Florence Italy: Insider’s Guide

lungarno hotel florence

With the world’s top menswear trade show, Pitti Uomo, now a distant memory we thought we’d have a look back at Florence, one of the planet’s most beautiful cities and a centre of European arts and culture.

With a cuisine that is considered one of the world’s finest and weather- whether it be a gloriously hot summer day or a crisp winters day with an impossibly blue sky – is always superb. And the funny thing is that all of this is true.

Where to Stay

Maybe the best way to see both Florence and Tuscany is to rent a villa in one of the surrounding towns, stay for a few weeks and then drive into Florence to take a peek for a couple of days and stay at a hotel. Others may simply prefer an in-town stay where walking is a pleasure.  Either way, in Florence you win!

Villas

Vercenni di Sopra

Villa Vercenni is a luxury house in Chianti that may be rented. It is about a 45 minute drive from central Florence.
Villa Vercenni di Sopra near Florence.

Vercenni Di Sopra near Radda in Chianti some 45 minutes from Florence is the height of restrained luxury and simple elegance.

Decorated throughout in grey and cream and featuring a huge dining room, veranda and kitchen, each replete with its own 12-foot dining table, it is the perfect holiday home for an extended group and sleeps 21.A sister house just 50 metres away sleeps 9. Both houses have their own outdoor pools.

High End  Hotels in Florence

The Hotel Helvetia & Bristol
With no two rooms alike, this thoroughly luxurious establishment right in the cities centre proffers amazingly affordable ‘superior doubles’ featuring Murano glass chandeliers, huge walnut bedsteads and white Carrara marble and whirlpool bath that no-one in their right mind would ever want to leave. Hotel Helvetia & Bristol is a luxury hotel in every sense. Doubles from £400 per night.

The Lungarno Suites
Overlooking the River Arno, this ridiculously stylish all suite, no reception hotel owned by the Ferragamo design dynasty is a cluster of fully serviced apartments with all the requisite amenities. Ideal for the well-heeled family or the traveller who wants to settle into the city this The Lungarno Suites perfect place to stay.  Suites from £380 per night.

Mid Range Hotels in Florence

Villa Poggio San Felice
A favourite of mine, this totally chilled five-room bed and breakfast accommodation, is situated just outside of the busy city and features a beautiful garden full of olive trees and roses that overlooks the city and the all-important swimming pool. Villa Poggio San Felice Doubles from  £300 per night.

Piazza Della Signoria B + B
Built in 1427 and housed in one of the city’s most famous squares, this hotel boasts some nine rooms and three apartments. With marvellous views over the Piazza della Signoria (that leads to the Uffizi) and the Cathedral’s Dome, this is a fine place to stay. Piazza Dell Signori  Doubles £220 Euros Apartments £360.

Budget Hotels in Florence

Hotel Scoti
Something of an institution, this classic pensione is where I first stayed and couldn’t have been happier in. As you step out of this rather run down, but very clean, one star accommodation you are slap bang in the middle of the city’s principal ‘fashion’ street – via de Tournabuoni. Hotel Scoti Doubles from £150 per nigh Euros.

Hotel Machiavelli Palace
A cracking hotel in a superb location, between the railway station and the Duomo, this typically Florentine hotel, featuring a lovely little roof terrace is an absolute bargain. Hotel Machivavelli Palace Doubles from  £115 per night.

Florentine Restaurants

One might assume that the cuisine on offer is impeccable in every restaurant but, to really experience great Florentine food, you will need some guidance as some establishments have gone for the tourist dollar and let the side down.

Having said that, one might get an absolutely pastry or panino (sandwich) at almost any café that will cause you to question just what the likes of Starbucks are selling.

I dolci di Patrizio Cosi

A thoroughly splendid bar that proffers a fine breakfast, Cosi features coffee to die for and the world’s finest pastries – cornetti full of chocolate or wild apricot jam – which will make you weep. I Dolci di Patrizio Cosi 7 till 5pm.

Caffellatte

A good traditional latteria or milk shop with wooden chairs and marble counters they serve caffé latte in great big bowls and quite superb soup and croton – toasted Tuscan bread topped with tomatoes, pate etc. Everything is vegetarian and home cooked while brunch is served all day. 8am – 12 midnight.

Procacci

Located on the ‘fashion’ street, this is one of the oldest delicatessens in Florence and, shortly after it was founded became famous amongst discerning Florentines, for its truffle specialties. The truffle sandwiches are sublime. Procacci

Da Narbone

Situated on the ground floor of the San Lorenzo food market, this is a typical Tuscan food stall that specialises in rolls filled with veal intestines that one eats on the benches opposite, gallantly washed down by the fine young local wine. Mercato Centrale open 7am – 2pm.

Da Sergio

5 minutes away from Narbone, this family run café serves inexpensive, yet traditional Florentine grub that is popular with the market traders and, as such, is really busy all the time. Typically Tuscan, the meat casserole with potatoes is excellent as is the bread and tomato soup.

Lunch only

Trattoria Coco Lezzone
“Years ago I had a meal there,” explains legendary London chef Fergus Henderson.

