A conversation with Elena, owner of B&B Fiorenza
B&Bs are really what they mean: a bed and breakfast provided in the morning by the family whom you’re putting up with. The owner usually cleans the rooms and prepares the breakfast although some rely on staff to help out with that. Even though there is none of that red carpet and grand lobbies that hotels offer, B&Bs usually win people over because it’s cosy, and allows you a glimpse of the lives of the locals.
One of the few B&Bs which left a deep impression on me was Fiorenza B&B in Florence, Italy. Run by Elena who used to work as a chemist for Estee Lauder in Milano, this B&B is clearly her pride and joy. Every room is tastefully decorated with a thoughtfulness and attention to aesthetics that you would expect from someone who’s worked with one of the world’s largest cosmetics manufacturer. According to Elena, she seeked inspiration from Marie Claire and Maison to get ideas and her background in color palettes helped greatly too. Elena personally sourced for every piece of furniture in each of her three rooms, some of which are vintage pieces.
Elena grew up in Florence but moved to Milan for work eventually. As a chemist for Estee Lauder, she had to create new colors for the makeup giant every new season. Although glamorous and exciting, it was a tough job because her role was extremely fast-paced and complex due to the different regulations on the raw materials and compounds that can and cannot be used in making each product.
After five years, she decided to quit her job, move back to Florence and operate a B&B instead since this would allow her more freedom and time with her kids aged 2 and 6. According to Elena, it is better to have her own business in Italy than to be an employee. Her husband who’s also a chemist continues to be based in Milan and he shuttles between Milan and Florence in order to spend weekends with Elena and the kids.
Running a B&B isn’t a bed of roses (sorry, I just had to use that) for Elena as she has to take care of her kids while ensuring the rooms are cleaned, breakfast made and answering emails and enquiries online. Elena has a cleaner who comes in daily to tidy the rooms while she takes care of the daily breakfasts and brings her kids to school. Sometimes her mom chips in too, especially during high-peak seasons or when her children fall sick. Initially, business wasn’t great because noone knew about her B&B but things started picking up after she’d advertised in B&B directories. Shortly after, this little gem became very popular as more and more travellers knew about this place because of the great reviews it had from the beautifully decorated rooms to the attentive and friendly service they’d received from Elena.
It was really nice that I had a chance to talk to Elena because to me, the best part of travelling is being able to get a glimpse of the lives of people who seem so different yet similar to ourselves. I may not remember the exact details of our stay in years to come but I know I’ll always remember this conversation we had; where an Italian woman running her own B&B poured out her story to a curious Singaporean traveller.