We’ve just come back from a wonderful long weekend in Florence – a city which truly has my heart. We arrived on Thursday evening and stayed at the absolutely stunning Four Seasons. The trip was a birthday present from my husband. It’s beginning to become a bit of a tradition as last year he took me to Berlin.
That night we went off to dinner at Buca Lapi (buca literally means ‘hole’ and it refers to basement restaurants). For once we were quite organised in terms of booking restaurants in advance. Even though there are thousands of places to eat, we didn’t want to waste time walking around trying to figure out where to eat when there is so much to see and do.
Buca Lapi has been a restaurant since 1880, can you believe that? It’s so quirky – all the walls and ceilings are decorated with old posters from around the world and people have left their mark on everything – even the lamps! So of course we had to leave our mark too. In terms of food we had a typical Tuscan mixed starter and then a classic Fiorentina for our mains, which is a T-bone steak. They don’t ask you how you’d like it cooked by the way – it comes as they believe it should be served (which is pretty rare).
The next day we spent the morning exploring the famous Duomo Group. Tickets cost €15 and last for 24 hours from when you first validate them. I could not get over how huge it is! We’d seen it first at night on our way to dinner and I was honestly in awe.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great. It had rained overnight and was quite overcast. I would love to see the Duomo in the sunlight! We started with the Baptistry, then the Duomo itself and just before lunch we climbed up to the dome. There are over 400 steps and it’s really challenging as it’s very narrow and steep in places. Put it this way – it’s a very good workout! And just when you think you are about to collapse from exhaustion, you reach the top and all the effort was so worth it for the breathtaking panoramic views over Florence.
We decided to leave climbing up the tower, which also has over 400 steps, for the next day (although it was pouring with rain and we couldn’t be bothered to stand in the queue, so we didn’t actually end up going).
After exploring the Duomo we headed to the Mercato Centrale, which is the covered central market situated around the corner from the Basilica di San Lorenzo and is about a 10 to 15 minute walk from the Duomo. There are some outside stalls selling mainly leather goods (Florence is famous for it’s leather) and we each bought a belt – mine was a souvenir but my husband’s was a necessity! When you enter the market on the ground floor you will find traditional market stalls with fruit, vegetables, meat etc. It’s very old school and you can tell some of the stalls have been in families for generations.
On the top floor you will find a very modern food court filled with lots of food stalls and wine bars and there’s even a cooking school. We chose to eat at Tosca, which has a counter where you can watch the chefs at work. We started with bruschetta and mixed salumi and a bottle of prosecco. I then had the tagliatelle with ragu sauce and my husband had spaghetti with broccoli and pecorino. The food was really good and there was a great atmosphere.
After a hearty lunch, the weather seemed to clear up a bit so we thought it would be probably the best opportunity (as rain was expected all weekend) to see the famous Ponte Vecchio so we took a walk to the river. It took about 15 minutes or so from the market. Ponte Vecchio literally translates as ‘old bridge’ and old it is! The bridge apparently first appears in a document as far back as 996. It was then destroyed in a flood in 1117 and rebuilt in 1345. There are jewellery shops that line the bridge that have been there for generations. Before that it was butchers. It reminded me a bit of Rialto in Venice.
The view from either side of the bridge itself is just gorgeous. And we even had a bit of blue sky!
That evening we had dinner at Buca Mario, which like Buca Lapi is a basement restaurant and has been around since 1886. It was a bit touristy though and quite old school but the food and service was good.
On Day one in Florence, we were going to climb up the tower of the Duomo group on Saturday morning as we hadn’t done it yet and our tickets were valid for 24 hours. Unfortunately the weather was terrible and it was raining a fair bit. We stood in the queue for about ten minutes and then decided to give it a miss and go to the Uffizi art gallery instead where we would at least be dry.
