My piccolo friendly guide to Florence
...and the idiosyncrasies that shape a truly Florentine life
Despite living for less than three months in the everlasting inspiring, gorgeous Florence, the capital of Tuscany, I can’t help but feel as though my wandering instinct had been under the city’s skin for a very long time!
It's true that it can take years for one to master a city’s hidden gems but my wish is not to keep anything away from you, dear reader. I feel compelled to share everything, from little perceptions about the incomparable "fiorentino" lifestyle to the places that have been keeping my mind, stomach and heart busy and happy in equal measure.
Before I get into a smart list of things one cannot miss in the city, let me first praise the precious details that make Firenze extraordinarily unique, starting by my new favorite word: Aperitivo, a habit that Italians take very seriously.
In an attempt to find its English expression equivalent, I could translate it to "Happy Hour", although it wouldn't be fair to the beauty and uniqueness that revolve around its ritual. In Italy, there's something sacred about getting together at the table, focusing on the food and company. In other words, taking care of your well-being, making life worthwhile and enjoying the essential conviviality between human beings. After all, life cannot be all about work!
The best thing about an Aperitivo? Well, as to be expected in an Italian land, the drink we order is always accompanied by a lovely little plate with nibbles! And boy, aren't they delicious! Don't fool yourself into thinking that bites, in Firenze, come down only to chips. The variety of cheese, charcuterie, breads, pâtés, to name a few, sets the scene of what is to eat in Tuscany: heaven!
Since the day I moved from Amsterdam to this beautiful country, I cherish the importance of taking a pause for an Aperitivo once a week. Or maybe twice! The places where I guarantee you'll have a truly wonderful experience are: Antica Torre di Via Tornabuoni 1, Cibreo Caffè, Caffè Gilli, Palazzo Portinari Salviati, Companion "dolce amaro bar", Loggia Roof Bar, Four Seasons Hotel.
Apart from this habit that I find rejuvenating, I have been visiting many pizzerias stretching the whole town: only once a week, for the record so my shape doesn't become like that of a pizza. Of all foods that I cannot live without, pizza scores the highest. Like an Italian, I also care - a lot - about what a good quality pizza should be. Trust me, these places will entice and please your appetite: Giotto, Berberè, L'Antica Porta, Santa Lucia, Da Michele, Fuoco Matto.
On the way to or returning from some of these pizzerias, it's easy to mesmerize ourselves at striking monuments (some of them, I must say, are even more gorgeous at night): the one and only Cathedrale del Duomo, the Piazza della Signoria or the Basilica of Santa Croce. I still have goosebumps when looking at them. Not to mention, of course, the world-famous Ponte Vecchio (btw: my favorite spot to observe the singularity of this bridge is on the other side of the river) or the breathtaking Giardino di Boboli with its marvelous gardens filled with Renaissance statues and ornate fountains (p.s. if you love porcelains as much as I do, don't miss the room dedicated to them on the top of the garden).
Such abundance of realness explains the long-standing connection of the Italians to the visual arts and likewise their obsession with aesthetic beauty. As wisely written in the book If they are Roses by Linda Falcone "Italy is not a constant chain of events; it is a constant flow of eye-based experiences". Italy might be a visual society, but Firenze epitomizes that meaning in its own right. It's a no joke how smartly they dress (and they will always pay attention to yours).
Don't be surprised if you notice purple accessories waving all across the city. Inside restaurants, bars, houses and taxi cars, the purple flag is an omnipresent figure. It's like as though the whole city pays a huge homage to Fiorentina, the local football club. In order to understand the love and devotion they nurture for their team, I need to put it this way: it's practically a rhetorical question to ask anyone in the city if they cheer for the club. Take for example what my physiotherapist said one of these days: "In Firenze, it's almost an obligation to cheer for Fiorentina". Period.
Last but not least, recently I learned one of the cutest words during my Italian class: sonnellino. Try to pronounce it and you'll instantly fall in love with its musicality! Sonnellino stands for the little nap taken after lunch by some Europeans (just to be clear: those from warm countries). Which is why many places close between 13:00 and 16:00. Although mass tourism has been changing the way famous Italian cities operate, you still might see some shops, pharmacies, cafes and others commercial stores closed during these hours.
If that is the case, may I suggest a lovely passeggiata: walk along the Arno River, cross it and stroll the adorable streets of San Niccolò, a bucolic neighborhood that gently invites passersby for an inspiring time. Catch your breath to go up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to be granted a panoramic view of the city: this magnificent square is one of those sightseeings that stays forever in a traveler's memory.
Is that all? You may ask. Absolutely not! To be honest this guide might never end. I still want to reveal where my favorite gelateria is, the centenary perfume galleries and the local artisans who survived through modern times, not to mention the bartenders rocking the local mixology scene... I shall not forget to mention the food markets where the huge diversity of Tuscan ingredients and recipes become palpable (and why there isn't such thing as Italian food: it all boils down to regionality).
Stay tuned for more delightfulness!