If you're taking a Backroads trip through Tuscany or Umbria, your pick-up city will be Florence. Before you meet up with your fabulous Backroads leaders, we strongly suggest that you take a day (or 2 or 3!) to acquaint yourself with this timeless city. With a perfect blend of cuisine, culture and charismatic Italians, you may never want to leave!
Start your day off in true Italian style with a trip down to the local caffè. You've left the land of Starbucks and paper to-go cups many time zones behind you, and should now slow down to properly savor your morning espresso with a little people-watching and a pastry. There's no better way to overcome jet lag and kick start your vacation than with a caffeinated immersion into the Italian lifestyle.
If you're feeling adventurous, you can even practice your Italian and order like a local. A word of caution to avoid standing out as a tourist--che vergogna!--Italians tend to not have milk in their coffee after breakfast, so indulge in your cappuccinos and lattes before noon!
The mornings are the perfect time to start crossing museums off your list. If you have your heart set on seeing Michelangelo's David at the Gallerie dell'Academia (Via Bettino Ricasoli, 60), then it's best to get there early. During the summer, lines can wrap around the outside of the museum and are up to a few hours long! Don't waste away your precious day in Florence waiting in line, get there early--some hotels even allow you to purchase museum entrances ahead of time.
After being wooed by artistic masterpieces, stretch your legs and take a stroll down by the river Arno and up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Traveling around Italy with a loved one? What better place to declare your love than by adding your own "love lock" to the collection that lines the railings!
Now that you've worked up an appetite, time to head upriver for some classic Italian cuisine. Is there anything more Italian than a freshly made pizza?! When it comes to pizza in Florence, there are two very distinct styles: Florentine and Neapolitan. A traditional Florentine pizza has an extremely thin and crispy crust, almost like a cracker, that breaks apart as you dig in. The Neapolitan (my preferred pizza) has a more substantial, softer crust. When in Florence, you must try the famous Neapolitan pizza at Gusta Pizza (Via Maggio, 46R). Run by a trio of charming Italians, the wood-fired brick oven is constantly churning out freshly made pizzas!
Italians don't order pizzas by toppings like we do in the states. Instead, pizzerias feature a menu of pizzas with varying names depending on what assorted toppings they boast. For example, a pizza margarita is the classic cheese pizza, while a capricciosa has olives, artichokes, ham and mushrooms.
Your Italian lunch experience wouldn't be complete without some gelato. The Gelateria Santa Trinita (Piazza dé Frescobaldi, 11-12R) is poised perfectly on the waterfront, just behind the Ponte Vecchio--the medieval stone bridge lined with small jewelry and artisanal shops. Gelato in hand, make your way back across the Ponte Vecchio, and enjoy the window-shopping along the way.
As you amble back to the center of town, be sure to take note of the traffic signs you pass along the way. Beginning in the summer of 2010, a local artist named Clet Abraham began decorating signs, perhaps his most notorious is that of the red no-entry sign that has the shadow of a man sneaking off with the white, horizontal bar tucked under his arm. Clet has made many other variations over the past years, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled to see how many different versions you can spot!
I love visiting the Duomo (or Florence Cathedral) at twilight. The lights illuminating its intricately painted façade make it look like a fairy tale come to life. One of the best-kept secrets in Florence is the story behind the white circle behind the Duomo. In the year 1600, a bolt of lighting struck the copper ball atop the dome, knocking it from its high perch to the street below. The white marble circle marks where the ball struck the ground that night.
After such a thorough day of exploration, it is time to end the adventure in style. Break out the Chianti and prepare to indulge in some delicious Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak) at Trattoria Mario (Via Rosina, 2). Seating is extremely cozy in this small trattoria, so the waiters seat small parties with others at larger shared tables. The casual setting, mouthwatering aromas and boisterous conversations will make you feel right at home. Celebrate with those at your table and, as you savor your Italian wine, enjoy the knowledge that your Italian vacation is only just beginning!