Liv­ing like a lo­cal in a Florence, Italy, apart­ment

The Arizona Republic - - TRAVEL - Ben and Emily Click

We re­cently re­turned from a trip to Tus­cany, where we rented an apart­ment in Florence and ex­plored nearby. We stayed for five weeks, and en­joyed be­com­ing reg­u­lars in our neigh­bor­hood.

Be­cause most of cen­tral Florence is at least 500 years old, apart­ments usu­ally do not in­clude el­e­va­tors. We en­joyed an apart­ment on the ground level, sav­ing

us from heav­ing bags up­stairs. Our apart­ment pro­vided a great base for ex­plor­ing all of Tus­cany. Re­gional trains are easy and in­ex­pen­sive, stop­ping in most vil­lages. High-speed trains make it pos­si­ble to be in Rome or Venice within a cou­ple of hours.

Spend­ing an ex­tended time in one neigh­bor­hood has ad­van­tages, such as lo­cat­ing vi­brant out­door mar­kets from which to pur­chase fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles. So many won­der­ful at­trac­tions are free, in­clud­ing buzzing pi­az­zas, charm­ing lanes, sculp­tures and Re­nais­sance churches. Buy some cheese and bread at the mar­ket and your af­ter­noon walk be­comes a pic­nic as you ex­plore. Or, for the price of a morn­ing caffe, you can sit out­doors and watch the town come to life, as lo­cal ven­dors open shops and neigh­bors bike by with chil­dren on their way to school.

We be­lieve that spring­time is the pret­ti­est time to be in Tus­cany, when flow­ers bloom and tem­per­a­tures are mod­er­ate. Across the Arno River lies Pi­az­zale Michelan­gelo, a per­fect van­tage point to watch the sun set across Old Florence and the Ponte Vec­chio. Ev­ery evening hun­dreds gather, shar­ing food or wine, and make new friends as they wait. Nearby, the Rose Gar­den has 400 va­ri­eties burst­ing into bloom. A spe­cial treat, the Iris Gar­den is open for only one-month, midApril to mid-May, cel­e­brat­ing the flower which is the sym­bol of Florence.

We spent our time ex­plor­ing small towns. Fiesole, an Etr­uscan town in the hills above Florence, pre­dates the larger city and has a lovely cen­tral pi­azza for peo­ple-watch­ing. Tem­per­a­tures are cooler in sum­mer and it is reach­able by bus. We vis­ited Lucca and the Cinque Terre again, but we also dis­cov­ered Scan­dicci, Mon­telupo, Pis­toia, Im­pruneta and San Cas­ciano. Ital­ian friends helped us dis­cover an­cient churches, hos­pi­tals and ru­ins, in towns strung to­gether as a necklace by a lane so nar­row driv­ers honk their horns in or­der warn on­com­ing driv­ers.

Out­side touris­tic Florence, the restau­rants serve sim­ple, rus­tic food with few in­gre­di­ents, but so fla­vor­ful it’s as if you’ve never tasted them be­fore. In smaller towns, free from the crush of tourists, it is eas­ier to meet lo­cal peo­ple. Many small towns spon­sor a free “sagra” or fes­ti­val to high­light a lo­cal prod­uct such as chest­nuts or mush­rooms. On our last week­end, a nearby town was hav­ing a cinghiale sagra, of­fer­ing wild boar dishes.

On our last evening, friends took us high into the hills above Florence, wind­ing into Mon­telupo, fa­mous for ceramics. We saw beau­ti­ful glazed and painted serv­ing dishes, as well as huge, rough terra-cotta pots. Our din­ner was at Ris­torante I Pal­menti, in a 700-yearold grist mill once used to pro­vide flour for the hos­pi­tal in Florence. We shared a won­der­ful, sim­ple meal, then were treated to a tour of the base­ment to view the old mill works and wine col­lec­tion.

As we drove back into town, we stopped at San Mini­ato al Monte, our fa­vorite church which cel­e­brates its 1000-year an­niver­sary this year. It was a great way to end this mem­o­rable trip.

COUR­TESY OF BEN AND EMILY CLICK

San Mini­ato al Monte, a basil­ica in Florence, cel­e­brates its 1,000-year an­niver­sary in 2018.

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