Florence, the capital city of the Tuscany region and once the whole of Italy, is known for its art, architecture and silk. Visit the Uffizi Gallery to see work by Leonardo da Vinci, check out the Gucci Garden, head to the cathedral and explore the daily markets. Here are ten reasons to visit Florence.
The iconic medieval bridge crossing the Arno has survived bombing (it was the only one of Florence’s six bridges to not be destroyed on the 4th August 1944) and floods. Well slight white lie, the original bridge was swept away in 1333, but a new one was built in 1345 and that one survived the flood of 1966 which just so happened to be on the anniversary of the 1333 flood. An incredible coincidence. Once home to common traders, at the end of the sixteenth century the Grand Duke Ferdinando I decided to make it appeal more to gentleman and made all the jewellers, goldsmiths and silversmiths set up shop along the bridge making it one of the most luxurious and famous shopping streets in the world. Look out for the ‘solar clock’ a 14th century sundial supported by a small white pillar. Look closely and you’ll see a little lizard thought to be a good luck token for travellers.
Gucci fans can head to the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia, which houses the Gucci Garden. Once home to the Gucci Museo, the space now features the Gucci Garden Galleria exhibition rooms curated by critic Maria Luisa Frisa. Made up of a series of rooms, it’s a chance to explore all things Gucci, from the rise of the Double G and how natural history has played an important part in the designs to the latest way to spell Gucci (Guccy) and the journey of the Gucci luggage. Make sure you check out the 2003 S/S Gucci by Tom Ford Kama Sutra silk jacket…explicit and head to the Cosmorama to see the all the suitcases from the golden age of travel. Downstairs you’ll find a restaurant by a three-Michelin star chef, the Gucci Osteria da Massimo and a boutique where you can pick up 10 Gucci notecards for just shy of £100. Bargain.
London might be home to pubs steeped in history, but none are quite as impressive as restaurant and cocktail bar, Locale which makes its home in the Concini Palace. Upstairs the restaurant and bar occupy the rooms from the 1500s, the bar sits in what was the courtyard and the garden theme is still present. Frescoes adorn the ceiling and in one room you’ll find a terracotta stove made by Francesco Giuseppe de’ Medici the owner of the palace in 1732. It’s the cellars, though, that are the most spectacular, which dates back to before the 1200s and in parts they believe the Roman period. During the 16th century they built on top of it turning it into a cellar and the servant quarters. Now this is where they host private dinners, when lit by candles the eerily atmospheric room could also pass as the setting for a secret lair at the start of an Indiana Jones film.
Santa Maria del Fiore (or The Duomo)
It’s hard to miss the cathedral in Florence, if in doubt look for the incredibly ornate, building with hints of pink and green that everyone flocks around. Commanding attention of the city, it boasts the largest masonry dome it the world, which was added in the 15th century, work on the main cathedral started in the 13th century and wasn’t finally finished until the 19th century! The design of the dome is the result of a competition that was opened to the public, many architects created designs using wood…problem was that they didn’t have enough wood to make a dome that was impressive enough. Filippo Brunelleschi came along with an idea to use bricks, admittedly the would need a few million but the project was his.
Image: Gareth Williams
The Statues of Piazza della Signoria
Rome has statues in the same way that we have red buses, they’re everywhere but one of the finest collections in in Piazza della Signoria (where you’ll also find Gucci Garden and Frescobaldi). Here you can see a copy of Michelangelo’s David (you’ll find the original in the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts); Hercules and Cacus by Bandinelli; the Medici Lions by Fancelli and Vacca and the Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati.
Image: Guillaume Baviere
Bernini Palace Hotel
When it comes to finding someone to stay in Florence then look no further than Bernini Palace Hotel. The prestigious 5-start hotel is part of the Duetorrihotel collection and overlooks the Palazzo Vecchio and it a few minutes’ walk from the cathedral. The building has always been a place of hospitality, in the 17th century it was the only hotel in Florence with running water. Several centuries on, they can offer you a lot more than shelter for your animal and some water. Rooms feature high ceilings, sumptuous furnishings, parquet flooring, Murano glass and antiques and there’s a floor dedicated to the renaissance style of Tuscany with terracotta flooring, four-poster beds and wooden beams. Alongside the Restaurant La Chiostrina, which was once a 16th century courtyard, there is the Sala Parlamento which is where breakfast is served. The ceiling is frescoed with the images of the members of Parliament and Senators of Italy who used to meet here.
If you only have a chance to visit one gallery then make it Uffizi Gallery, it’s one of the most prominent art museums in Italy, and not surprisingly, it’s the most visited, so make sure you reserve tickets so you beat the queues. And the reason it’s so popular? Because you can see the likes of the Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi, both by Leonardo da Vinci, Bacchus by Caravaggio and ‘Tronie’ of a Young Man with Gorget and Beret by Rembrandt.
Image: Chris Wee
Antico Setificio Fiorentino
Silk weavers flourished in 14th century Florence, bringing great wealth to the merchants and a name to the city and if you’re in the market for buying some of the finest silk in the world then you need to head to Antico Setificio Fiorentino. Founded in 1786, the ancient silk mill uses original looms from the 18th century and also has its famous warping machine based on a design by Leonardo da Vinci. It does mean that it takes much longer to make, but as they say good things come to those who wait, and the result of using traditional methods is unparalleled quality. Visiting is by appointment only, so make sure to contact them prior to arriving.
Florence is full of markets selling street food, leather, souvenirs and other little trinkets. One of the most popular is San Lorenzo market, which is actually made up of two markets, as one of the most popular with tourists, watch out for the quality of products, but still it’s a fun place to while away the afternoon. Santo Spirito is a quieter market, open daily and selling fruit and vegetables to locals, although once a month on the second Sunday, it becomes much bigger taking over the piazza and streets, selling street food and other items.
After visiting Gucci Garden, head to Frescobaldi, a few metres away in Piazza della Signoria. The second restaurant and bar of the famous Frescobaldi family of Tuscany, on a sunny day there is nothing better than sitting down at one of the tables outside with a large glass of rosé, a basket of their fresh handmade bread and plenty of Laudemio olive oil produced by the Frescobaldi estates. Make sure you order the sliced beef with roasted leeks and pecorino di Fossa, it’s an excellent dish. Likewise, their classic tiramisù was one of the best we tried across our whole Italian trip.