Experience Florence, Italy
Florence, easily the most beautiful city in the world. it is perfection in dimension color, setting and architecture. This stunning jewel fashioned by centuries of history and masterworks has it all: a dazzling array of fine arts and handcrafts: painting and sculpture, gold and silver, terracotta and ceramics. Not to speak of the city’s exclusive shops and fashion houses. This flower of Medieval and Renaissance culture boasts an extraordinary spiritual and religious heritage witnessed in its churches, monasteries and convents both in the city center and in the surrounding hills. Indeed, the serene countryside of Florence and the entire Tuscan region, is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. And as every discerning traveler knows, Florence and Tuscany offer the widest range of accommodations: from quaint inns to some of the world’s most luxurious hotels.
Florence is in the heart of Italy’s Tuscany Region in western Italy along the Arno river. It is 172 miles north of Rome and 185 miles south of Milan.
Florence enjoys a humid, subtropical climate. Summers are hot and muggy with temperatures overriding those along the coast. Relief rainfall prevails in the winter with cool to cold temperatures and occasional snow.
Situated in northeast Tuscany, the Province of Florence covers areas with different geographical and environmental characteristics, including Mugello, Montagna Fiorentina, Valdarno, part of Chianti and Empolese-Valdelsa.
At the Province’s center, in a basin crossed by the Arno River, stands the magnificent City of Florence, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, filled with historical relics and artistic masterpieces by the greatest masters of Humanism and the Renaissance. These creative geniuses made an indelible mark on the world’s architecture and art: Giotto and Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and Vasari, Michelozzo and Leon Battista Alberti, just to mention a few.
Every year, Florence, unanimously recognized as the cradle of the Renaissance, attracts crowds of Italian and foreign tourists to admire the marvelous churches, sumptuous buildings, and museums that make it so unique.
The city’s charm also extends to its territories, beginning with the natural amphitheater created by the hills surrounding Florence, where unique places such as the small towns of Fiesole and Certosa del Galluzzo stand.
The whole area is made up of stunning landscapes such as the Chianti Valley, where visitors can follow numerous art or wine and food itineraries, and other areas, from Mugello to Valdarno, that hold a wide variety of surprises: ancient castles, Medieval rural churches, and villas.
Wherever one turns, historical towns and art treasures make this province absolutely unique, a place where nature and culture intertwine as in a dream. Each and every town, with its own particular features, is a world to be discovered: Empoli with its rich cultural heritage contained within 15th-Century city walls; Sesto Fiorentino with the famous “La Montagnola” Etruscan tomb; Impruneta, with its terra-cotta production; or Borgo San Lorenzo, with the remains of its 14th-Century fortifications and a magnificent church; and Castelfiorentino and Barberino Val d’Elsa, among many others.
The Florentine territory provides a surprising number of itineraries, making a vacation here an ideal occasion to explore this enchanting area.
What to See
The territory’s city par excellence is Florence, the splendid city of art that is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for the wealth and beauty of its monuments.
The city’s enchanting historic center never ceases to arouse interest with its countless masterpieces: the architecture and colorful marble of the churches remind one of Florence’s splendorous past and the part it played in the development of Renaissance culture and art. The heart of the city and the religious and historical center is the Piazza del Duomo, the site of a monumental complex of extreme value: the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore, rich in works of art and topped by Brunelleschi’s majestic dome. The Battistero di San Giovanni (St. John’s Baptistry), a magnificent example of Florentine Romanesque architecture, lies in front of the Duomo, facing Giotto’s Bell Tower, a masterpiece of Florentine Gothic architecture. The magnificent Loggia del Bigallo completes the Piazza’s grandeur. Behind the Duomo is the magnificent Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, exhibiting a precious collection of artwork that was originally inside the Cathedral, Baptistry and Bell Tower.
The historical hub of civic life is the Piazza della Signoria, home to the 14th-Century Loggia della Signoria or Loggia dei Lanzi, adorned as it is with ornate and famous sculptures: think the Fountain of Neptune and Palazzo della Signoria, otherwise known as Palazzo Vecchio, one of the city’s symbolic monuments. Several statues stand in front of the Palazzo, in particular a copy of Michelangelo’s famous David (the original is on display in the Galleria dell’Accademia).
