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It's about a one and a half hour
train ride from Lucca to Firenze. Last year we had stayed
at the Hotel Londra Palace in Venezia. They had suggested that we
consider staying at J.K.Place in Firenze, which is under
the same ownership. We had found Londra Palace to be
exceptional in all respects, so we reserved at J.K.Place
in Firenze this year.
It was a 5 minute walk from the Santa Maria
Novella train station to number 7 Piazza Santa Maria
Novella, J.K.Place. The large piazza is dominated by the
white and green marble Gothic-Romanesque facade of the
Chiese e Museo of Santa Maria Novella. Many of the
buildings surrounding the square are being renovated,
which will greatly enhance its beauty.
J.K.Place was one of the recent renovations, turning
a previous apartment building into an island of beauty
and serenity in a sea of busy life. We were looking for
the usual blatantly obvious front door of most hotels and
consequently walked by twice before realizing that a
simple, unobtrusive door provided access to the twenty
room, including four junior suites, treasure place.
A black wooden floor corridor led
past a sitting room which stopped us in our tracks.
Straight ahead was a Charles X fireplace with a 60's
Lalique clock and a feathered headdress of a Zairian
chieftain gracing the top. Two large 19th century wood
framed mirrors hung on either side of the fireplace and
an Oriental black lacquer table featuring fifties-style
table lamps. The cream and ivory-gray sofas at the
fireplace were arranged around an Art Deco zebra-skin
ottoman. This room set the tone for the design surprises
that awaited us. Classic, modern, and high tech are
harmoniously blended to create an elegant oasis.
As we stood admiring the sitting
room we were joined by a member of the staff who invited
us to sit down and have a beverage while he informed
reception of our arrival. He took charge of our luggage
and brought us excellent cappuccini. The service is as
impeccable as the attention to detail. There are twenty
staff members for twenty rooms.
The reception desk is located in
the stunning black wooded library. Behind the desk is a
Regency fireplace over which hangs a work in tempera done
in the 80's. The shelves are filled with books, CDs and
DVDs all available to the guests, (there are CD and DVD
players in each room). There is lovely sculpture on the
reception desk and featured reading material.
At the end of the corridor, just
past the library, in what had been an internal courtyard,
is the breakfast room with a floor of Pietra Serena, (also
known as Firenzuola stone from the Alto Mugello zone of
Tuscana). A glass dome now encloses the space. A very
large 19th century walnut table with Chinese inspired
chairs and 19th century copper lanterns sit in the middle
of the room. Breakfast treats, day-long offerings of
snacks and beverages, and house made cake in the
afternoon, await guests pleasure on the sideboard
along one wall.
Beyond the breakfast room is a
lovely drawing room. Comfortable sofas line the walls
fronted by 19th century Oriental tables and armchairs
from the 40's. There are a few Baldini canvases on the
walls. History, nostalgia and art are everywhere. Let's
not forget today, a giant TV is centered on the rear wall
and a laptop computer is available for guest use. This is
the perfect venue for snacking and socializing.
The main staircase, of Pietra
Serena with iron railings, was so inviting we never used
the elevator. The landings, walls and steps are
beautifully adorned with art, lanterns, sculpture and
Our room on the first floor
epitomized luxury, tranquility and comfort. The king bed,
linens, drapes, carpet, crafted woodwork, furniture and
accessories were a blend of soft cream and light gray
with silver highlights. All the fabrics and furniture
were of the finest quality. The large closet contained
extra bedding, safe, DVD player and mini bar, the
contents of which are free of charge. There is a large
shade over the bed with one light bulb which not only
provides a dramatic design effect but also excellent
lighting. A platter of really fresh fruit had been placed
on the window sill with the courtyard view beyond.
The bathroom was done in cream
colored textured marble. The bathrobes, slippers and
towels were top of the line as was the large bottles of
lotions, shampoos and bath gels. Even the fine milled
soaps are worthy of special mention.
There is a marvelous terrace on the
top floor that not only affords great views of the city
skyline but is an oasis of comfort with smart sofas,
chairs and tables.
In between exploring the hotel and
enjoying its hospitality we managed to squeeze in lunch
at Osteria delle Donne at number 16r on the street of the
same name. This small place is littered with an eclectic
assortment of pictures, wine, produce and cooking
implements. Communal seating packs in as many seats as is
possible. It's a busy, fun place with less than average
food at relatively low prices - you get what you pay for.
Dinner was a much more favorable
experience, to say the least, as we dined at the very
special Ristorante Buca Lapi, Via del Trebbio 1 - Palazzo
Antinori. Be sure to call 055-213768 for reservations. We
always find our way down the long flight of steps to the
cave below to enjoy hearty Tuscan delights.
Buca Lapi is actually located in
the ancient cellars of Palazzo Antinori and is the oldest
restaurant in Firenze. To have survived after being the
first means you have to be very, very good - consistently.
Buca Lapi is just that.
