Natty Adventures in Florence

WHEN IN FLORENCE…

EAT gelato, every chance you get - Gelato puts American ice cream to shame. Whether for an afternoon snack or late night dessert, even the worst gelato is usually delicious, and the best... is drool worthy. Catch a sunset view of the Ponte Vecchio with a heaping cone of “La Carraia” the house specialty at Gelateria La Carraia.  “La Carraia” is a mouthwatering combination of white chocolate and pistachio, but all of their flavors are made with the highest quality, simple, local ingredients so you literally cannot go wrong. Also, a scoop only costs one euro, which is less than most of the significantly inferior alternatives around the city.  Be prepared to wait in line, but I promise it’s worth it…

 

DRINK an Aperol Spritz on the Arno - Florentines are known for their “aperitivo”, which is the equivalent to the American happy hour. The most notable difference is the artisanal snacks that come (often complimentary) along with your drink of choice; think heaping crostini piled with local cheese, tapenade and charcuterie. Snack and sip a spritz with river views of the Ponte Vecchio at Signorvino Firenze, then pick up a bottle to go from this wine shop cum wine bar.

 

BE MERRY with music, movies or late night drinks in a piazza. Much like New York, Florence’s piazzas are often hosting free movies and concerts. If you’re looking to meet hip locals and handsome strangers, head to Volume Cafe or Cafe Gilli, or simply take that a bottle of wine you got earlier and gather friends on the steps of the Santo Spirito. Unlike New York, drinking in the streets is not only legal, it’s de rigueur because the locals know how to enjoy without abusing the privilege.

 

     It's all about that view... 

MORNING Sure, any guidebook will tell you that to visit The Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral. But it’s my opinion that waiting in line to climb a claustrophobia causing staircase to the crown is actually essential. Where else can you be arms length from a larger-than-life biblical fresco on the ceiling in the largest dome in the world?! Answer: nowhere. Once you’re outside, the views are even more breathtaking. Do this in the morning to beat the crowds, and listen as the city’s countless church bells greet the day in surround sound.   

 

AFTERNOON While it’s conjoined neighbor, Giardino di Boboli (aka Boboli Garden) gets the most attention, Giardino di Bardini is a wilder and more tranquil alternative to the and manicured topiaries at Boboli, which is often packed with tourists. Wander up to the Belvedere coffee house, perched high in the center of the garden, then wind back down to the 17th century villa for one of the best vistas in the park. If you’re lucky, you can snag the lone bench seated in a quiet nook to the side of the villa - perfect for reading a book or just taking in the view of (what feels like) your own personal Florence. From there, descend the steps to Boboli once the afternoon crowds have died down.

 

SUNSET Take in the sunset from the Piazzale Michelangelo - Located on the south bank of the Arno river, just east of the city’s center: Piazzale Michelangelo boasts some of the most spectacular views in Florence. The site itself is not much more than a glorified parking lot packed with tourists lusting after the same view. Luckily - there’s enough to go around and the panorama of clay rooftops and bell towers will make you forget everything else around you.  

 

MUST EAT

Il Santo Bevatore - This spacious restaurant has a smaller enoteca attached; perfect for grabbing aperitivo while you wait for your table next door.  The vibe and decor of this popular spot is cozy yet chic, and somewhat of a departure from more traditional eateries around town.  But it’s what on the plate that really counts, and boy does it count… Everything from the (not so) humble crostini served with aperitivo next door to the delicate beef carpaccio are life changing.  Reservations recommended.

 

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Alla Vecchia Bettola - Long shared tables and stool top seating both inside and out make for a communal vibe at Alla Vecchia Bettola.  A local favorite, foodies from Italy and around the world flock to this relaxed, farm fresh restaurant boasting a daily rotating, hand written menu of classic Tuscan dishes done to perfection. Looking for a Bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine steak)?  Get it here, and make sure you bring someone to share it with - as the portions are huge and you’ll want to finish every mouthwatering (naturally grass-fed) bite.  Reservations recommended.

 

Osteria Santo Spirito - This casual osteria may not look like much, but the food tells a different story. Come any time, day or night for heaping salads packed with marinated artichoke hearts and arugula, locally sourced charcuterie plates and bowls of hearty and flavorful house-made penne. Or simply grab a glass of wine and some tapenade and take in the energy of the piazza.  Reservations not needed.


 

MUST BUY

LEATHER GLOVES - While Florentine leather is well renowned, the street markets and many shops are tourist traps filled with mass produced leather goods. Madova is one of the city’s oldest retailers, selling nothing but leather gloves in every size, color and price since 1919. If you’re interested in learning more about leather craftsmanship, pay a visit to the Scuola del Cuoio for an inside perspective on this age old practice.

 

MARBLED STATIONERY - Florence’s intricately marbled paper and leather bound journals are enough to inspire even the least inclined to go analogue.  Il Papiro offers a gorgeous array of everything from stationery to custom wax seals to stamp on your love letters.  

 

WOODEN TOYS - The story of Pinocchio was written in Florence, and so you’ll find iterations of the notoriously sneaky marionette all over the city.  Hand crafted wooden dioramas and puppet shows depicting Pinocchio and other whimsical scenes can be found at L’Arte de Ciompi, along with intricately painted bookmarks and other beautiful trinkets.

 

GOURMET CONFECTIONS - From pistachio studded nougat to candied violets and voluptuous marzipan fruits, Migone is a go-to for classic Italian sweets.  This pasticceria is the perfect place to pick up delicate, handmade treats to bring home to friends and family, assuming you don’t devour them yourself on the plane ride home…(Not what I did.  Definitely NOT what I did).



 

MUST KNOW

WALK, DON'T DRIVE - The whole city is walkable, and by foot is the best way to get around while taking in the sights and atmosphere. Uber doesn’t exist, and taxis are limited and must be taken from the odd taxi stand, or reached by phone. Just ask any cafe or shopkeeper and they’ll call one for you if you don't have a phone.


ITALIANS KNOW HOW TO DRESS, YOU SHOULD TOO - American tourists are easy to spot amongst effortlessly cool locals wearing polished outfits and chic flats; more practical than heels for navigating the city’s cobblestone streets. Style here is about being polished and refined, not glitzy.  


RESERVATIONS RECOMMENDED - Although the city is full of delicious dining opportunities, most of the best restaurants book up early in the evening rather than accepting many walk-ins. Restaurateurs encourage long, languid meals over a high table turnover. Don’t expect your server to bring the check until you ask, as it would be rude to rush you.  

 

DON'T BE ARAID OF FLIRTS Italian men are notoriously flirtatious, and they love to shout a compliment at a lady walking by or engage you with a warm smile and eye contact. While American catcalls are often lude, Italians' are rarely inappropriate or aggressive. So take the praise with a coy smile, and enjoy the glow of this romantic city.  

 American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin

American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin

 

BUON VIAGGIO!

 

Photo cred: Angela Pham