FLORENCE, Italy — Friends from Connecticut, who looked like characters out of a Ralph Lauren ad, entered the tiny, sweltering lobby of the Hotel-Pensione Quisisana e Pontevecchio and approached the signora hesitantly.
Would it be possible, they asked, to have "a room with a view?"
Giovanna Marasco, 77, the fourth woman in her line to run this simple, cozy hostelry on the banks of the Arno River, put down her pen and peered coolly at the two young Americans from behind the registration desk.
The couple got the message and retreated to the room they'd already been assigned.
Marasco shook her head slowly and rolled her eyes. Ever since director James Ivory selected the Quisisana e Pontevecchio for the early interior scenes of his 1986 Oscar-nominated film of E. M. Forster's romantic novel, "A Room with a View," the little hotel has been besieged by requests for rooms with a view.
Other Hotels Along River
The Quisisana e Pontevecchio is not the only small hotel in Florence that Ivory could have cast as Forster's fictional Pensione Bertolini, where young love ignites despite Victorian convention.
Half a dozen establishments along the Arno offer a view and an ambiance similar to those described in the novel and seen in the film.
But the Quisisana got the part, and as word got out--neither the Quisisana management nor Florence tourism officials have kept the choice a secret--reservations have poured in.
"It has been a mixed blessing, certainly," Marasco said of the film and its attendant publicity.
We sat in the Quisisana's parlor, which, as in the film, is eclectically furnished in the Victorian mode with well-stuffed chairs (and their obligatory antimacassars), sturdy mahogany tables and Oriental rugs spread over an intricately patterned tiled floor. A great stone fireplace takes up much of one wall.
"Naturally, we like to have many, many guests," Marasco said. "And, of course, we like everyone to have the accommodations they prefer. But we are a small hotel and few rooms (10 of 37) have a view of the river.
"Since the film, we hear of nothing else. If there is no room with a view, we have complaints. If there is such a room available, we have complaints, too, because those rooms can be noisy from the traffic and loud voices at night."
She glanced over her shoulder to see if Pete and Georgia might still be around.
Marasco is a round woman with dark, intelligent eyes and, despite the occasional frustrations brought on by her hotel's celebrity, a warm, ready wit that often spills over into outright jollity.
She is moved to great, rumbling laughter, for example, in describing what might be called the "honeymoon strategy."
"We have many young couples, usually Americans, who arrive here with their reservations and, finding we have only back rooms for them, suddenly remember they are on their honeymoons. 'Please, please, can't you do something?' "
Marasco brings her palms to her cheeks in mock desperation. "What am I to do? Throw other honeymooners out of their rooms? So many honeymooners in America!"
Decades of Guests
The signora emphasizes proudly that the Quisisana, which has been serving guests at its location between the Uffizi museum and the Ponte Vecchio for nearly 60 years (and for 20 years before that at its first site a couple of blocks away), has always been a popular stopping place. The film has only made it more so.
"From when my great-grandmother opened the original Pensione Quisisana until now we have never wanted for guests," Marasco said.
"We have had stay with us everyone, from the family of the Russian czars to touring university students, to English noble families whose children and children's children come back here again and again."
The Quisisana takes up the top three floors of a stolid, stone Renaissance building--the ground floor houses private apartments--whose entrance is on the traffic-clogged Lungarno (literally, the street that runs along the Arno).
One reaches the hotel via a tiny wood-paneled and mirrored elevator. The loggia on the top floor was incorporated into the building from an Etruscan palace long ago.
There is a common entrance to the loggia from a main hall, so every guest, room with a view or not, can enjoy a splendid vista of the Vasari corridor leading from the Uffizi gallery to the Ponte Vecchio on the right, and of the jewel-like Church of San Miniato across the river and up a hill overlooking the city on the left.
The hotel moved to its current location and added Pontevecchio to its name in 1929, when Marasco's mother was in charge.
The elder Marasco will be 101 this year, but, her daughter said with a smile, she "does not get around so much as before" because of a broken leg she sustained last year.
Marasco relies on her brother, Dante Nutini, and a staff of about a dozen to help with the operation of the hotel.