A Weekend Trip to Italy: Florence
I think there are certain Northern Italian cities that are made for autumn and early winter travel. Think Venice, Modena and Bologna. It’s the palette of the architecture - all those golden buildings, the terracotta - it just screams to be seen during these seasons.
It was exactly this philosophy that took me to Florence for the weekend recently. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take my Dad away for a couple of days, and it had been a while since I'd spent a decent amount of time in Florence. Needless to say, a visit felt very appropriate.
I have previously been to Florence in January, March, August and October, so it was lovely to see what November was like. A little damp, but unseasonably mild. The evenings were classic trench coat and cashmere scarf weather, which is basically a dream come true for someone in my position.
If you don’t know a lot about Florence, let me give you a quick overview before I dive into my little weekend guide.
Florence is the most populated city in Tuscany and has a rich history of culture, power and wealth. Despite its popularity with tourists, it’s still easy to escape to a quiet street away from the Duomo and busy centre. You’ll feel quite a bit of creativity and elegance while visiting the city thanks to its importance in Italian fashion - one of my favorite things about Florence.
One can’t speak about Florence without also mentioning its affinity for art. From the stunning churches of Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), the basilica of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, to the Ponte Vecchio, and the statues and sculptures of Piazza della Signoria, you will feel like you’re on a movie set!
As far as access, there is a small airport in Florence, but most flights arrive in Pisa, which is a comfortable one hour coach ride into the centre of Florence. The coach ride comes with some wonderful views of the Tuscan countryside ripe with vineyards and olive groves.
Perhaps I’ve already given away too much, but if Florence has piqued your interest, I’ve listed out my best recommendations for a weekend away in this elegant destination.
Where to Stay
On a previous trip, I stayed at Hotel Lungarno, which is a beautiful old-fashioned luxury hotel owned by the Ferragamo family with balconies overlooking the River Arno and the famous bridge, Ponte Vecchio. The river views are rather special, as the other luxury hotels have limited river views. I stopped by to check out the recent renovation and the lobby and public areas looked as delightful as ever.
However, on this occasion, I wanted an elegant neighbourhood boutique hotel. Quite by chance, a recent issue of Conde Nast Traveller featured Ottantotto Firenze in an article on new openings in Italy. The photo of the beautiful garden persuaded me that we should go to Florence. Ottantotto is housed in an historic building located in the heart of the Oltrarno district in Florence, on the quiet side of the Arno. The peaceful streets and brilliant local restaurants feel a world away from the busy piazzas and tourist areas, and yet the Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace are right on your doorstep.
There are 7 beautifully decorated rooms and a gorgeous garden. It was slightly chilly for me to enjoy breakfast outside, although some of the Scandinavian guests braved it. Oh, and I should mention that the place smells absolutely amazing! An important factor when choosing a hotel.
Owner and Architect Fabrizia Scassellati has done a superb job renovating this property and creating a perfect boutique hotel. Day-to-day life at the hotel is left in the safe hands of Andres, who will take care of you and provide great restaurant recommendations. Andres is originally from Colombia, but rather romantically met his wife in the US and moved to her native Florence where they raise their two children. I do like a good love story!
Where to Eat & Drink
Gustaosteria Via de' Michelozzi 13/r
With the sun shining, I insisted we squeeze in one more alfresco lunch this year. We wandered the short distance from our hotel to the lovely Piazza Santa Trinita and stumbled upon this lovely spot. We ate outside amongst the crowded but charming arrangement of tables and enjoyed views of life in the piazza. I had a fabulous prawn risotto and glass of Tuscan white wine.
Lo Sprone, Via Dello Sprone 17 Rosso
We walked past this tiny seven-table restaurant and I took one look and said I want to eat lunch there. No English was spoken, and the restaurant is located on a corner with less than a foot of pavement between the door and the road with scooters whizzing past, which creates quite an exciting atmosphere. We enjoyed a plate of mixed bruschetta and a bowl of ravioli with the local flavours of walnut, sage and pecorino.
Il Santo Bevitore, Via di Santo Spirito, 64/66
I LOVED this restaurant. We enjoyed a beautiful dinner in very elegant surroundings with lovely service. From the tasting of special Sardinian cheese to my spinach, pear, pine nut and pecorino salad, to a stunning plate of pappardelle with monkfish and pancetta, every detail was perfect. Reservations are essential. The owners also run the wine bar, Il Santino, next door and it looked pretty inviting too!
View on Art, Via dei Medici, 6
It’s so hard to get a good view and photograph of the Duomo. The problem is that it’s very grand and crowded, so unless you are happy to get a photo with the tower chopped off, you really need to find yourself a vantage point with some height.
Enter: View on Art. View on Art is a sweet little bar on the roof of the unassuming Hotel Medici. Don’t look for a sign to the roof terrace, though, as there isn’t a clue that it exists at street level. This is not a fancy bar, and to be honest, you probably will find a better Spritz elsewhere, BUT do not miss this view. I promise when you step out of the dated elevator and onto the terrace you will have goosebumps - I certainly did. This is how you should see the Duomo. We were fortunate to visit between rain showers on a Monday and we had the terrace all to ourselves for an entire hour!
Gelateria Santa Trinita, Piazza Frescobaldi, 11-12/r (Ponte Santa Trinita)
This famous gelateria lives up to the hype. I think the Ricotta e Ficchi (Ricotta and fig) flavour might just be the best gelato that I have ever tasted. Plus, you can sit on the Ponte Santa Trinita bridge whilst you enjoy your gelato and look at the view of the Ponte Vecchio. It is especially lovely at sunset.
Bulli e Balene, Via Dello Sprone 14r, Piazza della Passera
A sweet little Spritz and Cicchetti bar just behind the Arno. It’s perfect for a casual early evening aperitivo.
What to Do
Walk. Walk. Walk. Florence is a perfect weekend destination as it is compact and you can easily get around by walking along the iconic cobblestone paths. I always recommend wandering around and getting lost as the best way to get a feel for a city and Florence truly does not disappoint in this regard.
I love the city market in Florence and whilst I didn’t have time to revisit on this trip, I wrote about it previously here.
Directly behind Pitti Palace are the marvellous Boboli Gardens. Unfortunately I didn’t read the fine print about them being closed on the first Monday of every month (on that note, a lot of Florence’s galleries are closed on Mondays, so plan ahead), so I had to settle for a view through the gates. They really are the most dreamy and romantic gardens. For a lesser-known gem of a garden stop by the Rose Garden.
What to Bring Home
Leather gloves. Florence is famous for its leather goods. I spotted the most beautiful pair of pale blue gloves in the window of Luciano. Sadly the shop was closed when I returned to make my purchase. At least this gives me reason to return as I’m dreaming of that soft, buttery leather.
And there you have it! My best recommendations for a weekend in Florence. This city will not disappoint!