If you add it all up, it worked out to about 18 hours real time between the time we left home and our arrival at Granduomo. All of us agreed, the prospect of sitting on something that didn’t have a seatbelt, and where we couldn’t kick our feet out and touch the person or wall in front of us, sounded really great. Thankfully, Marinella, the wonderful manager and incredible hostess, was there on our arrival at Granduomo (English version). This really turned out to be a home away from home and we can’t imagine staying elsewhere when we return.
Granduomo Location and First Impressions
Getting here is fairly simple, since the entrance is right there in Piazza del Duomo. By car, you’re likely to cross the ZTL barrier at Via Cavour or Via Ricasoli, turn left into the piazza and then enter the building through a doorway between some definite tourist shops – a snack bar to the left and a leather store to the right.
The two streets mentioned above, Ricasoli and Cavour, are named after some key people in Italian unification. Camilo Cavour, actually Camilo Benso, Count of Cavour, was Italy’s first Prime Minister – prior to that, the diplomat responsible for essentially trading Nice and Savoy for Toscana and Emilia. He died in June of 1861, just a few months after the Kingdom of Italy was founded. The Florentine also tells me that he imported the sort of wine talent from France that led to Barolo wine. Bettino Ricasoli was a native Florentine and the second Prime Minister of Italy. Well, the second, and then also the seventh, so he’s basically the historical predecessor to Grover Cleveland. Also, they both had great mustaches. Ricasoli ultimately failed in reconciling with the Vatican, but he succeeded at something arguably as important – he invented Chianti. Now, back to the topic at hand –
Once inside, you’ll go through a second door and into a small reception area. It’s worth noting that the front desk is only staffed from about 9am until 8pm. It’s common to have a couple of hours during the day where there will also be no desk staff, especially if no new guests are expected to arrive or check out, as the entire staff generally consists of Marinella and just a few housekeeping staff. During these times, the doors below will be locked and you’ll enter using a numeric code. While this area isn’t unsafe by any stretch, it’s nice to have the additional security of double locking doors. It also means that no one without business there will be hanging out in the corridor at odd hours.
Granduomo is less of a hotel and more of an apartment building with some hotel-style amenities. As such, the front desk is really the only thing on the first floor, and you have a choice of stairs or elevator to get up to your floor. This is a great arrangement as there are no ground floor apartments, and therefore no rooms to avoid. Just a quick tip, in Italy, the ground floor is numbered zero – piano zero – so the first floor – 1 or primo piano – is what we would think of as the second floor in the US. Granduomo has what I can only describe as a European elevator – picture the full depth of what you might find at your local mall, but only half the width. As a result, you can go up with all of your people, or all of your things, but not both. In our case, we went up and Marinella followed with our luggage.
From here on, I should apologize for the lack of decent pictures. When we took this trip, I hadn’t entertained the thought of ever writing about it.
Since we had brought my sister along, we opted for a 2 bedroom apartment, which was actually their base Comfort Apartment plus a Superior Apartment joined with a common entryway. Everything here is lock and key, the metal kind. I hate to use up a good punchline early, but when we got to the airport for our return flight, it turned out my sister forgot to return the keys. It was too late to go back, so Fedex made some extra money off of me that day.
Both apartments were quite spacious, especially the Superior – where we had a separate living area with couch, dinette and kitchenette, and bedroom with a king bed, plenty of room for a crib and lots of storage space. Bathrooms vary by apartment, so when booking, it may be helpful to call if you need something specific. Our larger room, for instance, only had a shower in the rather narrow bathroom. My sister’s smaller room had a large bathroom with tub and shower. Everything was clean, well-stocked and functional. Water pressure was exceptional, which I simply did not expect in a building this old. Amenities such as soaps and shampoo are provided in small quantities.
Anyhow, our apartment was on the 3rd floor (4th, American), with both rooms facing the courtyard – however, our view from the Superior side bedroom had a window facing Brunelleschi’s dome.
The photo above is framed out the window, but picks up a pretty dominant reflection of the bedroom. In the corner, you can see the Nexus 5 I used to take it. That phone is now in retirement due to salt water damage, but we’ll talk another time about when I accidentally jumped off a boat with it in my pocket. The Casco Bay giveth and the Casco Bay taketh away. This is unfortunately the best picture of the bedroom that I personally took. You can see the armoire, not pictured are the 4 drawers underneath each set of double doors. The small-ish LCD TV there in the corner was never turned on during our trip, as I grew up watching RAI and really didn’t want to see any more.
Since we basically had two apartments combined into one, each had its own living room and kitchenette. I do recommend the Superior for the additional space, as the sitting area was larger and the kitchenette was organized as a straight counter on one side. In the Comfort side of our apartment, the kitchenette was tucked away behind bi-fold doors and a bit smaller.
