In a city busting at the seams with tourists, it can be hard in Florence to find an area that seems authentically Florentine. In the heart of the centro storico, the Santa Croce neighbourhood is probably one of the most genuine left in the centre.
Here, you can still see daily glimpses of local Florence life. From the steps of the Santa Croce church which stands tall and proud in the main square, to the family-run stands in the Sant’Ambrogio market. It’s also a hive of restaurants and bars, catering to all budgets and tastes, at all hours of the day.
So without further ado (and some help and tips from my friends who are totally in the know), here is my guide to one of my favourite ‘hoods in Florence. BRUNCH
For American-style brunch, head to Le Vespe on Via Ghibellina. Georgette of Girl in Florence says this place is owned by a Canadian/Italian and they whip up the best pancakes, eggs, sandwiches in town along with a variety of coffee items (and locals like it too).
Quelo is a cute, quaint bar open all day and great for lunch. They often host art events and exhibitions. There are cards all over the walls and comfy couches too plus a wide range of salads and panini made to order on the menu. Elena of IoAmoFirenze says that it’s also a great at aperitivo time when a €4-5 glass of wine entitles you to tastings from the buffet with dishes ranging from cous cous to dips, vegetables and salads.
Georgette says an authentic neighbourhood favourite for real Tuscan treats (including delicacies like fried brain) is Club Culinara Trattoria da Osvaldo. She says she can’t go past their cicoria (cicory) and crema di fave (fava bean purée).
Right on the Santa Croce square you’ll find Dondino – Coral of Curious Appetite‘s recommendation for a wine bar and spritz! They have a great selection of sparkling wines and champagne too and their taglieri boards are packed with local Tuscan cheese and salumi goodness.
Located within the stunning, Relais Santa Croce is Enoteca Pinchiorri – Florence’s only 3 Michelin star dining establishment. This is your once-in-a-lifetime kind of a place with a wine list that reads like a world’s best and more. The wine cellar is home to some labels and drops that cannot be found elsewhere in the world. When money’s no object and fine dining is your thing, make sure to book in advance and enjoy the experience. ETHNIC DINING
For when you need a break from Italian food, in Via Verdi you’ll find Koto Ramen. Eat true ramen by a real Japanese chef, but be prepared to wait says Elena – you can’t make a booking here!
LEATHER MAKING & BUYING
Recommended by all of my Florence sources and a place that I visited first hand this year, is the Scuola del Cuoio (the Leather School). Not only can you see some of Florence’s last remaining real leather artisans at work (sadly it’s a dying trade apparently), but you can enrol in a course to make your own leather item. From half or full day courses where you get to make a leather covered notebook to 3-6 month courses where you really get to learn the craft and make a bag even. Experiences in Florence don’t get much more Florentine than this. Entry is free, course information can be found on their website and a wide range of leather items are available for sale onsite. SIGHTSEE
The Basilica di Santa Croce is not to be missed. This Franciscan church is referred to as a minor basilica by the Roman Catholic Church. It’s known as the Temple of the Italian Glories because some of the most prolific Italian figures – namely Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei, just to name a few – are buried here. Entry tickets cost €8 and bookings can be made online right here.
The best hidden bar secret is Il Borghesino attached to the Borghese Palace Hotel. Georgette says that while they are known for their (affordable) bubbles they also have a negroni cart that will convert anyone to this very Florentine drink.
Elena says Andersen Cafè is a mum’s dream come true! With homemade baby and toddler food, baby seats, change tables and a kids play area it’s everything you’d want in a family friendly venue and more. There’s free wifi and a diverse menu with some Northern European dishes (an ode to one of the cafè owners). Note: this venue will soon move. Check their website for updates.
Walk through the large doors off the street into a chic and modern green oasis. The stunning and sleek modern bar area at Locale is great for cocktails and the dining area is spread out over two levels – one, the ground level of Florence street-level of centuries ago, no less. Here, the tasting menus are inventive and somewhat molecular with olive oil filled syringes and more! For a special night out and to rub shoulders with a high-end Florence crowd, don’t miss Locale while you’re in town! HOMESTYLE COOKING
From farmers’ vegetable soup to polpette, the family-run Trattoria dei Fagioli is set within quite a historic building. Elena says it is located on Corso Tintori – the name originates from the fabric places that used to line the area and export to all of Europe during Florence’s golden age. An inexpensive option that rarely disappoints.
Nardia of Lost in Florence says, don’t miss Aqua Flor – an artisan perfumery where the owner Sinan, creates all sorts of essential scents, oils, soaps and fragrances (for the body or for the home!) Here, you just might find the perfect Florentine gift of a handmade candles or small soaps and the actual shop is all old world charm.
For this area of Florence, my pick is Relais Santa Croce. Your heart might just skip a beat when you walk in. There are frescoes throughout this historic palace and even an opulent fumoir (smoking room!). Located right by the Santa Croce Basilica, the hotel has a boutique feel with around 25 rooms, many of which have views of the Basilica Santa Croce. With its 3 Michelin stars, the Enoteca Pinchiorri is the ultimate in Florentine fine dining and the more casual (yet elegant) Guelfi and Ghibellini restaurant showcases the best of local Tuscan cuisine. Signing off from Trastevere,
Acknowledgements: My recent stay at te Baglioni Relais Santa Croce was part of a Baglioni Group press trip. All views are my own and nobody tells me what to write.