The capital city of Italy’s Tuscany region seamlessly blends history with uberstylish modernism — and offers plenty of decadent cuisine both in its famous locales and off the beaten path.
by Amina El Farnawany
I wake up in a room overlooking Via del Leone, a typically Italian narrow street with buildings squeezed in tightly in what’s made its way into my heart as my favorite city — Florence, or in Italian Firenze. I look out the window and feel the winter wind. If I stretch my arms far enough it feels like I could reach my neighbors’ window across the street. I walk down the stairs and open the brown door with black splashes of paint, which distinguish the building from all others on the street, and start my day exploring the city.
I make my first stop a few meters away at Hemingway, a small local cafe owned by an Italian man and his daughter, who’s also the short-haired brunette barista. She serves my cappuccino, and I’m off leaving the largely residential part of the city to the more commercial and touristic area. I walk towards the bridge Ponte alla Carraia and as I cross, I’m able to see the Ponte Santa Trinita to my right and Florence’s most famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, to my left. Walking on a bridge has never been more joyful. Florence’s bridges have a magical way of capturing the beauty of the clear blue sky in the morning sun that shines brightly even in winter.[caption id="attachment_531981" align="alignnone" width="620"] Ponte Vecchio[/caption]
My first stop is Via de’ Tornabuoni, Florence’s most expensive shopping street. Gucci, Prada, Bulgari and any other designer you’re likely to see in Vogue is on this street.[caption id="attachment_531984" align="alignnone" width="620"] Via de Tornabuoni[/caption]
There are all the high-end designers you can think of, but I’ve never seen such window displays that make window-shopping entertaining—not even on Paris’ Champs Elysee or New York City’s 5th Avenue. The window displays on the Via de’ Tornabuoni feel like art. The buildings are historic and the stores inside are very modern, but the past and present blend effortlessly.[caption id="attachment_531983" align="alignnone" width="620"] Via de Tornabuoni[/caption]
I make my way to Strozzi Palace to have Sunday brunch at Odeon Bistro, an elegant eatery with outdoor tables. It’s next to the very stylish wine bar Cole Bereto, which makes people-watching entertaining as the spot draws an elegantly dressed crowd.
After brunch, I head to Florence’s most famous square: Piazza della Repubblica, which is always lively at all times, day or night. I sit on a bench next to the carousel and watch children blow bubbles while listening to the street musicians sing English songs. Tremendously talented street artists paint the most breathtaking art on the ground. I take a stroll through the surrounding streets and watch people ride by on bicycles.[caption id="attachment_531982" align="alignnone" width="620"] Piazza della Repubblica[/caption]
Before I know it, it’s time to meet up a friend for dinner in Osteria Santo Spiritio, one of my favorite restaurants. I walk back through the historical and oldest bridge in Florence, the Ponte Vecchio, and pass the little jewelry shops that line the colorful, medieval bridge on both sides. As the sun sets, I watch the clear sky that Firenze is known for. I reach the restaurant, which has outdoor seating with the view of the vibrant piazza filled locals. It’s time for dinner—and I will have it as Italians do it.
Italians start off with an antipasti, or appetizer, then move to the primi piatti and secondi piatti (first and second course). For starters, I order crostini di fegato (bread with liver paste): a famous Florentine appetizer. My primi piatti, recommended by friends who live in Florence, is gnocchi—an Italian dumpling made from potatoes—here topped with gorgonzola cheese and truffle oil. This is the most delicious dish of the night. Dessert or dolce should come next, but I pass and go with the traditional espresso after the meal.
I cross the street and walk into Volume, a lively local cafe with quirky design and a unique vibe. Here you will find young Italian locals, painters and musicians—but you’ll probably never spot two matching chairs.
What could be more cliché than riding a Vespa in Italy? Yet it’s still one of the most thrilling experiences you can have here. Florence is known for being a city where most people get around by walking or biking. So when you’re riding a Vespa, there are no cars or traffic jams with people honking to alarm you—just the sheer joy of the refreshing night wind and the beautiful destination: the Piazzale Michael Angelo, perched on a hill overlooking Florence with a stunning panoramic view of the city.[caption id="attachment_531980" align="alignnone" width="620"] Piazzale Michael Angelo[/caption]
There’s one more stop before heading home: gelato! Gelateria La Carraia, one of the most famous and highly recommended gelaterias in Florence, doesn’t disappoint. The gelato is delectably creamy and the gelateria offers a huge variety of flavors. The nociolla flavor, a mix of hazelnut and chocolate, is definitely worth sampling. I take my cone and sit on the bridge, forgetting the cold weather and enjoying the scenic view. The bridge is crowded with groups of friends sharing wine and laughter or couples enjoying a romantic evening.
Beautiful scenery, charming people and irresistible cuisine—how could you not fall in love with Florence? The mixture of history and modernity has never seemed so effortless. I never understood what character means when describing a city, but nothing conveys Florence more accurately than this word.
Out and About
There are no direct flights from Cairo to Florence. Alitalia, Lufthansa, KLM and Air France all operate flights with one stopover, ranging from 6-8 hours duration.
Hemingway Firenze Piazza Piattellina, 9 Tel: +39 055 284781
Odeon Bistro Piazza degli Strozzi, 8 Tel: +39 055 215654
Osteria Santo Spirito Piazza Santo Spirito, 16/R Tel: +39 055 238 2383
Volume Piazza Santo Spirito, 5/red
Gelateria La Carraia Piazza Nazario Sauro, 25-red Tel: +39 055 280695