Lovers have scampered to Tuscany for centuries. Verona may have Romeo, and Venice may have singing gondoliers, but Tuscany has glorious hulking bistecca alla fiorentina steaks washed down with great carafes of rich chianti wine, secluded walks in sprawling renaissance gardens, hill-top sunsets, and art, architecture and aperitivi aplomb. Rent a car and hit the road from Pisa to explore and fully appreciate Tuscany’s beautiful cities and landscapes.
Florence is a city which doesn’t need too much of an itinerary, but if you’re planning a long weekend with your beloved, you’ll want to know how to make the most of it.
Buried in the boho district of Oltrano, between the River Arno and the infamous Boboli Gardens, is the exquisite Florentine Ad Astra Hotel, situated on the first floor of a sprawling ancestral home.
High frescoed ceilings and antique chandeliers are paired with up-cycled lamps, vintage 50s and 60s Italian furniture, and art from local artisans and distant travels, giving the impression you’ve been invited to stay at a trendy aristocrat’s home, rather than a hotel.
Days begin here in the lounge, sipping on espresso, and gorging on tiny pastries and prosciutto, then wind down on the terrace, with an aperitivo overlooking the largest private gardens in Europe.
There are 12 rooms to choose from, each uniquely decorated. A personal favourite is a room inspired by a Pucci scarf which is now framed and hung proudly on bright blue walls, adorned with vintage lamps, posters, a signed note from Pucci and (two!) showers. The free-standing bath in the bedroom, complete with all of those lovely little luxurious bottles, will do a myriad of wonders for those sore limbs and set you up very nicely for a night on the tiles/ cobbles.
Florence is a city of architectural splendour and is, mercifully, relatively compact; the best way to explore it is to wander your way through the thoroughfares and not worry too much about where you’ll end up. Meander along Florence’s oldest and most celebrated bridge – the Ponte Vecchio – or along the Ponte Santa Trinita for a postcard snapshot of this Florentine icon. Head to the city’s spiritual heart, Piazza del Duomo to see the glittering white and green Duomo – you can spot it from most corners of the city, but up close it dazzles. The Piazza della Signoria – the city’s political hub – is a perfect patch to pause and watch the city go about its day-to-day business, though do stop to marvel at the towering Palazzo Vecchio and Fountain of Neptune.
Tucked behind the Basilica of Sante Croce, the Medici Chapels are looming testament to the family’s artistic patronage and grandeur and if you wander back through Piazza della Repubblica, stop for desert or a cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) at Cafe Gilli, a Florentine institution which has served the upper echelons of society since 1733.
Take heed, Florence’s nickname is ‘Cradle of the Renaissance’ for good reason. A day spent at art galleries in Florence is not a light undertaking; Florence was a hotbed of renaissance creativity hundreds of years ago and is still reaping the results, with over 70 museums and thousands of works of art housed in Florence’s many sprawling renaissance palaces.
You won’t get to visit the whole lot but it’s wise to decide which galleries and museums you like the sound of best and reserve a slot ahead of your visit, else you may well spend a few hours of your romantic weekend in a long queue playing ‘Guess who I am’.
Undoubtedly two of the most popular museums (for good reason) include the Uffizi Gallery, which is home to masterpieces by Caravaggio, Da Vinci and Botticelli, and the Galleria dell’Acadamia, home to Michelangelo’s magnificent David statue. Don’t miss the vertigo-inducing 414 step clamber to the top of the Duomo – the frescoes of the Last Judgement by Giorgio Vasari are nothing short of spectacular and the view from the top of the Cupola (whilst Duomo-less) is breathtaking.
If you’ve had enough of staring into the eyes of your good-looking other half, sunset is a good chance to have a good look at something different. Follow the steep winding path from San Niccolò to Piazzale Michelangelo for a sweeping view of Florence. You won’t be the only couple up here but with that view you won’t care. Meander back down to the Oltrano afterwards for an aperitivo at an intimate enoteca like Bevo Vino for typical Florentine tagliere of local salamis, cheese and breads or home-made crostini.
A mere passeagata away from Piazza della Repubblica, in the lesser visited Sant’Ambrogio quarter, is one of Florence’s best kept secrets. Part 1920s speakeasy, part cocktail laboratory, Bitter Bar creates experimental cocktails in what is surely the most romantic bar in Florence. It’s hard to spot and you’ll have to ring the doorbell to get in, but it’s worth the search. Cristiano has created an elaborate and playful menu, which uses new techniques to invoke the tastes of the past with a modern twist – think smoking limes, on-site barrel aged whisky and mint bitters. What could be more blissful than relaxing back into the folds of that sumptuous velvet sofa with your amore, listening to the sounds of prohibition jazz and sipping on Florentine cocktails all evening?
Bitter Bar also offers a bespoke two-hour workshop- ‘the art of the perfect negroni’- which includes a history, hands-on tutorial and the chance to create your very own recipe, the perfect romantic memento.
Head to the vine covered hills of Chianti to sample the delights of Chianti Classico, Maremma and Bolgheri wines at Fattoria Vittico, in Greve. Just 30 km from Florence (less than an hour away by car/bus), Vitticio offers guided tours though the vineyard and cellars, offering a unique insight into the journey from grape to bottle.
If you’d like to sample the wines at the source, you can also book on to a guided wine tasting, which includes four different wines, paired with olive oil, regional salami, local pecorino and fresh bread.
Florence is for the greedy traveller. It is a maze of tiny osterie, ristorante, pasticcerie and focaccerie, all beckoning to be sampled. The charred bistecca alla fiorentina, a three-finger deep T-bone of Chiavina beef steak, is a must – try it with the locals at Trattoria La Casa Linga. Other Florentine specials include wide ribbons of fresh pappardelle laden with a hearty ragu, crostini smothered in pate (traditionally chicken liver) and sweet cattucci biscuits. SottArno, a delightfully stylish cafe on the other side of the river prepare some spectacularly moreish ones.
For dinner with a view, try Golden Open Bar, which offers views of the iconic Ponte Vecchio and jazz on most evenings – the pappardelle al cinghiale is sublime.
Florence is also exceptional at sandwiches – try schiacciata bread filled with sbriciolona (fenel infused salami), creamy pecorino and an artichoke cream at All’Antico Vinaio (though be prepared to queue), or for a more sobering, rather less romantic experience, try Lampredetto (tripe sandwich) at the newly renovated Mercato Centrale, which is full of local colours and flavours.
Florence is internationally renowned for its gold, leather and ceramics, and there are also plenty of boutiques and artisan workshops selling such items, all of which are crying out for a visit from you and your loved one. For what could possibly say ‘I love you’ more than the communal purchase of a new blue Florentine butter dish? Or new ceramic doorknobs? Or a gold ring? Pay a visit to Alessandro Dari, a unique goldsmith in Oltrano who crafts spectacular jewellery, micro-sculptures and art pieces. Or, pop your head into Scuola del Cuoio, a tannery offering free weekday tours which include a leather making demonstration, as well as half-day workshops for those looking to learn a little more. Or, if you’ve been inspired by the great Renaissance masters and fancy a dabble yourself, take a trip to Francesca Vannini’s wonderful art studio, Decorazioni e Pitture, which offers courses in artistic techniques ranging from fresco painting to trompe l’oeil to marbling.
- Alessandra D'Almo