Beautiful Florence, just like Venice, attracts millions of visitors from all over the world every year. This beautiful city, almost a synonym of Renaissance, has a special charm all of its own and requires time, willingness and curiosity to be appreciated beyond the touristic circuit. Unfortunately this time I only went on a short day trip, but I wish to share some suggestions on how to make the most of your day in its historic centre.
I have been to Florence quite a few times, still, being a city so rich in art and history, I haven't done half of the things one could possibly do! Look up Italo's Train and Le Frecce's websites for special offers and, if you have the possibility, try to sleep there at least one night. With regard to museums, I strongly recommend to book your tickets in advance and plan ahead, otherwise you will end up queuing for hours and risk getting nervous. Consider purchasing a FirenzeCard and, let me say this, get up early and do everything when most people are still snoozing in bed or having breakfast.
I didn't follow the typical route. From Santa Maria Novella station, I took the right, passed in front of the outstanding homonymous church in pastel colours and crossed the Santa Trinita bridge. In other words, I immediately went in the Oltrarno area, which is still central but less touristy. Just like Venice, one needs to get away from the main streets and as soon as you turn, a whole new -much nicer and authentic- world opens up! For lunch I went in a lovely bakery a friend of mine had told me about called S.Forno. The owners of the bakery also manage a restaurant and a super cosy eatery which I definitely want to try with my husband!
S.Forno impressed me very positively! In short, it's a bakery that for lunch also offers soups, salads, quiches, cakes and other baked delicacies. The produce is of excellent quality and the design simply beautiful, quite country chic, with jars holding wild flowers, stylised paintings on the walls, rusty-looking tables and gorgeous stools and chairs, both metallic and wooden. The short menu changes daily and features seasonal produce. While waiting for my lunch, I enjoyed seeing lots of locals buy their bread loaves and buns and listening to their amazing accent.
I ordered a salad with raw spinach, baked fennels, walnuts, raisins and mint. It would have been served with a cured meat called finocchiona (a Tuscan variety of salami with fennel seeds), but I asked them if I could have it without because -please forgive me- salami is really not my thing. I also asked for a slice of whole wheat focaccia with tomato sauce. Well, everything was delicious! The salad was very flavoursome, the mint was just right and not at all overwhelming. The portion was very generous and I hadn't understood that included there was another slice of focaccia! I would have stayed at S.forno forever, but I knew I was short of time and I wanted to say hello to a friend of my mum's, so I paid (overall, I spent 10,50 for a salad, a slice of pizza and half a litre of water, which I consider excellent value for money) and left, returning via Piazza Santo Spirito and then turning right towards Palazzo Pitti, which is today one of the most important museums of the city, hosting the Palatine gallery, the Royal apartments and other collections. Foodie tip for vegetarians: not even a minute from here, in Piazza della Passera, there is my favourite vegetarian restaurant in Florence called 5 e Cinque, which I would recommend to anyone into organic food, minimal (but well researched) furniture and design and arty/intellectual atmospheres.
From there I took the main street and crossed the famous Ponte Vecchio, which I found as crowded as the Rialto bridge! Once back in the south bank I turned left and went to Via dei Leoni in search of the tiny shop of Jamie Maria Lazzara, an American violin maker and restorer long adopted by the city of Florence. I wanted to say hello because she's a dear friend of my mother and some months ago she came to Venice to share her life story (my mum had invited her because she was organising a series of meetings with Italian craftsmen) and I had fallen in love with her. Unfortunately she wasn't there, so I missed her, but if you go to Florence this is an incredible experience! Just think that she's the person who made the violin for former president of the US Barack Obama! When she was asked to design a piece for him, she wasn't sure because she didn't want her production to end up dying closed up in a glass case, so she required a 'contract' which provides that every once in a while, a person is obliged to use that violin and play music... come on, how could I not love a woman with this personality?! She is the sweetest and I want to go back and write a post only about her and her work.
Anyway, to recover from my disappointment I passed through the Uffizi Galleries and Piazza della Signoria, with its amazing sculpture gallery. Due to the amount of groups, I just had a quick look and fled. I did the same in Piazza Duomo. So beautiful and rich in details that a lifetime would not be enough to know everything about it, but again...if you really want to do it properly, do it early morning. Just behind Piazza Duomo there's a lovely English bookshop I go to every time I'm in Florence, it's called Paperback Exchange and I strongly recommend stopping by. In the same street, Via delle Oche, there are a few nice restaurants and not far away there's a truck where you can enjoy the classical panino al lampredotto.
From Piazza Duomo I went towards the San Lorenzo area, the cool neighbourhood of the historic centre. In this area you will find lots of really fancy (and affordable) little restaurants, eateries and cafeterias. One of my favourite is La Ménagère in Via de' Ginori, where I had several meals and slices of cakes when I was there with Vito last September. Via de' Ginori is the street with the coolest places, really! If you are into veggies, organic food, quality produce (I also intend meat and cheese) this is definitely where you want to be!