By Mara Papatheodorou, your Tastes & Traditions Expert
As the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, the heart and soul of Florence is all about the appreciation of art. Situated on the banks of the River Arno, this scenic city is truly a cultural oasis of fine frescoes, sculptures, paintings, palaces, churches and cathedrals. Its treasured talent dazzles with the works of Dante, Michelangelo, Galileo and Da Vinci. The Uffizi Gallery houses world-renowned artistic masterpieces while the Galleria dell Academia, Europe’s first school of drawing, features 15th and 16th century paintings and sculptures, most notably Michelangelo’s remarkable David.
Florence’s most recognized landmark is the dome of the Duomo, a beautiful cathedral inside and out. For amazing views and photo opportunities, climb all 450 steps to the top and just adjacent is Giotto Tower with a mere 414 steps (!) for a great look at the Duomo on the horizon. The church of Santa Croce contains the tombs of Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli and Michelangelo while Pitti Palace, home of art benefactors the Medicis, highlights their impressive collections. Cross the 13th century Ponte Vecchio (old Bridge), a site unto itself and home to goldsmiths and tanners who make shopping a fun adventure.
Strolling through the streets is a treat as around every corner is a picturesque piazza (square) flaunting cafes to sit and people watch while sipping an espresso or cappuccino, a negroni (see below) or a glass of vino (wine). After all, Firenze (Florence) is the gateway to the vines of Tuscany from which great Italian wines hail. The Chianti region is just south of the city where the Sangiovese grapes thrive and have been growing since the 13th century. Chianti Classico or Chianti Riserva are premium red wines that are medium bodied and not as earthy or as bold as the Super Tuscan varietals. Antipasti meat & cheese platters and Crostini with various toppings complement the wines well. For a sweet memory, the creamy gelato (ice cream) is revered. Buon Appetito!!
SAIL: Florence. Before sailing away, bring the city’s Italian Florentine flavors and flair home. Shop for colorful ceramica tabletop or bring back vacuum-packed prosciutto, salami or cheeses like pecorino or parmesan as well as bottles of olive oil and wine. For fashion, if you love leather this is the city to buy purses, wallets, belts, bags and shoes or go for gold as fine jewelry gilded flatware and serving pieces abound.
SIP: A Negroni. This is the ultimate Florentine cocktail so sip up! When visiting the city in 1919, Count Camillo Negroni asked a bartender to add gin to his weak aperitif. Made with equal parts gin, sweet red vermouth and Campari stirred with ice than strained (or not!) into a glass finished off with a splash of soda water and an orange twist, the Negroni was born and has become a city classic. Salute!
SAVOR: Bistecca alla Fiorentina (beef steak Florentine style). Grilled over fire and served rare with white Tuscan beans or atop arugula, this thick porterhouse is on every restaurant menu. It is a true carnivore’s delight and divine with red wine!