Living like a local in a Florence, Italy, apartment
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.
San Miniato al Monte, a basilica in Florence, celebrates its 1,000-year anniversary in 2018.