Trattoria Coco Lezzone serves traditional, fresh Florentine cuisine
Trattoria Coco Lezzone

“Pasta with white truffle, roast lamb, sweet red wine and cantucci – that really changed the way I think about food.I realised that if the key ingredients are good enough, you don’t need other things to hide behind.” Trattoria Coco Lezzone

Open 12 – 2:30 pm and 7 – 11 pm

Cibreo

A quite excellent spot, Fabio Picchi’s world famous eatery caters to locals who might go for kidneys and tripe while the less adventurous might partake of a leg of lamb stuffed with artichokes.

Whatever one chooses, the food, wine and service are beyond reproach but you must book. Next door is, Trattoria Cibreo, that offers a similar menu, less elegantly presented for about half the price but you can’t book. Cibero Open 12:50- 2:30 pm and 7:30- 11:15.

Trattoria Sostanza

A truly wonderful Florentine institution, this is one of the city’s last remaining trattorias that serves the finest bistecca known to man and petto di burro (chicken in butter) that will make your eyes water. Trattoria Sostanza Open Mon – Fri 12:30 – 2pm and 8 – 11pm.

Ice Cream

Vivoli

Maybe one of the world’s top ice cream shops that is a hop skip and a jump from piazza Santa Croce. This is really something that you cannot miss. The riso or rice gelato is the stuff of myth. Vivoli 7.30am – 1am closed Mondays.

Things to see in Florence

There is so much history, art and beauty in Florence that the only way to enjoy it is to buy a good guidebook, read it thoroughly, and pick what you want.

Look out for the magnificent Duomo and the Baptistery, the Boboli Gardens the Accademia, the Uffizi and the library at San Lorenzo. Our advice is, if you want to avoid the quite massive queues, go first thing in the morning or at lunchtime.

Shopping In Florence

Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
This, the greatest perfumers in the world, in the world’s most beautiful shop, was established by a group of Dominican monks shortly after 1221 who began by cultivating their own herbs for use in their monasteries hospice. Today the same methods and ingredients are used while the shop itself is housed in the same 13th Century monastery.

Mercato Dell Pulci (Flea Market) Piazza del Ciompi

Open only on Sundays selling all manner of great junk.

San Lorenzo

One of the globe’s finest food markets that, on the top floor, seems to sell about a thousand varieties of lettuce while the ground floor stores sell superb Tuscan wine at reasonable prices, porcini mushrooms, pasta, bread…. and boy does it smell good.

Fascine

Along the riverside, this is where the locals buy their clothing such as knocked off designer bits and pieces. Open Tuesday morning.

Villa Tournabuoni and Via Calsiauoli

Where all the big fashion brands such as Prada, Gucci and Ferragamo hang out.

Factory Fashion Outlets

For many, a trip to Italy is never complete without stocking up on Italian designer goods that, almost commonplace in their country of origin, are a fraction of the price of what they are abroad – especially of you visit one of the famed factory outlets.

Space: The Prada Outlet in Montevarchi

An hour away by train or car and tucked away at the back of the Prada factory in Montevarchi, the outlet proffers, Prada, Miu Miu, Jill Sander, Helmet Lang and shoes by Church’s. Prices that start at about 50 euros for a coin purse and a few thousand euros or more for a leather coat. 9:30am – 6pm Monday to Sunday.

The Mall

About 45 minutes from Florence going towards Montevarchi just off the A1 Autostrada this horribly named outlet carries about 30 designers including Burberry, Ermenegildo Zegna, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, La Perla, Pucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Valentino, Yohji Yamamoto and Yves Saint Laurent. The chances are that amongst such a retinue of names one might find something you want but be prepared to search. 10am- 7pm Monday-Sunday.

Florence Nightlife

Piazza Santa Spirito -The locals do a lot of hanging out in the evening and this is the best square to watch the fashionable world go by.

Only a hundred metres from the Ponte Vecchio on the less touristy side of the river the piazza features a few good bars and restaurants that are inexpensive and fun.

La Dolce Vita

This small but aptly named bar, just over the River Arno, is something of an institution that attracts a well-dressed yet slightly bohemian crowd.

Best time to go is Happy Hour (7.30-9.30pm) when they field a magnificent drinks buffet or after dinner while on Wednesday and Thursday live jazz and Brazilian bands strut their stuff. Over two rooms the wine is superb, the drinks magnificent and the people stylish.

Capocaccia

A good a place to start as any this nautical flavoured bar next to the river attracts the city’s beautiful people knocking back Negroni’s in sunglasses and designer duds. 10am – midnight.

Central Park

Open throughout the summer, Central Park is a beautiful outdoor nightclub full of beautiful people one might find in London, New York, Barcelona or Milan, but this is Florence and it has 3 dance floors and is situated bang in the middle of the park. Adm. 20-30 Euro.

Doris

The city’s hippest haunt, full of double groovy Florentines with a need to dance, the club has 4 different rooms with different music in each Adm. 10-30 Euro. Closed Sundays.

Florence