Tuscany and Umbria Visited
|Close-up of a fountain in Florence, Cradle of the Renaissance (PhotoDisc)|
The atmosphere grips you the moment you step onto the streets of Florence. Ornate buildings accompany your every turn, hinting at the beauty of the treasures within. Michelangelo's masterpiece, David, lives in the Galleria dell'Accademia (www.polomuseale.firenze.it). Florence's ubiquitous Duomo is considered by some to be one of the loveliest of all Italian cathedralsart historians call Florence the Cradle of the Renaissance for a reason. And while it is easy to lose oneself among the city's ancient backstreets, museums, and art galleries, the brown-tiled crown of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore quickly asserts itself as a newcomer's epicenter; the awe-inspring 360-degree vista at the top will both freeze you in your place, and inspire the hours of future exploration.
While strolling the streets and piazzas, keep alert for the Uffizi gallery (+39.055.238.88.651, www.uffizi.firenze.it) in piazzale delig Uffizi. Its world-famous collection comprises masterpieces by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli, and many other Renaissance legends. Naturally, every tourist and his mother will be waiting in line to ogle the art pretty much year-round. Some useful tips to avoid a long, long wait include booking ahead for pre-timed entry (for a booking fee; see www.florenceart.it) or visiting later in the day when the crowds may have subsided.
Close by is the amazing Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that spans the River Arno. Since Roman times, Tuscans have ambled across some form of causeway here, and its "current" incarnation dates back to the 16th century. There is a topsy-turvy jumble of shops built into the caramel-colored bridge, beckoning visitors to dream of the commerce of yesteryear and barter with the silversmiths and shopkeepers. (Revel in your atmospheric surrounds, though try not to be seduced into buying bagfuls of otherwise unremarkable tourist tack.)
Just up the street from this famous river crossing looms the former home of Florence royalty, a place the imperious Pitti and Medici dynasties called home. The Palazzo Pitti (+39.550.265.54.321, www.palazzopitti.it), former residence to the Grand Duke of Tuscany and King of Italy, now shows off to visitors. It is the wondrous home to amazing collections of painting, sculpture, porcelain, and jewelrymost impressively displayed in the Palentine Gallery, Royal Apartments, and the Medici Treasury. Indulging in such culture can be pretty exhausting, which makes the Boboli gardens behind the imposing blocks-long palace a natural refresher. Recharge the batteries among the fountains and grottoes.
Once intoxicated by Florence's beauty, find somewhere suitably stylish to sleep it off. For money-is-no-object luxury, the Helvetia & Bristol makes for an excellent choice. Or escape the oppressive daytime heat at the Villa Poggio San Felice, located in the hills surrounding the city. This cute 15th-century villa is set in a gorgeous garden with a handful of elegantly furnished rooms, a refreshing pool, and free shuttle service into town. Budget travelers try the Residenza Johlea Uno, which lies close to all the major hot spots.
Fantastic food consumption takes place across Firenze, but recommendations include Cantinetta dei Verrazzano (via dei Tavolini 18-20r; +39.055.268.590), a bar-cum-café-cum-bakery that serves delicious pizza, or the local haunt Da Ruggiero (via Senese 89r; +39.055.220.542), which offers delicious Florentine home cooking.
For dinner head to Cibrèo (via de' Macci 118r; +39.055.234.1100). Line up for the trattoria section, where you'll get the same tasty food a lot cheaper than the main restaurant.
Florence is not renowned for its banging nightlife, but Le Volpi e L'Uva (+39.055.239.8132, www.levolpieluva.com) on piazza dei Rossi or Balducci by via de' Neri are good for early evening drinks. For al-fresco action head to Vie di Fuga at Le Murate (via dell'Agnolo; +39.338.506.0253), the Parterre (piazza della Libertà), and Le Rime Rampanti (above piazza Poggi).
Don't forget to save some energy for shopping. The best places for pounding the pavements are via Tornabuoni, via della Vigna Nuova, piazza della Repubblica, and via Roma.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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