Lisa Clifford Florence

AF­TER 18 YEARS OF TRAV­EL­LING BACK AND FORTH TO ITALY, WRITER LISA CLIFFORD FI­NALLY SET­TLED THERE 10 YEARS AGO. SHE AND HER ITAL­IAN HUS­BAND HAVE TWO CHIL­DREN. HER THIRD BOOK WILL BE PUB­LISHED NEXT YEAR.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Front Page -

I live 10 min­utes south of the his­tor­i­cal cen­tre of Florence, in a green belt for­merly zoned agri­cul­tural but now res­i­den­tial. It’s like liv­ing in the coun­try, but we have the city just out­side our gates. Florence is a liv­ing mu­seum, a me­dieval won­der­land that stays the same on the out­side but con­stantly changes on the inside.

It’s at its best in May or Oc­to­ber when the weather is fresh and the tourists have gone, and at sun­set when the world is wind­ing down and the moun­tains turn laven­der. Florence is to be avoided in July and Au­gust when the tem­per­a­tures soar to 40C and the foot­paths are crammed with tourists.

Al­ways check the open­ing hours of mu­se­ums and gal­leries as sched­ules vary from place to place and are frus­trat­ingly quirky. It’s easy to find your­self locked out of the build­ing hous­ing Michelan­gelo’s statue of David, for ex­am­ple, be­cause the Gal­le­ria dell’Ac­cademia (www.mu­se­um­sin­flo­rence. com) is closed on Mon­days.

The quin­tes­sen­tial Floren­tine ex­pe­ri­ence would have to be a walk across the Ponte Vec­chio at sun­set when the shops are clos­ing and the colours of the city and river are soft and muted. I love the view up and down the Arno from the Ponte Vec­chio at any time of day. Down­river, the el­e­gant palazzi that line the river look busy, re­gal and im­por­tant. Up­river, it’s green and lazy.

My favourite area to stroll around while look­ing in shop win­dows is the Ol­trarno, on the other side of the river to the Duomo, which is in the main tourist area. In neigh­bour­hoods such as San Fre­di­ano and Santo Spir­ito (two tiny ar­eas side by side) old-fash­ioned crafts­peo­ple, or ar­ti­sans, work in a timehonoured fash­ion. Fa­thers sit out­side shops watch­ing their sons take over the busi­ness of cob­bling, up­hol­ster­ing and chan­de­lier-mak­ing.

The Far­ma­cia di Santa Maria Novella would prob­a­bly be my favourite shop. Fres­coes cover the walls and the ex­pe­ri­ence of shop­ping there is so Floren­tine. The far­ma­cia sells lo­tions and po­tions cre­ated by the monks and apothe­caries who once lived on the premises. It’s at Via della Scala 16 (www.sm­novella.it).

The most un­sung mu­seum in Florence is the Stib­bert. It’s wall-to-wall ar­mour, ta­pes­tries, weaponry and paint­ings, with no bar­ri­ers or cor­dons (museostib­bert.it). The Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo Shoe Mu­seum (sal­va­tore­fer­rag­amo. it) is also a treat. Shoes worn by Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and Au­drey Hep­burn, among oth­ers, line the walls of this mu­seum on Via Tornabuoni, un­der­neath the spec­tac­u­lar shop.

Teatro della Per­gola (www.per­gola.firenze. it), built in 1656, is the quin­tes­sen­tial Moulin Rouge-es­que theatre. It is so beau­ti­ful that it’s hard to keep your eyes on the show. In May, Florence hosts the Mag­gio Mu­si­cale Fes­ti­val (www.mag­giofiorentino.com), which fea­tures op­eras and other classical mu­sic events.

One of the most in­cred­i­ble walks is up­hill from the Ol­trarno’s Pi­azza Poggi to San Mini­ato al Monte, a jewel of a church that over­looks Florence. Walk to Pi­az­zale Michelan­gelo (where ev­ery­one goes) but keep go­ing to San Mini­ato. Around six in the evening you might even be able to catch a Gre­go­rian chant.

If it’s rain­ing – or you just love art – en­joy the Leonardo da Vin­cis, Bot­ti­cel­lis and Raphaels at the Uf­fizi Palace (www. mu­se­um­sin­flo­rence.com), but book tick­ets to avoid stand­ing in a hor­ri­ble queue. The Palazzo Vec­chio (as above) and lesser known Bargello (flo­renceart.it) are also amaz­ing to wan­der through.

On a fine day, buy a pic­nic lunch and catch a Num­ber 7 bus from the main rail­way sta­tion up to Fiesole. Walk to the view­ing ter­race and through the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal park be­fore head­ing down to the Ro­man theatre com­plex. Eat in the am­phithe­atre, walk around Fiesole for a while and fin­ish with cof­fee in the pi­azza.

For lunch with a Tus­can at­mos­phere and good sea­sonal food af­ter shop­ping in town, go to Cam­millo (phone 055 212 427) in Borgo San Ja­copo, just off the Ponte Vec­chio. On a cold win­ter’s night I love hav­ing din­ner at J.K. Lounge (jk­place.com) at J.K. Place on Pi­azza Santa Maria Novella.

Hip Floren­tines hop from bar to bar en­joy­ing the an­tipasto of­fered for free along the way – if you buy a drink. The “an­tipasto for a drink” has be­come so pop­u­lar that many of the younger set go with­out din­ner, start­ing with an aper­i­tivo and an­tipasto at, say, Colle Beretto (Pi­azza Strozzi 5/r), then to Moyo (Via de’Benci 23/r) and, fi­nally, to the other side of the Arno and Zoe (Via dei Re­nai 13/r).

Dur­ing the day, the place for a caf­feine hit is Just Cavalli Cafe (www.just­cav­al­li­cafe.com), next to de­signer Roberto Cavalli’s shop on Via Tornabuoni. Do your best to get a ta­ble out­side. When the fashionistas who work nearby come in for cof­fee it can give you eye­strain – they are so gor­geous.

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