Alongside the Piazza runs the majestic Uffizi Gallery, home to one of the most important and famous museums in the world; inside are artworks by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and many other great artists, thus outlining a journey through artistic masterpieces that must be seen. A noteworthy architectural element of the Uffizi Gallery is the Vasari Corridor, an inventive elevated corridor, designed by Vasari in the mid-16th century and connecting the Gallery with Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti.
The captivating Ponte Vecchio, populated with historic goldsmith shops, leads to the Oltrarno Quarter, where other important public and religious masterpieces lie – beginning with the small Church of Santa Felicita that possesses, among other works, a number of Pontormo frescoes. Particularly noteworthy is Piazza Santo Spirito, where the 16th-Century Palazzo Guadagni and the magnificent Santo Spirito Basilica stand. The latter is completely covered in Renaissance decoration and houses the Cenacolo di Santo Spirito, the old convent refrectory abundantly decorated with frescoes.
Just a little further ahead lies the beautiful piazza dominated by Palazzo Pitti, the imposing and sumptuous palace that was home to the Medici, the Habsburg-Lorraine family and to Vittorio Emanuele II for the brief period during which Florence was the Italian Capital. Pitti Palace’s marvelous park, the Boboli Gardens, extends along the same-named hill; these grandiose gardens in the Italian style perfectly marry natural elements to the architecture, statues, and fountains contained within.
The terrain beyond Florence is well-worth a visit, offering natural, artistic and historical attractions. One site of particular religious and artistic interest is situated in the immediate vicinity of the city: the Certosa del Galluzzo also known as Certosa di Firenze, a historical architectural complex clinging to the hillside, and hosting important works of art and frescoes by Pontormo.
Another town of particular importance in the Florentine area is Fiesole, which offers a magnificent panorama of the city from its hilltop position. This small town unites the beauty of the landscape with a remarkable cultural heritage evidenced in the Etruscan and Roman remains. Another center of particular archaeological interest is Sesto Fiorentino, where the Etruscan tomb “La Montagnola” was found. It is a monument of great value and is in an excellent state of conservation.
Particularly rich in artworks is the Mugello area, which preserves spectacular architecture such as the Romanesque Abbey Church of Sant’Agata in Scarperia, the massif that is Trebbio Castle and the Villa Medicea in Cafaggiolo, Lorenzo the Magnificent’s favorite hunting estate. The main town of the area is Borgo San Lorenzo. The nearby town of Barberino di Mugello is the home of a remarkable artistic legacy: from the impressive Cattani Castle to Palazzo Pretorio.
Other captivating towns in the area include Empoli with the Sant’Andrea Collegiate Church, which constitutes a magnificent example of Florentine Romanesque architecture and Certaldo, the writer Giovanni Boccaccio’s home town, which is home to the 14th-Century Palazzo Pretorio and Boccaccio’s House which has a library specializing in The Decameron.
Many are the places that preserve the memory and evidence of the arts and people born in this area. In the Montalbano Hills, amidst the vineyards and olive groves stands Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo. Today, it is also home to the Leonardo Museum, housed in an old castle and featuring an abundant display of tools and models made according to the great genius’s projects and designs.
In Incisa Valdarno, it is possible to visit Petrarch’s House, the place where the poet spent his childhood, while Vicchio is the site of Giotto’s House. The house where the artist was born has been transformed into a museum, bountiful in documentation. Characteristic towns and villages are scattered throughout the Province, along with numerous examples of religious art and castles, making this land a treasure trove just waiting to be explored.
From Barberino Val d’Elsa to Greve in Chianti, the charm of the Chianti Valley derives from the small Medieval towns and villages that are scattered across an agricultural landscape dominated by vineyards and, yes, the area’s famous wine.
