The fabled city, known for its majestic beauty, culture, and the Medici family’s impact, has always captured the world’s imagination. Join us, with our girl-about-globe Emma Lomax-Cohen, as she explores the unique richness of the Italian mecca.
“In Paris you learn wit, in London you learn how to crush your social rivals, and in Florence you learn poise,” wrote the American composer Virgil Thomson to friends at one time. Not much has changed since then in Florence, long known as the jewel of the Italian Renaissance, as well as the style capital of Tuscany.
Let’s face it, when thinking about Florence three words come to mind: food, art, and leather goods. I didn’t know it was possible for one city to be both culturally and historically enriched and have the most delectable cuisine on the planet, but Florence does, and in the chicest way possible.
This city is unique in every aspect, which is why it is one of the most enchanting places in the world. Although it seems impossible, Firenze, as Florence is known in Italy, has condensed 600 years of artful abundance into a 39 square-mile radius that is most easily navigable by walking its treasure trove of quaint avenues. That just gives you more reason to invest in a new pair of authentic Florentine leather boots- this city’s made for walking and each street you come across will be surpassed by a more beautiful one on the next block ahead.
Staying anywhere other than the St. Regis, Four Seasons, or the Hotel Savoy would be doing yourself a huge disservice, considering they are near the Arno River that winds through the city. Note that the Four Seasons has the best view of the city, and the best cocktails. If you’re planning on staying in Florence for longer than a week, renting an apartment might be beneficial. The Portrait hotel is a newcomer to the game and is a lavish town house, and a true corner of paradise situated on the Arno. There is also Villa La Massa, a 16th-century Medici mansion, also on the banks of the Arno, which is an option for those who want to live, well, like a Medici.
Henry James noted, “Everything about Florence seems to be colored with a mild violet, like a diluted wine.” Since Florence is at the center of wine culture in Italy, the choices for wine are infinite. Every restaurant and bar has an endless wine list; and if you’re really serious about wine, you’ll go on a wine tour in one of the Florentine vineyards. If you like beer, check out Kikuya, famous for their dragoon beers.
Since Florence is located in the heart of wine country, you could drink your way through the city, but then there would be no room left for its fine food. And, you do want to leave room for food. Yes, Italy is known for its fantastic and unique pastas, but can other cities in Italy say that they are known for their blueberry steak and pear ravioli? You’ll note that Tuscan bread is different – made sans salt – so the olive oils and pasta sauces are recommended to rescue its taste.
Dinner at La Giostra is a must. For the upscale food daredevils there is the famous Alle Murante. The menu changes quite often and ranges from duck liver to beef tartare, all while being located in an underground cave. Although you may want to try all of the Florentine delicacies, it is not physically possible to eat so heavily for every meal.
While touring the city during the day it is quick and easy to pick up a panini at Antico Noe, Pino’s, or The Oil Shoppe. You will hear people talking in line about splitting a Panini – don’t. You’ll end up wanting to order three more, they’re that good. Although it is a hotspot for study abroad students, Gusta Pizza is one of the most famous restaurants in all of Italy, and it puts Chicago’s deep-dish pizza to shame. Since it’s hard to go anywhere in Italy without dessert, picking up gelato after is a must. Try everything, eat as much as you can, and just make sure of one thing: never mix cheese and seafood.
The famous Ladurée restaurant has brought its nimble French touch to the food scene in the city. I love that it is painted in Ladurée’s signature tone of celery green and offers virtually pyramids of macaroons and their charming colored boxes. Il Borro Tuscan Bistro is where the Ferragamo family has put its stylish touch into what is both a cozy and elegant wine bar that turns scene-ish later in the evening. Venice’s iconic Caffè Florian has opened an outshoot in Florence that serves delicious dishes in a hip, artsy ambience that is decorated with paintings from the Florian artistic foundation. Eataly really is the temple of Italian food, has now opened in Florence. Located by the city’s Duomo cathedral, the almost 22,000-square-foot space has a first floor that hosts a bookstore dedicated to food,on the second level the “DaVinci” restaurant and store sells exclusive wines and beers, while the third floor host courses on food education for both children and adults.
Although you may want to eat your way through Florence, it would be a crime to not leave time for the multitude of dazzling sites. Known for the Duomo, the David by Michelangelo, and the Ponte Vecchio, Florence was at the heart of the Renaissance era and has maintained its charm and love for the arts ever since. Every sculpture or painting in the Uffizi or the Accademia will have you entranced for hours, and there are enough beautiful and intricately designed churches within a three-mile radius that could keep you entertained for weeks. Because of Florence’s popularity, it is important to reserve tickets ahead of time if you want to avoid standing in line. Your hotel concierge can handle those details for you.
The only time you may want to consider standing in line is to mentally prepare yourself for the 436 steps to the top of the Duomo. The climb will help you work off the previous night’s dinner, and the view from the top is a spectacular reward. What could be better than a 360-degree view of the entire city? The red-tiled rooftops and a view of the Arno leading to the mountains are worth every single step.
As we all know Florence used to be a fashion capital of the world. Via de’ Tornabuoni keeps couture alive in Florence and is full of designer boutiques and dedicated shoppers. You’ll find Gucci, Ferragamo, Cavalli, and all the usual favorites, and find the rest of the dedicated shoppers at the San Lorenzo leather market sifting through thousands of handmade leather purses, wallets, and hats of all shapes and sizes.
There’s nothing like the true Italian leather, which means you can’t leave Florence without a new leather jacket, boots, bag, or just about anything of the fine hide. While you’re at it, nothing goes better with Sergio Rossi boots than a pair of diamond earrings from the Ponte Vecchio. Although crowded during the day, the Ponte Vecchio is an incredible spot to watch the sun set over the Arno River; and it has the best view of the stars once night comes and the shop owners close up and go home.
The thing that continues to make Florence feel so special is its hidden gems. Of course it has its famous restaurants and boutiques, but it also has thousands of less famous, perhaps even unknown places. Take a walk, pop into a random store, and more likely than not it will be a diamond in the rough.
Less populated streets are filled with vintage clothes and antiques, ranging from Chanel buttons from the 1950s turned into necklaces, to jewelers that hand sculpt one of a kind gold jewelry stamped with the Florentine emblem. For you night owls, stay awake and around 2 a.m. your nose will lead you to one of the three secret bakeries in Florence. Their location is unknown, but their steaming chocolate croissants are worth the wild goose chase.
So, no matter what you do, see, eat, or drink, Florence will have you planning your next trip to discover more wonders than one trip could possibly allow.