After a week in Cornwall with our friends, we popped back to London, then flew straight on to Florence!
I visited Florence once before, with my drama group when I was sixteen. I loved it then, and vowed to return; but I didn’t realise I would do it in quite such wonderful circumstances. Tom and I stayed at Palazzo Guadagni, a Renaissance palazzi that has been converted into a hotel. Formerly a grand private residence belonging to a wealthy 16th century family, it is not only completely charming but located in the Santo Spirito neighbourhood, which is much quieter than other tourist-filled areas and also renowned for it’s antique and artisan boutiques.
We listened to La Traviata a lot. I really could not have been happier.
The loggia, now converted into a ‘rooftop garden’ (bar) that overlooks the city centre and Florentine hills beyond. I would like a loggia please.
Reading on the loggia after breakfast
Posing on the loggia at sunset
The rooms were spacious, far more so than any of the 5* hotels we’ve stayed in, and we spent a fair amount of time admiring the view across crooked terracotta rooftops. My only complaint about Italy is that it’s very difficult to get champagne anywhere. You’re forced to drink prosecco, and I can’t stand the stuff. Sorry Italy. We managed to buy a bottle of champagne nearby though, and the hotel were good enough to bring us an ice bucket and champagne flutes (prosecco flutes?), so we could enjoy it on the ‘rooftop garden’ one evening.
Our room was at the top of the palazzo, and whilst there was a creaking lift Tom preferred taking the stairs. When the stairs are as pretty as these I could hardly complain though.
It’s a long way down
The elegant private-entrance to Palazzo Guadagni
We spent a lot of time simply exploring the streets of Florence, admiring the architecture and wandering into boutiques and galleries we came across. I do think this is the most relaxing way you can explore a city, and you get a far better sense of its soul than if you simply follow the other tourists. Occasionally we would stumble across the main thoroughfares, and recoil in horror at the madding crowd.
The whole city seems to glow a warm, golden colour. I couldn’t help but suspect that the warmth of Tuscany would pervade even when it rained.
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore
My absolute favourite boutique was Maurizio Salici. We came across it one evening on our way home, and it beckoned to me like a magical toyshop. “We can come back tomorrow!” Tom promised, dragging me away. The window display alone was enough to lure me in; its carefully crafted clutter of antiques, ornaments and books had me transfixed.
We did indeed return the next day, and I wandered around blissfully. My eye was caught by a trinket from the 1700s, when pieces of coral were attached to wooden lion’s feet (the lion being Florence’s heraldic symbol thanks to the Medici family), and gifted to newlyweds as good-luck charms. Maurizio Salici doesn’t usually allow photography, but as I, er, bought it, they suggested I might like to take just one photo of it in the shop before it was wrapped up. So I did, of course!
The shopping in Florence in general is delightful though, and I was guided by Louise Fili’s little book ‘The Civilised Shopper’s Guide to Florence’. She took me to artisan chocolate shops like Dolceforte, seventeenth century perfume shops like Officina Profumo Farmaceutica Di Santa Maria Novella, and Scriptorium, which sells everything for the lover of handmade books and calligraphy.
There are too many wonderful things to see and do in Florence for me to tell you about everything, but I must show you the Boboli Gardens. The wealthy and powerful figures of the Italian Renaissance competed to illustrate their status through increasingly spectacular gardens, and a few of these still exist today. Monty Don’s BBC series on Italian gardens is an excellent introduction, and he is invited into many gardens as exclusive today as they were in the Renaissance, but the Boboli Gardens are actually open to the public.
Your tour-guide Tom will show you around
Neptune and heron
Tom and I spent a very enjoyable half hour hunting the lizards that have made their home in the walled garden, to the horror of all the other tourists there
For seven euros you can spend as long as you want exploring these beautiful gardens. They’re well maintained, and different areas lead you cleverly onwards to discover a multitude of grottos, statues and temples. They cover 111 acres in total, and overlook the Pitti Palace, the main seat of the Medici grand dukes of Tuscany in Florence.
Oh, and there’s a nice cafe as well. Which is very important, I’m sure you’d agree. Here’s a picture of Tom looking at the menu in front of some lemons.
I really do love Florence, and it was a perfect continuation of our honeymoon. Tom’s organisation skills were not limited to one Italian city, however. The wonders of Venice beckon…
I’ll show you around in my next blog post!
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