TRAVEL

To Florence, With Love

Three reasons you’ll fall for Tuscany’s capital.

Photo: Erica Firpo

Colpo di fulmine, that’s what Italians call love at first sight—a ground-shaking thunderbolt that shocks you from the first look. It’s hard not to feel that bolt when you set foot in Florence, partly because of the sheer beauty of the city, with its tangle of parks and piazzas, and partly because it fuses the past with the present. Even as Florence embraces renewal, the metropolis holds steadfast to the ideals that helped lead Europe out of the Middle Ages during the Renaissance long ago, including a commitment to the arts. Is it any wonder that Tuscany’s capital fascinates travelers, who come for a glimpse only to find themselves falling hard? Read on to get the lay of the land and discover three sides of the storied city.

Lay of the Land

Long considered the cradle of the Renaissance, Florence believes itself to be the heart of Italy. Geographically, it lies about halfway between Venice and Rome, in the region of Tuscany. Reachable by North American air carriers via connections through Rome, Milan, and other European cities, Florence is also a major hub for railway transport. While exploring Tuscany requires a car, for Florence, one needs only a great pair of walking shoes, as the main attractions lie within about two square miles.

Building on the site of an Etruscan settlement turned Roman military colony, the Medicis (a political dynasty that once ruled Florence) created a graceful city of piazzas, palaces, and promenades. Today’s urban layout is almost identical to that of Florence’s 16th-century heyday. The Centro Storico, or historic center, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and straddles both sides of the Arno River in a gorgeous knot of medieval- and Renaissance-era streets that subdivide into niche neighborhoods. These tiny districts are often anchored by the piazzas they’re named after and are usually within a 5-to-10-minute walk of one another, so wandering around the city feels like a kind of historical-piazza hopscotch.

Most of the Centro Storico lies north of the Arno River. But if you cross the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone bridge spanning the waterway, you’ll enter the residential neighborhood of Oltrarno, which has been home to Florence’s artisans since the early Renaissance. Explore Oltrarno’s Piazza di Santo Spirito or Via Maggio to view the newest generation of Florentine craftspeople, from traditional goldsmiths and jewelry makers to clothing designers and street artists.

The Culture

There are not enough days in the year to enjoy each of the cultural sites of Florence, which span all corners of the city and range from Renaissance masterpieces and Roman antiquities to contemporary art, fashion, and design. Begin north of the Arno and work your way south, starting on the narrow Via Ricasoli, where the Galleria dell’Accademia (58/60 Via Ricasoli; 011-39-055-098-7100; site in Italian; admission, $18*; reservations recommended) houses Michelangelo’s David along with a small collection of his unfinished sculptures, as well as works by other Renaissance artists.

About a five-minute walk away lies the emblem of Florence: the Piazza del Duomo. Its centerpiece is the encrusted marble Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Piazza del Duomo), also known as the Duomo because of its famous dome by master architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Once you’ve seen your fill, head to the Palazzo Strozzi (Piazza degli Strozzi; 011-39-055-264-5155; admission, $15), a few blocks southwest, for a different perspective on the city’s artistic legacy. The museum hosts blockbuster temporary exhibitions highlighting everything from the art of the ancient world to works by today’s superstar artists, such as Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović and Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei.

Follow the sightseeing crowds to the L-shaped Piazza della Signoria, the political center of the city and an open-air museum. Here you’ll find an exact replica of Michelangelo’s Davidin front of the Palazzo Vecchio (Piazza della Signoria; 011-39-055-276-8325; admission, $11), a 700-year-old fortress that today serves as Florence’s city hall and mayor’s office in addition to being a museum open to visitors. The standout room of the Palazzo Vecchio is the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred), a monumental meeting space with larger-than-life frescoes by Renaissance painter Giorgio Vasari. Immediately adjacent to the building is the Loggia dei Lanzi (Piazza della Signoria; 011-39-055-23885; admission, free), an arcaded open-air gallery showcasing Renaissance sculpture.

Nearby is the Gallerie degli Uffizi (6 Piazzale degli Uffizi; 011-39-055-294-883; admission, $25 in high season, $15 in low season), a lavishly decorated multilevel building designed by Giorgio Vasari as the offices of the Medici family. Known fondly as the Uffizi, it holds one of the world’s greatest collections of Italian Renaissance art yet still manages to constantly upgrade its offerings by establishing new rooms to appreciate the greats, such as Raphael, or by hosting epic exhibitions, such as the one last year commemorating the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death.

Yet despite the many wonders these museums hold, Florence’s greatest work of art might be its landscape, and to fully appreciate it, you have only to cross the Arno. South of the river lies the Giardino di Boboli (1 Palazzo Pitti; 011-39-055-294-883; admission, $11, including entry to Giardino Bardini), a park that was once the Medicis’ playground, and the Giardino Bardini (1r Via dei Bardi; 011-39-055-2006-6233; admission, $11, including entry to Giardino di Boboli), a tiered garden in the Oltrarno. In the latter, Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati (6/a Costa S. Giorgio; 011-39-055-068-0545; site in Italian; classic tasting menu for two, $240) looks out on the lush grounds.


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The Food

In Florence, the cuisine is subtle and elegant, and simple dishes are proudly made with mostly local ingredients. Restaurants such as Trattoria Sabatino (2r Via Pisana; 011-39-055-225-955; site in Italian; dinner for two, $23), which lies south of the Arno, cheerfully dole out heirloom Florentine recipes such as minestrone di fagioli e riso (rice and bean soup) or trippa alla fiorentina (tripe, a dish made with cow stomach, is an Italian specialty) at affordable prices.

