Florence, capital of the Renaissance, is a vibrant city, which more than any other place will surpass your expectations. Explore the extraordinary museums, the churches and palaces, the streets full of workshops, antiques shops and art galleries, the restaurants with their unique cuisine and the exclusive shopping that is hard-to-resist, just like the magic hills surrounding this special city
Estimated reading time: 15 minutes
Concentrated into a small area, the historic centre of Florence now boasts a large pedestrianised
area (introduced in 2011) that also encompasses Piazza del Duomo.
This can feed many different passions: a love of history and art, of flavours and traditional cooking, and of handicrafts; areas of interest that can be interchanged to make even a stay of only a few days continuously fresh and interesting. In good weather the centre is assailed by groups of tourists, but there’s no shortage of alternative itineraries to get away from them. With a little organisation and forward planning of one’s activities (it’s always advisable to book museum visits ahead of time), the more exclusive visitors can carve out for themselves a quality stay, and leave the crowds behind.
Those who like shopping can choose between designer labels and streets famous for their craftsmen’s shops. These are workshops where today, as in the 16th century, expert hands can still braid leather, mould precious materials, like gold and silver, into original jewellery, create paintings and sew natural textiles, such as silk, linen and Casentino’s boiled wools.
You’re really spoilt for choice when it comes to shopping in the historical centre. Following the streets leading out of Via Tornabuoni and its various offshoots and side roads (from Via Strozzi to Via de’ Rondinelli), trendsetters have on hand the best of high-fashion boutiques.
Ferragamo (ferragamo.com) has its head office in Palazzo Spini Feroni in Via Tornabuoni itself and a shop that stocks the Ferragamo’s Creations shoe line, featuring some of the brand’s historic models. Gucci and Pucci, to name but a few labels born in Florence are also in this area. For men there is the luxurious tailoring collection at Stefano Ricci (stefanoricci.it), which is a worth visiting just for its spectacular boutique fitted out inside Palazzo Tornabuoni: a 900 sq m of travertine, crocodile and walnut. Part of the Florentine fashion rectangle is the multi-brand Eredi Chiarini shop, which sells an original line of ties and John Malkovich’s Technobohemian line, while in via Tornabuoni you must visit Lorett a Caponi (lorettacaponi.com), whose workshop created the layette for Madonna’s son Rocco and the sheets for the wedding of Charles and Diana embroidered with the royal coat of arms.
To personalise your table dressing, visit Richard Ginori 1735 (richardginori1735.com) the 100-year-old white gold works, which is still in production in the Sesto Fiorentino area and for which Giò Ponti was one of the creative directors. For Florentines it’s the place to go to create your wedding list: inside there’s an unbelievable range of products. To make sure you don’t get lost in the boundless variety of workshops, the Osservatorio dei Mestieri d’Arte (email@example.com) has created a new professional figure, the Quality Handicraft Assistant (QHA), a personal shopper more than a traditional tourist guide, who can help visitors to discover the best of the many art shops located in the city. The Ferrari Store is located at via degli Strozzi 4r.
In 2008 the prestigious Four Seasons (fourseasons.com) arrived in the city, opening up a luxurious complex in the Palazzo della Gherardesca, which for five centuries was the home of Florentine nobility, overlooking the largest private garden in Florence. The restaurant has been remodelled to enhance the venue. Here the slow food chef Vito Mollica (one Michelin star) prepares each dish according to the seasonality of the produce. From the large to the small: just around the corner from Florence’s central station, in the beautiful Piazza Santa Maria Novella, you’ll find the recently renovated Jk Place Florence (jkplace.com), a boutique hotel with only 20 rooms, each one different from the other, that is within walking distance of the main monuments of the city and the nearby streets of antique shops. The only luxury five-star hotel on the banks of the Arno, the Florence St Regis (stregis.com/florence), reopened just under a year ago. Frequented by princes and other members of the Saudi royal family, it has a ballroom with a spectacular ceiling that’s nine metres high, a spa and a suite designed by Bottega Veneta. Almost impossible to find because of its entrance hidden among the buildings, and looking out onto Brunelleschi’s dome and the Piazza del Duomo, there’s the charming Granduomo apartment complex (granduomo.com), which offers luxury rooms and apartments with a doorman and bespoke services.
