Firenze in November – Florence without the Crowds:
While it’s wonderful to have warm weather, blue skies and sunshine, some parts of Tuscany for me are simply too busy during the summer. And, if many of the things I want to see or do are indoors, visiting out of season is really not a bad idea.
The last time I went to Florence I really WANTED to visit the Uffizi. What I hadn’t realised was that especially during the summer months, you really need to book in advance. In fact, even in November it’s a good idea. This time we did just that and other than having to navigate through the rather complicated ticket collection and queuing system, everything worked fine.
The Uffizi is one of the world’s most famous art galleries with an extensive collection of Renaissance art. Now, if like me, you love seeing pictures ‘in the flesh’ it will be a real treat to wander through the top floor galleries, starting with the pre-Renaissance and working your way through to the famous Botticelli and Da Vinci pictures. For me there was something enlightening about seeing the original Primavera and the Birth of Venus, both are pictures that I feel are often reproduced in a way that makes them slightly hackneyed. And, much in the same way that I first enjoyed the New World Symphony (when I was playing in a Youth Orchestra and actually got to discover the ‘Hovis’ music in context) and Also Sprach Zarathustra (which I heard live for the first time in my early twenties, at the proms – and then couldn’t stop giggling at the wonder of what was ‘Space Odyssey 2001’ to me), seeing or hearing great art in its original context is an experience that for me is revitalising. I am no art expert but there were plenty of other works that I didn’t know including the Head of Medusa by Caravaggio and Venus of Urbino by Titan which are memorably special.
No pictures, because photography isn’t allowed in the rooms of the gallery, though I did take one of the statue lined corridor with its beautiful ceiling. The Uffizi is somewhere you could spend a few days and still have only seen half the art collection properly. And, as you can see, even before you get into the main viewing rooms, there’s plenty to look
We also managed to visit the Accademia, home to the original of Michelango’s David. There’s a copy still in the square where it used to sit, but inside the grand hall of the Accademia, you get a real sense of the size of this statue and you can spend time marvelling at the detail from the veins on the statue’s hands to toenails on his feet! Again, no photos, but in the courtyard there’s a rather kitsch replica which The Hedonist immediately named ‘Camp David’. Apart from David, there’s more art and a series of part finished sculptures and plaster casts.
Of course Florence is full of wonderful things to see. We revisited the Duomo and went to the Basilica of San Lorenzo, burial place of all the principal members of the Medici family from Cosimo il Vecchio to Cosimo II .
We had lunch one day looking out over the Ponte Vecchio at The Golden View, a restaurant with fabulous views and excellent food from pizzas to Tuscan fish and meat specialities, and then wandered across the bridge looking at the gold jewellery.
and we walked through the grand squares and fashionable shopping streets
And, of course, we went to the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale, a large indoor market with all types of food.
Much like an Italian version of Borough Market, this historic market is perhaps a little more popular now with tourists than local people. It did give us a chance to pick up a few more food souvenirs though, Parmesan for The Hedonist and some dried pepperoncini flakes for me. And we ate a hearty bowl of Leek and Potato soup rich with olive oil and really warming on a chilly November day.
Finally we indulged, as you should do, in a glass of wine and some truffle sandwiches, which turned out to be little finger rolls a bit like the ones your mother might have served at a drinks party, at the elegant and historic Procacci delicatessen. Founded in 1885, the shop and bar specialises in truffles and has a royal warrant. Suprisingly it also now has a sister shop in Vienna, and a restaurant in Singapore!
A perfect way to rest your feet and enjoy a taste of Italy.
So, having now enjoyed three days in Florence (two on this trip and one earlier this year), here are the things I wish I’d known the first time round.
- Like my home city of London, Florence is full of tourist traps where you won’t get value for money or see anything that is genuinely ‘Italian’. It is a good idea to plan where to eat, avoiding the famous Piazzas unless you don’t mind paying for the view.
- Museums and Galleries are ticketed and you should book in advance. Most of this can be organised online.
- Florence is very easy to walk around. You don’t need a car. If you are close enough to a railway station, then take the train to Santa Maria Novella and you will find yourself in the heart of the city. If you do decide to drive, the station has a large car-park which is not cheap but is very easy to find!
- For me, most of the things I wanted to do took longer than I expected. And, I would have preferred to spend even more time in places like the Uffizi. Florence is not a city to rush.
- Some of the galleries and museums are expensive. If you are travelling on a budget, there ARE things to see that are free, like the Duomo.
In short, to get the most from a visit to Florence, you need to plan and book in advance. And then, relax and enjoy accepting that you will want and need to come back to this fabulous city again! We were lucky to have won a complimentary stay in a fabulous luxury villa from TuscanyNow, providers of villas in Tuscany. Our villa, Il Monte, was close enough to Florence to make visiting the city easy and I’m very glad to have had that opportunity, so my thanks to TuscanyNow and Anna Binna, owner of the villa, for making us so welcome.