North of the river, Florentine elegance is epitomized at the Piazza della Repubblica, the city’s center in the time of ancient Rome. On its northeast corner is Caffè Gilli (1r Via Roma; 011-39-055-213-896; cocktails for two, $18), the oldest café in the city. Two other piazzas—Santa Croce and Sant’Ambrogio—are foodie musts. Both are residential areas with squares flanked by a parish church and streets lined with butcher shops, bakeries, electricians, hair salons, and the like. Here you can expect quiet mornings, post-school chaos, and early evenings filled with dog walkers—as well as some of the best food in town.

In the Santa Croce neighborhood, Club Culinario Toscano da Osvaldo (3r Piazza dei Peruzzi; 011-39-055-217-919; dinner for two, $100) prepares heritage dishes that are made from hard-to-find and often foraged regional ingredients and are therefore on the verge of extinction. Meanwhile, chef Fabio Picchi, the city’s culinary emperor, demonstrates Florence’s spirit of innovation with his suite of restaurants in the Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood. Cibrèo Ristorante (8r Via Andrea del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-234-1100; dinner for two, $140)Cibrèo Trattoria (122r Via de’ Macci; 011-39-055-234-1100; dinner for two, $52), and Cibrèo Caffè (5r Via del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-234-5853; dinner for two, $90) all focus on Picchi’s signature dishes, while Ciblèo (2r Via del Verrocchio; 011-39-055-247-7881; dinner for two, $90) adopts a Tuscan-Asian fusion approach, mixing Italian ingredients and recipes with Korean, Chinese, and Japanese traditions.

The Shops

Florence is as much about shopping and people-watching as it is about sightseeing. On the northern end of Centro Storico, the small square of Piazza San Lorenzo has a vibrant market, Mercato di San Lorenzo, that’s best known for its leather goods. The piazza gets its name from the Basilica di San Lorenzo church, which used to be a parish church of the Medici family.

Since the 14th century, the Via de’ Tornabuoni has been a runway for beautiful palaces and people. International brands keep a foothold here, from the Piazza degli Antinori to the Ponte Santa Trinità. The city’s side streets also hide treasures. Along them sit two time capsules: the flagship store of the nearly 300-year-old porcelain manufacturer Richard Ginori (17r Via dei Rondinelli; 011-39-055-210-041)—an exquisite showroom with vaulted frescoed ceilings—and Aquaflor (6 Borgo Santa Croce; 011-39-055-234-3471; site in Italian), an intriguing custom perfumery that feels like vintage Florence.

For a more contemporary spin on the city’s crafts scene, visit Florence Factory (6/8 Via dei Neri; 011-39-055-205-2952; site in Italian), which showcases goods made by artisans from the Oltrarno neighborhood. Or check out Cuoiofficine (116r Via de’ Guicciardini; 011-39-055-286-652), whose leather purses and wallets combine 17th-century marbling patterns and contemporary leather-tattooing techniques to create designs that are reminiscent of centuries past. (All leather goods can be customized.) Take the time you need to find a memento that’s just right—after all, it would be a shame to leave Florence without your own piece of la dolce vita.

This article first appeared as a feature in Endless Vacation, Summer 2019.

13 Best Things to Do in Florence

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There's never a question of what to do in Florence; rather, it's a question of how much and when. With its varied selection of museums, galleries, boutiques, and storied sites, the Tuscan town has something for everyone, from contemporary art buffs and super foodies to sports fans and serious shoppers. To experience the city to its fullest, you only need to step out into the street. Here, a list of our must-sees to narrow down your itinerary.

- This article originally appeared in CN Traveler, January 2019.

Ilaria Costanzo/Courtesy Explore Florence — The Oltrarno: History + Artisans

Explore Florence: The Oltrarno, History + Artisans

This ultra-professional walking tour kicks off in the historic Piazza Santo Spirito. It's best for those wanting to learn more about Florence's artisans—the craftsmanship and skill that's in danger of disappearing—rather than folks hoping to shop for international fashion brands. Groups are small, since it's a private tour, and you have to book yours in advance. The guide, Alexandra, is knowledgeable and passionate.

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Bargello Museum

Italy’s largest collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures is housed in the Bargello, a former prison and an austere medieval fortress. The museum’s architecture alone is worth the visit—beautiful Gothic arches, crenellations, a bell tower, and a dramatic courtyard—but the big draw is its blockbuster names. Donatello’s David, Michelangelo’s Bacchus, and Ghiberti’s designs for the Cathedral doors are front and center in this capsule museum, which has somehow remained less trafficked by tourist crowds.


Stadio Artemio Franchi

The hub for soccer in the city, Stadio Artemio Franchi is the stadium and home to ACF Fiorentina, Florence's Serie A soccer team. Serie A is Italy's top soccer league, so you're guaranteed to see the country's best teams compete here. It's also a great place to bring kids and learn about Italian soccer culture. Get Tribuna Onore seats, which offer views of the midfield away from the teams' more rabid fans.

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Giardino Bardini

Grand in design, but intimate in scale, the Giardino Bardini has a pergola-covered stairwell leading up to the Belvedere panoramic terrace. Know that ascending requires a slight effort—the stairs are shallow and long. It's the perfect pit-stop if you're sick of traipsing around museums, as the garden doesn't present anything all that urgent to do, other than the obvious: stop and smell the flowers.

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Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi, an illustrious collection of who's who in priceless Renaissance art, is a Florence must-see. Plus, thanks to a curatorial investment by director Eike Schmidt, the Uffizi is slowly modernizing its approach. The newly arranged Room 41, dubbed the Raphael and Michelangelo Room, now focuses on the artistic exchanges between the two masters; the re-opened Room 35, meanwhile, is dedicated to Leonardo and displays three paintings originally created for churches. Upgrading the experience further is a new reservation system, where visitors take a timed ticket from one of seven machines outside the museum and come back later to explore, without ever having to wait in line.

Aquaflor Firenze.

