Immediately upon returning from my short trip to London in January, which was filled with the most exciting excursions to all my favourite galleries and museums, I began to yearn to travel again. I am visiting Paris for 2 weeks later this summer, but that feels like a lifetime away. I have wanted to visit Florence for some time now, more so than ever over the last 2 years, since reigniting my fervour for the renaissance. After researching the necessary travel advice, and the different places to stay and visit, I booked my first trip to Florence!
I arrived in Florence late Saturday afternoon and found a city alive and buzzing with locals and tourists. The Tuscan sun shone brightly above, bathing Florence’s beautiful architecture with golden light. I stayed south of the Arno, in a tucked-away part of the historic centre, on a picturesque piazza consisting of private homes, cafes and restaurants. As soon as I reached my Airbnb I threw my bags in my room, freshened up and headed straight out the door. I hadn’t made any grand plans for the day, so I took the opportunity to complete some brief shopping, to get it out of the way. I visited some of the wonderful stores on the Via degli Strozzi, which is lined with the most lavish and luxurious boutiques.
Day 2 was an exciting day, beginning with a trip to the fabled Caffe Gilli for breakfast. Gilli is the most magnificent Florentine institution, and has been serving customers since 1733. Their cappuccino and cornetto make a heavenly pairing for breakfast, and it was here that I frequented for my breakfast every morning during my trip. A short walk over the Ponte Vecchio, I made my way to the Palazzo Pitti. I have watched countless documentaries and read many books about the Pitti Palace and its mythical Boboli Gardens. It was a monumental and breathtaking view to take in. Some argue that the palace’s heavily rusticated facade is ‘ugly’, but I find it rather beautiful. Once inside, I toured grand palatial rooms filled with the most astonishing works of renaissance art that I have ever seen. Each new room was apparently more lavishly decorated than the last, with walls covered with works by the likes of Raphael, Titian, Rubens and Bronzino. My palace tour ended in the centre cortile and this led me on to the Giardino Boboli. The gardens were immaculate, fairytale-like, dotted with fountains, sculpture and grottos. The gardens were filled with pathways lined with lemon, orange, olive and bay leaf trees, each filling the air with a heavenly sweet aroma.
Day 3 and a flying visit to Venice, just 2 hours away by train. I didn’t really have a set agenda for Venice, but wanted to take this time to aimlessly walk around and absorb the magic of this historic city. I visited Caffe Florian, a famed 300 year old establishment that has welcomed the likes of Claude Monet, Charles Dickens and Lord Byron through its doors. On my way out I purchased a lovely set of coffee cups and saucers, a milk jug and an ash tray, each adorned with Florian’s signature logo. I don’t smoke, but I love to collect decorative ash trays as accessories for my home. I next made my way past the Doges Palace and walked along The Grand Canal, admiring the view of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore on the horizon which I had seen so many times in various paintings. The rest of my day was spent crossing bridges and stumbling upon picturesque piazzas before heading back to Florence.
Day 4 was a particularly exciting day for me, with a plan to visit the Uffizi Gallery, the Galleria dell’Accademia and Palazzo Medici Ricardi. The Uffizi was a stupendous experience from beginning to end, home to works by the likes of Da Vinci, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Van Dyck, Verrocchio, Uccello and Giotto. It was also absolutely fascinating to walk along the gallery of the Uffizi, which is lined with sculptures and portraits of the Medici family. The gallery takes you on a journey, weaving in and out of various rooms, each increasingly magnificent and grand. Everywhere I looked it was a feast for the eyes, from the gorgeous tiled floors to the hand painted frescoes on the ceilings. I have never seen so much beautiful art in one place, or such a collection belonging to a singular family, accumulated over 300 years.
After the Uffizi a pit stop was made at All’Antico Vinaio, a celebrated institution in Florence where you will have the best sandwich of your life. Schiacciata filled with the likes of truffles, grilled zucchini, sun dried tomato, mozzarella, salami, pecorino and porchetta. Washed down with a quick espresso, I made my way to the Galleria dell’Acadamia. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to see. Michelangelo’s David is perhaps the most famous renaissance work of art. After viewing a couple of rooms which were filled with other works of renaissance art, I was led into a vast gallery with David dominating my view. Lined with other sculptures by Michelangelo, I was drawn straight to his masterpiece, his most celebrated creation. I stood staring at his monumental sculpture for around 20 minutes, admiring his beauty from different angles, minuscule details that Michelangelo included, such as veins and muscle definition arising from David’s posture. I was speechless.
I needed a few moments to absorb the sheer beauty of what I had seen, so, as an Italian might, I stopped at a local bar for a refreshing Aperol Spritz, around the corner from the Palazzo Medici Ricardi. This palazzo is where the story of the meteoric rise of Medici begins. This vast edifice consists of grand private rooms and apartments, the Magi Chapel famously frescoed by Benezzo Gozzli and the sumptuous Luca Giordano Hall. It was quite a humbling experience being here because in comparison with the grand Pitti Palace, Medici Ricardi is quite understated, but extremely fascinating and beautiful in its own way. The gardens were also spectacular, lined with potted trees, sculptures and a golden yellow backdrop. The rest of my evening was spent dining in a nearby trattoria, walking around the city, and of course stopping at one of the many delicious gelateria.
My final day was bittersweet. I had an exciting schedule planned, but in the back of my mind I knew it was my last day, and this was heartbreaking because Florence had quickly become my most favourite place in the entire world.
What better way to spend it though than with a visit to the Santa Maria del Fiore, where I climbed 463 steps to reach the dome. Difficult but totally worth it. The view of Florence from the dome was breathtaking, looking out across the city until your gaze meets the rolling hills of Tuscany. The sun shone brightly with not a single cloud in the sky. I could make out all my favourite spots too which was amazing!
The next part of my tour was to climb to the top of Giotto’s bell tower, which is situated directly next to the duomo. The bell tower provides the most beautiful view, and also offers a tremendous vantage point to inspect the Duomo itself. Next was a visit to the Baptistry, with the most magnificent ceiling I have ever seen.
With a quick stop for some lunch and an espresso, the tour continued with a visit to the Opera del Duomo Museum, home to the Gates of Paradise, Lorenzo Ghiberti’s bronze masterpiece. I have seen his gates in countless photos, but seeing them in person was completely awe inspiring.
Next was the church of Santa Croce which is where some of the greatest Italians in history are buried or commemorated. The church has glorious tombs which serve as funerary monuments for the likes of Galileo Galilei, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Gioachino Rossini. My particular favourite spot was the idyllic cloistered garden, the setting for a memorable scene in Keneth Clarke’s legendary documentary, Civilisation. The church was unbelievably beautiful and tranquil with its luscious green garden, cloisters, chapels and religious artworks.
The final stop of the day was the Cappelle Medicee inside the Basilica of San Lorenzo. This museum has a collection of Medici treasures from their many villas and palazzi, along with the gloriously grand Capella dei Principi, made of marble, inlaid with coloured marble and semi-precious stones. The Capella has six lavish sarcophagi that pay homage to some of the family’s leading figures. In the next room is the Sagrestia Nuova which features sculptures created by the great Michelangelo (these also feature memorably in Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation) The monuments here are dedicated to Lorenzo the Magnificent and his brother Guilano, both of whom are burried here. A grand final resting place for Florence’s grandest family.