“I remember when I first came to Florence aged 19 and felt like I was finally home. I fell in love with the place; it was as if I had lived here in another life. I have always wanted to be surrounded by beautiful things and it doesn’t get much more beautiful than Florence. I have now lived here for over 10 years and the Aquazzura headquarters is in the Palazzo Corsini, which is like a dream.
People come to Florence to savour life. There’s so much to appreciate, from the food and vineyards to the culture. And it’s a city to enjoy on foot as so much of it is pedestrianised; while you amble around you should look up into the buildings – there are apartments with open windows revealing original frescoes on the ceilings. You can also get out of the city in just 20 minutes: one of my favourite things to do is walk from Ponte Vecchio and weave behind the Pitti Palace out into the countryside.
My top place to stay is JK Place; it’s La Dolce Vita chic. The rooms were created by Michele Bonan, the brilliant Florentine interior designer who is also behind JK Place in Capri, which I visit almost every summer. It’s a very small boutique hotel and when you check in it feels as if you are arriving at someone’s home.
Also right in the centre of town is the Portrait Firenze, the new Ferragamo owned hotel with rooms overlooking Ponte Vecchio. It has a glamorous restaurant and is dotted with 1960s vintage furniture and old fashion photographs from when Florence was at the very heart of the industry.
I also like Villa San Michele, which is close to the city but also very relaxing. It has a pool and amazing gardens, perfect if you want to feel like you’re having a weekend away, yet you are just 15 minutes from the Duomo. It’s traditional, but has been beautifully renovated.
Or there’s Villa Cora, which is in the hills just outside the city: you can still walk into town, or it’s a five-minute drive. It’s elegant and very classic looking, but has a great pool that makes it feel quite modern. It has a lot of history too – it was originally built in the 1860s by Baron Gustave Oppenheim and designed by Pietro Comparini and Giuseppe Poggi, who masterminded the redevelopment of the city when it was the capital. It was then sold to the Empress Eugénie, widow of Napoleon III.
In the morning, rather than having breakfast in a hotel, I would suggest going to Caffè Giacosa, which is one of the oldest cafés in the city. Roberto Cavalli bought it some years ago, but it is still run by the same people, who make the best cappuccino in town and have great pâtisserie. There’s a very convivial vibe and you can really see locals there.
As to culture, there are some great hidden treasures in Florence. The Vasari Corridor, which was used by the Medici family to get between the Pitti Palace and the Palazzo Vecchio, was closed to the public for many years, but now you can book a private tour. It’s such a unique experience, full of masterpieces yet different from the rest of the Uffizi. There are Rubens and Botticellis and afterwards you can visit the nearby Boboli Gardens.
One of my other offbeat highlights is the Museo Stibbert, which has an amazing collection of armour from the 15th to the 17th centuries, including a lot of pieces from Japan. And Antico Setificio Fiorentino is a beautiful place to visit. I love the way Florence weaves technology with historic craftsmanship, and here they make textiles with machines designed by Leonardo da Vinci. If you own an old palace and want to recreate the original 17th-century fabrics, they can do it for you, and their archives are fascinating.
For lunch I love Harry’s Bar; it’s an institution and just down the street from my office. It is also one of the few places you can eat outside when it’s sunny. Then there is Trattoria Sostanza, which the locals call Il Troia. It’s a tiny tiled space, not much more than a hole in the wall, but the food is delicious and you might bump into Miuccia Prada. It serves the best steak Fiorentina in town, but my favourite dish is the artichoke omelette, which is crispy and delicious. And they have one particularly good dessert, a semifreddo with meringue, chocolate chips and wild strawberries, which is a taste of heaven.
Florence may be the birthplace of Italian fashion, but when I am shopping for clothes I never look for the designer labels – I just buy what suits me. I like the edit at Eredi Chiarini, which sells a lot of old-school Italian brands that you rarely find anywhere else – Caruso, Alessandro Gherardi, Cesare Attolini. It’s very chic.
So is the original branch of Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. You can buy its products all over the world, but the flagship is wonderful because the interior is so stunningly ornate and you can have tea there now too. I love its soaps and shower gels and also the rose liqueur, which I buy to serve my guests after dinner.
Richard Ginori is a beautifully classic Florentine china brand bought in 2013 by Gucci, which has reopened the original store with its wonderful internal winter garden. Likewise the stock at the historic Loretta Caponi is very Florentine, with amazing embroidered linens, tablecloths, silk pyjamas and nightgowns.
For interiors I like Flair, run by a chic Italian couple who travel the world buying pieces from the 1950s to the 1970s, which look superb in modern homes. The way they display them is very inspirational and it’s a stunning space in an old palazzo.
For something really unusual there’s furniture emporium Guido Bartolozzi, which is like Ali Baba’s cave. For a long time I was fascinated by the windows and inside it’s full of centuries-old doors and panels. They also fix and reproduce antiques. It’s a wonderful place to visit, when it’s open: the hours can be erratic.
In the evening, when the weather is good, I like to have an aperitivo at SE.STO on Arno, on the roof terrace of the Westin Excelsior hotel. You sit there with a martini and a 360-degree view of Florence. It’s open quite late so alternatively I might go after dinner.
Florence has some of Italy’s best restaurants and one of my favourites – also one of the most famous – is Enoteca Pinchiorri, which has three Michelin stars. It’s actually worth going just for the wine; it has one of the best cellars in the world. There’s an elegant courtyard with tables, and the menu includes amazing pasta dishes as well as scallops with chickpea and bacon purée and suckling pig with marinated aubergine.
I consider Trattoria Cammillo my own personal canteen. It’s a typically Tuscan restaurant with white tablecloths, chandeliers and wooden shelves full of wine. They serve great scaloppine al limone, curried chicken or prawns and the best truffled eggs and fried zucchini.
On Sundays it’s nice to go to the Museo Bardini, near the Bardini Gardens. It’s a very cool museum, full of work that belonged to Stefano Bardini, who trained as a painter and became a very famous art restorer, as well as one of the most lauded and prolific collectors of Renaissance art. He created the museum in the 19th century by restoring several adjoining buildings, including the 13th-century church of San Gregorio della Pace. The highlight of his collection for me is the sculpture, arranged over nine rooms on the ground floor, with Etruscan, Roman and medieval pieces. I also especially like the corridors themselves – the black and white marble walls are stunning.
In the afternoon, my favourite thing is to head to La Carraia for gelato. There are other more famous ice cream places but this is the best. When it’s in season they make an amazing fig gelato. The After Eight one is also good, but I am very classic and always get the lemon. I like to take some down to the Arno to sit and watch the sky turn pink and the sun set.”