florence & the cuisine
From top Tuscan dishes to photo hotspots, Sarah Marshall shares her Italian city picks
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