AquaFlor Firenze

The yesteryear atelier is one of those beautiful finds that make you feel like you're actively involved in creating not just a scent, but Florentine history, as you sniff through the unparalleled collection of raw materials, essential oils, and scents. With the help of Sileno Cheloni, the nose of Aquaflor, you're led through olfactory discovery to create a perfume that's personalized just for you.

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Palazzo Strozzi

One of Florence’s best kept secrets, Palazzo Strozzi is a beautiful, freestanding Renaissance palazzo with an ambitious contemporary art program. Whether its Carsten Holler’s latest experimental piece or an Marina Abramovic retrospective, Palazzo Strozzi constantly amazes through innovative, often interactive, exhibitions. Although the historic structure remains intact, the gallery space inside is thoroughly modern and aptly renovated for art shows. Most exhibitions require advanced reservations, and the shop sells wonderful made-in-Florence gifts.

Francesca Pagliai/Courtesy Tuscany Again

Tuscany Again: Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art Tour

Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art is a personal tour designed specifically for those interested in modern art in and around Florence. Expert guides plan bespoke itineraries based on travelers' preferences, leading intimate groups to futuristic buildings and offering their take on the collections within. Most notable: the architecture itself as well as the survey of Arte Povera, Italy's art movement of the 1960s. Transport is included and reservations are required.

Gucci Garden

Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele is always pushing the limits, and this time he blurs the lines between monument and merchant at Gucci Garden, an interactive complex where fashion, food, history, and art commingle. Located in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence’s Piazza Signoria, Gucci Garden is Michele’s colorful journey through the Florentine fashion house’s past, present, and future. The multi-level boutique-slash-museum includes a store selling exclusive Gucci Garden designs, a gallery space with contemporary exhibitions, and a ground-floor restaurant by rockstar chef Massimo Bottura.

Collezione Roberto Casamonti

Open to the public, the private home-cum-gallery of collector Roberto Casamonti showcases about 250 works of modern and contemporary art from his personal collection of more than 5,000 works. Italian and international artists, including pieces by Warhol, Picasso, and Basquiat, are all represented here. It's a well-lit, inviting, and organized space that doesn't draw a ton of visitors, so it's easy to walk around. In fact, you'll likely have a room entirely to yourself.

Antonio Quattrone/Courtesy Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is a gorgeous and large new museum dedicated to the Dome and Basilica, as well as restoration projects. Home to the largest collection of sculptures from Medieval and Renaissance Florence in the world, this museum has an active restoration lab and school on site. Other highlights include Ghiberti's doors, Michelangelo's The Deposition, a model of the original, never-completed façade of Santa Maria del Fiore, and a room dedicated to Brunelleschi's architectural masterpiece: the Dome of Florence cathedral. Be sure to hit the gift shop on the way out; it sells great books.

Silvio Palladino/Courtesy Curious Appetite

Curious Appetite: Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour

Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour of Florence kicks off at a given meeting point in Piazza della Repubblica or via dei Tornabuoni. The custom tours are private or small group and are tailored to your preferences—say, a particular liquor or cocktail. You'll visit multiple cafés and bars on foot. Reservations are required, but you can book as late as 24 hours in advance.

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Medici Chapels

The Medici Chapels are two beautiful chapels in the historic Basilica of San Lorenzo, which set the stage for the Renaissance. They're a great stop if you're short on time, a Michelangelo buff, or want to feel like a Medici prince or princess—even for an hour. The site more than lives up to the hype; in fact, many people find the chapels truly mind-blowing. They'll make you want to delve even further into the history of the Medici family and Michelangelo. Tickets, which cost €9 (about $10) and can be booked online or in person, are required.

How to Train Your Wine Palate

Training your wine palate isn't difficult. Earlier this year, I ventured to Florence to meet with expert Filippo Bartolotta to discuss simple ways to gain a better understanding of what's in your glass. This article fist appeared in Wine Enthusiast, August 2018.

Filippo Bartolotta has walked miles of countryside in the pursuit of understanding terroir, and he’s spent years tasting flavors to find the building blocks of vintages. The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET)-certified sommelier is based in Florence, Italy, where he curates wine experiences around the world, as co-founder of the luxury wine tour group, Le Baccanti, and in collaboration with chefs like Alice Waters and Massimo Bottura.

In his latest venture, he tackles the topic of how to train your palate in a newly published book, Di Che Vino Sei (What Kind of Wine Are You). By breaking down eight personality archetypes, Bartolotta believes wine lovers of all levels of expertise can get in groove with their palates. This practice of “wine training” has worked for the likes of actor Dustin Hoffman and former President Barack Obama.

Wine training is exactly what you’re likely thinking: Hours and lots of bottles dedicated to tasting wines. Part emotional and part physical, wine training is about pace, consistency, dedication and exposure. And it’s not just for the academics, collectors or would-be sommeliers, it’s for anyone who enjoys a great pour.

“The truth of a bottle of wine is when you are sitting down and sipping glass after glass, just seeing what happens,” says Bartolotta. Instead of having an experience bound by rigid rules, the only requirement he has for participants is a healthy desire to drink wine. Here are three of his surefire tips.

Don’t worry about memorization

The palate is a complex experiential combination of the four of the five senses: sight, smell, taste and feel. To those, Bartolotta adds another a fifth dimension, experience. It starts out simply, as participants open a bottle of wine to see how and why they like it.

Memorization is the least important aspect. More important is tasting and more tasting to train the palate to recognize flavors, which breeds confidence and natural instincts.

“I don’t like [to guess wines], you miss the whole the concept,” he says. “Instead, it’s all about developing the gut feeling, because your first impression is the most accurate one.”

Establish a daily practice

To understand and identify the nuances of wines, vintages and producers requires daily dedication. Bartolotta has spent thousands of hours in morning-long tasting sessions to solidify his gut feelings. But anyone can train these skills, whether with sommeliers or on their own.

Not many people have the time to taste every single day, of course. Bartolotta suggests that wine lovers dedicate a few hours weekly or monthly to hang out with good friends and great bottles.

