Set in the hills of the Etruscan town of Fiesole, Italy, just above Florence, the Villa San Michele,an exclusive small boutique hotel, rates high in history, architecture and luxury.

After the taxi ride along the tree-lined drive, it takes a few minutes to digest the fact that the façade, a two-story colonnade, was designed by Michelangelo and dates back to the late 1500s. Once a Franciscan monastery, the fifteen century building has been restored and is now one of the most luxurious hideaways in Italy.

After you pass the bronze statue of Minerva which sits at the side of the entrance, the lobby, once the chapel, is overseen by well informed staff members who readily tell you about the hotel’s history. The marble altar facing the entrance is original and confessionals are now cleverly used as telephone booths. The elaborate crystal chandelier hanging over the Persian rugs, are new but the registration desk is an ancient oak refectory table. Although there are comfortable Tudor-styled chairs, the original pews seem to be where the guests choose to sit and observe the lobby’s dramatic mural of the Ascension.

Outside, a walk up two dozen stairs through the expansive herb garden with the wisteria covered walls and potted orange and lemon trees, leads to the swimming pool with its own cascading waterfall. Immaculate manicured lawns and gardens around the villa re tended daily by two gardeners. The dahlias are so large and perfect they don’t look real. On a vine-covered wall in the courtyard, where it isn’t difficult to imagine the monks chanting their prayers, is the Davanzati family crest carved in stone and dating back to the early 1400’s and attributed to Donatello.

The Davanzati donated the land to the Franciscans. History is all pervasive here. A comfortable salon with a massive Florentine stone fireplace features a fresco depicting the Last Supper by Renaissance artist Nicodemo Ferruci. Even the room keys have a touch of history. They’re marked in Roman numerals. Room number forty-four –XLIV- is a suite behind the main building. Past a small fully equipped the beautifully decorated living room has a panoramic view of Florence. The bathroom’s heated floor tiles and towel rack, the large tub cum Jacuzzi and large racks and drawers in the dressing room, are other convenient features. The sanctuary is a private oasis as well as a treat of a lifetime.

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