Florence - a Renaissance tale
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
Over the course of my lifetime, I have been to Florence more times than I can remember and if you don't know much about me, just know that I'm not that old :)
For those of you who‘ve seen it, you’ll probably be nodding and smiling whilst reading this; as for those of you who haven’t, let me explain...
The Tuscan capital is almost like a dream: you step through the narrow cobbled streets of the old town and it is like being back in time. The intricate architecture adorns the low rise horizons, whilst the smells of the famous Bistecca Fiorentina waft out of the hum of busy trattorias to intoxicate the passers-by.
There are indisputable artistic masterpieces, there is sense-awakening food, there are Super Tuscan wines and of course, there’s gelato (by the way, there are those who think Florence is where Gelato was first invented!).
It would be a herculean task to attempt to share all the sights to visit and experience in Florence and so instead, I will tell you my latest tale and you can find the more traditional "options" here if you are a first-timer.
Since I come to Florence almost every year, I have now seen the landmarks that are the wonderful Ufizzi gallery, where Botticelli's Venus shies away in the depth of the 16th century converted municipal offices; the Palazzo Pitti, once home to the Medici family dynasty; the Accademia, a humble shelter to David, Michelangelo’s artistic peak; the Bargello, the former city prison turned iconic art gallery; and much more. Here's a few of them...
On this occasion, we used the cradle of the Renaissance as a backdrop to meet our best friends and explore together, whilst being reminded of our fragile, impressionable human nature and awestruck by the beauty of creative essence.
We started our trip with a wander through the sun-dappled streets, admiring the Ponte Vecchio and stopping for a quick debrief at the wonderfully authentic Trattoria Casalinga, a locals’ favourite, where the flavoursome ragu is a great preamble to what I can comfortably say is the best tiramisu my tastebuds ever tried. Don’t forget to order the house wine, cheap in price but rich in flavour, this is a locally sourced Chianti that smoothes your pasta and eases translations - it may even help with some add-on Italian gestures for a touch of authenticity whilst holidaying in the Tuscan oasis.
In the afternoon we continued our walk and stopped for a Venchi ice cream before entering the iconic Piazza Della Signoria, the longstanding centre of Florentine politics, gracefully adorned by the Loggia Dei Lanzi, an open-air sculpture gallery dating to the 14th century. You can try more local gelaterias, including Bar Vivoli and try a rare flavour (such as rice) for the experience of it - I tend to stick to the same chocolate-and-nut, being the creature of habit that I am.
A quick pit stop at our beautiful hotel followed next. Now, I could spend an entire post telling you all about this stunning family-run private house, Casa Howard, where we were welcomed with homemade apple cake and Prosecco and a big smile from our lovely host. The current owner was absolutely delightful and the rooms were, as always, exuding the same Florentine elegance that they have to enchant their guests for nearly 20 years (and the family for a few hundred years before that).
Dinner that night was at Cibreo, a charming restaurant in tune with the changing of seasons and a living and breathing menu. The food here was delicious and the staff attentive, however, this is one for the more modern traveller willing to step outside the comfort of a traditional Tuscan meal.
What I nearly forgot to mention was that on our way to dinner we stopped for a glass of wine at Palazzo Antinori, the home of the Rolls Royce of Tuscan wines where you can delight your senses with a wide range of luxury grape varieties and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and wine-infused ambient aromas in the family's private bar that occasionally opens to the public. It almost makes you feel like you permeate both class and time. Go in for one glass only - it is simply wonderful!
The following day we started with a delicious breakfast prepared by the lovely Cristy, who I cannot praise enough (typically you can get breakfast in bed but we had it with our friends).
We went for a trip to the stunning Officina Santa Maria Novella, an apothecary dating back to the early 17th century that blends in flawlessly with the elegance of the town. It is more of a museum and features a tea room, painted rooms and of course, unmistaken signature aromas of pomegranate that will make you wish you had a bigger luggage allowance. What is even better is that Casa Howard has been offering their products since the beginning and that is how I discovered the brand in the first place. It really is something special and worth a visit.
Lunch followed after more wandering into the streets and some sweet shopping at the historical and oldest cafe in town, Caffe Gilli, before a pre-lunch drink at Sesto (one of the nicest rooftops in terms of views - not food) and lunch at Regina Bistecca. If you like beef, this is where you should be. My beef fillet with truffle sauce was cooked to absolute perfection, but you can try all sorts of varieties. My friends were delighted with their signature Chianina beef. I will certainly remember that particular meal for a very long time.
We continued walking and stopped for a moment to crane our necks up at the majestically breathtaking Duomo (Tip: if you have time go to the Cappella Dei Medici right by the Duomo, the resting place of 49 Medici family members and a vast collection of Michelangelo's sculptures; the Duomo itself is a must, but make sure to get tickets in advance otherwise the queues are long and tiring).
Narrowly escaping all this beauty overload, we continued our journey only to stop for a glass of Chinotto (a traditional orange-based sparkling drink) and a tea infusion at the Four Seasons hotel, home to the largest Florentine private garden and possibly the most spectacular hotel I have ever laid my eyes on; oh, and if you listen to the stories, the birthplace of the infamous Negroni cocktail.
In the evening we stopped for dinner at Coquinarius, a modern unpretentious wine bar where you can enjoy a wide range of Tuscan dishes, as well as salads and more international foods.
On our last day, we went for a walk to the spiritual San Miniato al Monte and Piazzale Michelangelo (fun fact - during the civil war Michelangelo was tasked with protecting the bell tower of the church so he hid it behind donated mattresses). To go there you do need to be willing to go for a proper trek as it is a steep and long journey uphill, however, the monastery and the views are more than an adequate reward.
We had a last lunch at the cosy Il Santino, a tiny wine bar set in an old cellar, where the crostini and freshly curated ham will be certain to exhilarate your senses.
Our trip on this occasion ended after lunch and we got our flight back from Bologna (you have a choice of airports near Florence including Pisa and Florence, but personally I find Florence very difficult to get a bus or a taxi from, hence ending up with Bologna or Pisa most times).
In conclusion, my affair with Florence has started a while back and I think I’m committed now. I know I always mention art and try and see as much as I can wherever I go, but Florence is just another level. So when you add the cuisine, the wine, the sights and the charming Casa Howard, it really does amount to the perfect destination. And if you have read some of my other posts, please don't worry - I did go to the Hard Rock Cafe Florence on all of my previous trips :)