Rich with history and artistic treasures, Tuscany’s capital Florence is a city that inspires every visitor in a unique way. Florence was at the top of my list during a month-long tour of Italy. With very little time to explore, my first visit would simply serve to whet my appetite for the next. I uncovered a few favourite finds including where to stay and eat and quickly learned that this is a city that will romance you; whether you are exploring Florence in two days or you are fortunate enough to enjoy its charm for a little longer.
Getting to Florence
Florence has become an increasingly popular tourist destination in Italy making it is incredibly easy to get to with various modes of transportation to choose from. I travelled to Florence easily by train from Montalcino, the Buonconvento Station, for less than 10 euros. The Italian Railway Network makes it easy and inexpensive to arrive in Florence from any direction by train.
The main airport, Vespucci Airport, is also a great option with direct flights arriving and departing from any direction.
If renting a car and driving to Florence is your first choice, the A1 motorway is the main artery linking north to south Italy with four Florence exits which are easy to find. But, like many other towns/cities in Tuscany, Florence is a pedestrian friendly city which means there are many restrictions where you cannot drive or park within the city. These ZTL, “zona a traffic limitato” make it difficult to manage a car while visiting Florence and for this reason I would arrive by train or air and manage your time within the city, and outside of it, accordingly.
What to See and Do in Florence
I loved how easy Florence was to visit, everything that I wanted to see this first trip was either close to my hotel or a short bike or taxi ride away. There’s a reason why people call Florence an “open-air museum,” many of the streets, bridges, palaces and piazzas are incredible and just taking a walk through the city you can see so many beautiful things. The city is manageable and easy to navigate, and very bike friendly with city bikes easy to rent in numerous locations.
The Duomo | Piazza del Duomo, Florence
Florence’s iconic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, The Duomo was conveniently located within walking distance of my first hotel. The pink, white and green marble façade and intricate gothic design that was started in the 13th Century by Arnolfo di Cambio and finished in the 15th century with the dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, is a magnificent sight to see.
Visiting this cathedral is free and as a result the lines to go inside during high season can be long. I visited this cathedral both mornings that I stayed at Baglioni. When you visit before 8am you have the perimeter of the cathedral all to yourself for spectacular photographs without lots of tourists, and there are a handful of cafes in the cathedral piazza to sit in quiet and have breakfast before the crowds arrive for the doors to open at 10am. Be one of the first in line to go inside this spectacular duomo, it will swallow you up with its grandeur in the most magnificent and divine way and you will be floating on this for the rest of the day.
Make a Date with David
Also on my list while in Florence was a date with David, or the Davids I should say. There are three David statues in Florence: the original one located inside at Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts, a replica in Piazza della Signoria and another replica in Piazzale Michelangelo. I loved seeing all three, but I especially loved spending the morning with David high above all of Florence at Piazzale Michelangelo.
Hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo
I hiked from my second hotel up the stairs and winding road to the very top of one of the panoramic vista points in Florence. Not only was David spectacular, but the view of the entire city, valley, mountains and Tuscany landscape and beyond was jaw dropping. Now I know why some of the world’s greatest masters of art, science and fashion were so inspired here.
Where to Stay in Florence
Close to the city centre, within walking distance to the train station and everything you want to see and do in Florence is Grand Hotel Baglioni, a 100-year-old authentic Florence luxury four-star hotel with a magnificent rooftop view and panoramic restaurant. Baglioni has 192 rooms decorated in traditional Florentine style. My Executive Suite was a beautiful and spacious room with vintage, tufted velvet furniture, elegant dark wood accents, and stained glass windows. I had the perfect view of the city outside, and a quiet and amply cozy space inside.
My very favourite part of my stay at Baglioni was the rooftop bar and restaurant. Inside, on the fifth floor, the B-Roof restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows covering the entire restaurant with a panoramic view of Florence. There is not a bad table in the house.
Outside, the entire rooftop of Baglioni is available for a sunset aperitif or fine dining experience. The American Roof Bar is open in the summer and I enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life with the entire Florence landscape as a backdrop. It is definitely a must-see when visiting Florence.
Across the Arno River, in a very special area of Florence affectionately known by locals as the Diladdarno area is Palazzo San Niccolò. Situated perfectly in San Niccolò, one of the oldest districts in Florence, this charming oasis has both the privacy and authenticity of inviting you to feel like a local, and the boutique hotel amenities to appease the most discerning travellers.
The eleven apartments, each with a unique Italian name, have been meticulously designed. Fresco walls, earth coloured tiled floors and antique wooden patinas marry with hand-picked vintage and modern décor. Velvet tufted seating, updated in modern shapes, along with sexy neo-classical mirrored pieces and whimsical accents fill the common seating area. Charm oozes from every corner of this place, and dances with an antiquity that I felt was reminiscent of a cross between Gatsby and something much, much older, creating something incredibly refined. I loved the casual and approachable nature of the entire space, a true skill in combining luxury with an elegance that feels deserving and touchable no matter who you are or what you have.