Fortunately we had our hotel make
reservations because no sooner had we arrived, the place
was filled to capacity. The sight of the open kitchen and
happy cooking staff preparing the finest meats and
produce of the region always delights us. The arched
ceilings and walls are covered with posters from all
around the world creating a colorful and interesting
Over the years we have been
delighted with many of the menu choices - starters like
misto di salumi or crostone con zucchini e accuighe,
primi of minestrone di ceci e cavolo, ribollita or
tortelli di ricotta e spinaci all'olio e salva, secondi
of osso bucco di vitella, anatra nostrace in casseruola
con cipolline or stufato di pollo alla cacciatora. And
let's not forget some of the exquisite choices from the
fritto menu such as coniglio fritto con carciofi and
braciola con pomodoro basilico e capperi.
We were looking forward to once
again enjoying what we consider to be the finest bistecca
we've had in Italy. First, a good wine selection. Our
host, Lucchiano, has always chosen well for us and
tonight was no exception. A Bocca di Lupo 2001,
Tormaresca, from an Antinori farm in Apulo, was a
superior rich full bodied red that had been aged in wood
for one year. Next, a few starting delights before the
We munched on crispy carciofi
fritti (fried artichoke) until our pasta course arrived.
When the carciofi is this perfect, it is addictive. We
fought off the urge for a re-order. The portions are very
substantial here so we shared one order of pappardelle
fresche al cinghiale. The fresh wide ribbon noodles are
themselves a treat but combining them with rich wild boar
sauce is sheer ecstasy.
Every waiter here is an affable and cheerful
artist. An artist with a sharp knife who can gracefully
and gently remove the thick cut of bistecca from the
bone, slice it into filets and arrange it gracefully on
your plate before your ravenous eyes. Our waiter was
quite skilled and performed the task with ease.
Experience had taught us that the bistecca for one is
easily shareable. It's one thing to have the best quality
meat, another to serve it properly, but what happens in
between is what separates the men from the boys. The
grilling must result in a crisp exterior and a rare juicy
interior without compromising the natural tenderness and
flavor. Nobody does it better than Buca Lapi. A side of
spinachi aglio e olio provided a healthy complement.
It was Valentines Day so it
was only appropriate to treat ourselves to the awesome
chocolate fudge cake that is really the main reason we
It was a slow and easy meal with
ample time between courses to sip our wine and enjoy a
bit of conversation with our neighbors. The service is
excellent and the prices quite reasonable for this
quality of dining.
Back at J.K.Place we made the
decision to have breakfast in bed, which service is
complimentary. Semi-reclining, we enjoyed breads,
pastries, fresh fruit, freshly squeezed blood orange
juice, egg white omelets along with delicious ricotta
cheese. It was so nice we repeated it the next morning!
The last and only time we saw
"David" at the Galleria dell'Accademia on via
Ricasoli was some twenty years ago. Now that he had been
bathed, we thought it was time to renew our acquaintance.
He stands as tall and imposingly handsome as we
remembered. David is one of those works of art that must
be seen at least once in a lifetime.
Firenze is a special place for
buying jewelry. It can be a harrowing experience because
of the sheer number of stores from which to choose and
trying to decide where you are most comfortable making
your purchase. It usually boils down to finding a person
whose products you like and whom you trust. Some years
ago we found our guy, Jean Saadé Fine Jewelry at via de'Cechi 6r. Jean designs and
manufactures most of the jewelry he sells. We were
looking for a few small gifts and as usual found exactly
what we needed. Best of all we enjoyed the opportunity to
visit and renew our friendship with Jean.
We were heading for the market in
Piazza L. Ghiberti for lunch and as we passed our
favorite pizza place, Il Pizzaiuolo on via de Macci, 113r
the smell of fresh pizza baking changed our plans. Theirs
is as close to Napoli pizza as one can get without being
there. The dough, sauce and baking technique are quite
authentic. We shared a Margherita and a Parmigiana and
left happy campers. The offerings other than pizza always
look quite good and one of these days we'll have to give
them a try. It's a cute, fun osteria.
Last year our Swiss friends had
introduced us to the unique Officina Profumo - Farmaceutica di S. Maria
Novella located at via
della Scala 16, just off of Piazza S. Maria Novella.
The history of the Pharmacy of
Santa Maria Novella is closely linked to the history of
the Dominican monastery of Santa Maria Novella for its
strictly monastic origin is connected to the noble
religious ideal of charity, including the loving care and
assistance to the sick. The pharmaceutical activity of
the friars began shortly after 1221. It was the year they
established themselves in Firenze in the small church of
Santa Maria Fra le Vigne, the old name of Santa Maria
Novella. The first definite reference to the production
of herbal medications in the monastery dates back to 1381.
It was in 1457 that the practice of distilling with herbs
and roses began.
The pharmacy evolved over the
centuries. In the 17th century it produced chemical
products that were sold all over Italy and the world. The
most popular were creams, soaps and fragrances. The fame
spread and sophisticated travelers made their way to the
pharmacy. The evolution continued and in 1867 the
ownership of the pharmacy passed from the hands of the
Dominican friars to a layman. The descendants of the
family have succeeded in preserving both the heritage of
the formulae of the products and the appearance of the
Florentine monastery pharmacy which includes many
important works of art.
