First of all I’d like to apologize for the brief hiatus I took from the blog this summer. A combination of other work commitments and a summer filled with travel are to blame for this! I let that take over so I could come back refreshed and with more content for my faithful readers and subscribers. I’d also like to acknowledge the messages of concern I have received from some of my subscribers: Thank you for your encouragement. It’s always good to know that I am actually missed when I am away.
Now, let’s get right into this 5-part Italian summer series that has come about as a result of my travels this spring and summer. I fell in love with this country very gradually, with my first visit being to the island of Sardinia in 2008. 4 years went by before I got another chance to visit Italy, this time for a brief – very brief – sojourn through Venice on the last day of my London to Venice Orient Express trip.
Visiting Florence this year marked the third time I have set foot in Italy. This, dear reader, is where any doubts I might have had entertained about the country evaporated. I fell head-first, knee-deep in for this city. So without further ado, let’s dive right into my Florence beat list .
1. Art, art and more art!
Florence is not only the cradle of the renaissance movement but also home to such great works of art as Michelangelo’s The David and Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. If you are an art aficionado you’ll find that the entire city is basically an open-air museum, with replicas of The David trying to get everyone’s attention from several piazzas in the city. For the original however, head to the Accademia di Belle Arti to see The David in all of its glory. Other notable works of art – including my favourite The Birth of Venus – can be found at the Uffizi Gallery. Be forewarned though – don’t try to visit both in the same day, not if you truly want to immerse yourself in all that is on offer. Even the briefest of visits to the Uffizi Gallery will take several hours, and not only because it is massive: it is one of the most popular attractions in the city so the lines can be a tad on the long side. Buy tickets online ahead of time, download an app of the top pieces to view and wear comfortable shoes. The Accademia di Belle Arti is somewhat smaller so plan accordingly.
Yet another area Florence positively excels in. There are at least 6 dozen museums here, not only showcasing art like the two I mentioned above but also many other cultural artifacts. I limited myself the the Salvatore Ferragamo museum which, as the name suggests, traces the rise of this world renown designer from his humble beginnings as a barefoot shepherd boy in a Tuscan village to designing shoes for the stars of Hollywood’s golden age, and the Pitti Palace, which I visited mainly because of its tranquil Boboli gardens. The palace, which was the main seat of the Medici dynasty, also doubles up as an impressive modern art gallery specializing in impressionist painters. On display this year (until January 2015) are works on loan from the Musée d’Orsay by Cezanne, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Fantin-Latour and Paul Guigou. I realise now that even under my museum recommendation I still managed to circle back to art. It can’t be helped – this is what Florence is mainly about. For more museums though, have a look at http://www.museumsinflorence.com/ which contains details regarding 72 of them.
Florence is famous for it’s extremely good quality leather. So good is it that Salvatore Ferragamo – after establishing a name for himself in America – returned there in 1938 to start his company because he wanted to be closer to quality raw material for his shoes. The Gucci and Emilio Pucci fashion houses which are headquartered in the city also make their wares from leather from the region. With that in mind, I decided to skip all of the famous designer stores and head straight to the Mercato Nuovo and San Lorenzo leather markets in the city to find a handbag (or three) . If you decide to follow my example, beware of fake wares and read up on the qualities of good leather. It doesn’t hurt to know how to haggle either. (#JustSaying) Real fashion victims however should make a beeline for Via de’ Tornabuoni or Via Tornabuoni, a luxurious street in the historic center of Florence. Nearby Via della Vigna Nuova is also worth its weight in designer-ware.
Honourable mentions: Florence’s architecture is nothing to scoff at either. There’s the famous Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or the Duomo which never fails to feature in pictorial representations of the city, the Bargello Tower which offered the backdrop in 1786 for the first ever abolition of the death penalty in Europe, and the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge which was one of the few structures whose historical significance the Nazis respected so much that they did not destroy.
When to go
Florence is lovely from late spring through to early autumn, when balmy temperatures, al fresco eating and drinking and a busy open-air arts and concert season make this one of Italy’s most vibrant summer destinations. However, this is also the most popular period, when hotel rates are at their highest and the queues for the Uffizi Gallery are at their longest.
Where to stay
We stayed at the St. Regis Florence, which with its location on piazza Ognissanti is within walking distance (but then again everything in Florence is within walking distance) of the main shopping and art areas. We stayed in a river room with this view of the River Arno:
Rates start at £365 per night.
Where to eat
I won’t lie – there are dozens of really good restaurants in Florence. The Borgo San Jacopo restaurant, however, gets all of my top marks not just for it’s fantastic location by the River Arno – with a view of the Ponte Vecchio no less – but also for it’s amazing cuisine. Tuscan and Italian traditions with a touch of modernity and personality is the name of the game here. Highly recommended.
The lowdown: We travelled to Florence from London courtesy of Vueling Airlines, who fly there 17 times a week. For pricing and booking information, see http://www.vueling.com