Finding a place to stay in a great location can be the key to an enjoyable holiday and this is never truer than when on a short city break: a hotel or apartment just that bit too far out and your days can be spent commuting rather than enjoying the sights. So, when Passepartout managed to find a vacancy at Il Bargello in the Santa Croce area which coincided with our travel dates to Florence, we were delighted.
Staying at Il Bargello puts you in the heart of the city and within easy striking distance of all the main sights such as the Basilica of Santa Croce, the Accademia and the Uffizi galleries, Palazzo Vecchio and the River Arno. Just a few blocks away is the magnificent Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called) with Giotto’s campanile (bell tower) and crowned with Brunelleschi’s iconic Cupola (dome). Another iconic landmark, The Ponte Vecchio, is also just a short stroll from the apartment.
Florence is a compact city and one with such famous landmarks on display, it’s easy to familiarise yourself with the centre and navigate your way around in a short space of time but having accommodation close to the Basilica of Santa Croce made it really easy to visit the sights and return ‘home’ with no difficulty at all.
Our first floor apartment was clean and bright and there was a balcony leading from the master bedroom.
It had a well-equipped kitchen/dining area with a TV and free Wi-Fi, a decent-sized bathroom and a second bedroom (with bunk beds). We loved the freedom having an apartment gives you: we could come and go as we pleased without the constraints sometimes found in hotels (times for breakfast, room-cleaning, etc.).
Renting an apartment also enables you to shop like a local and there’s nowhere better than the Mercato Centrale (the indoor market) in San Lorenzo, where you can buy local and regional specialities, fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, meat and pasta. We visited in autumn, when shoppers are spoilt for choice with the array of fresh Porcini mushrooms: it’s an assault on the senses with the earthy aroma of funghi, the colourful pasta (which resembles liquorice shoelaces), the ‘interesting’ wares on display at the butchers’ stalls and the chatter of shoppers and stall-holders.
Food at its best
Upstairs is an impressive, modern and downright funky food court but in terms of the concessionary stands there, it bears no resemblance to a British of American food court. On offer are artisan breads, confectionary, rissoles, salamis, cheeses and chocolate: local produce from independent traders. It really is ‘food at its best’.
There is wine-tasting at L’enoscuola led by Sommelier World Champion Luca Gardini, La Pasta Frescha, Ristorante Tosca and Il Gelato. The very essence of Tuscan cuisine above a fresh food market – what could be more fitting? In fact, there are so many great food choices at the food court you may just conveniently forget that you came to shop for ingredients to make your own lunch.
Outside, back on the street, there is the famous leather market and you can meander between the stalls and head back into the heart of the city.
From San Lorenzo, you can head to the famous, but no less impressive, Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore to see the duomo and campanile. After admiring the dome both inside and out, we were treated to a costumed procession. Although the reason for the colourful pageantry was unknown to us, we did enjoy the spectacle.
Art for Art’s sake
If you wish to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre for a while, you can head to ‘Oltrarno’ on the other side of the river Arno. As you walk towards the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, you find yourself in an artisan quarter: you can watch hand-made shoes being crafted, books being bound in leather and embossed with lettering and embellishments and see the famous Florentine marbled paper being made. There are also artists’ workshops and antique shops as well as excellent caffes, which are much more reasonably priced than in the city centre.
From the Boboli Gardens, you’re afforded impressive views of Florence and also out towards nearby Fiesole; a hilltop village which itself makes for an excellent day out with its impressive Roman amphitheatre and the ruins of a Roman bath and temple. The Archaeological Museum of Fiesole is an accessible tourist attraction with lifts to all levels both inside and out. It houses some magnificent archaeological finds from the Etruscan period (9th-8th century BC) and Roman period (2nd century BC) and the Antiquariam Costantini Collection – a collection of more than 150 pieces of ceramics from ancient Greece and Etruria. Outside, there are the remains of Roman baths and an amphitheatre and ruins of temples dated back to both periods.
And, if you visit Fiesole on the first Sunday of the month, you will find an antiques market in Piazza Mino (Fiesole’s main square).
We found the open top bus tour to be a great way to reach Fiesole and, if you time your departure from Fiesole to Firenze just right, you will be treated to a spectacular sunset over the city on your descent.
Point of View
At some point in their stay, most first-time visitors will undoubtedly head to Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square) to view the sunset over the city. Indeed, this famous square does provide visitors with a magnificent panoramic view of Florence but it is just so ‘touristy’ that it doesn’t offer the romance the postcards of the view might promise so, be prepared to queue to take the photo you’re after. A good tip is to go early, grab a seat in the outdoor bar on the lower level and sit back and enjoy the view. Alternatively, you could enjoy a sunset view from the Boboli Gardens.
As the name suggests, the square is dedicated to Michelangelo and it showcases a bronze copy of David but, to see the original, white marble David, you must head to L’Accademia. As any website about the city will tell you, it is advisable to book in advance to visit any of the galleries but do bear in mind that you will still be queuing with all the other people who pre-booked the same time slot as you.
For me, the sight of the 14ft David was well-worth the wait and turning the corner in the main gallery and getting my first glimpse of the statue, literally took my breath away. If you’re patient enough, you should be able to get up close to the sculpture, which is one of the best known works of art in the world.
Tuscan Dinner in a Florentine Home
If, you don’t wish to cook every night whilst staying at Il Bargello, you can book in advance and dine in the home of Sylvia and Eduardo with a handful of other foodie guests. We did just that – and enjoyed a very relaxing evening learning about the dishes and ingredients from our host, Eduardo and enjoying the five course meal prepared by trained chef, Sylvia, whilst chatting with guests from America and New Zealand. And, if food is your ‘thing’ there is a dazzling array of cookery schools in Florence.
Another famous Florentine landmark is The Ponte Vecchio but for me, this is one best enjoyed from a distance as an architectural feature but if you’re in the market for some exquisite, expensive gold jewellery, then this is the place to go. And, if you’re in the city on a romantic break, you can add your padlock to the many others on the bridge as a token of your everlasting love.
To stay at Il Bargello, visit Passepartout Homes.
- Basilica of Santa Croce
- Palazzo Vecchio
- Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore
- Piazzale Michelangelo
- Pitti Palace
- Boboli Gardens,
- Museum of Fiesole
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