The gems that make a city shine are hard for a newcomer to find. If you’re heading to Florence and you want to know what it’s like to be Florentine, wear Florentine and understand the essence of being Florentine, here are some places not to be missed.
Borgo Santi Apostoli, one of the main urban city arteries near the ever-crowded Ponte Vecchio bridge, throngs with locals most of the year. Some of my favourite shops are on this street. Angela Caputi is a Florentine icon when it comes to jewellery and accessories, La Bottega dell’Olio is a must for products made from the olive tree (oil & wood) and Solo a Firenze has out-of-the-ordinary pieces by Tuscan artists. Then there is TACS for fabulous jackets and coats in the traditional Casentino wool (Casentino is an area of Tuscany). The great composer Giacomo Puccini never left home without his stunning orange coat with grass-green lining and a fox collar. Finally, Marie Antoinette, located just around the corner from this street in the tiny, hidden piazzetta dei Del Bene, has a glorious mix of accessories and new and pre-loved clothing. Amblé, opposite Marie Antoinette, is a fabulous and friendly (if a little tired) cafe for coffee and cake, lunch or an evening aperitivo.
Eating and drinking
Roberto Cavalli’s Cafe (the internationally renowned fashion designer is a native) is a must for a coffee and pastry in the morning or an aperitivo before dinner. The Frescobaldi Restaurant is always a good choice for dinner, with a solid menu and the sort of wine list you’d expect from one of the largest wine producers in Tuscany. In the summer months, the Grand Hotel Cavour has a small rooftop bar offering an incredible view of the city. At any time of the year, a drink at the top floor bar/restaurant of the Westin Excelsior Hotel (Sesto Bar) never disappoints.
The recently renovated Museum of the Cathedral contains some of the finest work of fifteenth century artists such as Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti, as well as the last work by Michelangelo (Deposition of Christ), a piece intended for his own tomb.
Don’t miss the San Marco monastery with its frescoed ceilings by the master artist Fra Angelico, and the Bargello National Sculpture Museum, a medieval building housing a stunning collection of masterpieces. These places showcase some of the finest visual arts and architecture that the renaissance produced in Florence without the queues and crowds. It’s just you and the beauty.
Goldsmith Alessandro Dari is one of the most fascinating artisans in Italy. His workshop/museum is located on the Oltrarno, the south side of the river on via di San Niccolo 115. He has designed and made every single piece in the workshop and there are around 17 different collections comprising both sculpture and wearable jewellery. After this magical experience, unwind and relax in the San Niccolò neighbourhood down the road. You are spoilt for choice with places to have a drink or a meal.