Pick a few bottles from the same region, producer or grape variety, sample them and talk about it. Bartolotta suggests doing it again and again until it becomes part of your life. He says that after consistent wine enjoyment with no pressure, the palate becomes more sophisticated. Flavors become familiar, and instinct develops into intuition.

Eventually, tasting becomes a mindfulness practice, says Bartolotta. By the third or fourth glass, it becomes, as Bartolotta says, “a Matrix moment and you’re Neo, synergistically knowing what you are tasting.” The key is to continue to taste and drink, and to hang out with friends is a great reason to expand the selection of wines and experiences.

Compare and contrast

Pop open two semi-related bottles at the same time, say a bottle of Champagne and a bottle of Prosecco. Compare and contrast simultaneously to help you discover subtleties to what you like and don’t like. Otherwise, if you have a good bottle tonight and another next week, it’s difficult it to say which style you really prefer.

Also, get vertical. Much like tasting different styles from the same producer, vertical tastings are when you taste the same style from different years. Tasting the same label, but from three or more different vintages can help understand how the weather and other variables can affect the wine. And given the region, you can also ascertain whether you like hotter vintages versus cooler ones.

Experienced or entry-level, wine training is less about becoming an expert at blindly identifying wines, and more about self-understanding and preferences. As Bartolotta believes, wine was not invented simply to be tasted, it was meant to be enjoyed.

in Florence and want to taste wine with Filippo? Easy.  His company Le Baccanti organizes customized luxury cultural food & wine vacations and day tours in Tuscany and Italy- so yes, you can sit down at a table with him for a few hours eating, drinking and talking wine.  I did and totally developed a wine crush.

J.K. Place Hotel Will Make Everyone Fall More in Love with Florence

Florence is a dream destination for so many, but the question is where to rest your head. Here is my latest hotel review for Fathom: JK Place Florence.

Warm up by the fireplace. All photos courtesy of J.K. Place.

FLORENCE — Florence enchants, mesmerizes, and beguiles. It is a city for those who love the fairytale Italian dream of warm sunsets, flowing hair, and great dinners. For centuries, it has been the requisite Grand Tour stop for literature lovers, art travelers, and cruisers. For me, Florence was always an easy day trip from my home in Rome when I needed a quick culture hit in the form of a Renaissance painting or an occasional contemporary show at Palazzo Strozzi. I staunchly refused to allow myself to fall in like with the city. And then a recent overnight stay lured me into loving Florence.

Florentine pillow talk takes all kinds of shapes, and one of the most charming is boutique hotel J.K. Place. In 2003, hotelier Ori Kafir opened the doors of what would become the first in a mini empire (other the JKs are in Rome and Capri) with the idea of giving guests a pied-a-terre in the middle of one of Italy's most visited cities. He wanted something different from the grand dame styles of European hotels — something cozier and chicer, though just as elegant and impeccable. He wanted a home that was quintessentially Florentine in both style and hospitality.

J.K. Place still holds up to its original tenets. The townhouse is an easy respite, perfectly located for both historic city center strolls and out-of-town trips, while its beautiful design by internationally acclaimed local designer Michele Conan upholds its contemporary vibe. More importantly, it is so Florentine, down to every detail — from the bottled water they serve to the thousands of books about art, culture, and style scattered around, many focused on the city and its artisans.

A Florentine-worthy entrance.

Bathe with a view in the Penthouse bathroom. 

Book It

Rates start from €440. Click here to book.

Checking In

Location
A five-minute walk from Stazione Santa Maria Novella, Florence's main train station, J.K. Place has a front row view of Piazza Santa Maria Novella, an open square with the beautiful Santa Maria Novella church and its very cool Renaissance facade designed by Leon Battista Alberti in the 1470s. The piazza is a busy hub for foot traffic and buskers.

Hotel Style
Florentine elegance, which translates to effortless style in all things aesthetic. J.K. mixes contemporary with classic — anachronistic yet very 21st century — to make you feel like you are in the home of Florence's most peripatetic art collector and fanciful flaneur.

This Place Is Perfect For
Everyone. No, really, everyone will find themselves at home here, especially those with refined sensibilities.

But Not So Perfect For
Those who insist on having a room with a view of the Arno.

Enjoy a private fireplace in master room 12.

Live your Florentine dreams in room 12.

What's on Site
J.K. Place is a home, an impeccably stylish one, that invites you to hang out. Just before the entrance is the outdoor J.K. Lounge, a teak terrace facing the piazza, a great people-watching lunch spot or cocktail-hour hangout. The ground level is a labyrinth of gorgeously styled lounges, salons, and libraries, with beautiful artwork and to-die-for art books and magazines, comfortable sofas, and cashmere throws. Late night, I discovered the terrace lounge, J.K.'s sexy rooftop bar that puts you eye-to-eye with Santa Maria Novella's flourishes.

Food + Drink
The J.K. Lounge hosts an enviable buffet breakfast, an overflowing cornucopia of healthy fruit and home-baked treats, as well a la carte selections. From lunchtime through evening, the lounge becomes J.K. Cafe, a tasteful, health-focused eatery that wows you with traditional Tuscan dishes like pasta al sugo finto and contemporary favorites, including an excellent club sandwich. Cocktails, you ask? J.K. seems like it was designed specifically for enjoying a well-crafted martini, a vintage wine, or a Negroni sbagliato, whether in the Lounge, the Champagne Bar (the cozy living room adjacent to the lounge), or the rooftop terrace. Food and beverage director Andrea Pieri is a walking gastronomic and enological archive. Ask him about the food, the wines, the water, the cocktails, and chances are he'll have a good story to tell.

Number of Rooms: 20 guest rooms and suites.

