Italy. Need we say more?

Ciara Rickard dis­cov­ers beauty in the im­per­fec­tions of Florence and Verona.

Elle (Canada) - - Insider - By Ciara Rickard

FLORENCE As I stand on the Ponte Vec­chio, Florence’s fa­mous bridge, I can al­most feel the history un­der my feet. But I can also feel the rain pelt­ing down on my head, so I dive un­der an awning— the 700-year-old bridge is one of only four left in the world that are lined with shops—and snap some pic­tures of the um­brella-topped vis­itors en­joy­ing the scene. That’s the thing about this en­chant­ing city: Even though it has been pour­ing non-stop since I ar­rived here two days ago, drown­ing out sight­see­ing, shop­ping and truf­fle hunt­ing, I—and my fel­low bridge ad­mir­ers—still want to be out­side.

Florence is full of ob­vi­ous his­toric archi­tec­tural and de­sign won­ders. But, if you pay at­ten­tion, there are count­less sub­tler de­tails from cen­turies past: Look up in a mar­ket and you might see a fres­coed 18th-cen­tury ceil­ing; look down and you might find you’re walk­ing on a mo­saic floor that still looks beau­ti­ful af­ter weath­er­ing two or three cen­turies of foot traf­fic. Even if the weather isn’t co-op­er­at­ing, here’s how to craft a per­fect day in Florence. MORN­ING Start at Mer­cato Cen­trale: two large floors of fresh lo­cal food. Down­stairs is the mar­ket, with stall af­ter stall of brightly col­oured fruit and veg, pasta, olive oils and vine­gars, and up­stairs is the pre­pared food: pas­tas, panini, sal­ads, cheese and gelato. I want to eat ev­ery­thing, but I limit my pur­chases to two tiny jars of truf­fle honey. (A month later, my fam­ily and I tuck into the honey, along with some cheese and bread and a glass of bub­bly, and it tastes just as you’d imag­ine: that flo­ral sweet­ness laced with a savoury earth­i­ness. Amaz­ing.) h

Next, take in Pi­azza della Sig­no­ria, a buzzing square in the heart of his­toric Florence. Michelan­gelo’s David stood here for 369 years un­til it was moved in­side the Ac­cademia Gallery to pro­tect it from dam­age; a replica now stands in the same spot. (The com­mit­tee who orig­i­nally de­cided where David would stand in 1504 in­cluded Leonardo da Vinci and San­dro Bot­ti­celli. Quite the crowd.) AF­TER­NOON With cen­turies-old apothe­cary jars and tools lin­ing its walls, the Phar­macy of Santa Maria Novella is re­quired view­ing. (Even the lo­cals will tell you that.) Started by monks in the 13th cen­tury, it is the old­est phar­macy in the world and still pro­duces many of the elixirs and per­fumes that made it the of­fi­cial phar­macy to the Medi­cis in the 16th cen­tury.

Next, head to shoe mecca Aquaz­zura, just a short walk from the Ponte Vec­chio, to pick up the ul­ti­mate Floren­tine sou­venir. The shoe brand’s only store is ac­tu­ally in a 15th-cen­tury palace that was pur­chased in the 18th cen­tury by the Corsi­nis, a pow­er­ful fam­ily in Florence at the time. The mar­riage of orig­i­nal de­tails (fres­coed ceil­ing and gilded doors) with mod­ern up­dates (plush so­fas and sculp­tural light fix­tures) makes the space as beau­ti­ful as the shoes on dis­play.

And then there’s the Duomo. Even if you have seen dozens of cathe­drals around Europe, this one will take your breath away, mainly be­cause of its pink, white and green mar­ble fa­cade and large red dome, which can be seen from al­most any van­tage point in the city. It shares Pi­azza del Duomo with the Bap­tis­tery, which is smaller but also im­pres­sive—its gilded-bronze doors were dubbed “the gates of par­adise” by Michelan­gelo. EVENING There’s no writ­ten menu at Ci­brèo in Florence’s his­toric cen­tre— the man­ager sim­ply pulls up a chair and tells you what’s cook­ing. You won’t h

get pasta here, but the au­then­tic Tus­can cui­sine—from po­lenta to meat­balls to potato and ri­cotta souf­flé—are must­tries. And the rasp­berry tart was so good, we or­dered a sec­ond round. DAY TRIP Tus­cany is known for truf­fles—that pun­gent, al­most gar­licky tu­ber that you ei­ther love or hate. I love them. About a 15-minute drive to a hilly ver­dant area over­look­ing the city The Tus­can coun­try­side, ripe for truf­fle hunt­ing (far left); Edda, the truf­fle-hunt­ing won­der dog is a truf­fle academy run by “Gi­ulio the Truf­fle Hunter.” With his faith­ful dog, Edda, who is trained to sniff them out, he takes guests truf­fle hunt­ing. He shows me a spec­i­men the size of my fist—weigh­ing in at 220 grams, it’s one of Edda’s big­gest finds and will fetch around $500. But when we drive up to the nearby for­est, the sound of the heavy and un­re­lent­ing rain on the roof of the car has poor Edda shak­ing with fear. We don’t have the heart to make her get out and work, so we re­turn to the academy for lunch: truf­fle bruschetta, truf­fle and bean soup, truf­fle omelette and truf­fle ice cream. Not a bad con­so­la­tion prize.

The stun­ning view of Florence from the ter­race

at the Il Salvi­atino ho­tel

The Arno river and the Ponte Vec­chio; the beau­ti­ful Aquaz­zura store and some of its wares (be­low and be­low left)

A bird’s-eye view of Florence and the Duomo

TAKE A DAY TRIP “Forte dei Marmi used to be the Hamp­tons of Tus­cany. It’s an hour from Florence, and it’s where all the wealthy Tus­cans

have their sum­mer homes. You have all the ’50s and ’60s beach clubs, pas­tel colours and beau­ti­ful lit­tle ca­banas.”

PUR­CHASE FLATS “Un­for­tu­nately, the streets are very old in Italy and there are a lot of stones, so I wouldn’t ad­vise wear­ing heels if you’re run­ning around.” Leather “Bel­gravia” flats, Aquaz­zura ($880, at NET-A-PORTER.com)

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