Of course, as it was a rainy day you can imagine what the queue was like for the Uffizi! Luckily it was all covered though, which made queuing a bit more pleasant. You can actually purchase your tickets online and I did try to do this the night before but it wouldn’t let me for whatever reason. Whilst we were queuing we were approached by a company that offers guided tours and where you can skip the queue – for €40 each. The entrance fee is only €12 but we decided that €40 to skip the queue and have a tour by an expert was worth the money. Particularly as it was 11am and we had a lunch reservation at 1:30.
Our guide, Francesca, was so knowledgeable and you could clearly see her passion for art. I’m so glad we went for a guided tour as I have no doubt we learnt so much more than we would have, had we done it ourselves. Also when you are a bit pressed for time, having a guide who knows exactly where everything is saves a lot of time and probably stress. We only spent two hours in the Uffizi but really you need much more than this to truly appreciate the works on display and to spend a bit of time looking at the art works.
My absolute favourites were Botticelli’s The birth of Venus and Spring. I do love Early Renaissance art and Boticelli epitomises this era.
After the Uffizi we got a taxi to have lunch at Osteria Nacchero. As it’s about a 15 minute taxi ride from the centre, there didn’t seem to be any tourists there – just locals. It’s a quirky restaurant – old fashioned but in a modern way. There were some wonderful photographs and old vintage posters on the walls and the lighting was really good. Bad lighting in restaurants are one of our bugbears!
For starters we had some salumi and coccoli, which were almost like doughnuts, and stracchino (which is a soft cheese) – delicious but really bad for you… I also had pasta fagoli, which is a traditional soup made with pasta, beans and vegetables. It was absolutely fabulous but so filling – in fact, I could only manage a side salad for a main. My husband was less full than I was and had Paccheri cacio pepe.
We will definitely return to Osteria Nacchero the next time we are in Florence even though it’s a bit off the beaten track. I recommend you go if you truly want to eat amongst locals and try unfussy, hearty and simple food.
As it had stopped raining (and we were so full) we decided to walk from the restaurant, along the river Arno to Santa Croce. It took us about 30 minutes or so and of course as we got to the Basilica, it started raining again.
Construction of this beautiful church started in 1296 and it opened in the 15th century. Apart from being a very beautiful church, it is a treasure trove of artwork with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils, art by Donatello and even a sculpture by Henry Moore. Not only is it filled with absolutely breath-taking frescoes and sculptures, it’s also the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini which is why it’s also referred to as the Temple of Italian Glories.
As it was still raining when we left Santa Croce, we got a taxi back to the hotel and spent a couple of hours just relaxing. We had booked dinner at Cantina Barbagianni for dinner at 9:30pm but ventured out for a pre-dinner drink at around 8pm. We were surprised at how few bars there were but we eventually found one right opposite the Mercato Centrale and it was Cuban (Sabor Cubano)! They only serve cocktails and Cuban beer so I had a margarita and my husband had a piña colada. He enjoyed his so much he had another!
After getting a little bit lost we arrived for dinner at Cantina Barbagianni, which easily could have been called Buca Barbagianni as it was also a basement restaurant. It was really lovely – great ambience, excellent lighting and really nicely decorated. We were even given a glass of prosecco on arrival and an amuse bouche of ricotta with spinach and balsamic glaze.
For starters, I chose the Beef carpaccio marinated in Chianti wine with a fresh goat’s cheese mousse and my husband had Pici (a type of pasta) with meatballs and a Chianti sauce. We both enjoyed our starters very much and my husband (who is Italian) remarked that it’s the first time he has ever had meatballs with pasta! We had prosecco to accompany our starters.
For our main we ordered the Fiorentina steak, which came with vegetables and roast potatoes. They did actually ask us how we’d like it cooked (medium/rare) and it was cooked to perfection. We had a glass of Chianti, naturally, to accompany it. After dinner it was off back to the hotel to have a restful night’s sleep before flying home the next day.
I can honestly say that Florence has truly captured my heart and I cannot wait to return to explore it some more. It is certainly one of the best cities I have ever been to and almost everyone I know who has been to Florence says the same. Planning a visit to Florence?