy: We filmed in Santo Spirito, we filmed with Clet, the street artist and Alessandra Dari, the jeweler.

Andrea: Oh yeah.

Kathy: There’s so many artisans to visit with. And for this we’re here filming a new special of Dream of Italy and tomorrow we’re going to the Santo Spirito vegetable market.

Andrea: Oh! Okay.

Kathy: In the morning, and then I know there’s an antiques market I think once a month and it’s on Sunday.

Andrea: Yeah.

Kathy: So there’s many things going on.

Andrea: Yes.

Kathy: So what do you think as a Florentine, the best time of year to visit is for people?

Andrea: Well, I think that Florence is one of those cities that you can visit all year round.

Kathy: We really can.

Andrea: Absolutely. So if you don’t love the heat, you stay away from Florence in July and August because it can be, it gets up to the 90 degrees, the 100 degrees of whatever. So come during the, I think that for example, the shorter season or also the low season, it’s amazing.

Kathy: I love the winter.

Andrea: I mean you don’t have to stay online for hours at the Academy of Fine Arts. The Uffizi Gallery or whatever. Although our clients don’t do that because we pre-book them in these museums, of course, during the high season. But just to tell that, I mean Florence is enjoyable all year round because it’s a city where art is everywhere and industries, so we have a lot of museums. Actually I would like to point out two new museums.

Kathy: Oh, tell me.

Andrea: Recent two museums.

Kathy: Dimmi.

Andrea: Dimmi, exactly.

One is when you get out from the hotel you make a right hand side, over right there you have the new Museo del Novecento, which is the contemporary art museum, so just next door. There is also another very beautiful museum that I love personally, which is the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

Kathy: I have been.

Andrea: It’s amazing.

Kathy: Actually, everybody needs to go there.

Andrea: Yeah.

[00:16:05]

Kathy: We did do that in our episode for season two. We met the priest who runs the whole operation there.

Andrea: Yeah.

Kathy: But that museum, to truly see how the Duomo was constructed.

Andrea: Exactly.

Kathy: The statues.

Andrea: Absolutely.

Kathy: It’s really modern and-

Andrea: It’s very well done.

Kathy: Designed it.

Andrea: Very well designed, very interesting. Also for me as a Florentine.

Kathy: I love that. Is the Duomo just your, like when you’re in another city and you look up, are you always looking for the Duomo?

Andrea: Yeah.

Kathy: Is that like your landmark when you’re a Florentine.

Andrea: For everybody, for the Florentine and also for the tourists.

Kathy: You’re always looking for it.

Andrea: And art has always been so important for us.

Kathy: Yeah.

Andrea: In fact when we finished the redecoration of the hotel, what we tried to do is to enhance whatever was the different layers of the hotel 150 years of history and art. So we wanted the goal, if I may say this because it’s very important to us.

We wanted to give our guests a long lasting experience about art because we just didn’t want to interrupt this amazing experience of feeling art everywhere in the city.

Kathy: Yeah.

Andrea: So when they get back to the hotel we wanted to give them the same time of art flow. Our emotions.

Kathy: Interesting.

Andrea: That’s why there are so many antique pieces of art, to contemporary pieces of art display like in a museum in each and every room.

Coming from the history of the hotel since 1869 and before that, we have pieces from the 1800’s, of seven hundreds, then the 50s and so on, and also contemporary artists too. So in each individual room you have a piece of art and this is very important to us and I wanted to say this because it’s a little bits of our soul. Art is of our soul.

Kathy: If you’re in Florence, absolutely.

Andrea: Absolutely.

Kathy: The design in the rooms is very relaxing. The colors.

Andrea: Yeah.

Kathy: Feels like you are walking around all day and you’re overwhelmed with the sights and the sounds that it’s a very, very relaxing place.

Andrea: I love to say that this is a sort of urban resort, so you are in the middle of everything and really enjoy 100% the city and the hustle and bustle and everything.

But if you want you can just stay at the hotel also the entire day doing nothing.

Kathy: Yeah.

Andrea: This is a very deluxe thing I think because there are different ways of thinking about deluxe things or what is deluxe?