The above photo is from the Granduomo website and appears identical to our kitchenette and dining area. You’ll notice the decor is a little different and you can’t see the underside of the tile roof. The kitchenette comes with two electric burners, a microwave, a deep sink, electric moka pot and refrigerator. The cabinets and drawers are stocked with utensils, pots, pans, dish towels, and everything else you might need to make a meal. The fridge is the large cabinet on the left in the picture, and is quite large. It is not the barely-cool mini-fridge style we’re used to finding in American hotels. You can park some groceries in this thing.
As common spaces go, Granduomo is a great place to take in Florence. I’m not a huge fan of wasting time at a hotel, but the reality of taking an 18 month old to Italy means that you’re going to do that now and again. Although this is more of an apartment building than hotel, I would rate the common spaces here as nothing short of spectacular. There is a library on the 1st floor, equipped with a Nespresso machine, some cookies and a bottle of wine, all out for guests to enjoy. The crown jewel of Granduomo, though, is the rooftop terrace – where you’ll find 270 degree views of Florence, including the countryside, nearby rooftops, and oh, that Duomo thing right across the way. We ate two lunches up here, brought in at nap time on our way back from sightseeing. In the photo below, my daughter is sleeping on the banquette under the window – I’m tempted to post it for the sake of cuteness, but I am sticking to the idea that she gets to decide when she’s older how much of a presence on the Internet she really wants. I know, sorry!
The terrace is completely enclosed in glass, although windows do open if it gets warm. There is once again a Nespresso machine, bottled water, and other assorted treats. There is also a full dining table and place settings. In February, we never encountered other guests up here and wondered if we were the only people occupying the place, but I bet you’ll make some new friends up here on a July afternoon.
And if you look down, the glass gives you a view of the stairwell down to the library!
I may veer off course for a bit here, but I’ve really found through trial and error in Italy that if it’s really important for you to have something resembling an authentic experience, you are better off in local accommodations rather than a chain hotel. While I do believe American hotel chains offer the best standards of service in the world, that comes at a certain cost beyond the dollars. When it comes down to it, chains offer consistency, and that means that a Westin or even a Park Hyatt in Europe is going to be 80% like the Westin or Hyatt in Chicago and 20% local. Brand standards dictate it. These places are a safe bet, and I can tell you first hand are wonderful hotels, but are not my choice in Italy unless I really can’t come up with a decent local option. I could keep going here, so I’ll stop and make this the subject of my next post.
Services and Amenities
While Granduomo is apartment-style, there are some hotel style services that really do make the stay enjoyable. There is, of course, daily housekeeping – and unlike a lot of limited service hotels, housekeeping is around past the morning, so if you sleep in that first day (which I don’t recommend!) you can still get some service in the afternoon. In addition, an Italian-style breakfast will be at your door each morning. Italians tend not to eat large, American style breakfasts, and instead opt for things like breads with some butter or jam, yogurt, or maybe some granola. And coffee, always coffee, which you can make using the supplied moka pot and espresso pods, or you can run to the terrace or library and make a Nespresso. They will also re-stock you with milk and juice during housekeeping, or if you run out, just call downstairs. For kids, its nice to know there’s milk available – my daughter really, really liked the slightly sweeter Italian whole milk. My sister, on the other hand, loved the blood orange juice and developed a two carton a day habit. If you’d like to try the blood orange juice, it’s called succo di arancia rossa, or red orange juice.
As far as other services, just call down and ask. The nice part about dealing with locals is getting to recommendations based on their tastes and experiences, rather than whoever has a marketing arrangement. If you need a taxi, ask the front desk to call – unlike the US, it’s rare to hail a cab on the street, you either need to go to a taxi stand or call one over. Be forewarned that if you call a cab, the meter runs from the time of dispatch, not when they get to you. This won’t matter for trips back to the airport, as that is a flat rate. If you arrive on train, it is a very easy walk from Santa Maria Novella, the main train station in Florence.
Overall, I found this place to be a tremendous value, operated by wonderful people in a solid location. The services they did offer were better than advertised. Our total cost came out to 2160 Euro (approx. $2700 USD as of today) for 8 nights, which was reasonable given the location and the fact that we had two full apartments allocated to us. Individually, Comfort apartments went for 140 Euro a night, and Superior for 175 Euro per night – $175 and $218, today, respectively. Rates from 2014 look unchanged in early 2015 if you are planning a trip, but their inventory and current pricing is available through their website. However, if you wish to support this site, I appreciate any bookings through my Hotels.com link.
As you’ve noticed by now, I’m terrible about getting trip reports up in a timely fashion. I think they get monotonous to read, let alone write, so I’m going to try and strike a balance. I’ll work in some posts on what we did on a daily basis, but I’ll really focus on posts that can help make your Italy experience more authentic. When it comes to travel blogging, I’m learning that I might be a one trick pony – we visit Italy more than any place else, I speak Italian as my first language (even if I have lost a bit of vocabulary over time), my daughter refuses to, and I spend a lot of time on forums helping others plan authentic experiences. My goal is to get more of that content here and help you have a nice time when you visit my favorite vacation destination.