My love affair with Italy began in 1989 when I saw Florence for the first time. The imposing Duomo, with its green and pink marble walls and distinctive terracotta-tiled dome, was largely what won me over … I love the way you catch glimpses of it from virtually everywhere within the old city. Considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, it’s also home to some of the world’s best known art, by masters including Michelangelo, da Vinci and Botticelli, not to mention some of my favourite classic dishes. Here are five things I love most about Tuscany’s capital city.
Stay Four Seasons
When in Florence, make like a Medici and stay in this luxuriously-restored 16th century Medici palace, surrounded by 5-acres of private garden, just 15 minutes’ walk from the city centre. Request a room on the first floor (piano noble) with frescoes and original painted terracotta flooring.
Eat Buca Mario
Sure the tourists come, but so do the Italians, to this wonderfully atmospheric cellar restaurant with waiters who know how to turn on the Italian charm. This is the place for classic Tuscan cooking, from ribollita and bistecca Fiorentina carved tableside, to fresh pasta and a memorable dessert trolley.
Shop Ponte Vecchio
This medieval bridge is one of only four worldwide with shops across the full span on both sides, as once was common. These days they’re mainly expensive jewellery stores, but Sergio Vaggi & Figli (at the entrance) also sells gorgeous, affordable silver animals inlaid with colourful hand-painted enamel.
Art Michelangelo’s David
Considered one of the greatest sculptures of all time, David is mesmerising for his scale, proportion and lifelike nuances … but what captivated me even more were the four unfinished sculptures nearby (the prisoners or prigioni), which, rather than being carved out of the stone, appear to be trapped within it, with the artist merely uncovering them.
View Piazzale Michelangelo
Sometimes a little perspective is a good thing – it’s hard to really see the city, especially the Duomo, when you’re right on top of it. So take the 30-minute walk across the River Arno and up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo for the panoramic postcard view.