Flying over the magnificent rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, heading for Florence was like a scene straight out of Letters to Juliet. I had to pinch myself a few times to believe that I was finally getting to experience a small taste Italy and one of its most beautiful cities. There’s just something about Italy that fills me with wonder – from the medieval towns, rich history and style, it’s always held such appeal and been on my bucket list forever! We arrived in Florence to the most beautiful clear blue skies with not a cloud insight – and an intense humid heat that neither of us anticipated!
We took a bus from the airport to the city’s main railway station, Firenze Santa Maria Novella and had a seemingly doable 10-minute walk to our hotel… Fast-forward 10 minutes later and thank goodness Coke had been doing a promotion outside the station, handing out ice-cold 1 litre bottles of Coke otherwise I think you would still find me laying in a dishevelled heap on a side street somewhere in Florence. This was probably the one point on our trip when I had a proper sense of humour failure and was not loving life – the initial thrill of being in Italy was very short lived as I dragged my suitcase down tiny little cobbled streets trying to dodge thousands of tourists, with my t-shirt glued to my body and hair plastered to my face while trying to keep up with my husband. When we finally made it to our hotel I don’t think I have ever been so grateful for air-conditioning in my life! After taking an ice cold shower and a moment to regroup, one look out of our hotel window and the magic was back.
Our hotel was located in the centre of Florence very close to the Duomo di Firenze (a staggeringly beautiful piece of architecture) which served as a great landmark to get out bearings as it’s quite easy to lose your sense of direction in Florence. Walking is also the best way to see the city as many of the streets are closed to traffic and as Florence is actually quite a small city, you can cover a lot of it in a relatively short amount of time. As it was peak season, we chose not to go to any of the museums or cathedrals as the queues were ridiculously long and spending a few hours standing in queues really did not appeal. Instead we chose to wander the streets taking in the magnificent architecture while indulging in the most delicious gelato! A few must-see sights though – a walk over the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest, most iconic bridge in Florence with its hundreds of jewellery stores that line both sides of the bridge (you may need to sell an organ or two if you’re looking to purchase any of the glittering delights but it is definitely a feast for the eyes!) The bridge crosses the narrowest point of the Arno River and is was once an entrance point into the city. After crossing the Ponte Vecchio, we wandered the less touristy parts of Florence and then did a 20-minute hike from the Piazza Poggi which took us up to Piazzale Michelangelo, a huge square on top of the hill that gives you a breathtakingly beautiful panoramic view of the city below. It’s a decent walk and in 37-degree heat, slightly more challenging but it is a pretty one and well worth the trek! There is also a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David at the top so if you don’t get to the original, you can catch a glimpse of it at the top 🙂
Florence is just as beautiful at night as it is in the day and it was so lovely to stroll the streets looking for a little spot for dinner. The first night we chose a restaurant down a little side street and the second night we ate at one on the restaurants in the squares surrounded by the dazzling architecture and statues. The pizza and pasta was so delicious and the wine drinkable considering we opted for house specials (we are definitely very spoilt for choice when it comes to good wine at reasonable prices in South Africa!) If you don’t eat in the main squares, the prices are not too expensive although wherever you go, alcohol is very pricey! The streets are filled with musicians and buskers and as it was so warm, we wandered through the streets walking off our dinner in search of gelato – and the best one we came across was GROM, where they make gelato “like it used to be made” and have over 25 month-wateringly delicious and indulgent flavours to choose from which makes actually deciding what to have quite a challenge!
As mentioned, Florence is quite small so in the first two days we felt we had seen most of what we wanted to see and done more than enough shopping (Italy had fantastic sales too!) so when we spotted a day tour through Tuscany, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to see more of Italy. The tour was with Walkabout Florence and although it was on the pricey side, it did not disappoint and was worth every penny! More on that to come so stay tuned 🙂