Florence For Beginners
Like many other Italian cities, the capital of art and culture is so vast you can never get to see it all, no matter how often you go back to the city. The Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, the Galleria dell’Accademia, the Palazzo Pizzi and the churches are must-visit landmarks if you want to soak up the beauty of Florence. But, beware – trying to see it all in one go can bring on the Stendhal syndrome (also known as the Florence syndrome) or a mental block that can end up ruining your trip.
So, to make sure you go about calmly and enjoy things leisurely, we propose 6 essential venues which will help you come to grips with Florence without losing your nerves.
Uffizi Gallery – A Must-See Classic
One of the finest art galleries in the world, its collection of Renaissance art is peerless worldwide. Housed in a 16th-century administrative building, the Uffizi brings together some of the best works by Sandro Botticelli, Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Your museum visit could take from three to four hours and it is worth lingering in the uncrowded rooms to discover some lesser known but equally interesting artists. To avoid having to queue up at the ticket office for over an hour, we recommend you book in advance.
Il Grande Museo del Duomo – a 21st-Century Museum
This is one of the newer attractions in the city. The museum showcases treasures from the Duomo, the Campanile and the Baptistery. Here you can see the original Baptistery doors, a masterpiece by Ghiberti, the relief work in the Campanile and the sculptures on the old Duomo facade. In fact, you can actually see a life-size reconstruction of the original facade, with sculptures by Arnolfo di Cambio and Donatello, in the Room of the First Facade. Other highlights of the museum include the Pietà, which Michelangelo sculpted at the age of 80, and Brunelleschi’s death mask. Artworks are prominently displayed in this museum, geared to showcasing the past using the technology of the future.
Basilica di Santo Spirito – The Advent of theQuattrocento
While the churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce are among our favourites, if you’re pressed for time in Florence and fancy seeing a church studded with chapels featuring retables from the Quattrocento, the “Basilica of the Holy Spirit” is the place to be. This church, designed by Brunelleschi, lies in the heart of the lively Oltrarno. It boasts no less than 38 chapels and such paramount artworks as the Madonna of the Relief, by Domenico di Zanobi, and Madonna with Child and Saints, by Filippino Lippi.
Boboli Gardens and Bardini Garden – A Romantic Walk
One of the most fascinating art galleries in Florence is housed in the Palazzo Pitti. But, today, instead of entering the famous palace designed by Brunelleschi, we take a stroll around its sumptuous gardens. The Boboli Gardens, dating from the 16th century, acted as the leisure resort for the city’s rulers. It stretches right up the slope of the Palazzo Pitti and is noteworthy mainly for the rose garden at the top, with spectacular views over the Tuscany countryside. A five minute-walk away, using the same entrance, lies the Bardini Garden, with splendid views over the city. The best vantage point is the restaurant set in the garden, La Leggenda Dei Frati, a stone gallery which affords a panoramic view of the city you will never forget.
Brancacci Chapel – For Specialists Only
Still in Oltrarno, the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine houses one of the loveliest chapels in the city, the Brancacci Chapel. Here, paintings by Masolino da Panicale, Masaccio and Filippino Lippi are perfectly preserved within the space of a few metres. The frescoes by Masaccio, depicting the life of St Peter, are regarded among his finest works. They reveal a clean break between Gothic art and the early Renaissance. Only 30 visitors are allowed in the chapel at any one time, but it is well worth the wait.
Palazzo Vecchio – Discovering Florence By Night
In summer, the Palazzo Vecchio stays open until midnight from Friday to Wednesday. It makes for a great alternative and quiet visit to one of the city’s most emblematic landmarks. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, it was once the seat of municipal power. Its rooms are adorned with outstanding frescoes, while the most prominent room is the Salone dei Cinquecento, notable for its sheer size and opulent decoration. The ceiling of the Green Room or Sala Verde features paintings by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, while still open to the public are the chambers of Giovanni de’ Medici, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and future Pope Leon X.
Be sure to visit these marvels of Florence – check out our flights here.
Text by Aleix Palau for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
Images by Christine und Hagen Grafmore info
A secret Florence
By Mariana Calleja from TravelThirst | Illustration & Photography by Federico Rojas
Of course there is a lot about Florence. Such a rich city with tons of art, scenery, history and more to be seen and learned. But this time, we decided to go into a secret Florence within the same streets we all have visited some time.
Maybe you have done this before but there is always some more to discover. So take your map down and take this secret guide in hand, as you know you are already curious and going into this secret Florence we were able to ﬁnd and sense for you.
1. Traces of a Roman Amphitheater
There a particular little street where you can sense a prominent curve, where buildings and homes are sitting today. But what it’s not known and told, even within its walls, is how this curve represents the place where an amphitheater was located back in Roman times!
