Florence skyline (Photo credit Olga Makarova)

Walking into the lobby at Firenze Number Nine is a little like slipping between the pages of an Agatha Christie novel; the interior of the hotel oozes old school glamour. Here I discovered just how Englishman Paul Feakes, ended up in the pivotal role of Hotel Director in one of Florence’s most desirable boutique hotels.

“The very first time I visited Florence was over 23 years ago and I felt an instant and immense sense of coming home. Standing in the middle of the Piazza della Signoria I felt as if the cosmoses were aligning and that I was meant to come back to Firenze and spend time here.

“Over the next couple of decades I revisited Italy at least three or four times a year to top up on the culture, meet up with friends, shop, cook, entertain and explore the cities and countryside. I became quite familiar and incredibly comfortable with Florence and my visits became more frequent, often tying in with events and exhibitions such as Pitti Fashion.

“In 2008 I was living in Surrey in the UK working in a fairly demanding position in training and development and decided I needed a complete change. The timing was right, and through a friend in Italy I found my first home in Florence.”

During his time in Florence, Paul has worked with some impressive brands including the Savoy and he played a key role in the concept development and creation of the glorious Gucci Garden boutique and restaurant.

Over the last 11 years Paul has rubbed shoulders with some of Florence’s most demanding and discerning teams in the hospitality trade, but his role at Firenze Number Nine has been the most challenging yet. The hotel boasts a huge and impressively equipped gym and an underground spa alongside its beautifully furnished 70 rooms.

“I try and make the time to soak up the atmosphere of the city whenever possible, as I’m asked by guests numerous times a day for recommendations. However, I don’t need an excuse to explore the back streets of Florence – it’s a total pleasure. I really adore the tabernacles on the corners of historic buildings – I’m told there are over a thousand spread across the city. I could spend hours just looking at these enduring artworks. I’ve noticed a little touch of kitsch in some of them which I rather like. I’m also very fond of the impressive statue of Perseus by Cellini which sits in the Loggia dei Lanzi on the corner of Piazza della Signoria – it is incredible.

“Of course Florence is full of museums, but I recommend the Museo degli Innocenti. I like to look up and around at the architectural details. While exploring, I encourage visitors to stop for a decadent snack. I like to pop into Procacci and savour a chilled glass of Prosecco and a few truffle-infused gourmet sandwiches.

If I’m meeting friends or have a rare evening off, I head to Harry’s Bar for a refreshing glass of Varnelli on the rocks. When asked for suggestions for excellent local wines or wines to ship overseas, I tend to recommend a Tignanello from Antinori or a Benefizio from Frescobaldi. For bubbles, I’d go for a Leonia Rosè also by Frescobaldi.”

While absorbing Paul’s infectious passion for his adopted hometown, it’s also pretty hard not to notice his unique flair for fashion and in particular his striking accessories such as his oversized gorgeous Gucci broach, colourful bracelets and eye-catching rings.

“I love shopping! Florence is perfect for those who want to indulge in some designer labels and you can also find some lesser known artisans and designers simply by taking the side streets and exploring the smaller boutique stores. I am lucky to have a few nice Gucci items from when I worked there, a wonderful perk of the job.

“A beautifully handcrafted leather jacket is a must-buy when in Florence. I am a great fan of Ben Heart, a young designer who makes contemporary pieces from the softest leathers. For jewellery I visit the gold market in Santa Croce where you can have bespoke pieces designed just for you. I have bought certified original Roman coins which have been set into rings, which are both bold and beautiful. A guilty pleasure of mine is cashmere scarves – I can’t get enough of them. I adore Faliero Sarti’s store in Via Vittorio Alfieri – I love their unique use of colours. My final little luxury is the wonderful collection of bow ties by Raffaele Stella Brienza.”

Paul’s love of Florence and its people is both uplifting and informative and can be noted in the unique experiences and events he has created for the guests of Firenze Number Nine.

“I like to combine pleasures and share these with visitors to the hotel. For example, our guided fitness walk around the city is very popular, as you pass by so many ancient monuments and historic landmarks. Another interesting event was our recent Goodnight Spa gathering where guests enjoyed Prosecco and canapés at midnight in our subterranean spa. Another idea is our fashion vault personal shopper experience where we take guests to a secret location where they are welcomed into a warehouse stocked with the very best designer label clothing and accessories.”

Paul’s message is clear: to really enjoy Florence’s lifestyle and unique culture you must allow yourself the time to wander beyond the main piazzas and meander down the tiny side streets that house the real artisans and creative spirits of the city. Sample some simple street food, embrace aperitivo hour and always remember to look up at the architecture and architraves that surround you as you soak up the soul of the city.