For many visitors to Florence, there is only one view to covet from a bedroom window and that's the dramatic, Gothic-Renaissance Duomo. But my room on the third floor of the St Regis hotel gave it a run for its money. I could hear the soporific gush of the River Arno as it tumbled over a weir right below my window, and there were far-reaching views across to Oltrarno and the vine- and villa-dotted hills beyond.
Upgraded two years ago from the former Hotel Excelsior, the St Regis Florence is one of a growing number of big-hitting luxury hotel brands taking up residence in the Tuscan capital. In a city where there are historic jewels around almost every corner, a fitting architectural pedigree was required and even by Florentine standards the hotel measures up.
Built in 1432 on the northern bank of the River Arno as the noble residence of the Giuntini family, the original palazzo shares the same architect, Filippo Brunelleschi, as Florence's star attraction, the Duomo.
The Palazzo Giuntini became the Grand Hotel Royal de la Paix in the 19th century and was soon the fashionable place to stay for those on the Grand Tour, with a procession of guests that included Queen Victoria. In 1870, Rajaram Chhatrapati I, the then Maharaja of Kolhapur, passed away at the hotel en route from London to India and as a tribute, the nearby Ponte all'Indiano was named in his honour.
The hotel's tranformation from a Westin to a St Regis, Starwood Hotels' ultra-luxurious marque, is manifest throughout. Arriving during a bout of particularly inclement weather, I was met by a flurry of doormen proffering umbrellas and ushered into reception as quickly as possible.
The lobby marries original architectural features with a more contemporary slant in the shape of a library-cum-lobby with sofas and soaring bookcases crammed with glossy tomes, all available to buy. Move further inside and things start getting a bit more traditional.
The restaurant, lounge and bar are set in the winter garden, crowned by an elaborate Art Deco glass and wrought-iron ceiling with a huge chandelier dangling below.
The hotel debuted a new restaurant this summer, Winter Garden by Caino, an offshoot of the much raved about Michelin-starred Da Caino in the Maremma village of Montemerano (although there are plenty of simpler options nearby, notably Trattoria Sostanza).
Despite the obvious no-expense-spared surroundings, it's all quite discreet and the staff are refreshingly unstuffy.
The hotel is set on the northern bank of the River Arno, on the edge of the Piazza Ognissanti in the heart of the centro storico. You could not be better placed for exploring everything Florence has to offer. It's particularly enchanting in the run-up to Christmas, with stalls, markets and decorations dotted around the city.
The hotel is 10 minutes' walk from the Duomo, the Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio and all the upmarket shopping streets are a short Ferragamo-shod stagger.
A taxi into town from Florence's Peretola airport costs about €22 one way. Pisa airport is just over an hour away by train, which arrives at the Santa Maria Novella Station, a brief walk from the hotel.
There are 81 rooms and 19 suites set across two buildings; the original and an adjacent building that used to contain a warren of botteghe or artisans' workshops. These are divided into four different categories with three distinct decorative themes: Medici, Florentine and Renaissance. The Medici-inspired decor channels a lighter, more refined look, while the Renaissance – all saturated, jewel-like colours, coffered ceilings and frescos – are apparently much requested by Japanese visitors. Rooms in the Florentine style are pitched somewhere in between.
Many of the building's existing antiques have been kept and used throughout, although some of the newer pieces have that unmistakable, brassy gleam of the reproduction.
The more expensive rooms and suites also have the benefit of a St Regis butler, who will answer your every whim at the touch of a button – even if it's just to bring a cup of complimentary tea or coffee. Bathrooms are luxurious marble; there is TV, DVD and commendably free Wi-Fi. There's also a diminutive spa with two treatment rooms blanketed in Bisazza mosaic tiles.
The St Regis Florence
Piazza Ognissanti 1, Florence, Tuscany, Italy
(00 39 055 271 61; stregis.com/Florence)
Doubles start at €324, room only