Designer, calligrapher and now hotelier, Betty Soldi is one busy woman. A fixture on the streets of the Oltrarno neighbourhood in Florence, four years ago, with partner Matteo Perduca, she opened the concept store, &CO. A treasure trove of home wares, up-cycled furniture and independent designers from both Italy and around Europe, this space on via Maggio was a design studio cum shop, with rows of products on display in the front showroom, and a studio work space in the back section of the store. Not content with managing one of the most enticing stores in the city, which has just recently moved location across the street to via Maggio, 51r, in late 2014 the duo secured the former offices of La Repubblica newspaper housed in a classic Renaissance palace and SoprArno Suites was born: A 13-bedroom residence over three floors, each room individually designed and themed with Betty's custom design flair. Soon to follow was the dreamy and whimsical Ad Astra, a second hotel with awe-inspiring views from a wraparound terrace overlooking the Torrigiani gardens. With such a passion for Florence and design, how does Betty enjoy the city when not concocting the latest hip hotel or designing for clients that include luxury brands, perfumers and fashion labels? Here she shares her favourite city spots in Florence… 

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    1. Galleries I Love

    I like the Museo Bardini for the location; Museo Marino Marini as it's so centrally hidden away and magical; and the Specola on via Romana for its authentic “still in another era“ atmosphere.

    2. For A Special Dinner 

    I think Pampaloni's In Fabbrica is brilliant and utterly quirky for traditional Florence, it is just incredible to dine using real silverware within the factory it was literally just made in.

    3. For A Sweet Treat

    For amazing pastries and chocolate I head to Dolcissima on via Maggio; La Strega Nocciola on via dei Bardi for ice cream; Rivoire in piazza della Signoria for the amazing packaging and sweet treats or Gilli in piazza della Republicca for that charming, nostalgic, glamorous feel.

    4. My Florence Style

    Even if I've spent 30 years of my life in London I've always looked at Florence as an open-air museum. Each street, building, facade, church, square has its own story. Centuries of history layered to create one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Fashion is balance: A mix of personality, craftsmanship and passion, all of which exists here and the fashion often shines through the little touches, the verve, and the confidence of the people living here.

    5. Favourite Shopping Stores & Streets 

    Internationally, I love Céline for its simplistic style but go to Cos because it's in such an amazing building (especially the top floor). One of my favourite stores in Florence is Quercioli & Luccherini for the best underwear and sock selection!

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    6. For Sunset Cocktails

    On the terrace of the my latest boutique hotel opening, AdAstra, above the Giardino Torrigiani with its antique observatory to the stars. The terrace itself is perfect for catching rays or stargazing!

    7. For Art & Culture {beyond the obvious galleries}

    The Museo Marino Marini is my favourite place for the old space designed by Leon Battista Alberti and its modern setting in an unassuming piazzetta (small square/piazza).

    8. Favourite Green Space In Florence 

    The Giardino delle Rose and Giardino degli Iris, both near Piazzale Michelangelo. They both emit an immense sense of verdant calm and serenity. I adore watching the leaves turn their golden colours in autumn in Florence; it's a very magical time of year. 

    9. Escape To The Countryside {best day trip from Florence} 

    In the Valdarno, where I was born and where my family still hand make fireworks since 1869. They are part of the annual Easter fireworks in Florence, Scoppio del Carro, which is a spectacular not to miss when in the Tuscan capital.

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    Photo credit: Olga Makarova