What to Do
In the area surrounding Florence, a number of parks, in particular the Parco delle Cascine, the Parco dell’Albereta and Villa Favard, offer the visitor the chance to enter into close contact with nature, or perhaps make use of the equipped sports trails. The wood-covered hills and dense vegetation that characterize the territory provide an ideal setting for outings in unspoiled environments, with opportunities for hiking at all levels, and bike or horse trails. One path of particular naturalistic value is that which runs through the gullies or calanchi (Badlands) characterizing the Castelfranco di Sopra area.
Another interesting itinerary is the Sentiero escursionistico delle burraie (Excursion route through the creameries) that winds its way through the Pontassieve territory and passes above the village of Santa Brigida; it then leads to a series of former creameries (essentially, farmsteads built in stone), once used to produce butter. Take the opportunity to visit the Padule di Fucecchio, a wetland environment inhabited by colonies of heron and numerous aquatic species: it is a true bird-watching paradise.
Florence and the surrounding towns and villages also provide visitors with bountiful shopping opportunities: from local artisan goods and works in gold to haute couture. Throughout the whole territory, especially in Chianti, exist an infinite number of enogastronomic itineraries that explore vineyards, wineries and establishments where one can taste typical delicacies and excellent local wines.
The territory’s calendar is full of interesting and exciting events, firstly the traditional Florentine “Rificolona” Festival, a street procession and boat parade along the Arno River (September). On Easter Sunday, another characteristic event in Florence is the Explosion of the Cart, taking place in the piazza in front of the Duomo. Another event that deserves a visit is the Cavalcata dei Magi (the Cavalcade of the Magi), a solemn procession in costume that moves through the town center on January 6.
Florence Province certainly does not lack in folkloric events, such as the horse racing event, the Palio delle Contrade in Fucecchio (June). Also in June, Montelupo Fiorentino, town specialized in terra-cotta production, hosts the International Terra-cotta Festival, which every year sees the historic center turn into an open-air workshop.
Also standing out is the famous Estate Fiesolana (Fiesole Summer), with performances staged in Fiesole’s splendid Roman Theater, while Florence plays host to various initiatives, including the International Artisan Market Fair in April-May. Those interested in food and wine events are certainly in the right place: the Finocchiona Festival in Vaglia Bivigliano celebrates the local famous cured meat, with dancing and music!
The Chianti Classico Exposition, in Greve in Chianti, happens every September, while the Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Expo fills Reggello’s calendar in November and December, and the Boccaccesca, Certaldo Alto’s celebration of local products, runs each October.
Yet it’s not all just about food: the Musical May Florentine Festival – the oldest and most prestigious musical festival in Europe, alongside those of Salzburg and Bayreuth, receives international accolades annually (May to June).
The traditional country cuisine is based on agricultural and peasant life, and uses simple ingredients such as bread, olive oil and vegetables, made specialties in their own right. Typical starters are cured meats, such as the renowned finocchiona and sanguinaccio salames, as well as crostini with chicken liver and veal spleen.
Among the pasta dishes, ample space is given to pappardelle in hare meat sauce, panzanella (a type of bread salad), various types of soups, in particular pappa al pomodoro (bread and tomato soup) and ribollita.
The most characteristic meat dish is the famous Florentine steak: good quality beef grilled and then served with olive oil, salt and pepper. Other common dishes are boiled meat, game and pork (bolliti), especially pork loin and liver, wrapped in lace fat and cooked on the spit.
Other local specialties include tripe in sauce and bread rolls with lampredotto, a particular type of tripe, which can be bought from outdoor stalls and kiosks.
Some side dishes that stand out are boiled white beans or beans cooked all’uccelletto (with tomato and sage), small sweet-and-sour pickled onions and spinach.
Desserts that stand out are the traditional castagnaccio, made of chestnut flour; the schiacciata alla fiorentina (flat orange-laced cake) and the famous cantucci (almond cookies that Americans know as biscotti).
The excellent wines include Chianti Classico DOCG, Pomino DOC, Bianco dell’Empolese DOC, Colli dell’Etruria Centrale DOC, Toscana IGT, and Vin Santo DOC.
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