I fell in love with Florence within minutes. It has a beautiful, gentle, laid back air, but with all the benefits of city life, along with history, great food, and extremely friendly people. The city is surrounded by hills, and it is well-positioned for travel into the Tuscan countryside, ideal for walkers, cyclists and ramblers alike.
Of course, when you travel, where you stay can make or break your trip, and I look back on my time in Firenze with such joy because of my experience at Velona’s Jungle Suites.
This is simply the most exquisite design hotel/B&B I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at. The work that has gone into creating such a space is incredible, and the small touches along with the grand antiques make for a feast for the eyes wherever you turn.
Myself and Mr Green V spent two nights at Velona’s Jungle, but we both could have stayed for much, much longer…
We all know that Italian hospitality is among the best in the world, but it is establishments like this that take it to the next level; Velona’s Jungle is the very essence of Florentine hospitality.
We arrived in Florence by train from Rome, and in 34 degrees heat we could not wait to get into a cool room and freshen up. Velona’s Jungle is a gentle 10-minute walk from the main Santa Maria Novella train station, easily accessible by taxi if you’d rather save your feet. Situated around 20 minutes from the historical centre of Florence, you can enjoy peace and quiet in a very pleasant residential area, and take a gentle stroll along the river to get to the centre of the city. There is also space to park close by for drivers.
Hotel owner Veronica greeted us, welcoming us to our home for the next 2 days. Veronica made us feel at ease straight away, ushering us to our air conditioned (hooray!) room and providing directions to all the best vegan-friendly places that Florence had to offer. We were in Florence in August, and it was very hot, so if you don’t like the heat, you might be better off going in the springtime instead.
As you know, it is very important for me to stay at hotels and B&Bs that not only cater for vegan diets, but are also committed to sustainable practices and source their products responsibly. And of course, a girl needs some luxury mixed in there too.
Velona’s Jungle is a 100% vegetarian hotel – how fantastic is that? From food to products, everything is organic and locally-sourced in a bid to be environmentally conscious whilst also supporting small and local businesses. Oh, and doggy parents don’t fret, your pampered pooches can also stay here, with a suitable bed, food and even dog-sitting services available too.
We stayed in the Fossey Suite, and as you can tell by the images, it is beautiful. Tranquil yet chic, decedent yet homely. It’s quite simply a place to relax and recuperate. In fact, the whole floor invites you in with its charm and beauty, to sit a while in peace – and just ‘be’. No rushing, no hustle or bustle – just take your time and soak up all that Velona’s Jungle has to offer you.
Velona’s Jungle is a boutique B&B/hotel, and there are four suites available for guests, each with its own design, full of character and charm. A theme throughout the hotel is the sheer attention to detail. Every area, each corner and the smallest of nooks have something to present, a charming print, a tasteful art book, or a wonderful antique. It’s the perfect base for travellers seeking sustainable luxury, with a true Florentine flair.
Regular readers will know that I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with breakfast. I usually lean towards savoury dishes when at home, but rarely give myself time to create something first thing in the morning, so I’ll usually just skip breakfast (yes, naughty I know). Perhaps you will also remember my hunt for the elusive vegan croissant, and my joy at finding them in Italy. You’ll then appreciate how excited and thrilled I was to be offered fresh, vegan patisseries at breakfast during our stay in Florence.
Yes, not only were there vegan croissants, but the most beautiful sweet treats you could imagine – all vegan, all cruelty-free. Well, I was in heaven, and I did not want to leave!
I have to say that breakfast at Velona’s Jungle is easily one of my all-time favourites. The fact that Veronica purposefully went to get vegan patisseries for us was so thoughtful and unexpected.
I also loved that breakfast was a leisurely affair, and is served until 12pm; so you don’t have to rush about when you’re on holiday. We enjoyed fruit salad, breads, patisseries, vegan soy cappuccinos (you honestly haven’t had a cappuccino until you’ve had one made in Italy) and read the local English-speaking newspaper The Florentine. The tower outside the building which you can see from the main windows was part of Florence’s city wall, and across the river you can see another tower – so as you drink your coffee, you can step back in time too.
