Article by Willard Manus

First it was a fortress, then it became the hunting lodge of a family that palled around with Dante Alighieri, next it was confiscated by Cosimo de Medici and his clan, who in turn lost the property to the Michelozzi family, who held on to it until the end of the sixteenth century, during which time Galileo mounted his telescope up here and studied the universe.

The medieval battles for control of Florence's Torre di Bellosguardo have had their modern counterparts. Early in WW II, German officers billeted down in Bellosguardo's tower, only to be forced out two years later by the victorious Allied high command.

Artists have also been attracted by Bellosguardo, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the heart of Florence (hence its name, "beautiful view"). Drawn by its position, its tree-shaded gardens and atmosphere of tranquillity and wellbeing, such Renaissance sculptors and painters as Francavilla and Poccetti took up residence here, followed in a later age by such international literary luminaries as Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, to name but a few. The latter sang the praises of place in a verse:

"From Tuscan Bellosguardo where Galileo stood at nights to
take the vision of the stars, we have found it hard
gazing upon the earth and heavens
to make a choice of beauty."

After the war, the property was returned to its 20th century owner, the German Baroness Marion Hornstein, who had acquired it in a divorce settlement from her husband, a Florentine nobleman, Giorgio Franchetti. Hornstein turned the estate into a kind of bohemian boarding house for her artistic friends, many of whom ended up living rent-free. Eventually, failing finances obliged her to rent out Bellosguardo to a succession of overseas American educational institutions.

In 1980 Amerigo Franchetti decided to turn his now-rundown family inheritance into an upscale b & b. Working on a limited budget, Amerigo and his French wife Michele set out to restore Bellosguardo to its former elegance and splendor.

"First we redecorated the tower itself, turning it into twin two-level suites replete with windows at four cardinal points to give a complete panorama of Florence and its surroundings," said Amerigo, who was born in Milan, educated at Oxford, and worked in advertising until moving to Florence.

Next came work on the gardens. Large numbers of English shrubs and climbers were planted in Bellosguardo's Mediterranean-like setting (which already abounded in olive and cypress trees). The walls surrounding the grounds were rebuilt; frescoes, paintings and sculptures touched up.

Bellosguardo's scattered villas were turned into seventeen apartments, each with its own private bathroom and personalized decor, utilizing where possible original materials and furniture. Restoration of the tower's high-vaulted ballroom came next, resulting in a sun-filled reception area and music room whose portal is crowned by Francavilla's marble figure of Charity wrestling for control of two naked cherubs.

These communal rooms can also boast of Tuscan terracotta or parquet floors, Persian rugs, stone columns, pietra serena fireplaces and stone steps, vases of flowers and potted plants, and a melange of antique furniture and paintings bequeathed by Amerigo's late mother.

"In the 90s we put in a swimming pool," Amerigo explained. "Guests can enjoy a champagne breakfast here and use the pool to cool off, especially after spending a hot day trooping around Florence's museums and palazzos. We've tried to turn Bellosguardo into a sort of peaceful oases where travelers can feel as comfortable as in their own homes."

Amerigo, who speaks, as he says, "Italian, French, German and Cockney," is on reception duty from 6-10 a.m. and from 5-11 p.m. He and his small staff gladly dispense advice on restaurants, nightclubs and tours. Guests are made to feel part of the family, much as they were back in the 1920s and 30s when Baroness Hornstein held salons for writers, poets and painters.

In general, the atmosphere of Bellosguardo is so idyllic, it is almost unreal--like a fairy tale. It forces you to relax, to put your transmission into neutral. I especially liked my early mornings, when I would go outside, capuccino in hand, and look down on mist-obscured Florence, with only a few church domes showing.

Bellosguardo is a fifteen-minute taxi ride from the center of the city, but it is also possible--and much more pleasant--to walk from the inn down into Florence, skirting the walls of other villas, descending through groves of olive, lemon and orange trees. Birds sing and cicadas chatter, and the Cupola of the Duomo draws you like a lodestone.

With its history and position, its serenity and beauty, the Torre di Bellosguardo is surely one of the most unique bed & breakfasts in the world.

Torre di Bellosguardo is located at 2, Via Roti Michelozzi, Florence, Italy 50124. Tel. 011-39-55-229-8145, fax 011-39-55-229-008.
E-mail: info@torrebellosguardo.com.it
Prices: Single: EU $ 160; Double: EU $ 280; Suite: EU $ 330. Breakfast: EU $20.-- Bus to Porto Romana, then a 15 min. walk