We had spent five glorious days on the volcanic caldera of Santorini and three more amongst the Amalfi Coast beside Vesuvius. If we were to continue our lust for mother natures ticking time bombs we would probably be better served heading further South to the island of Sicily and its beautiful Mt Etna. However, with only three more days to spare; there was another city to the North that I simply couldn't leave Italy without seeing; and it would be a travesty for my parents to miss also. If you read my previous blog on our Florence trip last year you may have perhaps detected a slight bias toward the destination; it is after all, my favourite city in Italy!
Now I learnt last year, and on our honeymoon years before that just three days in Florence is not enough; for it is not just the beautiful city, its architecture and history that warrants a visit, but also its surrounding tuscan hills; the shopping on its outskirts and ofcourse, the food. Alas, three days was all that time permitted us to show my parents the best of Florence; so that is exactly what we did
Our hotel of choice this year was the Hotel Cerretani MGallery by Sofitel. It was a place we almost booked last year on our trip but news of its renovation at the time swayed us toward our other alternatives. It meant though that this year our timing was perfect as we were treated to newly renovated, large, modern rooms and facilities which is something that can be hard to come by in any major Italian city in the peak of the travel season. In a city like Florence where cars are a hindrance, our hotel offered valet parking to get it out of our sight and its location just a stones throw from the beating heart of Florence, the Duomo, made it the perfect choice. I dont measure distance in Florence by metres or time because you can easily spend the whole day blissfully unaware, wandering through its beautiful streets. Instead I measure it in gelato; and the Duomo was about half a single scoop of gelato away, that's about three little spoonfuls to be precise.
We had a six hour drive from Amalfi to Florence, stopping outside the eternal city of Rome only to recharge shortly with some shopping and food. It meant that we arrived and checked in just in time to enjoy a sunset stroll through the streets, enough to take my parents breathe away already. The 34 degree heat wave wasn't the culprit either, for so much of Florence is shaded by the consistent 5 storey wall-to-wall antique buildings. The spotless streetscape come nightfall is transformed with beautiful spot-lighting that prove to you just how proud the Florentines are of their city.We woke the next morning to experience it all by day, a trip to the Duomo, inside and from up above its Brunelleschi dome (yes, the view will be remembered long after the steps are forgotten). Some shopping along the infamous Ponte Vecchio bridge and its endless gold shops and last but not least, a trip to my favourite panino bar Antico Vinaio for the best sandwich of your life (my parents voted too this time, not just mine). We continued on exploring the Palazzo Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery, once the home of the Medici family and now the envy of my own family.
We had worked up an appetite for authentic typical florentine cuisine and on recommendation headed to 'Alla Vecchia Bettola' which was on the other side of the Arno river and an excuse for a beautiful 10 minute sunset walk. This restaurant was raw; exactly what we wanted; a 'cucina tipica fiorentina'. It had a very relaxed atmosphere as if you went to visit your old friends and their nonna was out back cooking up a feast for you. The stand-out, must-try dish was without a doubt their penne alla bettola (which also happens to be their wifi password - handy tip!). It stole the show with flavour, but the 1.5kg T-bone steak that followed it stole the show. Our compliments to the chef.
On our last day in Florence, we left the city to get a taste for Tuscany. Relying on some good reviews and a bit of research we stumbled across a picturesque winery called 'Castello Di Verrazzano'. A two hour drive out into the middle of Tuscany where the winding roads snake their away around rolling hills of green, dotted by manicured vineyards. At a little turn near Grava in Chianti (we almost missed) we came to a road that became a gravel path. Our GPS seemed lost; but sure enough another 150metres on that path and we lost ourselves... in a cellar door wine tasting from heaven. We had a light and beautifully simple lunch of cheeses and three award winning wines for just 19euro. Their Chianti Classico was the star of the show, with a close second place to the unlikely duo of their amazing aged balsamic vinegar and organic olive oil which at $60aud per bottle was worth more than gold.
From here we continued on for a short 40 minute drive to the amazing town of San Gimignano. This tiny medieval walled town perched high on a hill is known for its 9 bell towers that from afar make it look like a modern city scape. It is home to an Augustinian monastery where Gianni actually stayed during a school trip almost 15 years ago! We parked outside the city walls and walked up through amongst the droves of tourists; this place was no secret anymore! Thankfully Gianni somehow still remembered all the streets and navigated us off the beaten track to all the best spots; the main piazza and water fountain, the church of St Augustine to light a candle in memory of his Nonno, and around some of the quiet side streets and artisan shops. At last we reached the world best gelato shop (and this time, it wasn't just me voting, that was a legitimate award), which never has less than 20 people lining up outside its doors so you actually cannot miss it even if you were trying to diet and ignore it! Wine, cheese and gelato, all I needed now was a coffee and I'm a happy woman. How about an espresso martini from the rooftop bar of the Westin Hotel back in Florence overlooking the Duomo? Tick
The next day we would fly out of Florence to Madrid, leaving Italy behind (to return again soon that is for certain). With half the day to ourselves I must confess we headed to the outlet malls for some shopping... Prada, Versace, Dolce, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Cavalli... the names give me goosebumps and seeing them all in one spot made me lose control. I cannot give away their location though... I have to keep some secrets for myself! (Oh ok, message me!)