See and do
Get a taste for art in museums, including the Galleria degli Uffizi (uffizi.firenze.it) with masterpieces from Giotto to Michelangelo, Leonardo to Raffaello, Botticelli to Tiziano, palaces, like the Palazzo Strozzi (palazzostrozzi.org) or churches, from Santa Maria del Fiore (duomofirenze.it) to Santa Maria Novella (Piazza Santa Maria Novella). Alternatively, embark on a tour of the local fashion museums. Among them, The Salvatore Ferragamo Museum (museoferragamo.it) displays more than 13,000 models of shoes created over the 80 years of the brand’s history. The new Gucci Museum (gucci.com) is set in the historic Palazzo della Mercatanzia, overlooking Piazza della Signoria, and gathers the best of the brand’s production, along with a bookshop café and shop that sells a line designed ad hoc by Frida Giannini, the present creative director of the fashion house.
Eat and drink
Florentines meet for aperitifs at the FUSION BAR (Vicolo dell’Oro 3). Sitting in a space that is also an art gallery, you can sip cocktails created by the barman-DJ Karim. For a cheap chic lunch, there’s RISTORANTE BORGO SAN JACOPO (Borgo San Iacopo 62/R), looking out over the Arno, and for three-star dining, try Ristorante Enoteca Pinchiorri. Its owners Giorgio Pinchiorri and Annie Féolde have also opened Etichett a Pinchiorri (enotecapinchiorri.com) in the conservatory of the St Regis hotel on Piazza Ognissanti. Etichetta offers an impressive wine list and gastronomic creations by Italo Bassi and Riccardo Monco. There’s the terrace with a 360-degree view of the city’s major monuments at SESTO on Arno
(sestoonarno.com), where chef Entiana Osmenzeza prepares Mediterranean traditional dishes. Grab a sandwich at ’Ino (ino-firenze.com), near the Galleria degli Uffizi, where Alessandro Frassica
offers specials with five-star ingredients. Follow the Florentines to Procacci (procacci1885.it) to drink a glass of wine and nibble on tiny truffled sandwiches.
Along with Oltrarno, this is one of the few central districts where you can breathe in that authentic Florentine atmosphere you find in the prose of writers like Vasco Pratolini. In the day it’s an exhilarating experience to go to the open-air food market. Every morning the growers arrive
from the countryside ready to show off the best seasonal produce from their land. Vegetables, but also goose and hen’s eggs, bread with natural rising agents, and fruit. There’s no problem if you haven’t espoused the vegetarian philosophy, as you can find excellent butchers in the covered part of the market and, if you want a snack between meals, you can have a made-toorder sandwich from one of the traditional tripe stands. In the evening the district is still lively and always busy thanks to the many bars in the area.
See and do
The life of the district revolves around the open-air markets. As well as the food market in Piazza dei Ciompi (home of the famous goldsmith and architect Lorenzo Ghiberti), you can visit the flea market in the pedestrian zone every day. Browse among the stalls behind the atmospheric Loggia del Pesce (designed by Vasari) and buy antiques and Florentine handicrafts, as well as modern and designer pieces, all at very agreeable prices. Not far from the piazza is the synagogue and Jewish Museum (moked.it/firenzebraica).
Eat and drink
Those looking to experience the true flavours of Tuscan cuisine should head to Cibrèo (cibreo.it), just round the corner from Piazza di Sant’Ambrogio, where chef Fabio Picchi has created an original vino-gastro centre. Named after Catherine de’ Medici’s favourite dish (based on egg, meat stock, onions, sage, chicken livers, cocks’ combs, wattles and hearts), it offers a café, a restaurant and a trattoria, where, depending on the time of day, you can sit and eat a typical local dish. For members only, there’s the Salt Theatre (teatrodelsale.it). Its entrance looks like a shop, which sells anchovies, tomatoes in jars, cheeses and good quality tuna, but it opens up into a theatre, complete with small stage. At lunchtime you can sit and read the newspapers, while in the evening members can enjoy a buffet dinner created by Picchi’s Cibrèo restaurant before the curtains go up and the show begins. Those with a sweet tooth will find it pretty much impossible to resist the offerings from chocolate maker and pastry chef Andrea Bianchini who, in his hugely popular workshop La Bottega del Cioccolato (andreabianchini.net), creates by hand pralines and original chocolates, including ones with saffron, olive oil and vanilla, and the marshmallow chocolates. Lovers of kosher cooking should make a quick beeline for the Jewish restaurant Ruth’s (kosheruth.com), where Mr Tomàs guides his customers through cheese bourekas, vegetarian couscous, falafel and cheesecake.