I settled in to the space quickly, my apartment included a queen-size bed, a small kitchen with in-room dining area, modern bathroom with shower, and a balcony overlooking the courtyard and private garden. I enjoyed coffee and local pastries on the balcony for breakfast, while listening to the sound of the church bells ringing nearby.
The common area with cozy seating areas, a library, bar, and secret private garden provided plenty of respite from the outside world. The garden hosts small events, and even yoga retreats throughout the year. You can even participate in regular Tacfit sessions with a local professional.
Where to Eat in Florence
The best part about Florence, like any other city in Italy is the food. I spent most of my time in Florence in local trattoria, enoteca and restaurants situated in the popular piazzas so that I could people watch while resting from exploring the city. The “pasta fresca” or fresh pasta at each place I stopped included pici, macceroni, gnudi, tortelli and pappardelle along with tortellini, ravioli and the best tagliatelle I’ve ever had.
Irene Firenze | Hotel Savoy, Piazza della Repubblica, Florence
I had a beautiful meal with a dear friend at Irene Firenze, the Tuscan bistro located at Hotel Savoy on Piazza della Repubblica. Our house made Teardrop cocktail was made with lavender syrup, fresh lime, ginger gin and violet liquor drops. The simple, fresh and incredibly beautiful vegetarian meal was a work of art from start to finish. Head Chef Giovanni Cosmai, along with Director of Food Fulvio Pierangelini have created an ambience and dining experience that is authentically Italian with a celebration of femininity to celebrate the Italian woman and heritage of her cooking.
Gelateria La Carraia | Piazza Sauro Nazario, 25/R off Ponte alla Carraia, Florence
Of course, I feasted on gelato while in Florence, with nearly one gelato shop on every street corner it is impossible not to try as many as you can before you leave. My very favourite gelato in all of Italy was at Gelateria La Carraia in Florence. It was the most creamy and delicious gelato I’ve ever had. I ordered the milk chocolate and yogurt gelato on a cone and oooh-ed and ahhhh-ed until every drop was gone. Because gelato is taken so seriously in Italy, you can find gelato made with the freshest ingredients and most innovative flavours at each shop.
Where to Shop in Florence
The shopping in Ponte Vecchio, which was a short walk from Palazzo San Niccolò, was vibrant; really beautiful Italian leather, linen and gold jewellery caught my eye. It’s no wonder that legendary Italian brands like Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Emilio Pucci, and Roberto Cavalli were all proudly founded in Florence, luxury shopping takes on a whole new meaning in this city where they got their start. The entire city is one big fashionable detail, ruffles, ties, trim, embellishments, tucks, pleats, leather, lace, linen everywhere you look. Fashion is like breath in this city; automatic and absolute. Many of the iconic fashion brands also have museums in their flagship stores, these are definitely worth a visit if you are a fashionista.
Take a Day Trip to Montalcino
For less than 10 euros, by bus or train, and very little time you can adventure to Montalcino which is about 68 miles (109 km) from Florence, for the day or a few days very easily. Here you will find quintessential 16th century Tuscany and the home of the famous Brunello di Montalcino. Every sunrise and sunset outside my window was absolute perfection.
Canalicchio di Sopra Winery & Estate | Loc. Casaccia, Montalcino, Siena, Italy
During my time in Montalcino I visited Canalicchio di Sopra, a beautiful family owned winery situated perfectly in the Tuscany countryside on 60 hectares, nearly 150 acres, 47 of which are cultivated vineyards growing the only grape this winery focuses on: Sangiovese. This particular clone of Sangiovese is unique to the Montalcino region and is the only grape permitted in the Brunello di Montalcino. Three generations of family live on the property side-by-side blending, in wine and approach, history with innovation. The wines from this winery have a history of scoring high and being featured in Wine Spectator, the most recent vintage of 2012 Brunello was given a 95 in the June 2017 issue.
The estate with heritage since 1962, has a long-standing history of supporting the development of Montalcino, and was one of the twelve founders in 1967 of the Consortia del Vino Brunelli di Montalcino. While private, the tasting room and estate are open to the public for tasting appointments and even small group stays and special events and retreats. In addition to the tasting room, vineyard and cellars, the Canalicchio di Sopra estate has five separate guest room apartments, two salt water pools, a five acre meandering garden and panoramic views of Tuscany.
One of the many upcoming events hosted at Canalicchio di Sopra is a Magic of Montalcino experience which will host 10 guests for one week of total immersion into this very special place in Italy. Food, wine, adventure, shopping, cooking, a full week of all things Montalcino – every magical thing.
Bagno Vignoni Hot Springs | Val d’Orcia near Montalcino
In Val d’Orcia, a short distance from Montalcino you can find Bagno Vignoni and the beautiful cloudy teal blue waters of the natural hot springs of Parco dei Mulini. The water is said to have a therapeutic quality and has been renowned since antiquity. There are several waterfalls feeding into a main pool with warm water and a soft muddy bottom. It is definitely worth the trip.
The Fit Traveller was a guest of Grand Hotel Baglioni and Palazzo San Niccolò during our time in Florence. However, the opinions, words and images expressed here are authentically our own.