our guide to florence
Florence bejewels Tuscany, bringing its special beauty into full flower. The Arno river, a bright ribbon running through its ancient centre, and verdant garden hillsides frame the historic monuments that demand admiration. Yet this is a city to savour slowly, for Florence was enough to leave Stendahl, among others, breathless for good reason. It is a city overlaid with extravagance – so many masterpieces in the galleries, so many architectural wonders that stop you in your tracks, so many elegant shops and exclusive boutiques to choose from, so much noise and bustle.
That said, its historic centre is emminently walkable and spots that welcome a weary tourist are around every corner. As the centre is closed to traffic, the easiest way to visit Florence is to travel to it by bus or train – the station is a short walk away from the Duomo and the centre of of the city. Once there, wander, rather than race, and leave plenty of time to duck into the peace of a church interior or the pleasure of a gelateria.
Not quite as old as some of its Tuscan neighbors, Florentia was founded as a Roman military colony in the 1st Century B.C. Traces of its Roman heritage are seen in its grid layout and the vast Piazza della Repubblica, once the ancient forum. Throughout its history, aided by it navigable river and the rich lands surrounding it, the city grew from a small cit of moneylenders and cloth makers to become a powerful republic, the seat of the Duchy of Tuscany and for a brief period (1865-70) a capital of Italy. It held preeminence in commerce and finance, learning and the arts.
Florence’s history is stamped with the names of the men who contributed to it – men of towering wealth or artistic genius such as the generations of the Medici family, its most-renowned rulers, and artists such as Dante, Machiavelli, Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo. Together such leaders contributed to the Renaissance itself and the city’s distinctive skyline.
events in and around florence
Calcio Storico in Florence – 24 June & two other days in early June
This 16th C. form of football, played in a giant sand pit in front of Santa Croce, has teams of 27, the vigor of rugby and a fairly lax set of rules.
Festa dell’Uva in Impruneta – last Sunday in September
Impruneta’s autumnal grape celebration of the bounty of its vineyards fills its streets with allegorical wagons and the piazza with merriment.
Estate Fiesolana in Fiesole – June to end of July
This music and dance festival is the hills overlooking Florence places performers and spectators in its ancient Roman theatre.
Festa delle Rificolona in Florence – 7 September
The festival of colorful paper lanterns celebrating the birth date of the Virgin Mary is also a market day in the square of Santissima Annunziata
Display of the Virgin’s Girdle in Prato – 8 September
In a city famous for its textiles, one accessory is considered a holy relic. The Virgin Mary’s girdle, or belt, given to St. Thomas & carried from Jerusalem in 1141, is displayed from the external pulpit of St. Stephen’s
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence – May to early July
Opera is the highlight of Florence’s popular music festival, but additional concerts also offer sample of modern musical trends.
White Truffle Fair in San Miniato – last 3 weekends in November
Wholesale buyers and curious tasters alike make their way to this charming town to honor the precious white truffle harvested nearby.
Pistoia Blues in Pistoia’s Piazza del Duomo – 5 July
For five days Pistoia draws some of the big names in Blues and beyond to its piazzas, filling them with sound, street food & movement to music.
International Ceramics Festival in Montelupo Fiorentino – 2-5 June
Known for a ceramic tradition rooted in the Middle Ages, Montelupo becomes an international atelier with demos and unique pieces.
Festa di San Lorenzo in Florence – 10 August
San Lorenzo is one of Florence’s two patron saints, the other St. John the Baptist. This festival offers a bit of everything, from parades, to church visits to music to free food on the ‘night of the falling stars’.
things to do in & around florence
Enjoy a spa day in one of Montecatini Terme’s four spas. Mud, massage, baths and beauty treatments await to help melt the stress of touring perhaps one too many museums.
Celebrate Leonardo’s 500th anniversary with exhibitions of his life’s work whether you visit Palazzo Strozzi in Florence or head to the Museo Leonardiano in his hometown Vinci.
Hop on a Vespa and tour the hills around Florence. Use this iconic means of transport to get out of town and explore the green surroundings.
Follow your appetite through the Mercato Centrale at San Lorenzo. Purchasing the quality ingredients or lunching in the food court, a hungry visitor will think this heaven.
Climb to San Miniato al Monte which sits on one of the highest points of the city. San Minato‘s decor, inside and out are lavish and its history dating from the 3rd C. is fascinating.
Raft the Arno River either under Florence’s historic bridges or out in whiter waters. Touring from the water level which give you new perspective of this ancient city & its surroundings.
nearby towns & sites
San Miniato al Monte
Medici country houses
food and wine
NB: Florence will have a market somewhere every day of the week.
MONDAYS – Fiesole, Vinci, Montespertoli, San Casciano in Val di Pesa
TUESDAYS – San Miniato, Montelupo Fiorentino, Empoli, Pontassieve
WEDNESDAYS – Impruneta, Vinci, Barberino Val d’Elsa, Bagno a Ripoli
THURSDAYS – Prato, Montecatini Terme, Tavarnelle in Val di Pesa
FRIDAYS – Montaione, Pontassieve, Signa, Calenzano
SATURDAYS – Montelupo Fiorentino, Castelfiorentino, Sesto Fiorentino