Deluxe for me is also being the owner of your time. And the owner of your emotions and sensations. So this hotel has a rooftop terrace with a swimming pool, a pool bar, an internal garden. It has an indoor restaurant, an outdoor restaurant.

Kathy: You really don’t have to leave.

Andrea: Exactly. You can stay in one of the beautiful little terraces that we have there and read your book, your favorite book, and you can even spend an entire day or part of your day at the hotel. This is what I love about this hotel.

[00:19:11]

Kathy: So everything in Florence, if it’s not art, it’s food.

Andrea: Yes.

Kathy: So you’re a Florentine, I’ve got you trapped.

Where do you go to eat besides eating here with chef Tomasso? If you have to leave the hotel.

Andrea: If I have to leave the hotel… Well nearby here, there are two very popular traditional restaurants, which are Il Sostanza and also Buca Mario. There are walking distance from the hotel. If you want to stay nearby the hotel you don’t want… But what I usually do is I take the street here, I cross the bridge.

Kathy: Right.

Andrea: And I go on the other side of the Arno. And there, there are two restaurants that I like. One is in Piazza della Passera.

Kathy: Ah, yes. I know what you’re going to mention, Il Magazzino.

Andrea: Exactly.

Kathy: So when I was at Il Magazzino, I had the Lampredotto.

Andrea: Yeah.

Kathy: Meatballs. They put them in like a…form.

Andrea: Yeah.

Kathy: You would never know that you’re eating the stomach.

Andrea: Exactly. As I told you before, the Florentine cuisine, it’s very poor in its base. So we were eating the awful, I think you say in English?

Kathy: Yeah.

Andrea: So there are different parts of the cow that we still eat and they do it in a very fancy way.

Kathy: Yeah.

Andrea: It’s traditional but it’s a very beautiful-

Kathy: Very different.

Andrea: And prepared in different ways.

Kathy: I like that restaurant a lot. And what’s the other one you recommend over there?

Andrea: The Santo Bevitore, which is a little bit more chicy.

Kathy: I don’t think I’ve been there. That’s a place I really want to go.

Andrea: Oh, okay.

You should try. You should try it. And I love the fact because you have the Santo Bevitore, you have the restaurant, you have the bakery, and also you have the deli so you can decide what you want and you can also buy the things that you ate probably before you can have the Finocchiona, which is a traditional cold cut that we do here in Florence. You can choose and everything. It’s an amazing place.

Worth the visit. And then if you want to spend the night in Oltrarno, there are an amazing number of bars and clubs, also specialize in whiskey or in gin, whatever.

Kathy: Yeah.

Andrea: Which is the new trend.

Kathy: The craft cocktail is here.

[00:21:29]

Andrea: Absolutely. And coming back to the hotel though. I would make a stop from Santo Spirito. So on the other side of the Arno, I would make a stop at Ponte alla Carraia.

Kathy: Yes.

Andrea: So before you cross the bridge on the left hand side, there’s my favorite spot, which is…

Kathy: I think I know what it is.

Andrea: A gelato place.

Kathy: Yes! I have another friend who works in hotels. That’s his favorite place too.

Andrea: Oh, yeah?

Kathy: I think its a popular gelateria.

Andrea: Yes exactly, it’s called La Carraia.

Kathy: Okay, La Carraia.

Andrea: And for me they do the most amazing gelato here.

Kathy: What flavors do you get.

Andrea: Oh, I love pistachio.

Kathy: That’s my favorite.

Andrea: Extra dark chocolate and also milk cream or whatever. This type of-

Kathy: Yeah.

Andrea: I’m not very much for the fruit. I really love it.

Kathy: Go for the chocolate.

Andrea: Yes, exactly chocolate cream or with this type of thing.

Kathy: That’s what I say. Are there any other things that you would recommend that are unusual and different to do here in Florence?

Andrea: Well-

Kathy: Because people have been before, we have a lot of people who read our publication, watch the show, listen to the podcast, they’re coming for the fourth or fifth or sixth time.

What do you think that they should do?

