I saw the David when I was 12, and I remember it like it was yesterday. A 17-foot-tall marble statue of a nude man with perfectly chiseled abs and biceps? Yeah, that one was seared into my preteen brain for sure. So on my return to Florence last week, I didn’t need to see it. In fact, since we only had about five hours, we decided that it was better to spend it walking around absorbing the city than in lines for museums. If you like to shop vintage, enjoy neighborhoods where locals hang out, and can get down with home cooked fare, here’s my advice for a perfect day wandering through Florence:
Assuming that you arrive via the train station, here’s where to start:
-Stop to admire the Bascillica di Santa Maria Novella and then head to La Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella, by far one of the most elegant stores I’ve ever set foot in, and possibly one of the oldest.
First opened in 1612 by Dominican monks, the store still houses the original showroom and salesroom, as well as a museum. I can’t say that the quality of the products are that much better than what we have here (we overheard the salesperson talking to a tourist about cellulite pills), but buying a burts bees moisturizer will never feel like this. When I spray their perfume at home I think of high ceilings, soft amber lighting, and dangling chandeliers, ornate wood shelves filled with illuminated glass bottles bearing handwritten gold labels, and the scents of rose, lilac, and gardenia that waft around the store. You’d probably just smell perfume, but don’t tell me that. My favorite products are the Angels of Florence perfume, and the Rose-Gardenia Body Milk. The soaps also make great gifts. Products range from $30 eur and up.
-Head to lunch at Tratorria Mario.
At first glance this may look like a tourist trap, the door and windows are covered in travel guide stickers and reviews. Luckily, the food hasn’t absorbed all the hype. The menu, written on brown paper on the wall, has dishes ranging from 5 to 10 euros, all described by their main ingredient and nothing else: bean soup, fried chicken, beef stew, roasted rabbit, etc. The servers turn around communal tables fast, but they are courteous and there when you need them. While so many of the restaurants we went to called attention to their pricey foie gras, the miniscule bits of pig cheek in a carbonara, or the fresh fava beans (that ended up tasteless), the walls at Trattoria Mario say something different and refreshing: here is the food. You don’t need me to tell you that they’ve been making the same family recipes for more than 50 years, you can taste it. I would have their tuscan bean soup every week if I could; all I can assume is that it must have been made with really good beans, really good olive oil, and a really good piece of toasted garlicky bread that surprised us at the bottom of the bowl. The beef stew fell apart in a wine reduction sauce, and I ate more of it than I thought possible. They don’t take reservations, so plan on waiting 10-15 minutes.
-Cross the bridge and head to Piazza Santo Spiritu for a coffee. On the way, just before you hit the plaza, stop into Roberto Ugolini, an artisan shoe store with killer men’s shoes and cute salesboys. The Santo Spiritu church is a stark contrast to the Florence duomo, its shape is humble, the walls are a soft yellow, and the cement steps look like somewhere I would want to sit and people watch. This is the quintessential piazza for me: art students paint on their easels, several cafes have outdoor seating, and the tourists with their gelato cones and their cameras strapped to their limbs seem very far away. I’ve read that there are local markets here on Sundays. Down Via delle Caldaie there were a few cute bakeries and cafes.
-For some vintage shopping walk down Via del Serragli and head to Albrici and Recollection (in the same building).
This is a treasure chest of antique furnishings and vintage clothing, some of it repurposed into new forms. My friend picked up a sparkling purse that was supposedly made with a countess’s dress. I got some fabulous red snake skin pants, and almost got a tiger-print ballerina dress but luckily someone stopped me.
-Finish the day off by following Via del Serrgali over the bridge and head to check out the Duomo. It doesn’t have chiseled arms, but it’s still memorable.
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