With its stagger Renaissance art and archi, eye-catching churches, palaces and ancient bridges dotted around the Arno River, Florence is firmly on the culture trail.
And while the art galleries and museums inspire, you’ll also be wowed by the pic-perfect parks, fab food, luxe shopping and dreamy day trips, not to mention romantic Italian country villas to bed down in. Here’s how to do the city and its surrounds in style.
Escape the tourist hordes vying for rooms with a view by booking a seductive stay out of town. The covetable collection of Italian country villas by Luxury Retreats includes around 16 hand-picked rural escapes in the Florence area, as well as more than 150 glam rustic getaways across Tuscany. Ideal for groups of family or friends, most compounds feature a character-packed stone house with glorious gardens filled with cypress, olive and fruit trees, turquoise swimming pool and an airy terrace for entertaining with to-die-for views – what’s not to love?
As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is awash with must-see museums and galleries, including the best-known and perennially busy The Uffizi and Accademia(home to Michelangelo’s David). For less obvious (ergo less rammed) cultural highs, check out the Stefano Bardini Museum (Via dei Renai, 37), a palazzo painted Bardini Blue and housing the antique dealer’s exquisitely curated collection of sculptures, tapestries, furniture and architectural salvage. Another favourite, far from The Uffizi throng, is the Bargello (Via del Proconsolo, 4), a C.14th prison now home to an eclectic mix of sculptures, art, armaments, ivories and Renaissance jewels.
Devotees of high heels will adore the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo (Palazzo Spini Feroni, Piazza Santa Trinita, 5r), a Renaissance palazzo on the Arno exploring the relationship between fashion, cinema and celebrity, spanning the 1920s to modern times. From Greta Garbo to Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe, every silver-screen siren worth her close-up wore the Italian shoe designer’s fabulous footwear.
Florence is also famed for its beautiful ornamental gardens flaunting chiselled marble statues, fountains, grottos, plants and flowers teamed with Insta-worthy views. The Giardino Bardini’s manicured tiers provide prime peeps of the city (enter Via dei Bardi, 1r), and the ticket price includes entrance to the adjoining Boboli Gardens.
Alternatively, unwind amid 17 verdant, private acres of rolling hills, ancient cedars and lemon trees at Giardino Torrigiani (Via dei Serragli, 144), a romantic botanical garden with guided tours run by the Torrigiani family. Postcard-pretty details include an aviary, neo-Gothic tower and greenhouses. Just bliss.
If you’ve a passion for pasta and porcini (let’s admit it Pammy, who hasn’t?), then book a deep-dive of the city’s vibrant food markets with in-the-know Taste Florence. Their small group or private morning tours of local artisan producers take in the epic Mercato Centrale, (Florence’s oldest and largest food market), as well as trad vendors of bread, cheese, charcuterie, vinegars, olive oils, pastries and gelato. Don flat shoes and your finest stretch pants for the four-hour, seven-stop, English-language jaunt, which also focuses on seasonal specialities. Should you still have an appetite afterwards, nip back to Mercato Centrale where the top floor has been transformed into a contempo food court serving pizza, house-made pasta plus sushi and dim sum.
For a more fine-dining experience, book in advance for Buca Lapi (Via del Trebbio, 1r), Florence’s oldest restaurant, known for its evocative, vaulted-cellar location and real-deal traditional Tuscan menu of wild boar with polenta, steak, tripe and pasta, washed down with fine local wines. Ask about the daily specials. Three Michy-starred, contemporary Italian Enoteca Pinchiorri (Via Ghibellina, 87), offers dazzling tasting menus and a seriously well-stocked wine cellar.
Hot to shop? Dating from 1612, Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella (Via della Scala, 16) boasts 700 years of herbalist history from tinctures to scented candles, in a heavenly chapel-turned-store. Sniff out timeless eau de colognes and fragrances, including the oldest, signature scent Acqua di S.M.Novella, a citrus-fresh perfume with Calabrian bergamot base notes.
For ultra-luxe homewares beeline for Richard Ginori 1735 (Via dei Rondinelli, 17r), whose Florentine porcelain has been adorning the tables of European nobility for some 300 years. Now owned by Gucci, the stunning, local flagship store is as swoon-worthy as the china dishware that’s almost too good to eat from.
If you’re in town on a serious retail mission, arrange a personalised shopping tour with super stylista Jana Soon. From upscale Florentine fashion brands to artisan ateliers, vintage treasures and outlet malls, the canny Canadian-born Jana knows how to source the best buys and bespoke finds.
There’s more to Tuscany than Firenze, so be sure to hire that Alfa, Romeo and zip out to nearby pretty villages and hill towns. San Gimignano is known for its graphic, medieval tower houses; Siena’s shell-shaped square Piazza del Campo hosts popular horse race festival Il Palio during July and August; and Lucca and Montepulcianocombine lots of charm with fewer touristas than Florence. For a gourmet getaway, head north to old university town Bologna, in adjacent region Emilia-Romagna, respected for its food markets and fantastic restaurants. Pick up delicious local prods, wine and prosecco to pamper yourself back at your villa. Salute!
This article was sponsored by Luxury Retreats.
For more fabulous Firenze recommendations, nab a copy of the LUXE Florence guide…