The entrance to the pharmacy on via
della Scala is through a striking round arched Pietra
Serena doorway, crowned by a Dominican emblem of the
monks, characterized by a radiant sun, which has become
the emblem of the surrounding area.
One is immediately
struck by the scents of the perfumes. The sales room was
one of the monastery's most splendid chapels. The Gothic
ceiling filled with frescoes by Paloino Sarti portraying
the personifications of the four corners of the earth.
There are eight walnut cupboards with glass doors
containing exquisite 19th century bottles of the
different colored essences and products for sale. The
sales counter is decorated with neo-Gothic panels and 2
bronze sculptures of young maidens bearing lamps in Art
To the right are rooms built
between the infirmary and the chapel of San Niccolo,
originally intended to serve as a private apartment. It
is believed that at one period these rooms housed the
laboratory. The large airy room that opens to a garden is
still furnished in Directoire style from the 18th century.
On the walls are portraits of the monks and laymen who
oversaw the pharmacy over the centuries.
pharmacy is to the left. It was given this name because
from the 17th century until 1848 it was here that
products manufactured in the workshop were displayed and
sold. The room has splendid stucco decorations on the
vaulted ceiling. Inside the glass fronted cupboards are
the original jars of the pharmacy. In the show cases are
several mortars in bronze and marble.
There are displays of old equipment
and machinery in the backrooms where some production was
All of this forms a unique setting
for the display and selling of a variety of high quality
products guaranteed by the fact that all the officinal
herbs used are cultivated with natural techniques without
the use of pesticides and tightly controlled. The dried
extracts used for the tablets, capsules and syrups are
certified and titrated. The honeys and fruit compotes are
of biological origin. The compotes contain a minimum of
70% fruit and no sucrose.
The product range includes;
elixirs, tinctures, propolis, mixed herb infusions, fruit
compotes, alimentary integrators, teas, honey, syrups,
treatments for face and body, oral and dental hygiene,
soaps, sweets and other products.
We were able to arrange a visit to
the laboratory and factory that brought to life the
excellence of the products. No mass production here.
Every item is individually hand produced from secret
formulae. Machines are used for soap production and
perfume bottling. The packaging and labeling is all done
by hand. The laboratory constantly checks the quality of
all products as they are produced. The facility is
spotlessly clean and the staff seems dedicated to its
mission of providing top quality, unusual offerings.
Our dinner that night at the J.K.Place
restaurant, called Lounge, adjacent to the hotel was
marvelous. The design and style match that of the hotel,
elegant and sophisticated.
A small sitting area with a
fireplace and three tables at the front of the restaurant
is very welcoming. The main part of the dining room has
long banquets with pillows along the high walls, which
are hung with smart architectural drawings. The furniture
and fabrics are of high quality and well chosen to
reflect the attitude of the room.
There is a stunning lounge on the
lower level. The narrow space is lined with pillowed
banquets and tables. Back-lighting creates a smashing and
dramatic soft pink effect. This is a great place to
linger before and after dinner.
This environment called for us to
start with an aperitif, Campari with orange juice for
Linda and Campari on the rocks with a twist of lemon for
me. The house offered an unusual and wonderful appetizer,
fried radicchio cake with a broccoli cream sided with
orange marmalade and celery. The assortment of house made
breads was the best yet.
We had heard that Lounge had a top notch
bistecca. That's why we were here - to conduct the battle
of the bistecca - Lounge vs. Buca Lapi. To be fair we
started with a pasta primi, spaghettoni artigianali
aglio, olio, peperoncino, pomodoro e basilico. This
simple recipe was perfectly executed and marvelous. A
mixed salad of new greens, fennel, carrot, pepper, cuke
and olive oil was a welcome change in our diet. Linda
passed on wine so I settled in with a glass of very nice
Chianti Classico Reserva.
The head chef, Massimo, presented
us with the raw bistecca. We were petrified, it was huge.
It seems their steaks are delivered prepackaged in one
size. The decision was made, the battle must go on. The
waiters here do not need to be artists with the knife,
the artistry takes place in the kitchen. The presentation
was awesome. The thick slices of steak were fanned in a
circle with the large bone standing tall in the middle.
This was a very excellent bistecca. It did not quite meet
the standard of crisp outside, juicy interior and
remarkable natural flavor of the previous evening's
competitor. This did not stop us from finishing all but
two slices. The side of mashed potato was sensational.
Chocolate was again calling.
Tonight it was an exquisite presentation of a warm
chocolate cake filled with a thick chocolate sauce on a
pool of saffron English cream along with two chocolate
cups filled with Clementines and vanilla ice cream. Oh
yes, a few raspberries and alkekenge decorated the plate.
Placing second in the battle was no
disgrace, the bistecca is worth going for. The meal and
service was excellent.
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