TRAVEL

J.K. Place Hotel Will Make Everyone Fall More in Love with Florence

Florence is a dream destination for so many, but the question is where to rest your head. Here is my latest hotel review for Fathom: JK Place Florence.

Warm up by the fireplace. All photos courtesy of J.K. Place.

FLORENCE — Florence enchants, mesmerizes, and beguiles. It is a city for those who love the fairytale Italian dream of warm sunsets, flowing hair, and great dinners. For centuries, it has been the requisite Grand Tour stop for literature lovers, art travelers, and cruisers. For me, Florence was always an easy day trip from my home in Rome when I needed a quick culture hit in the form of a Renaissance painting or an occasional contemporary show at Palazzo Strozzi. I staunchly refused to allow myself to fall in like with the city. And then a recent overnight stay lured me into loving Florence.

Florentine pillow talk takes all kinds of shapes, and one of the most charming is boutique hotel J.K. Place. In 2003, hotelier Ori Kafir opened the doors of what would become the first in a mini empire (other the JKs are in Rome and Capri) with the idea of giving guests a pied-a-terre in the middle of one of Italy's most visited cities. He wanted something different from the grand dame styles of European hotels — something cozier and chicer, though just as elegant and impeccable. He wanted a home that was quintessentially Florentine in both style and hospitality.

J.K. Place still holds up to its original tenets. The townhouse is an easy respite, perfectly located for both historic city center strolls and out-of-town trips, while its beautiful design by internationally acclaimed local designer Michele Conan upholds its contemporary vibe. More importantly, it is so Florentine, down to every detail — from the bottled water they serve to the thousands of books about art, culture, and style scattered around, many focused on the city and its artisans.

A Florentine-worthy entrance.

Bathe with a view in the Penthouse bathroom. 

Book It

Rates start from €440. Click here to book.

Checking In

Location
A five-minute walk from Stazione Santa Maria Novella, Florence's main train station, J.K. Place has a front row view of Piazza Santa Maria Novella, an open square with the beautiful Santa Maria Novella church and its very cool Renaissance facade designed by Leon Battista Alberti in the 1470s. The piazza is a busy hub for foot traffic and buskers.

Hotel Style
Florentine elegance, which translates to effortless style in all things aesthetic. J.K. mixes contemporary with classic — anachronistic yet very 21st century — to make you feel like you are in the home of Florence's most peripatetic art collector and fanciful flaneur.

This Place Is Perfect For
Everyone. No, really, everyone will find themselves at home here, especially those with refined sensibilities.

But Not So Perfect For
Those who insist on having a room with a view of the Arno.

Enjoy a private fireplace in master room 12.

Live your Florentine dreams in room 12.

What's on Site
J.K. Place is a home, an impeccably stylish one, that invites you to hang out. Just before the entrance is the outdoor J.K. Lounge, a teak terrace facing the piazza, a great people-watching lunch spot or cocktail-hour hangout. The ground level is a labyrinth of gorgeously styled lounges, salons, and libraries, with beautiful artwork and to-die-for art books and magazines, comfortable sofas, and cashmere throws. Late night, I discovered the terrace lounge, J.K.'s sexy rooftop bar that puts you eye-to-eye with Santa Maria Novella's flourishes.

Food + Drink
The J.K. Lounge hosts an enviable buffet breakfast, an overflowing cornucopia of healthy fruit and home-baked treats, as well a la carte selections. From lunchtime through evening, the lounge becomes J.K. Cafe, a tasteful, health-focused eatery that wows you with traditional Tuscan dishes like pasta al sugo finto and contemporary favorites, including an excellent club sandwich. Cocktails, you ask? J.K. seems like it was designed specifically for enjoying a well-crafted martini, a vintage wine, or a Negroni sbagliato, whether in the Lounge, the Champagne Bar (the cozy living room adjacent to the lounge), or the rooftop terrace. Food and beverage director Andrea Pieri is a walking gastronomic and enological archive. Ask him about the food, the wines, the water, the cocktails, and chances are he'll have a good story to tell.

Number of Rooms: 20 guest rooms and suites.

In-Room Amenities: Sublime linens, towels, and robes. Excellent and fast WiFi and LED televisions. A mini bar abundantly stocked with free snacks and drinks. Cashmere blankets from a local merchant. Rooms scented by local perfumer Dr. Vranjes.

Drawbacks: The branded power strip outlet is a bit outdated and wouldn't send any power to my iPad and iPhone. I'd love to see a tech update.

