Flying all the way to Europe from the Philippines entails an investment so we tend to maximize our sights at a manageable pace. The benefit of planning a DIY itinerary while booking ahead of time makes everything on a wish list possible. A tour of the Andalusian Route from Madrid? Spending a few days in Barcelona? Florence? A drive around Tuscany? All within 2 weeks? Why not! A visit to Florence is always a good idea! If you can squeeze it in your itinerary, go for it!
Just a few blocks from our place is the The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (English, “Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower”), the main church of Florence, Italy. Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival façade by Emilio De Fabris. The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile. The three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence and are a major attraction to tourists visiting the region of Tuscany. The basilica is one of Italy’s largest churches, and until development of new structural materials in the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.
My visits to this Romantic City were always somewhat a “short fling “. The last two instances were whirlwind day tours – the first by Trafalgar and the second by Globus. Package tours are reasonable and good as introductions but Florence deserves much more than a day tour. This was what prompted us to revisit our time there.
We opted to spend a few nights in the historic center. B&B Alloro is 4 minutes’ walk from Florence Cathedral, a 9-minute walk from Santa Maria Novella Train Station and a 12-minute walk from the Renaissance masterpieces at the Uffizi. As opposed to those accommodations that have infused modern interiors, we felt like noble guests in the Alloro as the heritage building retained its homey old world charm.
The five cozy, warmly decorated rooms feature en suite bathrooms, and come with free Wi-Fi, satellite TVs and minibars. They also include tea and coffeemakers, and snacks. Some rooms feature views of the Medici Chapels or the courtyard.
Florence contains such a wealth of masterpieces that it is difficult to separate the city from its art works. In 1982 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the motivation being that it encapsulates the whole history of the city, from the ‘Roman quadrilateral’ in the Piazza della Repubblica area to the narrow streets of the medieval city, the splendours of the 16th-century Pitti Palace and the changes wrought at the time when Florence was capital of Italy. The density of such a fabulously rich legacy – historic and artistic but also scientific and naturalistic – in a small, well-defined space makes Florence city centre quite unique, not only in the eyes of the curious visitor but also in those of scholars and local people.
With its extraordinarily beautiful churches, its museums and art collections, historic gardens, piazzas, streets and ancient palaces, Florence can justifiably be defined as an “open-air museum” – not simply a container for art work but a work of art in its own right.
However, to fully appreciate the artistic richness of Florence, one must also look beyond the city centre: the area “outside the walls” and the province as a whole also has an incredible legacy; The Fiat 500 tour – making use of restored 1960’s vintage classics was a fun way (and for some – quite challenging) way to explore the rolling Chianti Hills as we drove through quaint villages, stopped by Noble Mansions, visited the oldest Florentine Church and celebrated our endeavor with a toast of fine wine and appetizing cheeses and salamis. It was a great afternoon to enjoy a Tuscan Adventure.
With so much art and architecture to explore, visitors often miss Italy’s greatest masterpiece: Italian Cuisine. Tasting Florence is to do the walk of Florentine markets, local restaurants and if you can splurge a little, fancy a good dinner in a top rated restaurant.
In our contemporary FIAT, we depart Florence with contentment. Experiencing more of the city this time. Although my husband and I compromised to skip the renowned Polo Museale Fiorentino (a network of twenty city museums, ranging from the Uffizi to the smallest, least-known one) as he was “Museumed Out” in Spain, it turned out to be a more active experience around the city and its outskirts. Nevertheless, there is always a next time for Florence – A charming city of excellence – hailing the greatest concentration of art works in Italy and one of the largest in the world, another place for gastronomic delights and the quintessential Renaissance encounter.