Be­neath the city’s Re­nais­sance façade beats a mod­ern heart

IT’S A LIV­ING GALLERY OF GLO­RI­OUS RE­NAIS­SANCE AND BAROQUE ART AND AR­CHI­TEC­TURE – BUT DON’T UN­DER­ES­TI­MATE THIS EL­E­GANT TUSCAN CITY’S CON­TEM­PO­RARY AP­PEAL, WRITES LEE MAR­SHALL.

Qantas - - Contents -

Florence was a fix­ture on the Grand Tour, the aris­to­cratic 18th-cen­tury pre­de­ces­sor to to­day’s gap-year back­pack­ing trip. Then, as now, vis­i­tors came to marvel at Brunelleschi’s cathe­dral dome and the mar­ble mus­cu­la­ture of Michelan­gelo’s

David. But the Tuscan cap­i­tal is no dusty mu­seum. The heart of a mod­ern me­trop­o­lis beats be­neath the an­cient fab­ric. It’s a city that caters to lovers of food and wine; a place of de­sign em­po­ri­ums and quirky craft shops, with a fash­ion scene that in Italy is sec­ond only to Mi­lan’s.

09:00

Be­gin the day in one of the city’s great neigh­bour­hood cafés, An­tica Pas­tic­ce­ria Sieni (pas­tic­ce­ri­asieni.it), which has been op­er­at­ing since 1909. Try a de­li­ciously more-ish sfoglia alla crema di riso (a puff pas­try case filled with a rice-based custard). Next, head to Mer­cato Cen­trale (mer­cato cen­trale.it/en), Florence’s main cov­ered pro­duce mar­ket in nearby San Lorenzo. The sur­round­ing streets are filled with ven­dors sell­ing cloth­ing, leather goods, sou­venirs, jew­ellery and trin­kets. In­side, tripe butch­ers and veg­etable stalls sit with delis of­fer­ing dozens of ex­tra-vir­gin olive oils. Up­stairs is a food hall with shared seat­ing that’s open from 10am to mid­night. It sells gourmet street food, usu­ally sourced from the pro­duc­ers on the floor below.

10:00

Time to feast your eyes on the work of two Re­nais­sance masters. The aus­tere New Sacristy (bargel­lomu­sei.beni­cul­tur­ali.it) of Basil­ica di San Lorenzo houses the tombs of Lorenzo and Gi­u­liano de’ Medici, along with some of Michelan­gelo’s most haunt­ing and ex­pres­sive sculp­tures. Nearby, a side chapel of the for­mer church of San Pan­crazio, now part of the Marino Marini Mu­seum (museo­mari­no­marini.it), con­tains Leon Bat­tista Al­berti’s ex­quis­ite scaled-down copy of the Church of the Holy Sepul­chre in Jerusalem, the last rest­ing place of wealthy tex­tile mer­chant Gio­vanni Ru­cel­lai.

11:30

Swish Via de’ Tornabuoni is Florence’s main fash­ion street – but there is cul­ture amid the frocks. At world-class art space Palazzo Strozzi (palaz­zostrozzi.org), an ex­hi­bi­tion by video artist Bill Vi­ola runs un­til July 23. Even lo­cal fash­ion brand Fer­rag­amo (fer­rag­amo.com) is in on the act: the ab­sorb­ing art-meets-fash­ion ex­hi­bi­tions staged at the Museo Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo, below the flag­ship bou­tique, aren’t just for shoe fetishists. Re­fuel at Pro­cacci (pro­cacci1885.it), a his­toric jewel of a deli and wine bar run by the Anti­nori dy­nasty. It spe­cialises in bite-size panini tart­u­fati – mini bread­rolls filled with truf­fle paste.

13:00

Cross the Arno River via Ponte Santa Trinita – a good op­por­tu­nity to ad­mire the ro­man­tic bot­tega-lined Ponte Vec­chio (the next bridge up­stream) – and ven­ture into the Ol­trarno dis­trict south of the river. This is Florence’s Left Bank, a lively res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hood full of good places to eat and drink, plus a thriv­ing craft scene cen­tred on leather­work, fash­ion ac­ces­sories and jew­ellery (don’t miss the ex­trav­a­gant Gothic creations of gold­smith Alessan­dro Dari; alessan­dro­dari.com). By now, lunch beck­ons so call in to Il Santo Be­vi­tore (il­san­to­be­vi­tore.com), a chic, rus­tic trat­to­ria with cre­ative re­gional cui­sine, or its charm­ing wine bar/deli an­nexe, Il Santino, where you can perch at the bar and graze on beef tartare, cheese plat­ters, sal­ads and gourmet panini.