In this case, I feel my words do not give the breakfast justice, so why not let the photographs speak for themselves?
The whole experience of staying at this beautiful location was sublime, from the fabulous décor to the vegan breakfast and natural products in the bathroom, it is a little bit of paradise, nestled away in Florentine streets.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Veronica on our second day and asked her some questions about Velona’s Jungle and the story behind it.
Rachida: Veronica, you’ve been open since September 2016, what was the building used for prior to Velona’s Jungle?
Veronica: Yes, and before then it took 2 years to renovate the house because it used to be my grandfather’s house, and he lived here with my grandmother, my mother and my uncle. He was an antique seller, so all the antiques that you see here used to belong to him. He had a shop close to here, because this is actually the antique area of Florence, and full of little shops selling many special items.
In this part of the house, he kept all the furniture, and we used to use this room we are sitting in for very special occasions.
When my grandparents died, we wanted to do something special here. At the time I was working elsewhere in Italy, but my professional background has always been in hospitality and working in hotels, but always for other employers. After we discussed the idea of renovating the house, my mother was keen for me to return to Florence, so I came back.
RB: How old is the building?
V: Although a lot of Florence is in the renaissance style, this building is actually from 1930s and we didn’t want to do something that didn’t match with the soul of the building. So, we chose to do something with 20th Century style. Although we have older pieces, we also have pieces that my mother and I bought in markets throughout Italy. We’ve mixed these restored pieces with more modern elements, such as the wallpaper from Christian Lacroix.
As a family, we love nature and animals, and we also love to travel, so it was important for us to include this somehow. We have travelled a lot, and like to have pieces and items from the places we have visited. It’s also why pets are welcome here, and the food is only vegetarian; we try and use purely organic ingredients and produce that is made locally – if not in Florence, then Tuscany, if not in Tuscany, then Italy.
RB: Being more conscious is so important, but if you have to import it to Europe from a country like the US for example, it is still damaging to the environment.
V: Yes, exactly! I’m happy to see that people are opting for organic items, but we now need to tackle the distance and impact of this. For example, the bath products we use are all made in Florence – just 2km from here! All the products are made from natural ingredients.
RB: You’ve given us such a lovely warm welcome during our stay, Velona’s Jungle feels more like a home, rather than a hotel. It’s a very personal experience and we feel we can spend time in the main room, or on the terrace rather than being confined to our room.
V: I don’t want my guests to feel like they are in a factory. Here it is different – it is never crowded. When we are fully booked, it’s only 8 people. You can speak with me, with the other guests and take your time without hurrying. Our checkout is at 12pm. If someone wakes up at 12pm, they can still have breakfast. It’s all about taking it slowly and enjoyably.
RB: Florence is quiet calm and peaceful, especially compared to Rome, there’s a different pace.
V: It’s true, and it’s the perfect area to explore. Next year I’m planning to offer bike tours so guests can experience the local area by bicycle – you can be in the countryside in just a 10 minute ride. You can also ride along the river for 20km, or even around the park, which is around 5km.
RB: Why do you think Florence is so vegan-friendly and so open to alternative diets?
V: Since 19th Century, we’ve shared the town with an international crowd, there’s always been people living here from all over the world. We are very aware of what is popular in other countries because of the expat communities in Florence, so when foreigners request new things in restaurants or hotels, we take notice, and want to provide this for them to make them happy.
RB: That is so refreshing, and a fantastic approach to learn, adapt and provide something special for visitors and tourists. It’s typical from my experience in Italy – here it is a pleasure for people to help, it’s a different mentality from northern Europe.
V: it’s our culture – we love to meet people, to bring them to our homes, to get to know then and to share experiences with them. It’s the spirit of Italy, of Florence and the spirit of this house. It’s why I love this job – I am always meeting new people and welcoming them to Velona’s Jungle. What could be better than that?
I cherish the memories made both in Florence and at this stunning boutique hotel. It truly is one of a kind, and the perfect place to stay for guests who desire sustainable luxury with a heavy dose of Tuscan hospitality. I cannot wait to return to Velona’s Jungle – see you there?
Book your Florentine escape at Velona’s Jungle at www.velonasjungle.com