“Everything about Florence seems to be coloured with a mild violet, like diluted wine”Henry James
Bellini Travel founder Emily FitzRoy curates her city guide to Florence
The city of Florence still possesses the greatest collection of Renaissance art on Earth. Wandering beside the Arno river, gazing at the frescoes of Masaccio, the heroic figures of Donatello and Michelangelo and the dome of Brunelleschi, the city’s most famous landmark, you can truly relive that exciting era. The most astonishing thing of all is that the streets and squares of Florence are virtually unchanged since the Age of the Medici. Florence has undergone a second Renaissance in recent years and is now home to some of the most exciting new designers, artists, artisans and restaurants in all Italy.
Eat & Drink
Caffès & Panini
Our old friend Rivoire resides in an unbeatable position overlooking the Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio and the Loggia dei Lanzi. This is hands down the most touristy square in town however, the lesser spotted Florentine is still a regular sighting in Rivoire, more often than not sitting quietly in the corner enjoying a freshly baked budino di riso and catching up with the owner, who must have the finest moustache in Italy.
Not easy to find, in a narrow alley between the Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio, but what a find it is. Owner Alessandro Frassica is widely known as the ‘God of Panini’ and you have our word they really are sensational. Salt-free ciabatta loaves arrive by the sack, load each morning from the local baker, our top filling must be mortadella with gorgonzola and ‘nduja (that crazy spicy spreadable salumi from Calabria). Alessandro is constantly experimenting with new discoveries like drizzling Mugolio di Primitivizia, a syrup made from fir cones no less, over an aged speck from Aldo Adige. Unlike the vast selection of fillings, there is limited drink options – only one red and one white wineor a glass of cold beer.
Head into the heart of the noisy Mercato Centrale and look for the crowds jostling around the bar at Nerbone. They are here for bollito rolls: boiled beef in a panino dipped in cooking juices and smothered in salsa verde. Noisy, rough and ready, and very local.
Undoubtedly the best ice cream in Florence. This hole in the wall has people flocking from all over town to Piazza Tasso for a coppa. The dark chocolate, salted caramel and nocciola flavours are outstanding. As are their slightly more adventurous combinations such as lime and basil, or lemon and sage. The fruit flavours are seasonal and depend on what is available in the market.
Tucked away behind the Uffizi, Ora D’Aria is a real find. Cool and chic, it is a haven from the hordes of selfie sticks and pizza munching visitors that choke up Piazza della Signoria. One of the most interesting restaurants in the city, chef Marco Stabile has kept his Tuscan roots but amuses himself by playing with the classics much to our benefit.
You will find the Cibreo empire clustered around Via dei Macci with four establishments to choose from. We prefer the Trattoria, over the more formal ristorante and cafe across the street. Sharing the same kitchen, the only difference being that trattoria menu is more limited. Cibreo sticks by classic dishes; polenta, minestra di pane (bread soup), pappa al pomodoro(tomato soup) – but are more sophisticated than your typical Florentine trattoria. Secondi include collo di pollo ripieno (stuffed chicken neck), polpette di vitella (veal meatballs), and salsicce con i fagioli (sausage and beans) – all superb.
An old-fashioned family restaurant of cult status, matriarch Chiara has somehow managed to get the balance of locals and visitors perfected so it still feels like a private club. Where to begin on the menu (which I can almost quote verbatim); always look at the specials including the wines they offer by the glass which are clever and unexpected. Don’t miss the anchovies with cold butter and toasted bread, the artichokes (when in season) and the fabulous fresh taglioni with fresh peas or, even better, wild garlic and tiny tomatoes which appear for a blink in the spring. The secondi can be leggero (light) with an excellent scaloppine al limone, or pesante (heavy) with some very good sweetbreads and brains in various shapes and styles. And if you love white truffle, this is the place in town to come in October each year.
Not even a year old but already earning a serious reputation, Il Nugolo is run by three trendy young Florentines who, after working in kitchens around the globe have set up shop in a little corner of Florence by the market of Sant’Ambrogio. The cooking is serious, possibly a little too gimmicky and try hard, but still really, really good. Nearly all the ingredients are sourced from their vegetable garden near Settignano, a little borgo on a hillside northeast of Florence, which is home to a modest 200 varieties of tomato. The restaurant itself is divine, with an open kitchen and design led aesthetic that make it a welcome relief from the ‘trat’ style that pervades many of our other favourite spots on this list.
I’ve never heard an English voice in here, this is quite possibly due to the fact it’s a good walk down the Oltrarno to Porta San Frediano, and perhaps it’s just a little bit too rough and ready for some. But that is why we adore it, from the hand typed daily menu to the rock bottom prices and the very coarse red wine (almost as coarse as the service is) and the fact that more often than not you are sharing your table with builders in high vis jackets, school children doing their homework and ageing Florentine grandees in their Loden coats and vintage Pucci.
Wine, Cocktails & Dancing
Shrouded in mystery, if you ring the bell and mention Rasputin you may or may not be allowed to enter and enjoy some killer cocktails. We’ll leave it at that.
Tucked away just over Ponte Vecchio, on the south side of the Arno toward Palazzo Pitti, this wine bar is the perfect place for an aperitivo or a light lunch of charcuterie and cheeses.
This smart, old-fashioned hole in the wall on Piazza Pitti has an excellent wine list from small to high-end Tuscan producers. The menu is made up of excellent local cheeses and charcuterie, and fresh pastas made daily in house.
For market life, go early to the daily Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio and watch all the local restauranteurs negotiating over the morning’s deliveries. There is a palpable buzz in the air and it’s a great way to start a day in Florence. For designer boutiques, the main areas are Via Tornabuoni, the city’s fashion hub, Via della Vigna Vecchia, Via Del Corso, Via Roma and Via de’ Calzaiuoli. The Oltrarno meanwhile is home to some fun and eccentric one-off shops.
If you love cooking, interiors and restoration then this is a must. Riccardo’s team ranging from carpenters to upholsterers, bronzers to restorers beetle away the workshops surrounding the very pretty central cobbled courtyard. Interspersed with the workshops are a warren of show rooms stuffed with delights and completely irresistible. Upstairs is the Desinare cooking school which is worth a peak or a day spent in the kitchen.
A startlingly original homeware shop and a technicoloured world of melamine. Mario Luca’s glass free creations are often seen on the most stylish yachts and stocked at the chicest pool bars. The anti-mosquito chandeliers are artworks in themselves and make brilliant gifts, as do the shocking pink water jugs and electric green dog bowls.
Wonderful leather shop featuring the much-coveted designs of charismatic and colourful owner Wanny di Filippo, also known as the Father Christmas of Florence (you’ll understand when you see him). The leather goods with the world-famous Bison stamp last forever.