14:30

Hold off or­der­ing cof­fee or dessert so you have an ex­cuse to walk to Ditta Ar­ti­gianale (dit­taar­ti­gianale.it), on Via dello Sprone, to en­joy ar­guably the city’s best es­presso. If you’re in the mood, mixol­o­gist Ka­reem Ben­nett’s ar­ti­sanal cock­tails are also su­perb. For dessert, duck around the cor­ner to oh-so-cute Pi­azza della Passera for a scoop or two of Mo­jito sor­bet served (along­side other com­pelling flavours) at Ge­la­te­ria della Passera (gela­te­ri­ala­passera.word­press.com).

15:00

The Re­nais­sance pretty much be­gan in nearby Bran­cacci Chapel (mu­se­icivici fioren­tini.co­mune.fi.it), where Ma­solino and Masac­cio’s as­ton­ish­ingly fresh and in­ti­mate fresco cy­cle of scenes from the life of Saint Peter is still im­mensely mov­ing al­most six cen­turies after it was first painted. (You’ll need to make a free book­ing.) Af­ter­wards, ex­plore the quirky La Specola sec­tion at the Univer­sity of Florence’s Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral History (www2.msn.unifi.it). It’s fa­mous for its grue­some 18th-cen­tury anatom­i­cal mod­els, sculpted in wax as teach­ing aids.

16:30

Time to slow down. Lo­cate Pi­azza de’ Rossi (book­mark­ing one of the city’s best wine bars, Le Volpi e l’Uva, at No. 1R, for future ref­er­ence) and walk up the wind­ing Costa di San Gior­gio. Less than five min­utes from the tourist-choked Ponte Vec­chio and you’re strolling in what feels like a quiet Tus­canvil­lage lane. At the top of the hill, at No. 2, Villa Bar­dini (bar­dinipey­ron.it) is home to one of Florence’s most de­light­ful gar­dens. Find a bench among the roses and wis­te­ria and rest those tired feet while en­joy­ing a wrap­around view across the domes and rooftops of the city’s Cen­tro Storico.

17:30

Re­turn across the river via the me­dieval Ponte Vec­chio to Palazzo Vec­chio (mu­sei civi­ci­fioren­tini.co­mune.fi.it), the cen­tre of Floren­tine civic power since the early 14th cen­tury. Its many art­works in­clude Bronzino’s dizzy­ing Man­ner­ist fres­coes, which adorn the pri­vate chapel of Eleonora of Toledo, Grand Duchess of Tus­cany. Some be­lieve there is also a lost Da Vinci here, hid­den be­hind a more re­cent mu­ral in the vast Salone dei Cin­que­cento coun­cil cham­ber. In sum­mer, time your climb up the nar­row steps of the palazzo’s 95-me­tre tower – re­opened after decades in 2012 – to see the city tinged with sun­set gold. Just make sure your per­fect day isn’t a Thurs­day, when there’s no ad­mis­sion to the palazzo and tower after 1.30pm.

18:30

La Ter­razza, the chic rooftop bar of the Con­ti­nen­tale bou­tique ho­tel (ho­tel.qan­tas. com.au/con­ti­nen­tale) is some­thing of an in­sider’s secret – there’s no hint at street level that it’s there. Sip an Im­proved Ne­groni, made with bit­ters to an in-house recipe, while mar­vel­ling at the height of the tower you just climbed – it dom­i­nates the view of the cityscape.

19:30

Watch the row­ers re­turn­ing to their club­house after train­ing on the Arno as you stroll along the river to La Bot­tega del Buon Caffè (bor­gointhecity.com) for din­ner. This el­e­gant Miche­lin-starred restau­rant with an­tique dé­cor serves sea­sonal dishes such as taglierini pasta with baby squid, sage and chilli and a dessert based on in­gre­di­ents from the gar­den of its par­ent ho­tel, Borgo Santo Pi­etro, in the Tuscan coun­try­side.

21:00

How do you wrap up a per­fect day in a city that turns life into an art form? With an opera, of course, per­formed al fresco in the in­ner court­yard of Palazzo Pitti un­der the aegis of Mag­gio Mu­si­cale Fiorentino’s world-class or­ches­tra and choir. Run­ning un­til 29 July, the 2017 sum­mer sea­son (op­erad­i­firenze.it) fea­tures Donizetti’s

L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) and The Bar­ber of Seville by Rossini.

The 16th-cen­tury

Foun­tain of Nep­tune in Pi­azza della Sig­no­ria (left); the cupola, or dome, of Florence’s cathe­dral rises above the city’s dis­tinc­tive red rooftops (below)

Il Santo Be­vi­tore trat­to­ria (left) and sis­ter wine bar/deli Il Santino

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