It’s official, Florence has it all. It’s a Renaissance city that serves up some of the finest food in all of Italy with a flair for all things chic. And it’s best explored the Italian way, spending your days wandering from bar to restaurant and from gallery to piazza, with no sense of rush or urgency whatsoever. Florence is a year-round city, with temperatures rarely getting too chilly, or becoming swelteringly hot, but the traditional tourist season winds down in October, making it the perfect time to jet in and enjoy the city without having to elbow your way through bus-loads of tourists at every popular spot.
Meet for meat
You can’t discuss Florence without talking about the city’s culinary delights; the entire city is a foodie’s dream, with squares and streets lined with hidden eateries waiting to be discovered. You don’t need to head to a Michelin-starred restaurant, or even one of the flashy, stylish haunts in the centre of town to eat like a king in the Tuscan capital, just find yourself one of the many kitchens, or trattories, which are rooted in the city’s gastro-history and serve homely Italian food.
And what better way to start the trip than with a Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the Florentine steak. These thick steaks, served up rare and thinly sliced, are synonymous with the city, and Trattorie Sostanza, on Via della Porcellana, serves the best in town, so you’ll always find it jam-packed with hungry tourists and local alike.
If you want to get off the beaten track, head to 13 Gobbi, a classic Tuscan dining room that’s always crammed with customers, thanks to the perfectly cooked meats and honest pricing. The only way to eat here is to stretch it out for hours and opt for a long, lazy lunch. Finish off any meal the traditional way, and have a gelato on your stroll back to the hotel, the citrus sorbets from Gelateria Carabè (officinagelato.wix.com/carabe) are totally delicious.
In Keeping with tradition
It’s not possible to talk about Florence without mentioning art, as the city is home to Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth Of Venus, and is the archetypal Renaissance city, meaning every street you meander down will leave you face-to-face with a museum or gallery to explore. The effect of the Renaissance isn’t just found in museums; the architecture of the city bears the period’s distinctive mark, and the most famous landmarks in the city – the iconic domed roof of Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, or the Duomo as it’s more commonly known, which you can see from almost every point of the city, and the quirky Ponte Vecchio bridge – are both products of that vibrant period.
Michelangelo and Botticelli have to be two of the city’s most famous sons, and both are members of the Florentine School Of Art. If you only have time to visit one gallery make sure it’s the Uffizi Gallery (uffizi.com), which is home to no fewer than 30 of Botticelli’s works, including iconic paintings, Primavera and The Birth Of Venus. Plus, the museum is also home to Michelangelo’s The Doni Tondo, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Annunciation and The Adoration of the Magi and Titian’s Flora and Venus Of Urbino, to name just a handful of pieces.
If you’re looking for something more modern, head to the Studio Arts Centre International, where thousands of aspiring young artists from around the world flock every year to master their craft in a city steeped in cultural history, and the school’s gallery has regular exhibitions by international artists. In fact, they’re currently showing the work of American abstractionist, Deborah Dancy, and also have a permanent exhibition of student work, which is worth checking out as it could house a piece by the next big name in art. For an interactive guide to the city’s art, head to bit.ly/zoJqKq, just click on each of the galleries and museums to be filled in on what they house.
La Dolce Vita
Everything in Florence has a luxurious feel about it, from the perfectly turned out residents to the sleek bars where you can while away an entire evening, nothing about the city feels out of place, and so it makes total sense that the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo should be found in the city. The shrine to the much-loved Italian shoe designer boasts the biggest collection of his footwear worldwide, with designs on show spanning his impressive career. The museum is currently home to a Marilyn Monroe photographic exhibition marking 50 years since the iconic actress’ death, and the opening of the exhibition (which is running until January 28, 2013) attracted a host of stylish stars to the city, including Rose Byrne and AnnaSophia Robb (visit museoferragamo.it/en for more information).
While Florence is better known as the Renaissance city, and Milan is typically the go-to city for Italian style, don’t dismiss the Tuscan capital’s retail district. The stylish shopping area, mostly found around the central Via dei Calzaiuoli, is all squeezed into a manageable-on-foot part of the city, so you can spend a relaxed few hours browsing the Italian designer stores. In Florence, the best buys have to be the non-designer leather goods though, so make sure you visit a little store called Madova on Via Dè Guicciardini. You could blink and miss it, but this tiny store stocks leather gloves in pretty much every colour under the sun (madova.com).
Another of Florence’s retail marvels, are the out-of-town outlet malls, where you’ll find YSL, Gucci and Armani products with their prices slashed, ready to take home. For the best selection, head to The Mall, where you’ll find avenue after avenue of designer outlet stores. The Mall is 30 minutes out of town, and it’s probably best to earmark a whole day for your savvy shopping adventure (themall.it/en). In fact, you might also want to buy a new suitcase for all your fabulous new buys. It’s impossible not to be swept up in the romance of Florence, a city that will see you soak up Renaissance culture, dine in true Italian style and shop to your designer heart’s content.
No stay in Florence is complete without a trip to the Tuscan countryside; the winding roads and rolling hills are postcard perfect. Take our advice and rent a car, then venture to Fiesole, which is less than half an hour’s drive from Florence, enjoying the scenery on the way. The town is situated in the hills so it has perfect views over the city, and make sure you explore the Roman amphitheatre for some classic history.
Piazzas, or squares, make up the centre of the city, and the most famous is the Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence. It’s an ideal meeting place and home to a replica of Michelangelo’s David (the original is in the Galleria dell’Accademia) and the Palazzo Vecchio, a stunning Romanesque, fortress-palace.
If you consider yourself a bit of a wine buff, a trip to Tuscany would not be complete without a trip to the vineyards that produce the region’s most famous product. We recommend taking an organised day trip to get the most from the various wineries, and usually lunch and transport is included, check italyandwine.net/Tuscany for
Budget: Hotel Mulino di Firenze
Get out of the city for an evening and check into Firenze’s former 15th-century watermill, Hotel Mulino. You can enjoy the best of both worlds, savouring the hotel’s rustic country feel without sacrificing the city location, as it’s just five kilometres from the historic city centre (they offer a complimentary shuttle service into town). There’s a luxury spa and the Il Mulino Restaurant, which has a menu inspired totally by local cuisine.
Rooms start at Dh580 per night. mulinodifirenze.com
Mid-ranger: Hotel Davanzati
You’ll struggle to find a more perfectly located hotel in Florence than the Hotel Davanzati, 50 yards from the Piazza della Signoria and 200 yards from the Duomo, it’s truly in the heart of the city. More like a classic pensione than a flamboyant hotel, it’s a perfect place for a dose of true inner-city Florentine life.
Rooms start from Dh860 per night. hoteldavanzati.it
Luxury: The St Regis Florence
If you’re looking for a little grandeur during your stay in Florence, check into the St Regis. Shrouded in rich shades of royal blues and purples and dripping with ornate chandeliers and elaborate gilding, it’s a hotel fit for a princess. Be sure to book yourself a suite overlooking the Arno River, it’s one of the city’s prime views.
Rooms from Dh2,200 per night. stregis.com/florence
Light In The Piazza, Tea With Mussolini, Virgin Territory, Hannibal, The Stendhal Syndrome, A Room With A View
KLM flies to Florence from Dubai, via Amsterdam. Flights from Dh2,300