Uncovering the Real Florence
With millions of tourists each year, it’s hard to not bump into a couple here and there in old Firenze.
I’ve visited the city about half a dozen times over the past 15 years but recently, I experienced a very different Florence from the one that sits under the watchful eye of the Statue of David replica in Piazza della Signoria, the grand Duomo and Uffizzi Gallery.
Actually, getting to uncover the real Florence started long before this recent visit. It was when I met the gorgeous Elena Farinelli, a native Florentine and blogger at Io Amo Firenze (I Love Firenze!) and adopted Florentines: Georgette Jupe of a Girl in Florence and my fellow Aussie compatriot Nardia Plumridge, of the website, Lost in Florence. Each in their own way, these three ladies, are the most well-informed, passionate ambassadors for Florence and together with their tips and guidance, here’s how I managed to experience Florence – the way I love experiencing all cities – as a traveller and not a tourist… Away from the big tour bus groups, from the crowds and from the selfie sticks (although, truth be told, I can’t say I’m not really enjoying a selfie here and there!).
By… Staying in a 14th century building
Residence Palazzo Belfiore is located smack-bang in the Santo Spirito neighbourhood (Oltrarno) only a few minutes walk from the famous (and gorgeous) Ponte Vecchio, which by the way was the only bridge in Florence left untouched during World War II bombings. This set of 7 apartment suites is housed – no less – in a 14th century building and each apartment is named after a Medici family member. Sleeping from 2 through to 6 people, they vary is style and size.
I stayed in the one named after Cosimo the Great (Cosimo il Vecchio) and positioned where the kitchen used to be in the building, I thought was quite fitting for a food blogger! The owner, Federico is a font of local knowledge and you couldn’t meet a prouder Florentine if you tried! I can’t wait to get back to my Florence home away from Rome. By… Visiting the Sant’Ambrogio Market
I love the sights, tastes and sounds of a market. And nothing will make you feel more a part of the local fold than a walk through a real neighborhood one. Right by the Santa Croce area, you won’t believe this market is only a 15 minute walk from the Duomo because you feel miles away from the crowds. Mainly open-air, there’s an indoor section and you can buy everything from your fruit and vegetables to cheese, salumi and olives. There’s a bakery, butcher, fishmonger and more. And around the corner, there’s one of those famous Florentine food trucks selling the local street-food: lampredotto in a roll (tripe!).
Also not far from the market is a really cool old jail-turned-convent-turned-community art and hipster cafe space called Le Murate. Really worth a visit! By… Seeing the city from above
I believe one of the best ways to get a sense of a city is from above and the view from the Grand Hotel Minerva‘s rooftop is unrivaled! A swimming pool and a cocktail bar. Need I say more, really? The rooftop bar is open daily until late and they serve up delicious cocktails with a full menu for meals and snacks. While the pool is for hotel guests only, the bar is open to the public.
The view really has to be seen to be believed. And at sunset – looking out to Piazza Santa Maria Novella, the domes and the Duomo in the distance – I can guarantee it will take your breath away. By… Strolling through Oltrarno
In a sense, Oltrarno is to Florence what Trastevere is to Rome. Oltrarno means beyond the Arno river as Trastevere means across the Tevere (Tiber River). It features the area of Santo Spirito, your classic gentrified neighborhood that offers cool bars and restaurants (we checked out the new vintage decked-out place called Gesto: their crostini with anchovies and burrata was delicious) and a host of historical points of interest, including Pitti Palace – Florence’s largest museum which in the 1500s became home to the Medici’s. Not too shabby! With small squares and pretty streets that feature specialty shops like bakeries, wine shops (where you can drop in a full your own bottle with quality wine that doesn’t cost a fortune!) and gelaterie, it’s fair to say, I’ve now developed a bit of a crush on this part of town! By… Eating homemade sweets and gelato
When you’re walking around in the heat, gelato calories don’t count! Gelateria della Passera in Oltrarno serves up some of the neighbourhood’s best homemade gelato. I’m a bit addicted to fruit flavours at the moment (I’ve convinced myself that they’re healthier) and their passionfruit is divine.
The ‘hood is also home to a sweets shop that make delicious handmade chocolate Dolcissima Firenze and the Forno Pintucci bakery where we tasted the most lush pear and chocolate cake. And back near the Sant’Ambrogio market we tasted an old family recipe in the form of a dense dark chocolate cake at Dolci & Dolcezze. By… Walking around with a Florence know-it-all
There really is nothing like getting to see a city through the eyes of someone who lives there. But imagine that person lives and breathes the city and weaves enchanting tales and anecdotes that you would just never read about in a guide book? My beautiful friend Nardia is that person. She is especially an expert on the artisan history of Florence – think, some of the best leather makers in the world (oh and skills around here extend beyond leather from jewellery to woodwork, handmade paper and more!) – and she pointed out some of the older and younger artisans of the area. It’s an art and industry that I’m certainly keen to learn more about. Nardia also pointed out ancient wine doors or portals (buchette del vino). Dozens of these beautiful little trap doors can be found throughout Florence and were how noble families would sell wine to passersby. For more Florence tips and tricks check out her website: Lost in Florence.I only spent a day in Florence this time round, but if you’re lucky enough to spend it with locals, it makes for truly richer experience. Until we meet again Firenze.
Signing off from Trastevere
Acknowledgements: I was kindly hosted in Florence by Palazzo Belfiore (for stunning accommodation) and Grand Hotel Minerva (for cocktails, snacks and a killer view!). Nobody tells me what to write – all views and images are my own.0