Florence Ex­pe­ri­ence the best of the cra­dle of the Re­nais­sance – with­out the crowds

The Herald Magazine - - etc TRAVEL - SARAH MAR­SHALL

PROUDLY fan­ning their tail feath­ers, pea­cocks pa­rade around the rims of ce­ramic plates for sale in Floren­tine shop Sbigoli Ter­recotte. Along with plump pome­gran­ate ker­nels and emer­ald green hills dot­ted with cy­press trees, the scene is one of many tra­di­tional Tus­can de­signs re­vived and repli­cated by An­tonella Cini and her daugh­ter.

Dat­ing back to 1859, the small store tucked be­tween me­dieval tow­ers on Via Sant’Egidio is one of the few sur­viv­ing ex­am­ples of the ar­ti­sanal en­trepreneur­ship that helped Florence blos­som into one of Italy’s most pros­per­ous and for­ward-think­ing cities. Hid­den away at the back, a small workshop stacked with paint pal­ettes and kiln-baked earth­en­ware is proof of the labour and love in­vested in each piece – a re­fresh­ing al­ter­na­tive to the mass-pro­duced prod­ucts crowd­ing so many high streets to­day.

“It’s get­ting much harder to find terracotta mas­ters,” ad­mits Chiara, who helps run the shop with her par­ents and sis­ter. “As gen­er­a­tions change, the knowl­edge is dy­ing.”

A clus­ter of terracotta rooftops dom­i­nated by Brunelleschi’s mag­nif­i­cent cathe­dral dome, Florence is known as the cra­dle of the Re­nais­sance. In the Mid­dle Ages, Dante Alighieri cre­ated a blue­print for the mod­ern Ital­ian lan­guage with his epic nar­ra­tive poem Divine Com­edy, and in the mid-15th cen­tury Lorenzo Ghib­erti sparked the Re­nais­sance move­ment with his in­no­va­tive, three-di­men­sional de­signs for the bronze Bap­tis­tery doors.

Florence it­self could eas­ily be classed as a mu­seum piece. But be­yond its gilt-framed mas­ter­pieces and glo­ri­ous stucco fa­cades there’s a liv­ing, breath­ing com­mu­nity still puls­ing with en­er­getic ac­tiv­ity. If you want to ap­pre­ci­ate the past while hav­ing some present-day fun, try these es­sen­tial Floren­tine ac­tiv­i­ties.


Celebrity chef Fabio Pic­chi has built a gas­tro­nomic em­pire in a busy corner of Sant’Am­bro­gio, not far from one of the city’s big­gest fresh food mar­kets, San Lorenzo. In 1979, he opened Il Cibreo, a fine-din­ing brasserie dec­o­rated with vel­vet seats and mir­ror-backed bars, and has since ex­panded with the more eco­nom­i­cal Cafe Cibreo op­po­site, a noo­dle bar, a fast-food ravi­oli out­let and a mo­bile lam­pre­dotto (tripe) trailer. His food is quintessen­tially Tus­can – liver pates, chicken meat­balls and oil-soaked pep­pers – and the at­mos­phere is lively day and night.

Visit cibreo.com.

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