In-Room Amenities: Sublime linens, towels, and robes. Excellent and fast WiFi and LED televisions. A mini bar abundantly stocked with free snacks and drinks. Cashmere blankets from a local merchant. Rooms scented by local perfumer Dr. Vranjes.

Drawbacks: The branded power strip outlet is a bit outdated and wouldn't send any power to my iPad and iPhone. I'd love to see a tech update.

Standout Detail: It would be easy to say the Terrace, but the standout for me is J.K.'s Library, which has every Taschen, Phaidon, and art book I covet. Even more standout was the staff's knowledge of their books and their willingness to provide more.

Dinner on the terrace overlooking Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Dinner on the terrace overlooking Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Even Florentine stairs are aesthetic.

Checking Out

Florence has been Tuscany's self-proclaimed It town since it birthed the Renaissance. Italy's top artists and architects of the 15th and 16th centuries remain well represented in its architecture, museums, churches, and palazzi, thanks to the shrewd support of the city's favorite families, starting with the Medici. And Florence keeps up that vibe today, nourishing 21st century artisans — fabulous leather workers, printmakers, jewelers, bookmakers, and more.

What to Do Nearby
Honestly, what's not to do? J.K. Place is within easy walking distance to just about everything you want to see in Florence, a very walkable city. Across Piazza Santa Maria Novella is the underrated Museo Novecento, a museum focusing 20th-century art, while around the corner is Palazzo Strozzi, an arts space that is lately lining up blockbuster shows. Of course, you're going to want to walk around Piazza del Duomo, where you cannot miss the green, pink, and white marble panels of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the gorgeous Brunelleschi dome, and the museum. Definitely make time for Opera Dumo, the Duomo's amazing museum with reconstructions of how Brunelleschi made the dome, as well as Michelangelo's penultimate pietà and incredible restored artwork. Have a Hannibal moment in Piazza della Signoria, then drop by Gucci Garden for a peek into the Guccci mind. Window shop on Via Tornabuoni, or cross the river to Oltrarno, Florence's hippest neighborhood.

Good to Know
General manager Claudio Meli knows everyone and everything there is to know in Florence. Just ask him. In fact, Meli is the author of J.K. Essential Guide to Florence, his love letter to the city in the form of an intrepid, pocket guide book that he's produced for guests. Keep in mind that Florence feels busy with tourists throughout the year, at its most congested at Easter and spring break through June. Although there's more room to breathe in July and August when Florentines flee the city for coastal breezes, the infernally hot temperatures make a visit not fun at all.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
Either take a train into Firenze-Santa Maria Novella train station or fly into Florences’s international airport, four kilometers from the city center.

Getting Around
Walk. Yes, Florence has buses and taxis, but if you are really here to enjoy the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes of Florence, all you need are your feet. For day trips around Tuscany, you can reach cities like Pisa, Lucca, Siena, and Arezzo via regional trains. If you're interested in exploring the great hilltops, beach communities, strade del vino (wine routes), and picturesque towns like Orbetello, Volterra, and Montepulciano under the Tuscan sun, your best bet is hiring a car.

Make the most of the lounge and Italian baked-goods.

Dine in true Florentine style in the breakfast room.

The Florence Experiment: Contemporary Art Slides Through The Renaissance Town

Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn! - Better Off Dead, 1985

Merry-go-round, monkey bars, teeter-totter, geodome, tether balls, swings. Of all the places I could play at the pulbic playground, my favorite was always the slide.  Ours was metal, super slick from decades of descent and most likely not up to any 21st century building code.   We fought to stand at the top and lord over all the playground serfs, and we never waited for the kid in front to get safely out of the way.    Our slide iced over in the winter so we banked snow at the base to test out the human snow plow technique.   In the summer,  the metal shoot was scalding hot from hours baking in the sun, and every method to avoid skin contact was attempted, only to find that lifting up your hands and legs caused three glorious seconds of maximum velocity.  Scary?  Stupid? Dangerous? Yeah, plus panic and pure adrenaline rush.

Playgrounds don't have seem that enticing thrill of danger any more.  Structures are well made, perfectly portioned and the ground covering is reinforced plastic flooring so that no one falls and breaks an arm.  Maybe that's a good thing, but when I stand atop today's slides, I miss the fear that something bad could, but probably wouldn't, happen.  And I think Carsten Höller does too. 

Höller makes thrills.   His beautifully designed slides, carousels and more are all about perception and experience, and are exaggeratedly reminiscent of playgrounds past.  And this time he's experimenting with more than just nostalgia, he's playing on emotions in a Renaissance palazzo in Florence.   The Florence Experiment, a double cork screw careening down the internal courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi, is wit plus a bit of biology.   Teaming up with Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, Höller sends sliders on an emotional rush strapped with a seedling.  A ten-second rush of maximum velocity in a metal shoot, you feel like a kid again.  

Here's where it gets brainy. Once you've finished, you're invited to bring your bean seedling to Palazzo Strozzi's underground laboratory where Mancuso's team analyzes the effects of your emotional experience on the growth of the plant.  And if you want, you can stick around and watch film clips based on your slide reaction- terror (clips like The Shining) or joy (Some Like It Hot)  - in a glass-enclosed viewing room where the effects of your emotions are funneled out to plants fastened to Palazzo Strozzi's external facade.  Sounds hokey? It could be, but it's fun and if you take a step back, it's pretty damn clever.  Every knows that emotions have the ability to bring down the house.

And guess what?  It's about time art made us laugh, and better yet, scream.  For Höller,  "the madness of a slide, that “voluptuous panic,” is a kind of joy. It is an experience with value far beyond the confines of a museum, or a playground. It might be time, for all our sakes, to begin to explore exactly how far that might be." I agree. Let's do it.

Photo credit: Palazzo Strozzi.

