Have you ever made a promise to yourself that was so epic it took you 30 years to fulfill it? I did, and I was blessed to finally have the chance to tick this off my bucket list as part of a trip of a lifetime to Italy which included a stop in Florence!
Since coming home to Australia I have had several requests to share my itinerary – so I am sharing the snippet on Florence this week and will put together the rest in coming blog posts.
A promise to myself
The first time I travelled to Italy I was just 18 years old. I had just finished high school, I had enrolled in university to commence a physiotherapy degree, but I knew even then I would never start that vocation. So, I took a gap year, worked and then travelled to take myself out of my comfort zone and to try and find out who I was and in which direction I should set my study path. It was my underlying wish to help people that ultimately lead me to law.
My travel path unwittingly lead to Florence, when I met up with a long time family friend who had decided to study Italian and the history of art. A short visit became a longer stay where I had the joy of discovering Firenze from the perspective of the Florentine family with whom we lived.
One spectacular afternoon Meike and I found ourselves at the Piazzale Michelangelo looking back across the shimmering Arno to the stunning Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio tower landmarks. The sun was beginning to set and we could hear the soft chanting of monks from a nearby church as we pulled out the red wine, cheese and bread we had in our knapsack. We took photos sparingly, as we did in those days, careful not to waste too many of 35mm camera roll shots. As the sun began to kiss the horizon, the scene before us was bathed in a shroud of golden light and we were seemingly surrounded by other couples enjoying the romantic view. I turned to my friend and said “I love you dearly, but we really should be here with the loves of our lives!” and in that moment I made a promise to my 18 year old self that I would return one day and share this experience with the man of my dreams.
It took just over 30 years to keep that promise as Craig and I finally jetted off on our trip of a lifetime to celebrate our May birthdays and to mark 25 years of wedded bliss.
Craig had no choice in the matter – we would celebrate our anniversary in Florence! Not that he complained much! And celebrate we did!
After our amazing driving holiday around the stunning and less-travelled Sicily, we flew into Florence. With a few hours to kill before checking into our Airbnb apartment – we decided to explore our “neighbourhood” in the historic centre. Our first stop was a walk along the Arno and across the jewellery store laden Ponte Vecchio to see if I could find the gelati shop that Meike and I used to frequent. Sure enough, it was still there (Bar Ponte Vecchio) – a little less quaint than I recall, but still serving decent (but seriously expensive) gelato!
After a delightful chat with a local street artist that had me buying one of her beautiful water colour pieces to take home, a bit of rain had us ducking and weaving along the laneway street Borgo Santi Apostoli. As the rain got heavier, we fortuitously came upon an amazing little tartuferia – Mangiafoco Osteria where we settled in for lunch. There we were wowed with beautiful food and brilliant service, and there we picked up our little jar of liquid gold – their own made amazing truffle honey! This little jar was my favourite travel companion – as we added a bit of her magic to every snack platter we threw together as we travelled Tuscany. It was sad to farewell her in Rome before flying home.
Our stunning apartment
Once we checked in to our gorgeous eclectic apartment in the historic center on Via Della Vigna Nuova, we took a moment to bask in the realisation that we had finally made it! The apartment was all that the Airbnb photos promised and more! Surrounded by amazing artworks and beautiful furniture we felt as though we had stepped into a Vogue Living magazine! From our top floor apartment four stories up, we could see glimpses of the Arno and the rowers that glided by. We could open up the windows to hear all of the street noise and bustle and see the birds dip and swoop across the terracotta tiled rooftop landscape.
A local café with the best pastries
It didn’t take Craig my coffee addicted husband long to discover one of the undiscovered gem cafes in Florence – the wonderful Café Amerini across the road from our Airbnb. At the end of our three-night stay, the owners Alessio and Simone were like long lost friends to us! These guys do a brilliant coffee and make the best sfoglia (Florentine pastry heaven) we tasted (far superior to the one we were introduced to on our foodie tour at the famous Pasticceria Sieni)!! If you are ever if Florence pop in and tell them “Harry” from Australia says hi!
Florence for Foodies tour highlight
On the recommendation of a well-travelled, foodie lawyer colleague we had signed up for a “Florence for Foodies” tour with Nat. Nathalie is a born and bred Florentine who despite speaking English with an American accent (we forgive her for that) took us on a wonderful tour through a bunch of iconic foodie destinations that have been a part of the fabric of the Florence food and wine scene since the beginning of time! Well, one of our destinations was Da Nerbone a food stall in the amazing San Lorenzo Market that had been standing in the same place making the same two versions of Panini since 1872! We had so much fun with a small group of like-minded souls, eating, tasting and drinking our way around the side streets of fabulous Firenze. Baptised with Grappa we became honorary Florentines! We came away with a list of Nat’s personal favourite restaurants, cafes and bars in Florence – not the ones now ruined by trip-advisor madness but the ones the locals like to keep to themselves! If you want a copy of that list – drop me your email in the comments below and I will get that to you – but seriously if you are going to Florence sign up for one of Nat’s tours you will get the list and have a stack of fun in the process!
A unique, intimate Italian opera experience
The other Florence experience I arranged for us on the evening of our anniversary was attending a very intimate opera event at the St Mark’s Anglican church. It really was the cherry on top of our stay in Florence. Neither of us major opera fans but the beautiful location, the exquisite singers and very talented and entertaining pianist and narrator made for a truly special Italian experience! We were lucky enough to hit upon a “Love Duets” performance – literally a medley of operatic love songs. We were treated to the “greatest hits” from several operas that had us smiling and sitting back in spine-tingling awe! If you are in Florence I highly recommend this as a unique night out!
