Hubby asked me which was my favourite city in Europe. I said, “It depends”. For a city vibe like none other, I love Barcelona with its Gaudi-esque whimsical architecture and nightly tapas crawls. To escape into a daydream, there is no place like Santorini with its dramatic cliffs and turquoise seas. And anyone who has visited Cappadoccia in Turkey can attest to the astounding, other-worldly landscape that is so unique.
But the instinctive, immediate answer would be the one that hit me like a Cupid’s arrow to my bleeding, art-loving heart – Florence.
I’ve been there twice. And I will never forget the 1st time, about 15 years ago, sitting on the steps of an ancient building in Florence’s most prominent square, the Piazza della Signoria and listening to a local guide tell stories about Michaelangelo.
That was when I realized that I’m a sucker for artistic geniuses. Nothing like a tale of a tormented and misunderstood artist to get the waterworks going. Imagine what I was like at Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.
Still, art isn’t the only thing about Florence. After all, Florence is in Italy’s most popular wine-growing region, Tuscany, so you are within close proximity to Brunello and Chianti oeno-heaven.
Florence is also home to the mighty Bistecca Alla Fiorentina – a hunk of T-bone, usually served in portions no smaller than 1kg at least.
Art, food, wine – here are my Top 8 Things To Do in Florence.
Soak in all of Piazza Della Signoria:
Widely acknowledged as Italy’s most beautiful square (and there are so many in Italy), the Piazza Della Signoria is an open-air sculpture museum unlike any other. Sculptures by Michaelangelo, Cellini, Donatello and other luminaries dot the grounds, including the “other” statue of David by Michaelangelo.
Visit David at the Accademia Gallery:
I said “Other” statue of David because the original stands 5.17m tall in the nearby Accademia Gallery. The one at the Piazza is a replica – the original was moved into the gallery to protect it.
While many artists chose to portray a victorious David, with a slain Goliath, this is David, before the fight. The watchful concentration in his eyes, the confident and relaxed pose, juxtoposed with just the right amount of tension in his limbs, ready for battle, this is truly a sculptoral masterpiece.
The Accademia is Florence’s 2nd most visited museum, after the world-famous Uffizi Gallery.
Marvel at works of beauty at the Uffizi Gallery:
I’ll be honest, the first time I went to Florence, I saw the queues for the Uffizi, and ran the other way in search of more immediate satisfaction, by way of nearby popular shopping street, Via Dei Calzaiuoli – the street that links Piazza Della Signoria to the Duomo.
The second time round, I was more prepared, having bought tickets online, thus guaranteeing instant entrance in. And boy, am I glad I did so. How could I have missed the chance to gaze upon the beauty that is Botticelli’s Birth of Venus? Not to mention, all the other grandmasters and over 2,200 works of art on display.
Both the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries see long queues all year round, so your best bet really is to book tickets/time slots in advance.
Go on a wine journey at Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina
The tiny hole-in-the-wall wine bar, directly opposite the magnificent Pitti Palace, is run by two brothers and a friend, and prides itself on quality over quantity. You will see small production, handcrafted labels from little-known and family wineries, personally “curated” by the oenophiles, who travel around the fertile lands of Tuscany to hunt down elusive wine-growers.
Up your game and go for the wine-tasting dinner which is branded as “Dinner with an Owner”. There is only 1 session on Fridays and Saturdays, around 3 hours or more and worth every cent of the 140€ per person charge.
We tasted 13 glasses of vino and ended the night with a treat – a tasting of a 1969 Chianti Classico! That wasn’t on the tasting menu, but inspired by the moment, Zeno whipped out the bottle and very generously gave us this bonus opportunity, not to mention handing over the pristine cork with such flourish!
Go to market at the Mercato Centrale
No foodie should visit Florence without visiting the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale.
Drown in the range of prosciutto, porcini and pecorino (specialty cheese of Tuscany) on display, and settle into a little slice of grocery haven, called Conti Tuscany Flavours where you can have impromptu olive oil and balsamic tasting lessons.
How do you spot a good balsamic vinegar? Well, the Conti team explained that the balsamico needs to be 100% reduction of Trebbiano/Lambrusco grapes, no vinegar added.
This T-bone, a hefty hunk around 1.5kg, is usually grilled quickly over fire, cut thick, served almost rare, and best eaten with a simple side of another Tuscan classic, beans, and of course, washed down with copious amounts of red wine!
View the city from Giotto’s Bell Tower or the Duomo.
A landmark sight of Florence, the “cathedral” complex that is the Piazza Del Duomo houses the two most prominent images of Florence, as seen in many a postcard – the terracotta-coloured dome of the Florence Cathedral and Giotto’s Bell Tower.
Enjoy a climb up the cathedral and admire the frescos within the dome itself before you reach the top, from which a gorgeous view of Florence awaits.
Stay at A Florence View B&B.
Of course, if you’re more inclined to admire the views from ground up, a perfect place to stay at in Florence is A Florence View B&B, that is right smack in the heart of the Piazza Del Duomo.
Soak up the medieval sights and sounds of the city, and enjoy the warm hospitality of Leonardo and Giuliana, who will not only give you the best tips of where to eat but also serve up a charming, home-made breakfast in-room each morning.
Finally, you can’t quite leave Florence without trying two of its most famous specialties – Gelato from Grom and the lampredotto (tripe sandwich). Well, i tried the gelato, and my hubby tried the tripe!
So, for all its wine, food and art, Florence definitely remains the city of my heart!