Walking straight from Piazza Santa Croce, taking the narrow street called Via Torta. Keep walking until you surround it all! You will be able to notice and even imagine where this roman structure used to be located. No walls remain today.
2. Florence’s Floods
Arno River is a big part of Florence’s soul. Even though it seems steady nowadays, it wasn’t always like that. Did you know this river ﬂooded up the city 3 different times in the past? Once even taking down the well known Ponte Vecchio back in 1333. Fortunately it was rebuilt and still standing.
But what travelers, locals or any curious person don’t get to know is that there are a few traces of these ﬂoods around town. And as an important part of history as it is, we want to share this tip with you.
The largest ﬂood came in 1966, not long ago, when it reached 5 meters height. You can see commemorative plaques on this corner, recalling and remembering lost souls to the ﬂood.
3. Thunderstorm Hits to the Duomo
In June 17th, 1600, Florence suffered a terrible thunderstorm, which had one lightning striking directly the copper-gold ball on the Brunelleschi’s cupola. It made the ball fall down hardly to the ground and fortunately not harming anyone. There was just a big hole in the ground which is featured today over a white circle on the same spot where the ball landed.
4. Bees of Ferdinand
At the Piazza Annunziata, there is a magniﬁcent statue of Ferdinand di Medici, which if you get closer, you will see a large swarm of bees gathering around the queen bee,symbolizing Ferdinando’s coat of arms and the peaceful living they had at the time. It is said that bees are uncountable…but I believe that is untrue! We dare you to go count them. We got 91 bees!
5. San Zanobi’s Tree
Right on one side of the Baptistery in Florence, you can see a column standing all alone. Well, attached to this column there is a nice story of a very beloved bishop and the ﬁrst one of the city of Florence.
One day San Zanobi passed away so the entire city threw a parade in his honor and buried him at San Lorenzo’s church. After a few years, they decided to move him to the ancient cathedral of Santa Reparata.
It was January on a dark winter day when the parade was held again. They took his body into the new location and it is said that when they passed by the Baptistery, the bishop’s bier brushed against the leaﬂess branches of an elm tree, making it bloom right away. It was miraculous and beautiful as it is told.
In order to celebrate this, Florentines built up a column right on this spot, with a small iron detail of a tree full of leaves representing San Zanobi’s miracle. And it is celebrated every January on the 27th.
6. The Mysterious Portrait of Michelangelo
On a corner right next to Palazzo Vecchio’s main entrance, you can get to see a very small face carved into the same wall stone.
Exactly on the corner between Via della Nina and Piazzale degli Uﬁzzi, you will notice if you get close enough, a small carving the resembles a human face.
It is said it was sculpted by Michelangelo, maybe on a boring moment or on a rivalry moment. Legend says how Michelangelo might have been challenged by a sculptor friend mentioning how he was slow with his own works. Michelangelo, while listening and heading his back towards the wall, sculpted this face to prove his colleague wrong.
But another legend says instead, how Michelangelo was on the street when we has caught on a boring conversation with someone who approached him. In his boredom and once again, heading his back to the wall, he carved this ﬁgure on the corner stone.
Which one do you believe it was?
7. Former Jail and Today’s Apartment Building
At the Via Gibhellina, there is the Monastery delle Murate, best known for holding an important jail during 500 years. After it was closed and transferred to a new location, the infrastructure was used as a restaurant and recreational park for long time, until the 20th century. In this moment, a social project rescuing old structures for a better living, took this area in order to build a whole apartment and lifestyle project. Nowadays, you can still see and even visit the place, grab a coffee or just sit down on a bench and admire the incredible passing of time while whispering a story to your ear.
Inspiring and exemplar is what this is. One more great achievement of the city of Florence, moving towards better times and a better quality of life.
By Mariana Calleja from TravelThirst | Illustration & Photography by Federico Rojas
A place well worth discovering! Check out our flights here.
Florence on 5 Senses
By Mariana Calleja from TravelThirst
Florence made us happy. Yes. Florence made us go creative, free and overwhelmed about everything in life.
First things first, as obvious as it may seem: Il David…brought tears out from my eyes.
This majestic piece of stone carved into the most impressive and touching figure, making you feel not small but human, simply out if this head of ours. Making us feel overwhelmed about the fact of what we are, of what we have the potential to be. Of what we never think of ourselves many times. Il David is really perfect, not in body, not in figure but in every thing possible that it can really mean and transmit to our human race.
Yes I felt overwhelmed and I just felt like crying sweetly and tenderly. He was beautiful. What it made me feel was beautiful.
This was only one of many aspects about Florence that are making me miss it already in a different way. We have travelled a lot around Europe during our three years living here. We have certainly seen incredible places, art, landscapes, food, people, museums, history. But I have never seen and felt what this city made me, all at once. Why? No idea. Maybe along these words I will figure the answer out when I get to the end.
