I first fell in love with Florence after watching the film, A Room With A View and as the sun sets on the Arno, the ancient river that meanders through the city, I’m finding it hard not to fall in love all over again.
As the birthplace of the Renaissance, its no surprise the city offers incredible art, museums, churches and sculptures, but its modern delights of shopping and eating are also so wonderful they will make you swoon.
With so much history in every corner, it can be hard to know where to start in this bustling, bewitching city. Luckily our Trafalgar local specialist, Penelope, knows every corner of the city inside and out, and she shared her passion and insider knowledge to make the ancient city’s secrets come to life.
Visit the world’s most unique fragrance store
Dating back to 1200, the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one of the world’s oldest pharmacies housed in one of the world’s most unique shops - an old monastery. Stepping inside the unassuming shopfront is like being transported back in time. But if you can tear yourself away from the imposing frescos, detailed architecture, elaborate chandeliers and antique furnishings, then sample the scents – all steeped in history.
My friend Julie and I happily dedicated ourselves to trying as many as possible of the house’s 90+ signature scents, including the famed original perfume created for Catherine de Medici in 1533. But I settled for the Cinquante – a sweet but spicy melange that transports me back to this heavenly place every time I wear it.
See how truly great handbags are made
At the top of my `Things to Buy in Italy’’ shopping list is the perfect handbag, and Florence – the home to great Italian leather – is the place to find it. The city is renowned for it’s history of creating and working with the most buttery and sublime leather, which is why a group of us have ventured to Sculoa de Cuoio in the grand Monastery of Santa Croce. To truly understand the craftsmanship that goes into making a beautiful handbag, Scuola del Cuoio, or Leather School, is a must. The fashion lovers amongst our group hungrily wander through the magnificent building watching artisans ply their trade, conjuring stunning clutches, totes and backpacks. As I try on a beautiful cross body handbag, I fall in love. This particular darling is coming home with me.
If you really want to understand Italy you need to understand it’s all about the food. And there is no better way to get to the heart of Italian cooking faster than to head to a local neighbourhood market – especially with a local expert in tow. In Florence, exploring the local delicacies with Chef Libero of renowned local restaurant Villa Machiavelli is a lesson in learning how to shop like a local. By that I mean to take huge pleasure in finding the best and freshest ingredients to cook with. It also means tasting and trying as you go which was (not surprisingly) my favourite part. The highlight was sampling the Florentine delicacy tripa a la Fiorentina (or, tripe Florentine–style). This was not your average street food but the rich, spicy meat, stuffed into a bread roll worked as an authentic mid-market snack.
Find out why there are numerous Davids and other hidden secrets
Sure, there’s the world-famous David statue housed in Florence’s Accademia Gallery, but what most visitors to the city don’t know is that there are copies of the famed nude elsewhere (the tourist key rings and snow globes notwithstanding). For example, one marble copy - an exact replica of Michelangelo’s famous creation - stands proudly in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. It’s these sorts of fascinating facts that I wouldn’t have known about if not for the immensely knowledgeable Penelope, our Trafalgar local specialist. For a city where history lurks around every corner, a guided city tour made all the difference. We didn’t have to worry about navigating the city, following maps or missing out on crucial sights.
The other advantage of being part of a larger group, like that of Trafalgar, is that someone is always on hand to grab a tray of espressos so you don’t have to stand in line. Which is exactly how we finished our guided city tour – sipping our coffees as we watched an extraordinary sun set over one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Ponte Vecchio. Sigh.