I hate queuing – for anything – so with no prior booking, the cunning plan was to visit Florence’s fabulous Galleria degli Uffizi on a Sunday afternoon around 3.30. My hope was that most of the tourist groups would have departed by then and, surprise, surprise – it worked! Built by Cosimo de Medici, these offices of state give a whole new meaning to ‘working from home’ which, for the de Medici family, was in a palazzo filled with priceless Roman sculptures, Giottos, da Vincis, Raphaels and Botticellis. This fabled, fabulously wealthy family brought a frisson of glamour to Florence, put pizzazz into the piazzas. Acting as bankers to popes and kings, their princely collection of art treasures saw Florence’s star rocket skywards and spearhead the Italian Renaissance. www.uffizi.org
WEAVING SOME de MEDICI MAGIC
Determined to dodge the crowds, we head early into Florence’s Medieval heart to see the Medici Chapels and the Duomo which, even to the atheists’ eye, is the most divine piece of Renaissance architecture. There’s no activity, just a sign informing us that the Chapels aren’t open on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Mondays of the month and yes, this is the third! What are the odds? However, the Basilica of San Lorenzo is just around the corner and the city’s first cathedral, rebuilt in the mid-15th century, reveals itself as a masterpiece of Florentine architecture filled with hauntingly beautiful Michelangelo sculptures. Italian churches have long moonlighted as art galleries filled with religious iconography and the Basilica is a fine example with works by Donatello, Lippi and Bronzino. Michelangelo’s New Sacristy houses the tomb of Lorenzo de Medici while the tomb of Cosimo de Medici, who died in 1464 and was honoured as the ‘Father of the Nation’, rests in an immense Renaissance sarcophagus.
As a glorious repository of Renaissance art, it’s easy to see why Florence attracts a ga-zillion tourists. Yes it’s fabulous and yes, the architecture is enthralling at every turn but to get into any of the 72 museums takes military planning. To cross some, including Michelangelo’s David at Galleria dell’Accademia, off your bucket list, purchase a 72-hour Firenze Card www.firenzecard.it but check opening hours first!
AND WHEN YOU’VE HAD YOUR FILL OF MUSEUMS….
Time your visit to the marvellous Medieval Ponte Vecchio during a romantic Tuscan sunset when the city’s rich hues softly reflect on the Arno River and watch the rowers silently stroke their way to the clubhouse.
Venture along the Arno River’s left bank and explore neighbourhoods like Santo Spirito where artisans work their craft restoring and creating in their bottegas. Sons sit in shop doorways honing their tailoring skills under their fathers’ watchful eyes while the locals in Piazza Santo Spirito deliver an uninterrupted slice of Florentine life.
Stop at Gelateria della Passera for tangy gelato flavours like pink grapefruit, cherry and port or try making a decision with 80 flavours on offer at Festival del Gelato off Piazza della Repubblica.
Visit one of the world’s most beautiful apothecaries, Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella at Via della Scala 16 for an utterly Florentine experience. Established 600 years ago by Dominican friars, original recipes are still used to create lotions and potions from botanicals gathered from the pharmacy’s own garden. Their best seller, Acqua di Santa Maria Novella, was created for Catherine de Medici . www.smnovella.it
Stroll Corsini Gardens at Via Fratelli Rosselli, 37, a walled oasis that envelops a 16th century palazzo and inhale the fragrant blooms
Leather workers have worked on a cobweb of cobbled streets near Santa Croce Church since the Middle Ages. The streets still house stores and kerbside stalls selling commercial Florentine leathergoods while the Ferragamo Museum www.ferragamo.com/museo, located on the lower ground floor of their flagship store on Piazza Santa Trinita, celebrates the romance and history of a brand that spans the globe.
And when you need to hail a taxi, go electric. New taxi licenses are only granted for electric cars and by embracing renewable road energy, Florence’s spectacular architecture – and future tourists – will be the ultimate beneficiaries.
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