The image of Florence in my mind was a renaissance masterpiece: empty stone paved streets, with adorable cafes and wine cellars lit by candles. City where the time stands still, well literally, unchanged since sixteenth century. Therefore, imagine my disappointment when around 9am on my holiday, I found myself standing in a queue of tourists waiting to get in to Santa Maria del Fiore guarded by two clearly pissed-off Italians, who by the looks of it, were dealing with masses of lost human beings daily. They seemed to have no empathy and to all enquiries replied with: go to the back of the line.
City breaks are always such a struggle.
Was I impressed with the marvellous architecture of the Florence’s Duomo? Perhaps, but I was so focused on moving along and keeping my-self from flying down a thousand stairs, which I climbed to get to the iconic Brunelleschi’s dome and have a moment admiring the panorama, that all I remember is a feeling, a body numbing fear and fight for survival as well as the perfect spot for selfie. Internet have ruined it all for me, as seeing Florence in the pictures took away the excitement of the first time. Everywhere, I’ve been I’ve already travelled via google maps. It’s unavoidable.
Therefore, if you wish to have a quiet moment alone with the city, head to the intimate rooftop terrace bar of Hotel Torre Guelfa, a medieval family house tower. This was probably the most exclusive experience we had during the two-day visit. Nothing topped the divine moment we came the closest to the historical Florence: sipping wine surrounded by the gorgeous view, listening to cathedrals bells orchestra. Bellissimo!
Another equally mesmerising, but also very crowded location to appreciate the scenery is Piazzale Michelangelo, a square with a panoramic view of Florence and luxurious restaurant that serves mediocre food, but is not so bad for wine sipping, especially in summer.
We went in the late evening, but I believe it’s equally breath-taking in a daytime too, you also get to visit The Rose Garden, the best time to go there is May, because all flowers are in full bloom. Japanese section is not to be missed (so I was told) and it is perfect spot for picnics.
If you are in search for authentic experience and are swap-hotel-for-Airbnb kind of traveller, stay at Maria Rosaria’s welcoming apartment, twenty-minute walk from the Florence Train Central Station, at Viale Milton, where you are in for a special Italian treat – aperitivo, a bottle of local red wine, fresh bread, olives and gorgeous mozzarella which taste and looks nothing like your Sunday shopping at Tesco.
Whiles on the subject, head to Via dell’Ariento 87r – a huge indoor market full of Italian meats, cheeses, spices, fruits and veggies, including imported fare too. This is a good way to capture the spirit of everyday living. In addition to locals doing their daily grocery shopping, it’s a great place to pick up a made-to-order lunch plate.
After the snack don’t forget to stop by the cool adjacent café to recharge with a coffee or a glass of wine at Gucci Museum after being transported into the fascinating world of Italian fashion. Located in prestigious Piazza Signoria 10, it is a relatively new hot spot for fashion enthusiasts from all around the world. Florentines are very proud of their local iconic designer who has been in fashion for over 90 years. Organized by theme, you can get lost in the different eras of Gucci’s famous works.
Not enough of extravaganza? Goldenview restaurant located at Via de’Bardi 58, near the famous and touristic Ponte Vecchio, is not to be missed if you enjoy sipping wine whiles listening to the jazz in a place that arguably has the best view in town. During the season tables are on a high demand, therefore make sure you book well in advance. The live jazz starts after 9pm. To hang with locals, make a reservation for after 9 or 9:30, – I was told. However, keep in mind that you will mostly pay for the view, the kitchen, in my opinion, is mediocre.
Old Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella located in Via della Scala 16 is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, founded in the 1200s by Dominican friars. It is easy to walk by this treasure due to unpretentious location, however, once inside, be prepared to be wowed – the decor is anything but ordinary. The luxurious rooms with high decorated ceilings, wooden cabinets filled with scented soaps, honeys, liquors and the most famous product – Rose Tonic. This, without a doubt, is the perfect place to get your presents.
When visiting Florence it’s worth the effort to wake up before the sunrise and go for a walk in the streets, prior to the Florentines start heading out for work and the tourists invade the city. Streets and piazzas are empty, the light is perfect and the silence makes you feel like the city belongs only to you. This is the absolute best time to take photos. Walk along the Arno, cross Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Passer or Piazza Santo Spirito.
If you find yourself craving for more information and advice about the glorious European city, here are a couple other sites I found useful Arts blog and Trendy Florence Blog. There is also an iPhone app that maps artisan boutiques named The Art Tour. I haven’t tried it personally but found it intriguing that someone spent time and money to dedicate an app for the local craft. Having said that, I highly advice to leave space for spontaneity and magic.
I would like to thank Benedetta Guarracino for her priceless recommendations that could be easily turned into a little charming travel guide and her contribution writing this entry.