Andrea: Well, there are companies that are doing amazing different type of tours.

Kathy: I know.

Andrea: So you can do like going shopping, for example, the Mercato Centrale.

Kathy: Yeah.

Andrea: Do the shopping and do cooking class.

Kathy: Cooking classes also, a must.

Andrea: Or you can go to the County area and do the same type of things-

Kathy: Take a day trip.

Andrea: But you do it to take a day trip or during the certain time of the year you can do the olive picking or you can do this type of experiences. And also you can go with the gondola on the river Arno know which is-

Kathy: I’ve done that in the Florence episode! The Renaioli.

Andrea: The Renaioli, exactly. And what is interesting is that if you hire a guide and you tell a guide, because they’re different liking Rome, liking every city here, but there’s a lot of history. So there are different ways of reading at one city like Florence, so you can say I’m interested in the medieval Florence.

Kathy: I love that.

Andrea: I’m interested in the Renaissance period. So according to that you can, the guide can show you all the different types of heritage that you have according to that period and heritage that is also through the streets because you can find paintings and statues with the different type of Madonna’s.

Kathy: The Tabernacles. The madonna’s.

Andrea: Tabernacles, and this type of things. The name of the streets. It’s, it’s an incredible city. There are different layers and in every trip you can dedicate, you can dedicate your trip to a particular period of the history of this city. It’s really amazing.

Kathy: And then every time you come back you can find a new vantage point from this rooftop to enjoy.

Andrea: Absolutely.

[00:24:28]

Kathy: It’s funny, I was one night this week while I’ve been here. I was looking out at the piazza for drinks, but then I was on the other side looking out toward the Hills and that sunset is just… The colors, the colors. Tuscany makes sunsets like you would not believe.

Andrea: Exactly.

Kathy: So I was looking out that way and it felt like it was in a totally different place and that’s the thing about Italy, there’s always a new perspective. There’s always a new way to see it. Something new to do and my favorite thing is when the old and the new come together and that’s something that we really find here at Grand Hotel Minerva.

Andrea: Yes, exactly. Also in terms of heritage, as I told you, it’s also the hotel itself, it has an incredible heritage.

It was a household of Monks in the medieval period, it was the after that a home for noble families, then it became an Inn in the 1869 then a hotel in the first, or the nine hundreds.

Then in 1958 thanks to an amazing architect Carlos Scarpa, the maestro Carlos Scarpa, it became the Grand Hotel Minerva as we know nowadays, which is a milestone in the modern architecture and design.

He basically pulled down everything, just leaving some parts of the hotels unaltered. With beautiful paintings and frescoes and painting wooden beans and recreated something everything new. And so it’s all, it has always been putting together the heritage as we move forwards.

Kathy: I love that.

Andrea: And keep of course the standard of a deluxe property that has to be imperative in a hotel.

Kathy: I love that combination. So if people want to find out more about the hotel, it’s grandhotelminerva.com.

Andrea: Exactly.

Kathy: All right, well thank you so much for welcoming me back.

Andrea: Thank you. Thank you Kathy.

Kathy: And I hope to see you again soon.

Andrea: Oh, I hope so.

Kathy: Ciao.

Andrea: Bye.

Kathy: For show notes on this episode. Visit dreamofitaly.com/7.

Again, our thanks to Rosapepe Retreats. Walk the paths of the ancient philosophers and discover why the Roman emperors chose Campagna for their escapes. Enjoy healing thermal waters, exhilarating vistas and mouthwatering cuisine. Book your trip at rosapeperetreats.com.

And thank you Fruits and Passion Cucina. These olive oil based, elevated kitchen products are biodegradable, eco-friendly, and never tested on animals. Save 15 percent at fruitsandpassion.com with the promo code DREAMOFITALY15.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe to the Dream of Italy Podcast on Apple podcasts and leave us a review. Five stars preferred. For more about all of our podcast episodes and to give us feedback on what you would like to hear in the future, visit dreamofitaly.com/podcasts. And for all things Dream of Italy, the award-winning travel publication, membership website, TV show, and travel planning service, visit dreamofitaly.com. Ciao.

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