THREE DAYS IN FLORENCE
These days my trips to my favorite European city — Florence — are frequent but unfortunately very short. I am always busy with the SOF line while I am there, but I still manage to cram in my favorite sights, restaurants and shops. It occurs to me that many people on the “Italy-in-Ten-Days” type of tours might have only three days to explore my favorite city. So here’s a bit of travel advice:
The Uffizi, Duomo, and Accademica (David’s home) are crucial for the first-time visitor.....but there are also so many wonderful corners and piazza’s in Florence which are best discovered by just walking around. Sadly that’s not always an option for business travelers or the tourist on a strict schedule. So I have my ‘must sees’
The Baptistry is one of the oldest structure in Florence (11th century.....but myth has it as much older and that it was once a Roman temple dedicated to Mars). The frescoes on the ceiling are absolutely mesmerizing but in high season the lines are prohibitive.....so I settle for just standing in front of Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” door (named by Michelangelo).
The Pitti Palace — once home to Cosimo dei Medici and family — is pretty impressive. But if you’ve seen it once, that usually suffices. On the other hand, the Boboli Garden’s surrounding the palace are worth a visit every time.....especially in springtime. The fountains are quite extraordinary.
San Miniato al Monte is probably my favorite spot in Florence. High up on a hill overlooking the city, the views are the absolute best. You will probably want to take a taxi up to the church —unless you fancy a bit of cardio — but the walk down is less torturous if you have the time. The church itself is also pretty special.......dating back to the 10th century.
If science is your thing (and even if it’s not) the Galileo Museum is one of the best in the world. The museum houses state of the art technology but standing in front of the glass case that houses Galileo’s actual telescope is always rather surreal to me. (His middle finger is also on display in a glass jar.....but that’s a whole other story)
The Santa Maria del Carmine (in the piazza of the same name) houses the magnificent Brancacci Chapel. The recently-restored frescoes are stunning and many people feel they mark the beginning of Renaissance painting. The fresco of Adam & Eve being expelled from paradise is particularly moving.
The Palazzo Vecchio is such an awe-inspiring structure.......it is definitely the most amazing “city hall” in the world! However, unbeknownst to many, inside are secret treasures.....such as medieval stairways, narrow passageways and a hidden laboratory with a sinister past. Reservations are required, but usually easy to get on the PV’s website.
There are many wonderful restaurants in Florence, but I love the local trattorias. Quattro Leoni in Via Della Passara (near the Palazzo Pitti) is my favorite. Great local dishes (in summer, spaghetti with the tiniest of clams and in winter, hearty Peposo) and the vibe is always so upbeat. Ask for a table in the little piazza — it’s like being in a Fellini film.
The menu at Camillo in Borgo San Jacopo features wonderfully traditional Florentine fare and therefore is frequented by a lot of locals. The restaurant has three small rooms....each one with its own charm. No outside space or terrace, but it is oh so cozy in the winter! And in spring.....the homemade taglierini with fresh peas is from another world!
Another of my favorites is Trattoria del Carmine in Piazza del Carmine. The waiters can be a little surly....but a smile will usually soften them. The Bistecca alla Fiorentina is really memorable and the grilled mushrooms are pretty awesome too.
Want to eat a great pizza in a magnificent Renaissance Palazzo? Then Obica in the Via dei Tournabuoni (the high end shopping street in Florence) is your place. It is deliciously consistent (albeit now an international chain) and architecturally beautiful.
For a quick snack I go to the Cantinetta di Verrazano in Via dei Tavolini (which is a small street off the Via Calzaiuoli as you walk from Piazza Signoria toward Piazza della Repubblica). I stop in nearly every day for a piece of the unforgettable ‘focaccia-to-go”. The “Cecina” (made from chick peas) is to die for.
My favorite place for a cappuccino or hot chocolate is the iconic Cafe Rivoire in Piazza della Signoria. Sitting inside (never outside....that’s for tourists!) and looking across the piazza at the medieval Palazzo Vecchio never fails to satisfy the Medici groupie in me. The waiters have seemingly been there since Cosimo di M’s era......but they are still pretty energetic.
There are plenty of very expensive designer stores in Florence (after all, both Gucci & Pucci were born there!) but I don’t need to give details……just walk down the Via Tournabuoni and look right and left ….you’ll find them all! There are also many street markets……my favorites being San Lorenzo and Porcellino ….where you’ll find thousands of leather bags and silk scarves (some may even be made in Florence wink). I do have 3 favorite shops I go to whenever I am there and I always find something wonderful:
Solo A Firenze (Only in Florence) is an all time favorite. Not far from the Ponte Vecchio down a little side street called Via Santo Apostoli, mother & daughter team Francesca & Elena own the shop and they sell beautiful locally-made artisan products, including hand-made silver pieces from Marcello Bellini, Francesca’s husband (and Elena’s dad). Solo has something for everyone!
Right around the corner from Solo A Firenze in the tiny Piazza del Limbo is the lovely little Bottega dell Oglio (shop of olive oil!!)....Andrea & Ramo carry the most wonderful olive oils. I never leave Florence without a bottle of a great new oil that I cannot find anywhere else on the planet.
Last but by no means least, when I need to walk into a shop that lifts my spirits and takes me to another world.....I stop into Studio Puck in the Via Santo Spirito. Ann & Franco are amazing artists/designers and their shop is full of magical creations. There is no other shop in the world like Studio Puck.