I've been traveling to Florence for three decades and have been lucky enough to stay at some amazing hotels. Here, my favorites:
The Torre di Bellosquardo. I first stayed here when it was still a private home, so for me it will always have that welcoming feel. The Baron Franchetti still lives on the estate, overseeing its smooth operation and gorgeous surroundings. Perched on the top of Bellosguardo ("beautiful view") hill, the Torre enjoys a commanding view of the city of Florence at its feet; you feel like you could practically reach out and grab the top of the Duomo.
In the summer, sit by the pool or stroll the gardens with that remarkable view ever present; in cooler months, enjoy the view through your guestroom's arched and frescoed windows, unless of course your view takes in the gardens and hills beyond, which is lovely in its own right. The furnishings are antique, solid, intricately carved; the ceilings are painted; the walls thick and often frescoed; the Barone charming and ready to welcome you into his home. Although an ample breakfast is served, and in the summer you can enjoy a Caprese salad by the pool, there is no restaurant. And while you can walk down the hill and hit the Arno in 20 minutes, you'd probably want to flag a taxi for the hike back up. But the Torre's rates are half what you'd expect to pay for similarly grand accommodations in city center, and sometimes it's very nice to get away from the hustle and bustle (and heat in the summer) down the hill.
Il Salviatino. This new hotel (opened 2010) in the hills of Fiesole is giving the revered Villa San Michele a run for its money. The 15th-century villa has been renovated in a way that combines today's, simple, neutral aesthetic with the building's original elaborate bones, parquet and terrazzo floors, frescoed walls, vaulted ceilings. This is where the adult children of Villa San Michele habitués would no doubt prefer to stay (or anyone who would prefer smiling, albeit less polished, service to the major-league attitude the Villa is famous for.) At Il Salviatino, some rooms and the main terrace offer expansive views of the city of Florence below (you can wave hi to the Baron at the Torre across the Arno.) It's too far to walk into the city center, so taxis or a car are essential.
The St. Regis. In an imposing palazzo originally designed by Brunelleschi, St. Regis opened one of the most splendid hotels in Florence in autumn of last year. The hotel overlooks the Arno and the Piazza Ognissanti, and guestrooms are sumptuously decorated in various styles. The Medici Style is all purple, gold and burgundy jacquards and crystal chandeliers; the Florentine Style offers frescos, arches and metal chandeliers. The hotel's restaurant has tables inside and outside on the Piazza, across the street from the Arno, with stunning 180-degree views and green tea tiramisu; it's a setting staged for lingering. And, as you'd expect at a St.Regis, the service is snap-to attentive and surprisingly warm, especially from the young female staff members.
Grand Hotel Villa Cora. Talk about magnificence: to my mind the Villa Cora tops even the Imperial in Vienna or Danieli in Venice for ornate opulence. The hotel is small, almost boutique like, located on the Oltrarno in a palazzo past the Boboli gardens. It is surrounded by its own gardens; what you lose in views you make up for in peace and quiet. The public rooms are exquisite, all dazzling confections of mirrors, crystal, silks and gold leaf; no surface if left undecorated. In the summer, the outdoor pool and terrace make dealing with Florence's famed heat not just bearable, but delectable.
The Hotel degli Orafi. For E.M. Forster via Merchant-Ivory fans, this hotel offers the original room with a view (ask for number 414). The Orafi is located across the street from the Arno and a stone's throw from the Ponte Vecchio as well as the Uffizi -- is there a better location? There is a delightful rooftop indoor-outdoor restaurant and bar for guests only, that provides anyone staying at the hotel a look at the view that has captivated for centuries.