Elephants, stripes and flowers on cushions, bedspreads and tablecloths are the clear signature of Lisa Corti’s products (lisacorti.com). She has also designed an original line of jackets with Mandarin collars for women and children. The artistic literary spirit of the district is highlighted by Société Anonyme (societeanonyme.it), an independent shop with a northern European concept, inspired by the underground vibe of the most happening districts of London, Berlin and Brooklyn. It’s much loved by the many young people who come to Sant’Ambrogio to study at the Faculty of Architecture, too. The Mazzanti brothers’ paint shop (double doors in Borgo la Croce, 65 Piazza Sant’Ambrogio) is also worth a visit. It’s a shop that sells everything for the home, from nails to saucepans in all sizes and materials, including aluminium, steel and earthenware, ideal for cooking the famous bread soups that characterise Tuscan cuisine.
Florence’s charms can also be experienced in the hills surrounding the city. As Florence sits in a hollow, just like an amphitheatre, you can experience the Tuscan countryside by simply taking a car or bus trip along the Viali dei Colli, which rises to the beautiful church of San Miniato al Monte to Arcetri and Poggio Imperiale, before descending towards Porta Romana. To the north you can travel up above the Rifredi and Careggi quarters to Cercina to enjoy some fresh summer air, or stop at Fiesole and Settignano (to the north east) to stay in five-star apartment complexes, or simply sit and watch romantic sunsets over the city.
Anyone staying in the Florentine hills will have an array of unique locations available. Most are located in panoramic spots, offering the dual advantage of overlooking the city, while still remaining close to the centre. Renaissance villas have become five-star hotels, with Italian-style gardens and swimming pools. Opened in 2009, the Salviatino (salviatino.com) is nestled amid the greenery on the slopes of Fiesole and boasts the Vranjes spa. The Hotel Villa San Michele (villasanmichele.com) at Fiesole has, on the other hand, long been regarded as one of the most romantic spots in the world. What makes it unique is the enviable position overlooking Florence and the actual building, which is a former monastery with a 15th-century façade attributed to Michelangelo. On the opposite bank of the city’s hills there is the Hotel Villa Cora (villacora.it), another hot spot recently returned to its former splendour after a renovation. Created from a 19th-century residence set among groves of plane trees andgardens on the Viale dei Colli, it’s also known as la grande dama of the hills south of Florence.
Eat and drink
Ristorante La Loggia (ristorantelaloggia.it) was built in 1865 by the engineer Giuseppe Poggi to be a museum for the work of Michelangelo, but became a café restaurant in 1876.
La Loggia offers a natural terrace ovelooking Florence (there’s an incredible panorama of the entire city to enjoy while you eat) where you can eat traditional dishes, from ribollita to pappa al pomodoro, and, with prior booking, taste alternative versions. You can find the tenderest Florentine steak cooked on the chef’s lava stone and artisan ice creams flavoured with parmesan and Chianti. It’s also an opportunity to brush up on the history of the Risorgimento by browsing at its small and well-stocked library. In summer, the right place to taste one of Tuscany’s typical dishes, fritto misto, is also on the Cercina hill. The Tratt oria Piccolo Trianon (Via Dante da Castiglione 20, Sesto Fiorentino) succeeds in bringing it to your table crisp and dry, not at all greasy, and full of flavour. A feat made possible thanks to the considerable skills of the person running this typical, home-style kitchen.
