Palazzo Portinari Salviati

Via del Corso – or more simply, “il corso” – is one of Florence’s oldest streets, dating back to the days of ancient Roman Florentia. It owes its name to a riderless horse race that was run around the mid-nineteenth century, between the stunning churches and palazzos that flank it on either side. One of the latter is Palazzo Portinari Salviati.

Having remained closed to the public for centuries, the Palazzo reopened in 2022, following a project of meticulous, sumptuous restoration. It now welcomes overnight guests, and its skylit Corte degli Imperatori is home to chef Vito Mollica’s exquisite restaurant, Chic Nonna. Dining in the restaurant, settling into one of the bedrooms, indeed visiting the Palazzo in any way is a chance to grasp the true spirit, the genius loci of Portinari Salviati. Whether you dine finely in Chic Nonna or sample an aperitivo in the more casual but equally elegant Salotto Portinari Bar & Bistrot, you will find service distinguished by its care, courteousness and professionalism: a style of haute-hotellerie that works with a cuisine rooted in the chef’s native Sicily, but with elements of wider Italian and international cooking, most notably in its Eastern touches. The present author was particularly enamoured of one of the signature house dishes, Cavatelli cacio e pepe, with red prawns and marinated calamari. Never were tastebuds blown by a more miraculously harmonized dish.

It was at the dawn of the thirteenth century that the palazzo was built and first lived in by the Portinari, the family that produced the illustrious Florentine banker Folco Portinari, who in turn produced the ineffable Beatrice, as immortalized by Dante Alighieri. Who could forget the lines that Beatrice inspired in the divine poet, when he came to compose the Purgatorio section of his great work? “Veiled white and crowned with olives, a woman came / to me: her mantle was green, and beneath / she was dressed in the colour of living flame.”

A few centuries later – in 1546, at the culmination of Florence’s staggering, earthshaking Renaissance – the palazzo was bought by the Salviati family. The Salviati had already lived there, perhaps as tenants, in the form of Maria Salviati, her husband Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, and their son, who would become Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. The young Cosimo was thrown by his mother from one of the palazzo’s windows, into the arms of his father waiting below. Not only did Cosimo somehow survive this character-building test unscathed, but did so, it is said, without shedding a tear – a true display of strength and courage, which were needed, I dare say, to manage parents like that.

The Salviati were astute collectors of art, and from the late seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries especially, they lavished the villa with it. In the palazzo today, you will find works by Donatello, Andrea del Sarto, Correggio, Bronzino and Verrocchio, to name but a few of their most prestigious artists.

The Palazzo changed hands numerous times after the Salviati, but in the early 1800s it was bought by the city of Florence and transformed into an exclusive lyceum. In Florence’s brief period as the capital of Italy, which lasted from 1865 to 1871, it was used as the office for the Ministry of Grace, Justice and Religion, and further expanded in order to accommodate the many functionaries that worked therein.

In the late nineteenth century the Palazzo was turned into the branch of a bank, and thus it remained until 2022. Along the way it underwent continuous interventions, rendering it ever more beautiful and refined. The result today is an architectural masterpiece, a composite of styles and periods in a building that seems entirely of a piece.