If there were a more beautiful city than Florence to exemplify the refinement and beauty of the Renaissance, I have yet to find it. And it should be so, for Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance. To appreciate this city, you must understand that in 1397 a wealthy banker to the Papal Court, Giovani de Medici set up headquarters here. As Florence was perfectly situated for trade by land or sea, the wealthy merchants flourished. With the resulting wealth the merchants supported artists, writers and philosophers, precipitating the birth of Humanism which celebrates the individual, and encourages personal development to grow a progressive society. That is why there was an explosion of art, architecture, and literature during the Renaissance. Today the treasures of Florence continue to enchant and captivate the modern-day visitor.
If one could choose only two symbols of Florence, they would be the Ponte Vecchio bridge spanning the Arno River and the Duomo of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Dei Fiori. Built in 1345 the former is lined with shops selling jewelry designs by fine gold and silver smiths. The octagonal dome of the Duomo is the most visible landmark in Florence capping the cathedral clad in green, red and white marble. It was designed in 1296 and completed in 1436.
Stay In A Villa
Florence has some of the most beautiful hotels in the world. And one of the most spectacular is the Il Salviatino Hotel, secreted in the hills of Fiesole above the golden city of Florence. A restored and refined 15th century villa, Il Salviatino exemplifies the grandeur of Florence with great style in the quiet of the Tuscan hills. Surrounded by twelve acres of private park, and just 15 minutes from the city center by the hotel’s shuttle; after being in the middle of the hordes visiting the Duomo and the Ufizzi Gallery it is a relaxing place to retreat to.
Built as a magnificent villa, each room is unique. Some have outdoor terraces that are partially covered by a glass greenhouse ceiling and walls. Another has a bathtub for two with views of the Tuscan hills. The Affresco Suite that is hidden behind a door in the library features a detailed 1886 ceiling fresco by Bruschi, a carved stone sarcophagus tub, books on Florence, and enough space on the immense couch for two to curl up to read with a glass of wine. This quiet space is the definition of refined luxury. Out on the terrace, looking over the rose garden, one can see the Duomo, and Florence sparkling at night. You should dine here to really enjoy the view. The restaurant La Cucina del Salviatino serves local specialties with produce, herbs and fruit from their organic garden, local beef and fowl, and fresh fish, paired impeccably by their sommelier. A most romantic repast here looking over the garden scented by flowering jasmine, and dining under the stars on dishes created by their talented chef Stefano Santo will not soon be forgotten. Owner Alessandra Rovati Vitali and CEO Marco Milocco and staff make certain Il Salviatino refreshes, inspires and delights the savvy traveler seeking the beautiful, the quietude, and the refinement.
To make even a small dent in your list of treasures to visit, you could, and you should stay in Florence for at least a few days. Each traveler will likely have his or her own list of many “must see” options. If you want to include the 14th century and the Renaissance period masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery on your list here is a tip: order your tickets well in advance online at www.uffizi.it/en/tickets. They get sold out so book now. You can select a day and time of entry. Pick up tickets at a special window so you don’t have to stand in line to purchase. There is a special line for entry too. Another great tip is to download the free Rick Steves Audio Tour of the Uffizi. He will tell you the short cuts to find the best of the gallery and describe the artwork. He also has other audio tours of Florence available too. Go to www.ricksteves.com and search under “audio tours”.
Rent a car in Florence and head out to wine country for tasting some Super-Tuscans, Chianti, and other local wines and do some touring to revel in the gorgeous Tuscan scenery. Marchesi Antinori is the local “best of” in my opinion because of the total experience. Beginning in the late 1300’s during the Renaissance, the 26th generation is now leading the company. Note: Transportation to and from Antinori’s Chianti Classico Cellars San Casciano Val di Pesa winery is on your own. You may inquire with Antinori via their contact page on the website as to a reputable car service, or go by taxi- estimated at 50 Euros each way. If you don’t wish to drive yourself go to www.chianti.com for more tour options.
We have mentioned the restaurant at Il Salviatino, La Cucina del Salviatino, which would be perfect for your first night as you settle in. Also make reservations for La Cantinetta Antinori in the Palazzo Antinori -yes that renowned wine family who has been making wine for 27 generations. As a bonus, the restaurant is only a few streets from the Duomo. The food is excellent and partially sourced from the Antinori wine estates. The fare is simple and sublime. You can order their wines by the glass or a bottle of some vintages only available here. Tip: If the local specialty “Grape Cake” is on the menu, get it.
If you are out for the day enjoying Florence pop into Procacci Shop a historical delicatessen opened in 1885 By Leopoldo Procacci. King Vittorio Emanuele so loved the shop that he named it a royal supplier and so they still use the royal coat of arms on the signage. It’s very near the Palazzo Antinori and the Duomo. Inside you’ll find Tuscan delights like olive oil, cheeses, honey, and fruit jams but what you really came for is the traditional Panini Tartufati-a sandwich with truffle filling. It’s a heavenly lunch paired with a glass of chianti from the wine bar. Go early or be prepared to wait in line.
By Train: Book through ItaliaRail, based in the United States. They can arrange your whole itinerary on a personalized multiple-city trip. They can even arrange airport transfers and porters, which are extremely helpful in navigating the larger and busier stations. Tip: If a choice is offered, always choose the fast train-the Frecciarossa. It will cost more but you’ll arrive more quickly and when on a vacation, each moment is precious. We boarded the train in Rome at the frenetic Roma Termini to Florence and it took about one hour and a half to get there.
By Air: Flights arrive from and depart from FLR Amerigo Vespucci Airport to Munich, Paris, Rome, Frankfurt, Brussels and most major cities on the continent. You may even fly in from Rome. Airport is only four kilometers from Florence city center.
The official guide for Florence: http://www.firenzeturismo.it/en/
This one is also helpful: www.visitflorence.com