So let’s get started, shall we?
Florence is a city built up from history, from the very basis to the top. And yet, there is a lot more than just what we see of course. No audio guide or book is enough in order to sense this place. So as we usually love to try and do is simply following our senses and discover any place on this simple life basis. So keep on reading and find out some sensorial experiences. You might get creative too and wanting to take the next flight to Florence.
Even within the obvious, we must mention a few of our favorite spots to see in Florence.
Sunset from the Piazza Michelangeliolo. On top of everything, the city discovers itself from here. All corners, roof tops and bell towers will sing at once a happy melody.
Florence at night has one very particular set of lights. No idea who did this and why but I haven’t seen a city with such sense of illumination, not to mention wire-free and with such a clean visual panorama. But nights are special believe us. You need to get out of your hotel room at night too and go get lost while looking up and ahead. You will enjoy another Florence if indulging yourself with this little great tip.
Instead of climbing the cupola, why not see the cupola itself? We always enjoy views from the top of anything. Is a must-do in every city to go up high and take a distant look. This time, we chose to climb the Giotto Bell Tower. And an imposing cupola appeared in front of our eyes. So huge and so small at the same time. This can really be a good thing to appreciate. Probably next time we will climb the cupola instead and enjoy the bell tower, but Santa Maria del Fiore’s church deserved a good look on this first trip.
One interesting spot we found was a former jail…turned today into beautiful and practical apartment buildings! Hard to imagine but seemed beautiful from the outside. You could still see the old iron doors and scarves on its walls and yet, it was a happy and flowered sight. Not to be missed either!TASTE
Traditional dishes of course, such as Ribollita soup or Milanesa meat. But our most diverse experience went somewhere in between: Ribollita’s soup PIZZA! It was exactly like smelling veggie soup coming out from a perfectly fresh and recently baked pizza. Confusing but totally worth it!
During a market night, right in front of Santa Maria Novella, we found a whole bunch of interesting things to try. Very different from the traditional italian food we use to know. Anything you can get there will be good for sure. We had a delicious fried ball like the size of a baseball, with a filling made up of meat and rice, served very hot and with a crunchy crust. One really good bite! Name? The one and only: Frittele.
Gnocchi is always a good catch for us. One of our favorite dishes in the world and is a must for us to go gnocchi-tasting every time. And Florence certainly had one good variety. Feel free to try it anywhere and anytime. Best rule for me in order to try a favorite dish is always keeping it simple: basic tomato sauce will never fail in letting me recognize a good or a bad pasta.
And of course, don’t ever forget to start your day with a cafe and a cornetto: the traditional italian breakfast. Let me explain how does a cornetto feels inside your mouth: Imagine the most delicious, soft and creamy pastry with sweet and tender sugar powder on top, dropping a naughty bit as you make a glorious bite into your palate. It will never get happier than this!SMELL
The whole town welcomed us over an interesting smell, like any city has done before into our nostrils. Except this time was special, strong and formidable.
It was something like smoked lemon…something between citric and wooden smoke from a chimney. It had a beautiful sense of feeling old and cozy. And this is what Florence felt like for us. Like home.
Interestingly, we also found something special around Florence in order to stimulate this sense of smell: an aroma bar! As funny as it could seem, is definitely a spot we haven’t found ever before. All about parfums, fancy smells of flowers, and spices, and nature. Quite stimulating! And relaxing to our surprise.
Have you ever been to a “bar-a-parfums”?
Another characteristic smell from Florence were “Lillies”. Beautiful violet-colored flowers hanging from old walls and balconies all over town, being caressed by the wind all day long. Probably best sensed during spring time. But what a sweet aroma giving a friendly scent to the entire place. Not to mention how beautiful these flowers look, hanging in a relaxing way every time.LISTEN
Without any doubt, this place has the most outstanding set of bell towers in all Europe. One of the things catching our attention right away was the constant music of bells ringing all at once and to different melodies every time. For some reason hard to explain, it was very comforting to listen to this. Again, it was something cozy and welcoming about bells ringing.
For example, make sure you get caught in the Brunelleschi cloister during noon. Probably one of the most relaxing 30 minutes we have had during our travels, just by sitting there, taking the bells and the sun at a peaceful and quiet green garden. No tourists along at all. You want to spend a few minutes here and enjoy the experience since it will last in your memory for long.
One more great tip on our experience would be climbing up to Gioto Bell Tower, not only for the views. This time to listen to the city instead. After an arduous way up, you will find a very comforting corner on top, giving you incredible views to the city for sure.
But best than the views, this is a place to visit with your ears more than with your eyes. A place where you should stand relaxingly on the boarder, pose your head and chin over your hands crossed, stand in a semi-flexed position and then proceed to close your eyes while addressing your whole face to the city…to the air.
