Montecatini Terme plans to erect signs in Cyrillic after Svetlana Medvedeva, wife of outgoing president, visits its luxury hotel
A luxury Tuscan spa hotel which has hosted the likes of Giuseppe Verdi, Paul Cezanne and Arnold Schwarzenegger has rolled out the red carpet for an unexpected arrival from the world's new capital of bling - Moscow.
Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, has hitherto avoided a reputation for rock star living, but made a start this month by booking out the entire hotel La Pace in Montecatini Terme for one week and showing up with her son and a 30-strong entourage.
In a move worthy of an oil sheikh's wife, Medvedeva, 46, arrived while the 140-room hotel was shut for the winter, prompting staff to throw open the shutters and plump up the pillows as Italian police set up security in the small town
In a move worthy of an oil sheikh's wife, Medvedeva, 46, arrived while the 140-room hotel was shut for the winter, prompting staff to throw open the shutters and plump up the pillows as Italian police set up security in the small town.
As Vladimir Putin retakes the reins in Russia from her husband, Medvedeva may have wanted a breather from hectic years of opening art festivals, meeting Japanese orphans and visiting crisis centres.
With rooms going for 600 euro ($745) a night and suites at up to 1300 euro, the hotel clearly looked the right place to splurge.
Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn have all checked in over the years, and discreet staff have smoothly handled guests with peculiar requests or capricious behaviour, including the Polish count who insisted on clearing the restaurant for a game of tennis, to a British lord who was ticked off for flicking cherry stones at other guests during dinner.
Medvedeva's visit followed promotional trips made to Moscow by hotel managers, according to the Italian daily Corriere Fiorentino.
Her stay, the hotel hopes, will trigger an onslaught of Russian oligarchs and their wives, just as Roman Abramovich's visit to Tuscan resort Forte dei Marmi turned it from a genteel hideaway for Milan industrialists into Moscow-on-sea, and Putin's stay at Silvio Berlusconi's Sardinian villa helped clog the island's Emerald coast with Russian yachts.
Massimo Giovannetti, a local official in Montecatini Terme, told Corriere Fiorentino the effects of Medvedeva's visit "will be seen in the coming months when Russian tourists who love classic spas will turn up in ever greater numbers".
Guardian News & Media