Casa Howard Florence
This affordable guesthouse—opened in 2005 as a Florentine outpost of a successful Roman experiment in a new kind of Italian lodging—features 13 themed accommodations in a prime location near Santa Maria Novella church. This is not a full-service hotel: there’s no concierge, no porter for your bags, not even a receptionist—a housekeeper checks in guests and gives them the keys (though you should advise the owners about any unduly early or late arrivals so they’ll be sure to have someone around). The idea is for you to treat the guesthouse as your private Florentine flat, complete with Wi-Fi and LCD TVs. Each room is unique, with unusual colors and quirky furnishings: the Oriental Room’s tomato-red walls complement pieces collected on the owners’ Asian travels, the large Drawing Room has Venetian mosaic marble floors and black walls with eye-popping white trim, the cozy Hidden Room has a padded wall and sunken tub, and the Garden Room has its own Turkish bath.
Insider Tip: Head next door to the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy to stock up on bathroom products; the guesthouse’s complimentary toiletries are minimal. Also make sure you specify the Florence location when you book (you’ll be calling a number in Rome, where they have two other properties).
Room to Book: The Library Room has wall-to-wall shelves filled with books in English. The family-friendly Play Room has a private climbing wall.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.