Tuscany is often the first image that comes to mind when day-dreaming of Italy, and rightly so, though naturally Italy itself is so much more than the sum of its parts. Cradle of the Italian language, and an extraordinarily rich historical and artistic centre, the Tuscan capital provides the perfect setting for a short escape into Italian culture: a plunge into the Renaissance past that will remain unforgettable.
Because its foundations lie deep in the Medieval times, Florence city centre is actually quite compact, making it perfect for a morning of explorations. You could start in Piazza della Signoria, the focal point of political power and origin of the Florentine Republic, represented by the towering image of Palazzo Vecchio. The sight of the clock tower still fresh in your mind, wander down Via Porta Rossa to sample another taste of old Florentine life at the museum of Palazzo Davanzati. For a very reasonable fee, you can enter the former home of a rich merchant. Frescoed walls and tapestries combine with kitchen utensils and ageless recipes to give a full flavour of what it could have felt like to be a respected member of the higher classes, or a kitchen maid at the service of the rich.
Not far lies the renowned Piazza del Duomo, arguably the best-known monument of the city. The dome by Brunelleschi dominates the square with its majestic brickwork, and the façade of the cathedral is a delightfully eye-catching cascade of green, white, and pink marble. If you aren’t afraid of heights, and have the time, you should also try climbing to the top of the dome, from where the cityscape is truly breath-taking. Roaming down the narrow lanes to the side of the square, follow your nose and discover the traditional Florentine street food: lampredotto. Perhaps not for the faint-hearted, this stew of cow innards can be savoured in a delicious sandwich, dipped into the sauce before being served. Florence is full of little stands or small kitchens where you can sample this delicacy; a particularly picturesque place being Da Vinattieri, in a side street behind the Duomo and in the vicinity of Dante’s old home, which is also a museum.
After this hearty Florentine lunch, why not walk it off in the direction of the Oltrarno: the riverbanks to the left of the Arno. Cross to the other side along Ponte Vecchio, another symbol of Florence. On the top part of the jewellers’ roofs lies a secret corridor that was commissioned by the Medici to connect the political centre in Palazzo Vecchio with their private residence in Palazzo Pitti, without having to descend to the streets and mingle with the people. One-of-a-kind in its history, to wander across this bridge is to plunge into the past.
Finally, as the day slowly winds to an end, make your way to Piazzale Michelangelo. Also known as “the balcony of Florence”, the view from this square is a sight not to be missed. There is a bronze copy of the David in the centre, and the brownish-red of the Florentine brick rooftops comes to life in the orange hues of sunset. Worthy of a visit is also San Miniato al Monte, just a staircase away from the Piazzale. Set in one of the highest points of Florence, it too offers a magnificent panorama of the city, apart from being a beautiful building with a façade echoing the colours of the Duomo, though in Romanesque style rather than gothic.