I had a good feeling about the experience I might have in Italy with Starwood Preferred Guest, checking out the hotels chosen to be 2014 Member Favorites properties by my fellow members because as a member myself, I’m accustomed to being well treated during my stay at Starwood properties. That being said, I didn’t know how good the experience was going to be.
My trip began in Florence…
When I arrived, a complimentary driver was waiting just after immigration with a sign sporting my name and a friendly smile on his face. He was warm and professional, depositing me via a ride in a new Mercedes in the small piazza outside the Westin Excelsior with the utmost safety, and yet expediency, practiced. Check in was a breeze, with my SPG number already on file, and I was in my room with luggage delivered in just a few minutes.
The Westin Excelsior in Florence has a few key features that make it popular with SPG members, and are perhaps part of why it was chosen by over 1 million voting members to be part of the Ultimate Top 10 category in the 2014 Member Favorites list.
In Room Fitness – I benefitted from this greatly. Since my room featured its own treadmill and a full collection of workout equipment, I was able to break a sweat in the privacy of my room without having to visit the gym, something I am for some reason very much not a fan of.
Unparalleled Rooftop Access – There’s a nearly 360 degree terrace on the top of the Westin where the SE*STO restaurant and bar are located, in addition to meeting and event space. Part of it also overlooks the penthouse suites that have their own rooftop access. All told, between all the public and private spaces, you can get a view of the whole city from the Arno River to the Duomo. Sunset up there is almost as spectacular as it is from Piazzale Michelangelo.
Pillow Menu – If the heavenly bed weren’t enough, the Westin Excelsior also features a pillow menu and because I was contacted prior to arrival to ask what type of pillow I would most like to have in my room, there was already my favorite memory foam waiting for me upon the bed on arrival.
Every morning, I felt like a princess in the gilded salon just off the lobby where breakfast is served buffet style with fine china, starched white tablecloths and chandeliers overhead. Waiters in white jackets brought my cappuccino without needing to be asked and a chef made my eggs exactly how I like them. It set the perfect tone for sightseeing in a city as fine as Florence.
I also loved the location. Sitting just above the Arno River, about 3 bridges down from the Ponte Vecchio, the Westin is just close enough to all the major tourist sites as to be well within walking distance. Yet it is just far enough away from the action so that, while a guest, I felt as if I was more a local than a tourist. At night, the piazza in between the Westin and St. Regis is quiet and so calming. It’s a space that I felt safe and relaxed in, while bathed in an atmosphere of that particular kind of romance that one only finds in Italy at night. It’s so difficult to even put into words. Both properties were chosen to also be in the Best City Experiences category of the Member Favorites list and I think the proximity is part of that reason. Removed but not really, close but not too close.
Everything about the Westin’s location applies to the next property I visited while in Florence: the St. Regis. It is situated just across the piazza from the Westin in a former palazzo, designed by Brunelleschi. Almost from the minute I entered I understood exactly why it was chosen to be part of the Ultimate Top 10 category in the 2014 Member Favorites list. I was expected, and greeted like an old friend. My luggage brought across the piazza without my needing to lift a finger. And it was immediately exactly what I always pictured a luxurious Italian hotel to be. With touches of the modern and yet the traditional perfectly in sync inside its high ceilings, from the entrance hall to the staircase to the interior design that greets you as you exit the elevator to the guest rooms themselves and carried over to the two story breakfast salon and bar – everything about the St. Regis is regal and yet not overdone.
My room was in the Florentine style with frescoes and a chandelier, a gilded mirror and a view that just thrilled me. The marble bathroom featured its own television hidden in the mirror and separate dressing area + closet with a full length mirror and a skirted chair made me want to take extra time when getting ready. Every moment I spent in my room, I wanted it to be seated in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows that opened onto a breathtaking view of the Arno River. It was opulent without being at all uncomfortable.
Because my suite was a Premium Deluxe Arno River View Room it came with Butler service and whether that was simply to have coffee delivered in the morning before I even went down to breakfast or whether it was arranging car service for myself and my friends to enjoy sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo, there wasn’t anything I needed that they couldn’t see to. It was hugely luxurious to know I could call on someone 24 hours a day in a different capacity than a concierge or room service.
Fresh flowers made it into my room every day. There was a delivery of my favorite fresh fruit one afternoon. And one evening I came back to an entire bar stocked with everything I needed to make my favorite (and their signature) cocktail, the Bloody Mary. Of course, rich chocolates in little silk bags greeted me on my turned down bed every evening.
I also loved visiting The Iridium Suites by Clarins, which offer another level of comfort during treatment with, as the name suggests, private suites for one to two people that include a whirlpool standalone bathtub and private dressing + shower area. Therapists are some of the most skilled and welcoming of any spa I’ve visited. After my treatment, I found myself wishing I had scheduled an entire day in the suite. But even an hour was enough to make me feel like a princess with the glittering mosaic tile, dim lighting and sparkling chandelier.
In the end, the “final nail in the coffin” of understanding for me about why the St. Regis was chosen by SPG members to be on the Favorites list this year was the fact that very near the beginning of my second day there all the staff seemed to know exactly who I was and greeted me by name when they saw me. Had it been just me they did that for, I would have been impressed. Yet it was the fact that I noticed them doing it for other guests as well that truly left me speechless. For a property with 81 rooms and 19 suites, this doesn’t strike me as a small feat for hotel staff members to undertake. Yet the effect is anything but small.
When the same Mercedes came at the end of my stay to shuttle me to the train station, I was very sad to leave. I’d come to feel like both properties were like home and it was hard to imagine things could get better.
Not surprisingly, the last stop on my trip through Italy with SPG, to Venice, was no less incredible. More on that in my next post, and a future post will talk more about the activities I enjoyed while in both cities…
Every year, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) releases its Member Favorites list, showcasing hotels and resorts that are top-rated by SPG members. I was hired by SPG to visit these properties and share my findings with you as a new way of showcasing those that made the list as Best City Experiences and The Ultimate 10 for 2014. You can also find out more by exploring with the #spglife hashtag on any social network. As always when I work with destinations and brands, all opinions and full editorial control are still my own.