It’s always wonderful having a loved one visit you in your new, adopted home. It’s even more wonderful when that loved one is someone who brings a little bit of joy into your life each and every day. We’ve needed it, Hannah and I. We needed that little dash of escapism; a chance to both just shake off our stresses and allow ourselves to feel totally, utterly happy. I wanted to take her away from reality, just the two of us, in this dream of a city. And oh, it was absolutely idyllic. Because Hannah? She’s one of a kind. She has one of the warmest hearts you will ever come across. She just radiates positivity and passion; she makes you feel like you can do anything. Those dreams you had? She tells you they can be a reality. And for that, I adore her. Of course, me being me, I had an itinerary planned for every step of the weekend (which I had re-written about twenty times, please note). I just wanted it to be perfect. I wanted her to experience all of my favourite things, the places that filled me with passion and the sights that took over my soul. So, in true Amber style, I present to you my Top 10 Picks for a long weekend in Firenze. And believe me – this doesn’t even scratch the surface of what this blissful city has to offer!
Step 1 – Gusta Pizza (obvs)
She landed Friday evening. We greeted eachother like long lost lovers (much to the amusement of the conservative crowds around us) and took to the arno for an adorable moonlit stroll. After refusing to ever return to Gusta Pizza from pure shame (the Wednesday that shall never be spoken about), I plucked up the courage so she could experience THE best pizza in the whole damn world.
Step 2 – Santa Spirito Cocktails
Long story short, Gusta put us back under his spell and we ended up downing cocktails and prosecco in Santa Spirito and then falling into the depths of questionable life choices (aka hitching a ride with a 60 year old Italian guy on the back of his motorbike home). You stay classy, Cardiff galz.
Step 3 – Gelato o’clock
Fast forward through the after effects of consuming all the alcohols known to man (hint: worst hangover of 2015) and we’re putting on our brave faces to take on Firenze the next day. First stop; gelato (because, you know, our stomachs weren’t quite ready for a full Italian breakfast). It’s not a visit to Firenze without sampling the Pink Grapefruit in Bar Gelateria on Via Dei Calzaiuoli. I mean, seriously. It’s like little spoonfuls of heaven and I will never get bored of it. Sitting in my favourite “gelato eating” spot on Piazza Della Repubblica whilst listening to some idyllic street music; it fixed the hangover up a treat.
Step 4 – Get to the top of the city
Luckily, the sun gods had blessed us with a beautiful weekend. Florence in the sunshine; there’s nothing like it. The city lights up in a mirage of sparkling golds, intoxicating you with every footstep. So where better to drink it all in than the top of the city?
Typically, being a stunning Saturday, the queue for the actual Duomo was ridiculous… but the Bell Tower? Not so much. It’s a pretty good second option, if you ask me.
414 steps later (on VERY tricky stomachs) we finally reached the very top. And that moment. The moment you’re surrounded by the 360 degree view of pure beauty… it’s like a punch straight in the stomach. There’s nothing quite like it; those that follow this blog will know how much I love seeing a city from its highest point. And I’ll let you in on a secret; getting the Duomo itself basically within touching distance? I think it bumped it up to first place.
Step 5 – Lunch in Florence’s best sun trap
Climbing up and down 800 stairs is hungry work, you know? So our next stop HAD to be a bad-ass sun trap and a meat and cheese platter (hello Italy). And what better sun trap than Piazza Santa Croce?
Dondino Winebar sits perfectly on the square; aka, right in the middle of the action. Sat outside as the glorious sun beat down, gorging on the most stupendous meat and cheese board known to man was another level of dreamy. Worth every single penny; the board for two was MORE than enough for both of us.
Step 6 – Snap Happy
You’re in Santa Croce? Well, you HAVE to get your standard Firenze snaps in the Fotoautomatica. For 2 euros, they make a gorgeous little momento for any trip.
Step 7 – Getting ho-mantic on the Ponte Vecchio
Screw the cliches; sticking a love lock on the Ponte Vecchio is pretty damn adorable. Especially knowing every time I stroll past (which is at least twice a day… love my life) I will be reminded of this delightful weekend and my amazing girl.
Step 8 – Breakfast Italian Style
Fresh faced and bushy tailed (in other words – hangover free), we enter Sunday. JT Cafe opposite Palazzo Pitti offers some of the creamiest cappuccino and freshest breakfast panini this side of the arno. Worth paying a little extra to stay in, the ambience is classy and contemporary; couple that with the most welcoming staff and you’re on to a winner.
Step 9 – Soak up the Art
We all know that Florence is the number 1 place in the world for art. Besides all the awe-inspiring galleries and museums we have here on a regular basis, we also have some of the most impressive exhibitions gracing the city. Until April, I feel pretty blessed to say we have Van Gogh Alive in Piazza di Santa Stefano. For those who don’t know, the exhibition is a “multi-sensory experience”, taking visitors out of the normal context of a museum and into a more alien environment; in this case, a church. A once in a life time opportunity, I knew this was the place I needed to take my guest.
Now this. For once, I was rendered speechless; a huge fan of his work, it was easily one of the most overwhelming, beautiful experiences I have had to date. Standing literally in the middle of his work as it was cast across alters, pillars and vast stone walls, you found yourself being totally struck down by emotion. As the exhibition charted his descent into madness (highlighted by the dramatic changes in his work), powerful music echoed throughout the building. Classical melancholic pieces juxtaposed with spine-tingling opera (amongst SO much more) added this sweeping sensation that simply blew you away, whilst projections of profound quotes made throughout his life threw you into an out of body experience. The staggering combination of art, music and poetry was truly out of this world. If you do anything with your time in Florence the next few weeks… make it that.
Step 10 – Step outside of the city
Now granted, this is hardly OUT of the city, but I do believe taking a few moments out of the centre is also a pretty sterling way to make the most of your time here. Florence is surrounded by all manner of extraordinary places; no least the quaint town of Fiesole.
In as little as twenty minutes on the bus you can find yourself in a whole new world; oh, and the view across Florence? Yeah, it’s pretty spectacular.
Picture winding roads and panoramic scenery at every angle. Rustic churches, adorable hill-top museums and authentic restaurants. Peace and quiet. Traditional Italian markets. For half a day it really does make an excellent break; a different side to Florence that you might not anticipate on such a short trip.
Now, any of you who know Florence (or are lucky enough to live here) will know these tips are merely a drop in the ocean in comparison to the reams of activities on offer. But for us? This was pretty special.
In fact, it couldn’t have been better. Not only was it sublime to spend these precious days with my best friend, but watching her marvel at the pure splendour of the city reminded me how remarkable it really is.
Because it is remarkable, this whole thing. And I couldn’t be prouder to say this place is my home.
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”