Stay there, eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths and exhale through your nose, slowly. Focus…and listen around you. Listen to Florence. Listen to the street, the laughter, the working city and the touristy city. Listen to the machines, the cleaning, the bells far back, the few cars passing by. You are 80 meters up high and still, you get to sense the whole city from there. Is relaxing, is beautiful. Hold on a few minutes until you can describe every single sound in your head. Then you can open your eyes and smile. There are a few stairs waiting for you to take you down to all those sounds.FEEL
The sense of feeling and touch is always the toughest one to describe and yet the richest, funniest and most tender one. Because is abstract, going beyond the obvious, beyond just the wind on your face or the coldness of stone walls.
What about the sense of feel or touch in Florence?
The Galleria degli Uffizzi has a “touch tour” intended for blind people but one you can definitely try it yourself, why not? We don’t need to be blind in order to play with our hands and sense a whole new world through them, right?
And with this practical information, we wish you have a very sensorial experience next time you are in Florence. A perfect city for exploring your own the five senses!
By Mariana Calleja from TravelThirst. Photography by Federico Rojas
We’ll be there. If you want to come too, check out our flights here.
Vini and Panini in Florence
The capital of Tuscany is a striking city packed with appeal which is well worth spending a few days in. Awaiting you, among other inducements, is Michelangelo’s famed David, Spring by Botticelli, the Ponte Vecchio, the famous dome of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Piazza della Signoria with its bold Perseus by Cellini. A highly manageable city which lends itself to strolling about and can be enjoyed both day and night – the latter has a charm of its own. And, of course, it has to be tasted and savoured.
Wine is part of the city’s DNA, as is art, and you are duty bound to stop and have a drink in any of the salumerie (delicatessens) or wine bars, where they also offer boards of local sausage, cheeses and panini, which spice up the drink experience even more. There are loads of them but, to help put you on the right track, here are some recommendations:
Hidden in the back streets near the Uffizi gallery is this eatery – a must-visit – run by chef Alessandro Frassica, who you will see behind the bar counter or dancing in front of it. Panini made on the spot, with a long list of more or less classic options. When we were there we wolfed down one with bresaola (a cured beef), ricotta and zucchini, and another with mortadella e salsa al tartufo (mortadella and truffle sauce) which tasted divine. The food is freshly cut, the bread is good, a great atmosphere and a very trendy ambience. Needless to say, you have to wash down your panini with two glasses of local red wine.
A delightful store with just three tables where you can purchase wine and drink it on the spot for an uncorking surcharge. To go with it –tastings of cheese, sausage, olives and a delicious homemade sobresada.Behind the counter is the helpful Alessandro, ready to guide you successfully through your culinary choice. Pure produce.
One of Florence’s oldest wine bars, now run by a group of youngsters who have set a new seal on the business while maintaining its centuries-old essence. Chalked up on the blackboards are a host of panini options with seasonal ingredients which you can combine at will. Don’t let the queue in this eatery put you off, as it is well worth the wait. Order some wine and enjoy – it is sited in one of the liveliest streets for “wine crawling”. Apart from wine, they also have anosteriaif you prefer to eat at a table.
A Special Dinner at Il Santo Bevitore
We left the panini behind – but not the wine – and sat down in a restaurant offering Italian specialities in order to taste regional Florentine cuisine. And we made the right choice! A young, lively atmosphere and a cuisine that soars above the Italian standards we are used to, as well as a wine list with hundreds of Italian varieties. We followed their recommendations and ended up with a table full of terrina di fegatini de pollo (a tasty, typical Tuscan paté on a bun), tagliatelle alle castagne and risotto ai porcini (field mushrooms). The menu changes with the season and their wine bar on the same street is handy for whetting one’s appetite.
Shopping at Il Mercato Centrale and Sant’Ambrogio
So, we went shopping. The Central Market, located in the heart of San Lorenzo, is the most important market in Florence. Their display ranges from pastas of all types, cheeses, wines and olive oil to fresh delicatessen, fruit and vegetables, as in any market. One of their main draws is the food area on the first floor, influenced by street-food culture, where you can find all kinds of snacks. Another must-visit venue that will delight even the most seasoned foodies is the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. Located on the Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, it features both inside and outside stalls where locals crowd around in search of the best titbits. Genuine and lively – before you leave, make sure you buy at least some olives and a birra (beer). Have a seat in the surrounding area and soak up the atmosphere. And, while you’re at it, head for the Trippiao Pollini street stall and pluck up the courage to try their tripe sandwich – you won’t regret it!
Let yourself get carried away by the flavours of Florence – check out your Vueling here.
Text and photos by Silvia Artaza of Gastronomistas.com