florence & the cui­sine

From top Tus­can dishes to photo hotspots, Sarah Marshall shares her Ital­ian city picks

The Wharf - - Travel -

Proudly fan­ning their tail feath­ers, pea­cocks pa­rade around the rims of ce­ramic plates for sale in Floren­tine shop Sbigoli Ter­recotte. 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 ar­ti­san en­trepreneur­ship that helped Florence blos­som into one of Italy’s most pros­per­ous cities.

Hid­den away at the back, a small work­shop stacked with paint pal­ettes and kiln-baked earth­en­ware is proof of the care in­vested in each piece.

“It’s get­ting much harder to find ter­ra­cotta masters,” laments Chiara, who helps run the shop with her par­ents and sis­ter. “As gen­er­a­tions change, the knowl­edge is dy­ing. But we still love what we do.”

A clus­ter of ter­ra­cotta rooftops dom­i­nated by Brunelleschi’s mag­nif­i­cent cathe­dral dome, Florence played a sig­nif­i­cant role in shap­ing Italy’s cul­ture.

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, de­signs for the Bap­tis­tery doors.

If you want to ap­pre­ci­ate the past while hav­ing some present-day fun, try these es­sen­tial Floren­tine ac­tiv­i­ties in the au­tumn, when the crowds have gone home.

EAT TRIPE AT CIBREO

Celebrity chef Fabio Pic­chi has built a gas­tro­nomic em­pire in a busy corner of Sant’Am­bro­gio. In 1979, he opened Il Cibreo – a fine-din­ing brasserie dec­o­rated with vel­vet seats and mirror-backed bars – and has since ex­panded with the cheaper Café Cibreo op­po­site, a noo­dle bar, a fast-food ravi­oli out­let and a mo­bile lam­pre­dotto (tripe) trailer.

His food is quintessen­tially Tus­can – liver patés, chicken meat­balls and oil-soaked pep­pers – and the at­mos­phere is lively day and night. Go to cibreo.com

DRINK AN APERITIVO AT PROCACCI

The smell of truf­fle is de­li­ciously over­pow­er­ing at this postage stamp-sized bar and del­i­catessen in the down­town city cen­tre. Its fa­mous tartufo panini are best served with a glass of prosecco.

Founded in 1885, the com­pany once sup­plied truf­fle del­i­ca­cies to the king; ex­pect to find an­chovies, ar­ti­choke cream and foie gras flavoured with the ‘Tus­can gold’. Go to pro­cacci1885.it

STAY AT HO­TEL CONTINENTALE

Part of the up­scale Lun­garno col­lec­tion, this fash­ion­able, white-themed prop­erty pays homage to Italy’s 1950s cin­e­matic sirens. Over­look­ing the Ponte Vec­chio, it’s in a prime po­si­tion for ex­plor­ing ma­jor land­marks, such as the Uf­fizi Gallery and Gothic Cathe­dral al­though, from the peace­ful rooftop bar where break­fast is served, crowds of tourists dis­ap­pear into a hum. Go to lun­gar­nocol­lec­tion.com

BUY PO­TIONS AT FARMACEUTICA DI SANTA MARIA NOVELLA

Orig­i­nally con­cocted by Do­mini­can monks in the 14th cen­tury, rose­wa­ter pro­duced on these premises is now sold worldwide. Noth­ing, though, com­pares to vis­it­ing the orig­i­nal shop ad­join­ing the monks’ clois­ters, where wooden cab­i­nets stocked with glass bot­tles re­flect an orig­i­nal 17th cen­tury de­sign.

A mu­seum tells the story of the com­pany, and there’s also a café in which to en­joy the sur­round­ings. Go to sm­novella.com

AD­MIRE ART AT THE UF­FIZI

Orig­i­nally built as of­fices for the gov­ern­ment ju­di­ciary in the 16th cen­tury, Italy’s most popular art gallery’s show­stop­pers are Bot­ti­celli’s tri­umphant The Birth of Venus and Pri­mav­era.

Un­for­tu­nately, there’s no quiet time to visit, so book­ing timed tick­ets on­line is rec­om­mended. Go to uf­fizi.it/en/the-uf­fizi

POSE FOR PIC­TURES AT SAN MINIATO

Perched on a hill­top a 20-minute walk from the Ponte Vec­chio, this 1,000-year-old church is a fine mish-mash of Ro­manesque and Byzan­tine styles.

Turn up when the monks are singing ves­pers, and it’s a peace­ful place for con­tem­pla­tion too. Out­door ter­races com­mand fine panoramic views of the city and shim­mer­ing Apen­nine moun­tains.

HAVE ICE CREAM AT ANTICA GELATERIA FIORENTINA

Eat­ing a gelato is an Ital­ian in­sti­tu­tion, and Floren­tines have laid their own claim to in­vent­ing the creamy dessert. Re­spond­ing to a re­quest by Grand Duke Cosimo I de’Medici to make a dessert, architect Bernardo Buon­tal­enti pre­sented a sor­bet with eggs, salt, le­mon, honey and milk.

This is one of the few par­lours per­mit­ted to repli­cate his cre­ation. Go to gela­te­ri­afiorentina.com for more in­for­ma­tion

The sun sets on Florence’s spec­tac­u­lar sky­line

Ce­ram­ics on sale at Sbigoli Ter­recotte

Uf­fizi Gallery

San Miniato

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