Standout Detail: It would be easy to say the Terrace, but the standout for me is J.K.'s Library, which has every Taschen, Phaidon, and art book I covet. Even more standout was the staff's knowledge of their books and their willingness to provide more.

Dinner on the terrace overlooking Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Dinner on the terrace overlooking Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Even Florentine stairs are aesthetic.

Checking Out

Florence has been Tuscany's self-proclaimed It town since it birthed the Renaissance. Italy's top artists and architects of the 15th and 16th centuries remain well represented in its architecture, museums, churches, and palazzi, thanks to the shrewd support of the city's favorite families, starting with the Medici. And Florence keeps up that vibe today, nourishing 21st century artisans — fabulous leather workers, printmakers, jewelers, bookmakers, and more.

What to Do Nearby
Honestly, what's not to do? J.K. Place is within easy walking distance to just about everything you want to see in Florence, a very walkable city. Across Piazza Santa Maria Novella is the underrated Museo Novecento, a museum focusing 20th-century art, while around the corner is Palazzo Strozzi, an arts space that is lately lining up blockbuster shows. Of course, you're going to want to walk around Piazza del Duomo, where you cannot miss the green, pink, and white marble panels of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the gorgeous Brunelleschi dome, and the museum. Definitely make time for Opera Dumo, the Duomo's amazing museum with reconstructions of how Brunelleschi made the dome, as well as Michelangelo's penultimate pietà and incredible restored artwork. Have a Hannibal moment in Piazza della Signoria, then drop by Gucci Garden for a peek into the Guccci mind. Window shop on Via Tornabuoni, or cross the river to Oltrarno, Florence's hippest neighborhood.

Good to Know
General manager Claudio Meli knows everyone and everything there is to know in Florence. Just ask him. In fact, Meli is the author of J.K. Essential Guide to Florence, his love letter to the city in the form of an intrepid, pocket guide book that he's produced for guests. Keep in mind that Florence feels busy with tourists throughout the year, at its most congested at Easter and spring break through June. Although there's more room to breathe in July and August when Florentines flee the city for coastal breezes, the infernally hot temperatures make a visit not fun at all.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
Either take a train into Firenze-Santa Maria Novella train station or fly into Florences’s international airport, four kilometers from the city center.

Getting Around
Walk. Yes, Florence has buses and taxis, but if you are really here to enjoy the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes of Florence, all you need are your feet. For day trips around Tuscany, you can reach cities like Pisa, Lucca, Siena, and Arezzo via regional trains. If you're interested in exploring the great hilltops, beach communities, strade del vino (wine routes), and picturesque towns like Orbetello, Volterra, and Montepulciano under the Tuscan sun, your best bet is hiring a car.

Make the most of the lounge and Italian baked-goods.

Dine in true Florentine style in the breakfast room.

The Best Hotel in Rome, Round 1: The Five Star

parco-dei-principi

One of the worst and nails-dragging-on-a-blackboard question I can think of is "What's the best hotel in Rome?"  First of all, Rome hotels - and I mean the gamut from random apartment lets to five-star luxury - cannot be compared to anything you've ever experienced outside of  Rome.  Space means far more here because there is far less, tradition has been known to outweigh innovation, and, thanks to the Eternal City's historic pole position on the Grand Tour, hotel competition has always been more of a numbers game - all about getting you in the door, but not necessarily keeping you in and coming back.  Secondly, recommending hotels is like stepping in dog crap right after you cleaned your shoe from the last time you stepped in it.  It's a lose-lose game that comes a close second to offering constructive criticism to parents who pointedly asked for it to begin with.

For me, the best hotel in Rome is one that makes me feel good because of a crazy discount, an incredible location, an amazing rooftop, or even a great affair- essentially, qualifying a hotel as Best has far more to do with mood of the moment, personal fantasies, and unspoken expectations and less to do with size, interior design or location.  There is no rhyme or reason... but just three must-haves: proper hair dryers, quality bedding (no twin mattresses masquerading as a king and no bouncy pillows) and a bowl of fresh fruit. . .  every day.   You get it.

Round 1:  The Five Star

Parco dei Principi:   I love this hotel when I love the city so much I want to get out of it.  Its Villa Borghese location (the sprawling park above Via Veneto) brings a little Great Escape to the Great Beauty.  Though the hotels' design is a little  heavy on Baroque (in public areas) for my sanity- the lobby and bar are perfect for a afternoon cocktail.  And happily, the rooms are toned down to a more simple, refined design and dare I say modernized Baroque vibe.  I'm sold on the  view - yep, park facing rooms from the fourth floor and up have an incredible front row view through the greens of Villa Borghese to St. Peter's dome. If you know me, then you know it's the pool that keeps me obsessed with Parco dei Principi.  From May through September, this is my go-to spot because it has my favorite pool in the city- a large Art Deco piscine complex with beds and cabanas, and drinks.

