The peach-hued buildings, artisan shops and Renaissance landmarks begin to peter out as you follow the River Arno from the historic centre of Florence to Riva Lofts. But with them go the crowds; they are soon replaced by Florentines going about their daily business. After a day milling around the sights of the often claustrophobic streets in the centre, Riva Lofts feels like a sanctuary.
As befits a hotel in the city that shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo once called home, here at Riva Lofts the architect behind some of Italy's most ritzy boutiques has dramatically reworked a clutch of 19th-century artisan workshops into stylish guest accommodation. Claudio Nardi opened up his former riverside studios as a chic but homely pied-à-terre for paying guests a year ago, leaving his daughter, Alice, at the helm.
The residential, leafy location is mirrored by Riva's home-from-home ambience. Arranged in two stone buildings, each with its own private entrance, all rooms bar one have a basic kitchen area. There's a groovy communal lounge where guests share cultural and restaurant tips, show off their day's purchases, get stuck into the honesty bar, or just sit and read in front of the fire. The decor is a soothing palette of rough exposed brickwork, stone, greys and cream. Yawning cross-vaulted ceilings arch over Mies van der Rohe modernist chairs, Fifties-style armchairs and lamps, a long leather sofa, a piano and dainty tables and chairs. A huge print of a typewriter and a Granny Smith on one of the walls is a striking diversion. This is also the setting for breakfast, which is presented with yet more style – old Pastis bottles filled with orange juice, and a zinc counter where a disappointingly limited selection of cereal, fruit and pastries is presented.
Riva Lofts, Via Baccio Bandinelli 98, Florence, Italy (00 39 055 713 0272; www.rivahotel.it). The hotel is in a residential neighbourhood on the left bank of the Arno, overlooking the Parco delle Cascine opposite. It's a 40-minute walk into the historic centre, but you can borrow Fifties-style bicycles (with locks) for free from the hotel. There isn't much in the way of local eateries, but taxis can be booked at reception.
Time from international airport: Florence's Amerigo Vespucci airport is around a 20-minute drive. However, Pisa is served by a far wider range of airlines from the UK. Coaches and trains depart from the airport for Florence's Santa Maria Novella station, taking around 70 minutes; it's a 10-minute taxi ride from there to Riva Lofts (about €10/£7.10).
Each room is distinct, and you get the feeling that every furnishing has been painstakingly considered. My room was one of the smallest, but decorated with clean, uncluttered lines, offset with warm tadelakt flooring (a Moroccan method of waterproof plastering), stone-hued walls, soft grey wool rugs and pieces of both antique and modern furniture. The centrepiece was the firm bed, encased by a curtain of white silk threads – the only instance when the design tripped over the line from cosy boutique hotel to concept fashion store.
Half of the rooms are arranged around a garden, with a swanky sandstone lap pool surrounded by distressed furniture, Mexican hammocks and giant snail shells that glow at night. The others are arranged on the top level of the building, with river views. The interiors range from minimalist white to split-level, loft-style suites with four-poster beds.
Freebies: a bag of Marie Danielle toiletries. Soft drinks and nibbles from the minibar and communal honesty bar are complimentary.
Keeping in touch: direct-dial phones in the rooms. Flat-screen TVs with DVD players are provided, with a small library of DVDs and CDs for loan from the lounge area. Free broadband internet connection and a laptop can be borrowed on request.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Rooms start at €190 (£136), including breakfast.
I'm not paying that: Le Stanze di Santa Croce (00 39 347 259 3010; www.viapinzochere6.it) is a cosy B&B in the vibrant Santa Croce district. Doubles from €160 (£114), including breakfast.