I’m not quite sure where or how to begin penning this post, as our recent honeymoon trip to Florence has been memorable on oh-so-many magical counts.
Truly everything about this entrancing city is awe-inspiring – from Michelangelo’s spectacular statues standing tall at every turn, to the hyper-real sunsets breathed in from panoramic settings. Tuscan cuisine proves just as rich as Florentine culture, while the wineries and picture-postcard villages of the gently-tumbling countryside are as inviting as the city’s legendary palazzos and museums.
So here’s cherishing the highlights from our five day fairy-tale in Florence. If you’re planning ahead for your trip, I do hope that this Guide offers inspiration to help you make the most of it! Or if you’re simply missing Florence as much as we are now, perhaps this travel diary might provide a portal for re-living your own memories of this utterly entrancing city…
The Usual Suspects in Piazza del Duomo
The dizzyingly-detailed Duomo is quite a sight to wake up to every morning at our address in the heart of Florence, Hotel Savoy. Staying in such close quarters to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore means that we can explore this lustrous landmark at leisure, each time gasping at a different feature of its part-Gothic part-Renaissance architecture, sheathed with a marbled melange of pink, green and white hues.
A morning at Il Grande Museo del Duomo is a real revelation, lending a lens into the past and present of the Cathedral. Overseen by the Opera del Duomo (the organisation tasked with construction and refurbishments of the Duomo for over 700 years), the museum’s highlights include a pietà by Michelangelo (sculpted with the intention of using it for his own tomb!) and the carefully-reconstructed original façade of the Cathedral, designed by its first major architect, Arnolfo Di Cambio.
Guarded by imposing bronze doors, the fiery mosaics of the eleventh-century Baptistery positioned right by the Cathedral also mesmerises. While, yet another morning is invigoratingly well-spent climbing up the 414 steps of Giotto’s Campanile. Fortunately, we can do things at our pace as the Cathedral’s stunning bell tower is split across three floors, with each affording a pause for breath as we marvel at the panoramic view before us!
Must-Visits in Oltarno
“The Other Side” of the Arno River
Truth be told, in Florence you have to really work(out) for your view – a fact that might explain how R.R.M and I inevitably return from our trip with a slimmer waist line than before, even after a diet rich in carbs, starch and sugar.
A lengthy hike across Ponte alle Grazie and Via di San Niccolò to Piazzale Michelangelo, reaps rewards in heart-stopping vistas, sweeping across all the iconic cornerstones of Florence – from the Uffizi and Duomo, to the last-standing sections of the medieval walls which once sheltered Florence. The San Miniato church behind the piazza is also worth a visit for its Romanesque beauty, resounding with the echo of monks singing ancient Gregorian chants at Mass!
Once you’re across the Arno river, there’s plenty to draw you to Palazzo Pitti too – the Renaissance-era palace bought over by the omni-potent Medici family in 1549 for use as their main residence. In present day, you’ll find over 500 paintings within the grandiose walls, supplemented by Baroque frescoes and halls dedicated to silver, porcelain and even the history of fashion! The Palazzo is also a gateway to the Boboli Gardens. Not your average public park, the elegantly-manicured oasis – spread across 11 acres – features outdoor sculptures and masterpieces spanning Renaissance, Baroque and even Mannerist schools of art.
Rather than re-traversing the clangorous thoroughfare of Ponte Vecchio afterwards, we take a detour-worthy route which brings us to La Carraia – a cheery green and citrus-hued shop piled high with devilishly-decadent gelato, the best we’ve ever had actually!
A Foodie in Florence
As you’d expect, Florence is quite a thrill for foodies too, offering all manners of epicurean experiences from traditional Tuscan recipes rendered with creative panache, to a revelry of seasonal truffles fuelled by regional wines. Haute couture finds a happy harmony with haute fashion (at the ever-so-stylish Gucci Osteria by Massimo Bottura); while low-key pleasures – as simple as a well-done Neapolitan-style pizza – are just as gratifying. Short of hearing me harp on all day, you might fancy flicking through to my detailed guide to the must-eats in Florence, here.
Just don’t forget to stop by Mercato Centrale, near San Lorenzo, too – a bustling marketplace where you can find all the ingredients you need to recreate a taste of La Dolce Vita back home! We leave armed with everything from an intensely-velvety balsamic vinegar (capped with a wax seal!), to hard cheeses, truffles and dried herbs essential for throwing together a fiery Arrabiatta!
An Art Extravaganza
I’ll confess, our five days fall woefully short of doing true justice to Florence’s timeless treasure trove of art, the magnitude and splendour of which is a tad daunting at times.
The trail begins in Piazza della Signoria, a living museum in itself flanked by the magnificent Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia dei Lanzi – an open-air gallery featuring a line-up of stunning statues including Cellini’s bronze statue of Perseus, which portrays the mythical Greek hero triumphantly holding his sword in his right hand and the head of Medusa’s severed head in the other.
The Uffizi Gallery is right here too, braced by busts and paintings of the Medici family who were so pivotal in shaping Florence as both a commercial and art-rich cultural capital. We can easily spend more than just a day lost within its labyrinth, retracing our steps around the iconic U-shaped Eastern Corridor as we giddily skip in and out of rooms enriched by history’s most famous works of art – from “Primavera” and “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli to Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation and the Tondo Doni by Michelangelo.
We also carve out a window for pottering around the Bargello Museum nearby. Once a fortress and later a prison, the palazzo is a picture of serenity today, safeguarding wealth in the dazzling form of bronzes, majolica, waxes, enamels, medals, seals, ivories, amber, tapestries, furniture and textiles from the Medici and other private collections. The Bargello is also a shrine to the striking sculptures of the Renaissance Masters, with a room dedicated especially to Donatello…
Speaking of sculptures, we’d be remiss to leave Florence without visiting Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s larger-than-life marble sculptures including the resplendent David!
History of Fashion
This being Florence, footwear and fashion are also works of art in their own right, with museums dedicated to celebrating the city’s famous fashion houses.
At the Ferragamo Museum, thousands of models of shoes created and owned Salvatore Ferragamo (from the 1920s until his death in 1960), lend an insight into how the designer searched for and drew inspiration from leading artists of his time. Over in Gucci Garden, critic Maria Luisa Frisa has carefully curated an exhibition space – Gucci Garden Galleria – constellating around vintage pieces and historical advertising campaigns from the Gucci archive. There’s even a “Guccification” room, dedicated to Gucci’s inimitable double G sign!
All About the Super Tuscan (Wines!)
That there’s truly something for everyone in Tuscany, is best exemplified by our day at Antinori nel Chianti Classico.
Cocooned inside a hill in the Tuscan countryside (a 45 minute drive from Florence), the one-of-its-kind winery is as appealing to my husband’s enthusiasm for architecture, as to my oenophilic sensibilities. We spend the best part of an afternoon touring the state-of-the-art facilities and of course, tasting some of Antinori’s eminently-drinkable wines before finishing with a languid lunch on the rooftop restaurant, Rinuccio 1180. Find out more, here.
Truly, each and every moment in Florence feels imbued with a timeless sense of magic. And while I could really go on endlessly about our trip, perhaps it’s time to close this chapter (for now!) with one such bewitching remembrance: a sunset walk across the Ponte Vecchio!
If you fancy flicking through a few more chapters of our Italy Diaries, do have a read here.