  • Plus:  The pool, hell yeah.  And underneath is the best equipped and most stylish spa in the city.  Quite possibly the best five star prices.
  • Minus:  The design can be a little busy on the eyes.  And if you aren't used to walking around Rome, you might find it a bit out of the way.
Parco dei Princip
Parco dei Princip

Grand Melia Villa Agrippina:  Sprawling estate, gorgeous greenery and pool, and a little bit of antiquity. Villa Agrippina is what I like to call Miami-meets- Mannerism, thanks to the mix of vintage Italian design and contemporary flair throughout the entire hotel-  which, back in the day, was Emperor Nero's mom's villa.  The rooms are large and luminous, and with just enough design (contemporary luxe- soft lines, neutral colors, quality pieces) that I automatically am relaxed.  On a personal note, I love the hard wood floors and any room with a Vatican-facing balcony.  The Danish design pieces make me smile while the oversized Caravaggio prints make me chuckle.  But its the lush pool garden and its views of the Vatican that keep me coming back.... and the bar-side Bloody Marys.

  • Plus:  Trastevere-adjacent location makes it walkable to the Vatican and historic center. The Spa is great for an afternoon free.
  • Minus: I really can't think of any at the moment.  Maybe the oversized Caravaggio prints?
Gran Melia Villa Agrippina
Gran Melia Villa Agrippina

Grand Palace Hotel:I recently discovered the Grand Palace in review I was writing up for The Telegraph, and I have to admit I was really happy.  Grand Palace gets thumbs up for being a modern monument- it was designed by Marcello Piacentini, the very same architect who gave us Via della Conciliazione, the facade of the Teatro dell'Opera and was head of the EUR project, all circa 1930s. Piacentini's gorgeous Art Deco meets Rationalist exterior facade has modern references to ancient Rome,  and the hotel's curvy interior still has some of its original ornament like the ball room decorated in frescoes by Venetian artist Guido Cadorin, showing 1920s high society.  The 2012 reboot brought in loots of pinks and greens, lacquer and velour.

  • Plus:CO Bigelow beauty and body care products, a small groundfloor spa with salt water pool, and lots of elbow room.  So far, this hotel has the biggest standard and deluxe rooms I've seen for a five star.  Views from Fifth floor and up are total Great Beauty.  Walking distance to Villa Borghese and my dentist.
  • Minus:  The rooms have a lot of design, but definitely palatable.  The views may be Great Beauty, but keep in mind, it's  modern Rome you're looking at, not its undulating history of domes, mega-monuments and tiled rooftops.  The Via Veneto address is posh, but it is all business so you are going to have to walk if you want a bit of Rome joie de vivre.
Grand Hotel Palace
Grand Hotel Palace

J.K. Roma:  If it's raining, and it's winter, and I want to have an affair (which at this point either means Me time or a child-free get away), I'd book a room at the JK. And to be honest, it doesn't matter what size the room-  there is a luxurious coziness that designer Michel Bonan-inspired in each room- rich jewel colors mixed with white accents, incredible bedding and gorgeously spacious white-on-white  bathrooms.  Even in the small classic, you'll just want to lie around for hours, like I did.  But since the hotel is literally a step out in the charm and chaos of Rome's historic center, it's [almost] hard to stay since you have the heart of the Eternal City at your door step.

  • Plus:  You automatically are stylish just by staying here, or just getting a drink. The ground floor lounge is the haute couture living room and library you've always wanted- atrium high ceilings, museum-piece furniture and every single Taschen and Assouline art books you could ever covet.
  • Minus:  In the evenings, the neighborhood is quiet- great for those who need a rest, but not so great for the restaurant scene, or lack there of.  Summer months find me feeling slightly congested here.
J.K. Roma
J.K. Roma

Bonus points go to the following:

  • The Instagrammable: Though I need to get back for a full review, the Boscolo Exedra is a gorgeous spot for Instagram- artsy and selfies. Neo-classical, white on white, big rooms with glittery things.
  • The Holy Triumverate:the Hassler, a traditional beauty with a secret contemporary Art Deco flair; de Russie, the Grand Dame of Rome's 21st century hotel reboot; and the Eden, once the renovations are completed.

Coming soon .  . .  Round 2: The Luxury Suite