For the love of David and romantic sunsets
As fun as all of these experiences were, there were two non-negotiables for me. The first was that we had to go and visit my boyfriend from my teenage years – the ever gorgeous and ageless David and the beautiful emerging unfinished Michelangelo statues that sit in the promenade leading up to his glorious form. The second was taking the love of my life up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sun set over my beloved Florence.
We did both. One costs money and involves standing in lines and jostling with the crowds, the other is free and involves somewhat more spread out crowds but both are so worth it!
My tips for David? Pre-order your entry ticket to David (making sure you go and collect the ACTUAL ticket from obscure ticket office before you line up) or go and see him on one of Nat’s “Nude and Food” Florence for Foodies tours!
My tips for watching the sun set over Florence? Put together a pack of snacks and goodies (we got ours from one the stalls at the San Lorenzo market) and grab a vino (we picked ours up from Fratelli Zanobini during our foodie tour) and then take the 20 minute walk up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. By all means say hi to the “other” David and take all the photos your heart desires from the upper level, but then take a stroll down a level to where the entrance to the Giardano delle Rose gardens are and take a seat along the wall there. There are hardly people, you get to sit and you have the view framed by the trees in the foreground! Take your time, pour a glass of vino, snack away at your truffle cheeses and cold cured meats and enjoy the changing scene as you listen to the birdsongs and the occasional throttle of motorbikes coming and going.
Shopping in Florence
In full disclosure we packed a bag inside our suitcase and packed light for the sole purpose of buying shoes, boots and other leather in Florence!
Craig also surprised me with announcing that he would take me shopping for a ring to mark our anniversary – but I was determined not to buy from the shops on the Ponte Vecchio! They are over priced and only a handful have anything truly unique. We ended up walking past a quirky jewellery shop Unico Unique on Lungarno degli Acciaiuoli close to where we were staying and ended up being spoiled for choice with uniquely set semi-precious stones at a reasonable price.
Now about the leather shopping… yes, if you know anything about Florence you will know about their famous leather markets – they are fun to walk through and if you are looking for gifts or scarves or smaller items by all means knock yourself out – but if you are looking for decent leather jackets or awesome leather shoes or boots don’t buy there or if you do make sure you ask all of the right questions about whether the leather is Italian and whether the goods are made in Italy or not – many are not, so you can end up paying way too much money for sub-standard leather goods.
To be honest I got so confused by all of it I decided to trek back to see Yvonne at Conti Tuscany Flavours who we met doing an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting on Nat’s foodie tour and asked her where we should shop. Not only does Yvonne know everything there is to know about olive oils and balsamic vinegars, she was more than happy to share with me her local shopping tips! We followed her recommendations and walked away super happy campers so I thought I should share this insider knowledge with you.
For leather jackets and bags go and see Massimo at Massimo Leather – that is where my fab yellow jacket came from in the softest and lightest leather you have ever touched! For shoes and boots (men’s and women’s) with the most extraordinary range and awesome service – go and see Leonardo and his awesome staff at Leonardo Shoes. Never have I seen a more unique and vast offering in footwear all of them proudly made in Florence! If you want people to ask you where you got your fabulous shoes from when you get back home, only to watch their faces sink ever so slightly when you tell them you bought them in Florence – buy your stash from here!
So, there you have it my “insider” tips and recommendations for an amazing stay in Florence, Italy – straight from our “trip of a lifetime” itinerary!
I am sure you all have your own tips to share – so why don’t you do that in the comments below. That way others who find this post will have all the insider info!
Details of what we did and where we stayed are below:
Airbnb – Via Della Vigna Nuova
Fab restaurants and cafes we discovered
- Mangiafoco Osteria Tartuferia (Borgo Santi Apostoli 26R) http://www.mangiafoco.com/
- Café Amerini (Via Della Vigna Nuova 63r) https://www.facebook.com/pages/Caffe-Amerini/173168399373931
- Ses.to on Arno (rooftop at the Westin Piazza Ognissanti 3) https://www.sestoonarno.com/
- Coquinarius (Via Delle Oche 11r) https://www.coquinarius.it/firenze/
Florence for Foodies – http://florenceforfoodies.com/ go on tour with Nat and have a blast!
- Da Nerbone (Stall #292 San Lorenzo Market entrance on Via dell’Ariento) – be prepared for a “Seinfeld-esque” soup nazi experience ordering your paniato bollito (the most amazing boiled meat, broth dipped panini you have ever tasted) from Stefano Florence’s affectionately dubbed “panini nazi” (you’d be grumpy too if you had been making the same two sandwiches for the last 60 years!)
- Fratelli Zanobini (Via San Antonio 47R) https://www.facebook.com/ZanobiniMarco1/ – Simone and Mario Zanobini here sell their own wines produced in Greve in the Chianti region along with about 2500 other brands of wines, liqueurs and spirits! Ask about their invention – grappa spray! Their best known product is Le Lame, a Chianti Classico Riserva – we got to taste it – it was delicious! We purchased their rosé Fra Il Lusco e Il Brusco to drink watching the sunset over Florence!
- Conti Tuscany Flavours (Via Panicale 29R) https://www.facebook.com/flavoursoftuscany/ – Ask Yvonne to try her amazing balsamics, olive oils, sauces and chutneys!
St Marks Opera – http://concertoclassico.blogspot.com/p/tickets.html