The Florence Experiment

Palazzo Strozzi, through August 26

For those looking to discover more of Tuscany, Palazzo Strozzi is more than just a museum.  It is keystone to Associazione Partners Palazzo Strozzi APPS a coalition of personalities, institutions and firms that  support the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi , Florence and its "made-in-Florence" treasures through multi-cultural projects.

 

View from room 516, Hotel Savoy.

R & R:   Rooms and Restaurants

Room 516 at the Hotel Savoy.  516 is a deluxe room with the coveted view of Brunelleschi's dome, and you can bet we were hanging out the windows every hour on the hour just to listen to the bells.  We chose Hotel Savoy for its unbeatable Piazza della Repubblica location, one minute walk to Palazzo Strozzi, and an easy walk to everything else - Piazza della Signoria and Stazione Santa Maria Novella, the Giardini Boboli and San Frediano.  Earlier in 2018, the Savoy went through an aggressive renovations which refreshed the rooms to a more airy, organic vibe and increased space.  Best hotel perk? Velorbis bicycles with Brooks saddles.  I am hoping that the next I stay,  Savoy and Velorbis will have added a back seat.

Antica Ristoro Cambi, a yesteryear osteria in Florence's San Frediano niche neighborhood in the Oltrarno.  Cozy, casual, and absolutely no pretensions with an open kitchen counter,  every time I enter Cambi, I feel like I've walked into someone's home.  For my group, the  focus is always singular:  a proper bistecca alla fiorentina, 800 grams of Chianina beef grilled on extremely high temperatures and garnished with salt.  Along with the perfect bistecca, Cambi serves traditional Tuscan dishes- homemade tagliatelle with a wild boar sauce, tripe and even local favorite lampredotto.  Personally, I don't go there.

The laboratory.

Florence's Hotel Savoy Reopens with an Gorgeous New Pucci-Designed Lobby

View from the Grand View suite.

Firenze, I write with a sigh.  Florence has been on my mind again and again this year.  And initially, I attributed my knee-jerk sigh (which first started as a groan) to shrewd marketing resulting magazine editorials and "top ten in the world" lists.  As I started visiting the city over the past six month, a day trip here, and over night trip there, what I realize is that I am definitely sighing in happiness.  I walk around the City of Lilies, and I see a steadfastly resolution to maintaining its identity borne from the tenements of its Medici heyday while incorporating the 21st century in its way of life.  I easily sense a palpable pride its 500-year-history of artisans, shown through active investment in its modern artists and artisans, something that needs to be replicated in other Italian cities. 

For Condè Nast Traveler (April 2018),  I met up with Laudomia Pucci, daughter of famed designer Emilio Pucci, and Olga Polizzi, Director of Design for Rocco Forte Hotels, about their collaboration on the new look to the historic Hotel Savoy, an investment of creative and Florentine artisans. Enjoy the story and scroll through for my brief review on Hotel Savoy.

The storied hotel in the heart of Florence is looking fresher than ever.

Florence’s Hotel Savoy is back—and you can’t miss it. Following a six-month closure, the famed hotel has reopened its doors today, with a rebooted look that plays on its century-long history as the Grand Dame of Florence’s Piazza della Repubblica. Even better: They teamed up with Emilio Pucci Design for the newly over-the-top main entrance, a first for the storied fashion house.

“It always starts with a scarf,” says Laudomia Pucci, Emilio Pucci’s daughter and image director of the Florentine fashion house known for brilliantly patterned and colorful designs.

Here’s how the story begins. Pucci imagined a new scarf, with the images of both the Hotel Savoy and Piazza Della Repubblica while The Savoy’s Director of Design, Olga Polizzi, handled the architectural aspects of restoring the grand lobby to bring back the original grandeur of the entrance with raised ceilings and exposed columns. Then Polizzi washed it in an entirely white palette, giving Pucci the freedom to accent the space with vivid Mediterranean colors—a medley of blues, blacks, and even a dash of pink woven through custom furniture pieces, pillows, and a handmade statement carpet. “The colors always tell a story with a narrative of design,” Pucci says.

The Laudomia Pucci scarf that started it all. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

While the lobby is more grand than ever before, the reboot is also a tale of a dramatic downsizing. The hotel’s room count was reduced from 102 to 80, giving Polizzi the freedom to reconfigure four Grand View suites, each of which is a stunner of a #RoomWithAView.

The new Presidential Suite, a palatial top-floor ensemble of light colors and marbles, hand-painted dendritic wallpaper, handcrafted furnishings from Italian brands (including Chelini Firenze and C&C Milano), and curious vintage knick knacks that Polizzi handpicked at Florence’s Mercato dei Pulci. And then there’s the Panoramic suite, a duplex pied-à-terre, that sits eye-level to Brunelleschi’s dome.

“The Savoy is reflection of the personality of the city,” says Polizzi. “Florence is fun—she’s the whimsical, naughty, younger sister of Rome.”

As for that Pucci scarf that started the story, its image is now printed—in blue and fuchsia—on the tabletops of Irene, the Savoy’s terrace cafe on Piazza della Repubblica, which is the place for people watching in the city. So while the new lobby and new suites are grand, that’s where we’ll be enjoying the view this spring.

 View Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Grand View Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Junior Deluxe Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Junior Deluxe Suite. Courtesy of Hotel Savoy.

Why Reserve?

Hotel Savoy is a great luxury hotel for those who want to be in the very center of everything, desire white glove pampering and love old school grandeur.  The price tag is high but it is worth it for its location, and only if your wallet can handle it.  On the corner of Piazza della Repubblica, across from my favorite Caffe Gilli, and a two-minute walk to the Duomo and the Grand Museo del Duomo, Hotel Savoy has got an enviable geo-tag.   In five minutes, you can walk to Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza della Signoria, and Baslica of San Lorenzo whereas in 15 minutes (depending on the direction) you'll see David at the Accademia and Fra Angelico at San Marco museum, enjoy the Santa Croce neighborhood and the Sant'Ambrogio market,  and peruse the artisan boutiques the Oltrarno neighborhood.  You'll have to add more minutes walking for Piazzale Michelangelo and Boboli Gardens. 

