A weekend in Florence
Florence, the capital of Tuscany. The birthplace of Renaissance Italy, it’s romantic and utterly enchanting. A compact city packed with extraordinary art and architecture and masterpieces on every corner. Politically, economically and culturally, Florence was considered the most important city in Europe for around 250 years, inventing money in the form of the florin that drove Europe out of the “Dark Ages”, financing the development of industry all over Europe and inventing Renaissance and neoclassical architecture. We’ve got a lot to thank Florence for, add in the gourmet Tuscan cuisine and you it’s hard to beat Florence for a weekend city getaway.
In the northeast of Tuscany on the banks of the river Arno, wandering around the streets of Florence gives the feeling that not much has changed since it’s Renaissance hey day. Narrow cobbled streets are dotted all over with 15th and 16th century palazzi, medieval candle-lit chapels, fresco-decorated churches, marbled basilicas and some of the best art museums in the world full of the likes of Botticcelli and Michelangelo. It’s not a shock to find out that the entire city has been classified a Unesco World Heritage site.
The Four Seasons Hotel Firenze is the only option to set your weekend on the perfect Renaissance path. A 15th century palazzo perfectly restored by Four Seasons over 7 years, you’ll feel like Florentine nobility surrounded by frescoes, bas reliefs and stuccoes, whisking you back to Florence’s former glory days. With the largest private garden in Florence and positioned just on the edge of the old town, it’s the perfect haven to escape and unwind after a day of walking and admiring all that Florence has to offer.
Built to house one of Michelangelo’s most iconic masterpieces, David, the Galleria dell’Accademia is an icon not to be missed on any visit to Florence. Carved from a single block of marble, Michelangelo’s David is every bit as impressive as you’d expect. Towering in the centre of the room, the detail remains so impressive, the veins along his arms, the leg muscles and even the changing expression as you move around the room. Michelangelo also created the unfinished San Matteo as well as the four Prigioni (prisoners), seeming to be struggling their way free, which are also on display in the gallery. You need to book your tickets in advance to visit the Accademia, it often sells out. I visited first thing in the morning when there was no queue and I didn’t have to battle with other visitors for a good view.
Galleria degli Uffizi
Home to the world’s greatest collection of Italian Rennaissance art, Florence’s premier gallery is housed in the U-shaped Palazzo deli Uffizi with a collection that was given to the city by the Medici family on the condition that it never leaves Florence. It’s home to some of Italy’s best-known paintings including The Birth of Venus and Primavera as well as Titan’s Venus of Urbino. The main collection spans art history from ancient Greek sculptures to 18th-century Venetian paintings, while it’s core of course is made up of the Renaissance collection.
On the quieter south side of the Arno, the former Medici family palace now contains galleries of their art and collections. The adjoining Boboli gardens behind the palazzo has excellent views of the city, although not on a rainy day in November sadly!
Santa Maria del Fiore - Duomo di Firenze
The city’s beautiful cathedral forms the symbol of the city with Brunelleschi’s huge dome being one of the great renaissance engineering achievements. It fills the beautiful piazza with a statue of Brunelleschi looking up towards his dome in the middle.
The oldest and most famous bridge over the Arno, the only Florentine bridge to survive WW2, it’s a symbol of Florence. It is lined with shops, mostly jewellers since the Medici days when it connected the Uffizi to the old Medici Palace. But it’s best enjoyed from afar where you can appreciate it’s unique style and the beauty it adds to picture perfect Florence.
Home to the ‘fake’ David, this is one of the main piazza’s to see. Dotted with shops and cafes around its edge, yet what makes it special is the number of statues within the piazza, representing antique renaissance art. You can also enjoy Palazzo Vecchio, the Florence Town Hall and one of the most significant public places in Italy.
Just outside the main city, this plaza up on the hilltop gives the best views of Florence. It’s a short walk from the city with a few steps along the way or a very short taxi ride. Another option is the Torre di San Niccolo, located a few minutes before the plaza which will also give those picture perfect views.
No visit to Florence would be complete without getting out into the rolling hills of Tuscany and enjoying some of the best wines, olive oil and Tuscan 'farmer’s kitchen’ food. The landscape is stunning, changing dramatically throughout the day. We hired a driver so that we could properly enjoy our vineyard visits, but also to make the most of the day with a local expert who knew exactly where to go. While in the morning the valleys were filled with mist, the long autumnal shadows over cypress trees lining the fields of golden wheat fields with old farmhouses scattered throughout, this is, without a doubt, the most beautiful wine area I’ve visited.
La Dolce Vita
Most important on any trip to Florence, is to experience and enjoy La Dolce Vita. A gourmet destination where the locals spend an huge amount of time thinking about, discussing and consuming the fruits of their fertile land, their food and wine. La Dolce Vita works for me, we enjoyed some incredible wines, took things slowly, ate the freshest local ingredients (top tip to enjoy this: Il Palaggio brunch at the Four Seasons) and took things slowly, recognising how special it is to be a Florentine.