A feast of alluring architecture, world-class art and romantic hustling squares of gelato eating tourists; Florence is a favourite among city breakers, and about 3 years ago, I became one of them. I discovered the secret of Italian vintage and drank wine like water. I gazed at pearl rings on one of the world’s most beautiful bridges and got up close to one of my most beloved artist’s paintings, the Doni Tondo by Michelangelo. But I don’t feel like I did it ‘right’.
There is an overwhelming amount to see in Florence. Dozens of top restaurants, hundreds of years of history and some of the most beautiful homes in Italy. You could spend a lifetime walking the labyrinth of dusty orange streets and still never see every renaissance corner.
As my first experience of Italy, I was seduced by the artwork, architecture and of course, the gelato, but after spending time around Lake Garda, falling in love with Verona and getting lost in Venice… for some reason, I came home just a little less infatuated with Florence. Since I stepped foot in the city, I’ve heard others’ tales of how much they adored it, how they’d go back again and again. I couldn’t help but wonder (in my best Carrie Bradshaw voice), did I fuck up Florence?
It feels like a lifetime ago that I was there, my first trip with my Dad’s ‘big’ camera, screaming internally with excitement about a two week diet of pure pasta and pizza. Of course, the architecture was striking, the Duomo as impressive as I’d hoped, and strolling the Piazzas with a cone of stracciatella was a fine way to spend an evening. But I think my small feeling of disappointment came from my once non-blogger way of life… the “let’s see what happens when we get there” attitude.
I was younger, not in that mindset where I bothered to Google the best restaurants or read up on how not to see the city like an unprepared tourist. We bought a guidebook at the airport and took it from there, joining the long-ass Uffizi Gallery queue at 8am to spend most of the day looking at a thousand paintings of Jesus… oh and a sculpture caught in the middle of his Night Fever routine, let’s say, a little unfortunately under dressed.
Instead our first Italian meal was some very average spaghetti and expensive wine in the Piazza della Signoria (lesson #183 of travelling – never eat in a restaurant where a non-Italian waiter’s eyes light up as you ask for a table) and an almost-average plate (yes not bowl) of pesto pasta at Osteria dei Pazzi, a local favourite that I found on TripAdvisor where every eye turned as two English girls swanned in wearing their best impressions of Italian couture.
Come to think of it, even the guidebook was shit. Two recommended bars we envisioned getting drunk on €3 wine in were shut for the summer (I know, WTF). So instead we ended up drinking prosecco on the sidewalk of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. It turned out to be quite atmospheric as I picked out my future ring from a sparkling boutique window.
Despite the Florentine clubs deciding it’s ok to close up shop when its warm, the few casual bars we came across introduced us to Aperitivo, an Italian happy hour where a complimentary buffet of small fresh dishes are available with a large glass of vino, the perfect way to dine on a budget after a sweltering hot day among the breeze-free streets. We went up for thirds of bruschetta and potatoes, chorizo and mozzarella, before the sun went in and the food disappeared with it.
The only actual decent meal I had in Florence was a sparing of buttery tortellini at Ristoriante Boccadama in the Piazza di Santa Croce, a lovely quieter square filled with candlelit restaurants.
Despite my lack of organisation and research, I did manage to get a feel for Florence, albeit not a taste. The Palazzo Pitti is still today, one of the most beautiful palaces I have been too, with stunning views over the city and surrounding Tuscan countryside, as well as a fascinating costume museum filled with intricate Italian fashion.
I was always surprised and fond of almost every corner I turned, discovering new statues and faded facades across marble and warm stone buildings.
Speaking of, I became slightly obsessed with finding hidden vintage shops, each a trove of designer shoes and one-off garments. There was an very inelegant Cinderella moment when a pair of Chanel slingbacks didn’t fit, although I did come away with a beautiful Italian made tea dress, which I insisted on cycling around Lake Garda in, very Audrey Hepburn circa Roman Holiday.
My naïve planning may have left me hungry, but it kicked off a trip around Northern Italy that instilled a deepened love for the country, and a burning desire to return. I’ll be back with my dinner reservations and credit card limit for designer shopping…
It wasn’t you, it was me.
I’ve grown up these last few years and come to realise that I’ve blamed you for an experience that didn’t live up to expectations.
Please give me another chance. I was blind to your beauty.
Yours if you’ll have me,
This post was sponsored by Luxury Retreats who have a number of beautiful homes in Florence and Italy. My story is of course my own.