Dear Friends & Readers,
Sorry I was MIA last week. I was in Dubai and I promise I’ll describe my Arabian adventures at length in an upcoming post. In the meantime I need to keep a promise to my friend Cathy who is traveling to Florence in May and asked me about our trip to Tuscany last summer. The Pirate and I only had 3 1/2 days in Florence before driving into the so called “Chiantishire“. Too little time for such a marvelous city, especially when you have so much art, history and architecture to admire! But the city’s geography was on our side: in Florence everything is within walking distance so pack your walking shoes and get ready to burn some calories (after my restaurant recommendations you will need it).
Disclaimer: CityProfiles are usually written by experts on certain cities and countries. While I am not Tuscan, our Florence experience was lovely so I decided to share some tips to show you how you can get the most out of your time in Florence. 3 1/2 days are not much but during a log weekend you can at least see the major attractions and hopefully feel like a local too.
Where to Stay:
Florence has many great hotels but I would suggest you stay in the city center so that you have all the museums and attractions within walking distance. We picked Hotel Porta Rossa because it is situated in a lovely location, close to the Lungarno and within walking distance from the main attraction of the city but not in the middle of tourist central. This small boutique hotel has spacious rooms with a minimalistic decor and red accents but also features frescoes on the walls and ceilings. We were really impressed with the breakfast selection and I managed to steal a couple of recipes from the pastry chef!
On day one, you should immediately book your tickets for the Uffizi Gallery for the following day. Unlike museums in New York, you can’t just show up and think that you will gain admission to the gallery. Presale is the way to go especially in the summer. While you may not be able to see the gallery on the same day and the line for ticket holders is substantially shorter and fasted than that for non ticket holders. After you purchased the tickets head to Piazza della Signoria for a picture next to a replica of the David. Please note that the original by Michelangelo is in the Galleria dell’Accademia a museum that is worth seeing if you have a little more time in the city. In Piazza della Signoria you have 2 choises: head to the Chanel Store for some shopping or to Palazzo Vecchio, the old government building, for some culture. Naturally the Pirate grabbed me while I was sneaking in the direction of the store and dragged me to Palazzo Vecchio instead. While the rooms are filled with history and frescoes, the view from the top is really breathtaking and shouldn’t be missed. There is no other place in Florence where you can get a 360 degrees view of the city. Please note that there is no elevator so pace yourself while you go up the several flights of stairs. When you reach the top you will discover how they filled their cardio quota during the Renaissance. From Piazza della Signoria walk north towards the Duomo, also known as Santa Maria de Fiore. This church IS one of the most impressive architectural and artistic buildings in Florence. If you feel like going up the stairs of Palazzo Vecchio to see the top, you should also visit the Cupola of the Duomo. After this trip up and down the stairs you will be ready for a little rest. My suggestion is to go visit the Panerai store. Even if you don’t have the funds for one of their famed watched (rediscovered in the late 90s by Silvester Stallone, who had bought an antique Radiomir in a store in Rome…. long story, don’t ask) you will enjoy seeing that the small store looks like out of a James Bond movie.
On your second day you can start from the Uffizi Gallery, one of my favorite museums. Make sure you go looking for the Botticelli room as you won’t want to miss the Venus and the Primavera… Aside from the beauty of these paintings you will also notice the different aesthetic of the middle age and the renaissance. Women painted by Botticelli and Leonardo were voluptuous, curvy and feminine. Being overly thin was undesirable…. clearly Botticelli and Leonardo would turn in their graves if they only saw the aesthetics Anna Wintour is promoting! Your Uffizi visit should take about half a day so for the remainder I recommend the Basilica di Santa Croce, designed by Brunelleschi and decorated by Giotto. then head to Ponte Vecchio, the most famous bridge in Florence. You can stroll down the bridge and look at all the jewelry stores, although I would recommend spending your money elsewhere. Finally you should take a bus or a cab to San Miniato al Monte, a lovely church near piazzale Michelangelo. In Piazzale Michelangelo you can catch the most romantic sunset overlooking the city.
On your last day, you can start by visiting Palazzo Pitti, the museum of modern art. Then head west to Piazza Santo Spirito and visit Basilica di Santo Spirito. Now that you have seen the most important places in Florence you have 2 options, you can go see all the other private museums and galleries not included in this city profile OR, if you know me, you can go shopping!
Where to eat:
A couple of years ago, a guest blogger generously provided me with a list of his favorite restaurants in Florence. This time I decided to pick my favorite too. Many restaurants were suggested by other friends who visited/lived in Florence, but we only had 3 and 1/2 days so I picked 3 restaurants that I thought were the most representative of the city.
- Cibreo: Fabio Picchi the chef/owner of Cibreo is a celebrity chef in his own right. In Italy the wave of celebrity chefs has only just begun and Picchi was a celebrity for years because of his witty well written cookbooks about saints sinners and food. There are several Cibreo establishments, the restaurant, the trattoria, the cafe’ and the theater (Teatro del Sale). We made reservations for the restaurant and had a meal so delicious that, along with La Madia in Sicily and few others, I deem it worth of the title of “meal of a lifetime”. Ristorante Cibreo doesn’t have a menu: everything is seasonal, the dishes are modified based on the customers’ wants and needs… substitutions are actually encouraged. There is also no physical menu, when you want to order, the wife of the chef will sit at the table with you and describe every single dish. It helps that she speaks multiple languages too. The best part is meeting chef Picchi, who often walks around the dining room and talks to customers.
- Parione: this restaurant embodies modern Tuscan food like few others. There is a beautiful open kitchen where you can see the chefs at work and two lovely dining rooms with modern art paintings and colorful decor. The food is to die for. Whether you pick a pasta or an entree you will leave happy and well fed!
- Angiolino: are you interested in eating a dinosaur steak? Then Angiolino is the place for you. Florence is well known for the famous bistecca fiorentina a bone in steak that is usually not only large but cut very thick and with a lovely marbelization. At Angiolino they butcher them to order! This restaurant features traditional florentine dishes but there is nothing stuffy or stale about Angiolino. Whether you eat a “fiorentina” or a pollo al mattone, you will feel like a real Tuscan.
Florence is a great destination if you are looking for artisanal quality and craftsmanship. Carta Fiorentina, the traditional florentine stationery is not to be missed. The most refined and artisanal purveyor is Pineider established in 1775 and still the best stationery maker in Tuscany (and Italy). They also have leather goods that are buttery smooth and lightweight (but on the pricy side) which will be the envy of your next governance meeting.
The gentlemen may want to troll down the Lungarno for stores selling prints of geographical and nautical maps. The ladies may want to look for their next favorite perfume at Lorenzo Villoresi’s store. If you are interested in bringing home a piece of Tuscany you should probably focus your attention on truffles, dried mushrooms and extravirgin olive oil. That is by far the best purchase to remember Florence by.