On the slopes of Viale dei Colli, new design shop, 4nero (4nero.it), opened in the premises of an old factory two years ago. The shop sells objects created by Florentine craftsmen and madeto-measure products. Among the fine textiles and designer jewellery found at 4Nero you can also find jugs and glasses in acrylic, melamine and polycarbonate designed by Mario Luca Giusti (mariolucagiusti.com), a truly versatile entrepreneur from Florence, who has adorned the tables of Philippe Starck and Steven Spielberg with his pop creations, which draw inspiration from Renaissance shapes.
See and do
Those who enjoy a stroll can walk along the whole of the hill road by setting off from Piazza Ferrucci and climbing up to Piazza Michelangelo, with Florence laid out in front of you (an ideal spot for souvenir photographs). Pay a visit to the basilica of San Miniato al Monte (san-miniato-al-monte.com), one of the best Tuscan examples of Romanesque style, and other places of historical interest, including the basilica of San Salv atore al Monte or the small church of San Leonardo in Arcetri. Going back down towards the San Niccolò quarter, visit Villa Bardini and its spectacular park with its temporary exhibitions, and the museum of the Roberto Capucci Foundation, (fondazionerobertocapucci.com/museo) a wellknown designer famous for his sculptural dresses.
On the Fiesole hills, visit the Roman amphitheatre in the Settignano area, and catch a breath and relax in a typical enoteca wine shop.
In Paris it’s called the Rive Gauche, in Rome, Trastevere, and in Florence? What is marked on the street maps as Oltrarno is known by Florentines as Diladdarno (beyond the Arno). In this web of little streets and narrow alleys between the Arno and the hills south of the city, the true heart of Florence’s artisans and small trattorias still beats. A magical place for those who like to meander in search of handmade products and appetising titbits. Don’t miss the Palazzo Pitti, home to the Galleria Palatina, with paintings by Raffaello and Tiziano, and the Museo d’Arte Moderno, with its Macchiaioli works, or the spectacular Boboli Gardens. The Specola is truly unique, Europe’s oldest scientific museum in Europe, with a collection of 18th-century anatomic models.
A guide book just wouldn’t be enough to highlight all the excellent shops in this area of the city. The most curious visitors should, with their map in hand, walk every street to get a picture of the range of products on offer. There are shoes made to measure by the Stefano Bemer (stefanobemer.it) and luxurious textiles of the Old Florentine Silk Factory (Via L Bartolini 4) in the historic quarter of San Frediano. You can admire incredible pieces of machinery, such as one from the 1700s, built from a design by Leonardo da Vinci, and buy textiles like Ermisino (a special Renaissance-style taffeta in pure silk with an iridescent effect), Florentine twill or floss silk, (typical Tuscan cloth of silk and linen orpure silk, used in country houses).
For those who like alternative jewellery, in the heart of the Santo Spirito quarter, artisan Angela Caputi (angelacaputi.com) offers pieces created in synthetic materials and all in original shapes. Meanwhile, dandies can order glass or crystal pearl cuff-links from the Aprosio workshop (aprosio.it), housed inside the Palazzo Frescobaldi. Finally, not to be missed in Oltrarno is the Riccardo Barthel’s establishment (riccardobarthel.it), which offers original handles and knobs, mirrors, and textiles, plus advice on your own personal home décor.
Eat and drink
Among the quarters of San Niccolò, Santo Spirito and San Frediano, there are still small traditional eating places where you can try typical food. The wine shop Fuori Porta (fuoriporta.it) beneath the city walls sells a typical crostone (a slice of bread flavoured to your order and served hot and crisp) accompanied by a glass of good red wine. You can even eat outside in summer. Zeb delicatessen (zebgastronomia.com) reinvents the old food shop with a modern twist. Here you can sample wines and artisan beers, but also eat homemade pasta, cheese and cold meats from the area. Among the hot spots, which you should always book, there’s Lungarno 23, (lungarno23.it). The signature dish of this venue, which lets you eat off paper mats with a view of the Uffizi, is a hamburger made of Tuscan Chianina steak. Or try a tasty selection of cold meats.
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine 17 issue May 2012