The hotel vibe is chic as soon as you walk in the door, and more so with Polizzi/Pucci reboot.  Though this is an old school grand hotel, the vibe is intimate and rooms feel homey, as in the stylish home you would love to own. The upgrade means more spacious rooms and lighter colors.  And though there is no spa,  the basement is home to a lounge/sitting room and a brand new multi-space gym- four room enfilade with hardwood floors, light colors and great Techno gym workout machines. One of the rooms is a designated open space for personal training and yoga sessions.

Bottom line:  Old school grandeur just got a contemporary reboot while maintaining true to its impeccable, century-long hospitality.

Designers Olga Polizzi and Laudomia Pucci.

Fashion Find: Gucci Garden, Florence

This Store Rejects Labels

Gucci Garden by Florence's Palazzo della Signoria. Courtesy of Gucci.

This article originally appeared in American Way Magazine, April 2018.

Gucci transforms a palazzo into a multifaceted retail fantasy

Gucci has fun blurring the lines between fashion, food, history and art with its latest enterprise, Gucci Garden. The space, which recently opened in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence, explores the Italian brand’s past and future, and rocks a trattoria with a menu by three-Michelin-star chef Massimo Bottura (pictured right).

While an on-site boutique sells items only available at the Gucci Garden, creative director Alessandro Michele insists the project is less about creating a retail environment and more about dreaming up a fantasy world— with the Gucci brand at its center. “The Garden is real,” he says, “but it belongs above all to the mind.”


Read the April issue of American Way magazine here.

Boutique. Courtesy of Gucci.

Massimo Bottura's Gucci Osteria. Courtesy of Gucci.

Artist Jayde Fish's whimsical murals. Courtesy of Gucci.

Did I mention there is a cinema? Courtesy of Gucci.

There's Something About Florence

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A version of the article appeared in Forbes Travel, October 2017.

There’s something about Florence.  Birthplace of the Renaissance, Dante’s hometown, font of the Italian language, and constant ranking in the top three places to visit on the Grand Tour, or better yet, the Bucket List.  Florence has had it going on for centuries, and it relishes in its rep as the Cradle of Modern Culture for nurturing homegrown artists like Michelangelo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as earning the title as the fifth fashion capitol thanks to bi-annual Pitti Uomo and several pioneering tech meets fashion/luxury summits. Maybe it's the proud Roman in me, but for years, I've written off Florence as a "mausoleum" or "cute tourist town", a necessary stop on your whirlwind Italy tour and a great place for a photo op, giving it only a bit of cred for its awesome art collection. Lately, however, I''m thinking otherwise-  Florence is fabulous. 

What changed my mind? Well, a little bit of handholding by local champions Georgette Jupe-Pradier, GirlInFlorence and Coral Sisk, CuriousAppetite, and here I am,  celebrating the town the Medicis built because of its, here we go, 21st century incarnation.  To the visible eye, nothing has changed in Florence but what is makes the city so invigorating is its community of artists, makers, creators and entrepreneurs who are putting a new perspective on a charming town.  According to Jupe-Pradier, who dedicates her blog GirlInFlorence  to the city’s contemporary stories and makers, there is a palpable city revival the “celebrates the past with a willingness to evolve and inspire especially in new contemporary spaces and artisans”.  Is it a 21st century Renaissance? I don't know but I'm liking the vibe.

Window Shopping

It took me a while to learn that Florence is far more than Via Tornabuoni and the Ponte Vecchio.  Jupe-Pradier's favorite area of the city is her backyard-  the Oltrarno, the river Arno’s left bank.  Ever since she started her blog, she encouraged exploration of the literal “other side” and her Oltrarno love concentrates around San Frediano which she brought to the pages of Lonely Planet as one of the world's coolest neighborhoods. I tagged along as she made afternoon rounds, stopping in to personally talk with every shop owner and artisan in the area.  Favorites include & Company a beautifully curated boutique for design lovers where you can find vintage furniture, hand-crafted stationery, Blackwing pencils and original creations by calligrapher and co-owner Betty Soldi.  Officine Nora, a working studio for a collective of jewelry makers where I picked up a handmade silver necklace by Valentina Carpini whose filigree work is divine,  Il Torchio- bookbinder studio and shop filled with luscious handcrafted books, restorer Jane Harman's  eponymous boutique Jane H where she features her original wood designs , and Albrici, a decades-old antiques shop with wing devoted to vintage clothing and accessories.

Earthly Delights

Catherine de' Medici, the woman who upgraded French cuisine by introducing Italian, in particular Florentine,  recipes and the fork to France, would be proud of her native city.   A collection of sturdy stalwarts, including  Cibreo and the century-old Trattorio Sergio Gozzi, are stewed in Florentine tradition, as long as you can get a table.  Perennially positive Jupe-Pradier loves the family Trattoria Sabatino in San Frediano, Oltrarno for its sixty-year-long dedication to serving seasonal, local dishes. .

Tradition aside,  intrepid food writer and culinary guide Sisk says “the city is responding to a demand for a more dynamic food scene”.  Club Culinario Toscano da Osvaldo ranks high on her list of Florentine eateries for its strong ethos on ingredient sourcing and traditions. And she loves modern bistrot-bar Zeb Gastronomia for its daily home made pastas and cool modern design, while her contemporary/creative dining picks are Michelin starred Ora d'Aria and Cibleo, Cibreo's Asian-Tuscan fusion.

For a taste of Florentine luxury, Il Locale is the spot- a restaurant and bar in a Renaissance palazzo designed as a modern Medici court with decoupage walls and velvet damask, sandstone columns in sandstone, vintage design pieces and contemporary sculptures. (Note:  I had great drinks but service was delayed, so I opted out of dining.) Charming Bar e Cucina is modern retro.  Designed by Paolo Capezzuoli, (aka Zero T, who collaborated the  Rock Steady Crew!), the vibe is a Golden age diner meets Florentine caffè, the perfect pit stop during those days at Pitti Uomo.

