Recently I have been revisiting some of my blogs on Italy, especially after watching Searching for Italy with Stanley Tucci! I hope you find these updated versions informative and useful. In some cases, I have completely written new ones. Tuscany is a place I think, like no other as it captures your heart as soon as you arrive. The entire region pulls you in and you feel at home. It is a timeless beauty with its capital, Florence, home of the Renaissance. Words do not do this city justice. It’s a city full of marvels everywhere you look bisected by the Arno River. Be sure to visit both sides since years of strict zoning regulations have preserved this city for the ages. You are literally walking through history!
Florence is a very walkable city and you really don’t need a vehicle unless you are going to drive down into the Val D’Orcia or Chianti Region. Of course, the train system there is fabulous and you can easily navigate Italy via train. If you can explore Florence on foot you will be rewarded.
The area surrounding the Duomo is pedestrian only from south of the Duomo through Piazza della Signoria to the Ponte Vecchio and east from the Signoria to Santa Croce. The crowds though can be unbearable but then again, you are probably a tourist too! One trip we stayed right on Via dei Calzaiuoli which links the Duomo and Piazza Signoria and with no cars it is a wonderful spot to enjoy the evening passeggiata! Around every corner is something else to see and more and more history to unearth!
Set your plan as you cannot accomplish everything. What do you want to do; not what do you feel you must do! Do you want to visit museums or walk around quiet neighborhoods like the Oltrarno, with its artisan workshops on the south side of the river. Catch bus 7 up to Fiesole with its commanding views of the city, or shop on Via de’ Tornabuoni for designer labels. Maybe it’s to shop and eat at the Mercato Centrale with its artisanal products and vendors with every type of food from gelato to EVOO. (don’t miss this spot)!
If you are up for a long walk (or take a taxi or bus 13 from Ponte Alle Grazie) you definitely want to cross the Arno river via the Ponte Vecchio to look back and see the city from the other side.
Take a few extra minutes to walk to the next bridge down river to the Ponte Santa Trinità and look back towards the Ponte Vecchio. A lovely view and a popular tourist stop as the Ponte Vecchio is often very crowded especially when the shops are open. Keep searching to unearth Florence’s true magic.
The Ponte Vecchio which simply means “Old Bridge” was rebuilt in 1345 to replace an earlier bridge that was destroyed by floods and spans the Arno river. The bridge is solely devoted to goldsmiths and jewelers. It is the only bridge to survive WW II and was saved on Hitler’s specific instructions.
A worthwhile stop along the Viale dei Colli is a stop at the top at the Piazzale Michelangelo. The world famous view over Florence at sunset especially is breathtaking! You can see Santa Croce, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Campanile, Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio and way in the distance the Apennine mountains which run down the center of the country. There is a poor copy of Michelangelo’s David overlooking the cafes up there. It gets very crowded at sunset so get there early if you plan to sit. You can walk or catch bus 13 up there.
On your way up the hill be sure to stop at Pitti Palace, Fort Belvedere, Boboli Gardens and the Giardino Bardini. The Pitti Palace now houses several museums. The Boboli Gardens were a little underwhelming and when we were there not much was blooming and it was somewhat underplanted. The gardens were commissioned by Cosimo I de’Medici in honor of his wife – Eleanora di Toledo. It was an important model for formal parks and gardens with its symmetrical and harmonious garden design.
The Bardini Garden and Villa dates back to the 14th century. Again, the view from here is like that of Piazzale Michelangelo- stunning! The baroque gardens are perfumed by irises, roses, hydrangeas, a Japanese garden and statuary.
Need some help with your Italian? Some useful words or phases are:
Yes – Si (See); No – No (Noh); Please – Per favore (Pehr-fah-voh-reh); Thank you – Grazie (Grah-tsee-eh; I don’t understand – Non capisco (Non rah-pee-skoh); Good morning – Buon giorno (Bwohn-johr-noh); Good afternoon – Buona sera (Bwoh-nah-seh-rah) – If you find this helpful let me know and I will continue to add Italian words and phrases to the blogs.
Before leaving Florence be sure to see The David at the Galleria dell’Accademia. Even the lines are worth the wait. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Consider a day trip up into the hills to visit the ancient city of Fiesole with its Roman ruins and I hope you had a chance to have the dish of Florence: the Bistecca all Fiorentina. The biggest steak you will ever get!