Pisa's Royal Victoria Hotel is a little slice of history along the Arno River, overlooking colourful medieval buildings built during the times of the Medici, and somewhere to experience age-old architectural techniques that once dominated this beautiful Tuscan city. The history of the building is evident before you even step through the door. Heavy wooden doors welcome guests, the white stone walls with authentic wooden window frames, and wooden window shutters offer an insight into the momentous moments in history that the building has seen.
History of the Hotel
As I walked through the doors, I was struck by the shiny tiled floor, huge towering ceilings, and fireplace in the lounge area. The building itself preserves the tower from the 11th century headquarters of the Pisan winemaker's guild, which even then was used as an inn, but the building as it stands today came into fruition when the Piegaja family bought the building in 1837, extended it and modified the interior, and renamed it the Hotel Royal de la Victoire. The Piegaja family still owns the hotel, and they rightly try their hardest to preserve the family traditions and heirlooms that have been passed through the generations.
The first owner of the existing hotel, Pasquale Piegaja, had been organising trips for Italians to Pisa whilst studying at the University of London, and he thought that a new hotel, meeting his high standards, was needed in Pisa - a city that was becoming increasingly popular because it was the first city in Tuscany to have a railway station, it had the Leaning Tower, and ambient temperatures throughout the year. Today, it seems that Pasquale made the right decision to open the Royal Victoria Hotel.
Although locals still refer to the hotel as Hotel Vittoria, the name was gradually changed to the English Royal Victoria because of the many English tourists who stayed there on their Grand Tours of Italy during the reign of Queen Victoria. The hotel houses an 11th century tower, three 12-13th century towers, two 14-15th Pisan tower houses, a high medieval church with cloisters called a Domus, two 19th century residential buildings in typical Tuscan style, and until 2009, a 1950s building that was rebuilt after the hotel suffered minor damage during the Second World War. The Royal Victoria Hotel is a historical gem at the heart of Pisa's medieval district.
The hotel has hosted some of the world's most recognisable figures throughout its history, including Charles Dickens, Charles Lindbergh, The Rockefeller family, Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, John Ruskin, Virginia Woolf, Lloyd George, Theodore Rousevelt, and the royal families of Austria, Bulgaria, Iraq, Russia, various German states prior to federalisation, Belgium, The Netherlands, UK, Japan, Brasil, Serbia, Norway, Sweden. I was in good company when I stayed here.
Rooms at the Royal Victoria
My room was one of the largest Junior Suites in the hotel, complete with towering high ceilings, original frescoes painted on the wall, a wooden bed hidden away in an alcove, a bathroom with original features such as the arched window leading onto the living area, and amazing views directly over the River Arno and the colourful medieval buildings on the other side of the river.
The room was spectacular and more than I had imagined when I was offered the opportunity to stay. The bed was hidden away in an alcove set-back into the wall, with wall paintings that appeared to be draped curtains, and an archway that was painted in stripes of grey and cream. Three impressive black candleabra chandelliers hung from the ceiling, one in the seating area, one over the double bed, and one over the wooden wardrobe painted in colours only fitting for a room with this much history.
The seating area included two wooden armchairs and a sofa offering views out of the double windows out across the river. There was a wooden coat rail that I have never seen in a hotel before, and added little touches such as an antique bedside lamp and a phone designed to look like one of those that you had to swivel a dial to ring numbers.
There were cracks on all walls, but rather than being a sign of bad maintenance, in the Royal Victoria they demonstrated the age of the building. You can't expect a building, some of which was first constructed in the 11th century, to remain completely untarnished can you? I think these cracks in the walls only added to the character of this Pisan gem.
The bathroom was enormous, almost as big as many bedrooms in other hotels. High on the walls of the bedrooms there were two painted crests, one of the Pisan cross on a red shield, and the other a black eagle standing on a column with the Latin phrase 'Urbis Me Dignum Pisane Noscite Signum' circled around it, the motto of the former Republic of Pisa before it became part of Tuscany. In aevery part of my room I was in the presence of more history than I had ever experienced anywhere else before.
Every night, Apéritifs are served in the lobby at just 3 Euros per drink, a continental breakfast is served in the dining room - complete with a piano that has been played by countless distinguished guests during the hotel's heyday, and refreshments can be served in your room or on the 4th floor terrace overlooking an alleyway between Pisa's historic buildings.
The Royal Victoria Hotel kindly hosted me for two nights in a Junior Suite so that I could experience all that this historic hotel had to offer. I would like to thank the genrosity of the Piegaja family for agreeing to let me stay at their hotel, and hope that they continue to offer guests an insight into their little slice of history just a short walk from the Square of Miracles and the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.
For more information about the hotel and to book a room visit: www.royalvictoria.it/en.