Just desserts at Trattoria Sabatino.

Eye Candy

Along with the usual suspects (we’re looking at you, David), Florence likes to keep you entertained with exhbitions and museums that traipse between traditional and unexpected.  Opened in 2005, Palazzo Strozzi, a fabulous example of 15th century palazzo architecture is a dynamic cultural foundation whose exhibition line up includes the ongoing Radical Utopias (design and architecture movement from the late 1960s), as well as previous blockbuster ringers like Bill Viola, Ai Wei Wei.  A blast from the past and my personal meditation is Museo di San Marco, a former Dominican convent now museum with the most extensive collection of in situ Fra Angelico frescos, and Jupe-Pradier loves the Museo del Novecento, a museum dedicated to 20th century Italian art.

Radical Utopias, courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi.

View from the Hotel Savoy.

Pillow Talk

Where you rest your head in Florence is just as important as what you do. For a stunning Renaissance-meets-modern stay, head to Four Seasons Hotel Firenze. This gorgeous urban resort complex features two refurbished buildings in which you can drift off to sleep — the 15th-century Palazzo Della Gherardesca or the former 16th-century convent, the Conventino.  For center stage its Hotel Savoy is Florence’s grande dame, whose timeless elegance yet au courant chicness redefines the meaning of “historic.” Savoy’s enviable Piazza della Repubblica location puts in the very center of everything.  Hotel Brunelleschi captures the best of Florentine architecture in a labyrinth of Renaissance-era palaces and medieval towers. And if it’s good enough for an overnight stay for Robert Langdon, Dan Brown’s prolific The Da Vinci Code protagonist, it should be an adventure.

5 Places For An Unforgettable Aperitivo

When Forbes Travel (October 2017) asked me to find great Italian aperitivi around the world, here's where I found myself barside. . .

The St. Regis Bangkok’ s Jojo, Photo Credit: The St. Regis Bangkok

Everyone loves a good happy hour, but no one does it quite like the Italians. Meant to cleanse the palate before dinner, drinks like a Negroni (Campari, gin and sweet vermouth) or an Aperol Spritz are light, refreshing and popular worldwide for their simple, classic flavors. Here are five stops to make for your own global apertivo adventure.

Bangkok
The Mediterranean comes to Thailand with Aperol evenings at Jojo, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The St. Regis Bangkok’s elegant Italian restaurant. The eatery’s terrace location is the spot to enjoy the futuristic and ever-changing Bangkok cityscape while imbibing Italy’s best cocktail-hour export, the Aperol Spritz — prosecco, Aperol and soda water.

To accompany your signature sip, chef Stefano Merlo has created perfectly paired cicchetti (traditional Venetian aperitif snacks).

Milan
When in Milan, the fashion forward flock to Four-Star Hotel Principe di Savoia and its iconic Principe Bar. Come aperitif time, this sultry hangout comes alive with signature martini cocktails (try the Raspberry Filtering, a sweet sip made with raspberry-infused vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and a splash of champagne), a DJ spinning Italian tunes and canapés, in case you start to feel peckish.

Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, Photo Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Firenze

Florence
Take the fast train to Florence and the Atrium Bar at Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, one of the prettiest places for an aperitivo. This elegant bar is old school — a Renaissance-era court with an enclosed skylight ceiling, whose design recalls vintage libraries and lounges of a bygone era.

Mixologist Edoardo Sandri expertly curates a cocktail menu that goes far beyond a quality aperitivo. Though you can’t go wrong with a classic Negroni Sbagliato (which swaps in sparkling wine for gin), a favorite sip here is the light and fresh cucumber martini.

New York City
Head to Four-Star Langham Place’s iconic Fifth Avenue address and walk up the grand marble staircase to Four-Star Ai Fiori’s bar for a little taste of Italy in Midtown Manhattan. Bar Fiori specializes in seasonal aperitivi, including a spicy twist on the Aperol Spritz — the Autumn Thistle features cardamom-infused Cynar (a bittersweet artichoke-based liqueur) and Cider du Vulcain Premiers Emois hard cider.

Chinotto Cobbler, Mattiussi Fizz and Americano in Paris all offer herbal and floral variations of their classic namesake sips, and each comes with a skillet of housemade popcorn.

Hotel Eden’s La Libreria, Photo Credit: Hotel Eden

Rome
When in Rome, it’s all about the view, and there is no other perch quite like the open-air terrace at Il Giardino atop Five-Star Hotel Eden. Take in a sweeping view of the Eternal City from the historic center toward Michelangelo’s Dome as barman Gabriele Rizzi creates signature, seasonal cocktails like his Grande Bellezza — a pink vermouth martini — accompanied by chef Fabio Ciervo’s artful hors d’oeuvres and cicchetti.

Here’s a secret: the ground-level gilded lobby lounge, La Libreria, has a hidden bar with a private barman. So, if you find yourself in need of an afternoon aperitivo, grab a spot on one of the velvet divans and wait to be served.

Typecast: Stazione Santa Maria Novella, Firenze

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I have a thing about letters, type and font. Vintage, die-cast lead signs make my heart swell. It's no wonder I have a huge crush on Louise Fili and only frequent bars with great signage [sadly, this bar just closed].  As long as there are gorgeous letters, I am happy-- so you can imagine why I was incredibly happy to have a one hour layover at Florence's central train station Stazione Santa Maria Novella.  Santa Maria Novella is a cache of incredible 1920s and 1930s type from the standard lean Fascist lead font and neon exit sign to the  gorgeous serif numbers that hide throughout the station. Bonus points for the striped orange/coral and cream marble floor.