A Month in Italy – Florence

Florence, or Firenze, was the center of European trade during the Middle Ages. The constant influx of people and knowledge (and wealth) birthed the Renaissance, and it continues to be a cultural Mecca even today. It is commonly believed that Florence has the greatest concentration of art per square meter of any city in the world.
Founded atop Etruscan ruins as a Roman garrison in 59 BC by Julius Caesar, Florence is a treasure trove of Renaissance buildings. The many self-guided and guide-led walking tours of the city will thrill anyone with even the slightest interest in architecture, especially in the city center, which still contains glimpses of medieval, Baroque and Neoclassical styles.

The many palaces and historic buildings provide a breathtaking view of Florentine history, and there are numerous museums scattered throughout the city, including the town hall, Palazzo Vecchio, which does double duty as an art museum. It was here that Michelangelo’s David was installed in 1504. While the statue currently in place is a replica (you must travel to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the original), there are numerous other statues by Donatello, Giambologna, Cellini and Ammannati as well.

A simple, unassuming building, Galleria dell’Accademia, is a must for any aficionado of Renaissance art. Along with the original David, the Gallery of the Academy of Florence also hosts other works by Michelangelo as well as a plethora of historical art from the 14th and 15th centuries. There is even a “skip the line” guided tour of the museum, which will give you priority entrance to the Gallery as well as historic information on the life and times of Michelangelo.

The city is dappled with numerous squares (piazze) such as Piazza del Duomo in the center of town, home to Florence’s Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, commonly referred to as Il Duomo. One of the most celebrated cathedrals in the world, it is visible for miles as it looms over the surrounding buildings. Choose one of the piazza’s coffee shops and sit outside to people watch as you sip an exquisite Italian caffè. Tourists can climb up into the top of the dome, with its incredible views over the cathedral and the city. These tours are breathtaking and inspiring but they are not for the faint of heart!

Florence also offers unique opportunities for tourists to experience what the old city was like. Perfume has played an important role in the history of the city with aristocrats demanding new and personalized scents to modern day visitors wanting to enjoy the unique and new scents. If you look, you can find master Perfumiers leading short workshops where each participant designs their own personal scent and leaves with a bottle of their creation and a recipe for future batches.
Major thoroughfares connect Florence’s piazze, which include Piazza della Repubblica (home to several bourgeois palaces), Piazza Santa Croce (named for the Basilica of Santa Croce), Piazza Santa Trinita (a triangular square featuring the church of Santa Trinita), as well as Piazza San Marco, Piazza Santa Maria Novella, Piazza Beccaria and Piazza della Libertà. If you are traveling by car, however, pay special attention to streets which are often restricted, one way and/or bus-only roads. A traffic ticket is a pricey and unpleasant souvenir.

For those who prefer a little shopping with their tourism, Florence has been a center of textile production since the year 1300. Currently, the city is home to fashion companies such as Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli and Emilio Pucci. You will want to visit Via de’ Tornabuoni with its luxury fashion houses and elegant boutiques.

Before you depart Florence, be sure to walk up the shady via Michelangelo from Piazza Ferruccio to visit Piazzale Michelangelo. The panoramic views of the city’s skyline are wondrous and inspiring for any photographer. No matter the time of day, the views are breathtaking and not to be missed. So, let Endless Travel help you plan the perfect Florentine vacation.


Recommended Reading:

The City of Florence, R. W. B. Lewis
Dark Water, Robert Clark
The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli
Galileo’s Daughter, Dava Sobel
Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri

Cinque Terre, The Five Lands

The area known in Cinque Terre, a series of five villages along the Italian Riviera northwest of Florence, is mentioned in documents dating as far back as the 11th century.  Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore and the coastline connecting them make up the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Limoni
The little path that winds down
along the slope plunges through cane-tufts
and opens suddenly into the orchard
among the moss-green trunks
of the lemon trees.
— Nobel Laureate in Literature, Eugenio Montale, 1921

While Montale originally trekked to the village on foot, these days there is a train from La Spezia that will take you to any of the five villages within a half an hour. Even if you have a car, it is recommended that you park in La Spezia and take the train the rest of the way, as the mountain roads are often only one lane, and the main road stops about a kilometer from Vernazza. Walking the historic trails, however, is something not to be skipped. The walking (and biking) paths spider web across the area, connecting the villages and surrounding sights.  Plan for a multiple day visit to give yourself enough time to walk through the vineyards and olive orchards, to trek between villages, and just to explore.

While many of the trails are perfect for a short walk, for some of the village to village paths, plan on bringing a picnic lunch and enjoying the view of the Mediterranean as you eat. You will need a trekking pass to access the trails during peak season, but during the off season it’s not something you need to worry about.

At the end of a long day’s scenic walk, you can enjoy one of the area’s many divine restaurants featuring such specialties as Monterosso Anchovies, Ligurian Pesto, and Farinata, a savory pancake-like snack made from chickpea flour. And, of course, the gelato made with honey from Corniglia is the perfect dessert. Once your appetite has been properly satiated, it’s simple to catch a train or shuttle back to your starting point. It’s actually a bit safer to do that than walk back as the area is populated by wild boar who like to roam the trails at night.

The predominant industry in Cinque Terre was traditionally grapes and olives, but in the 1970s, the brightly painted fishermen’s cottages perched on the terraced cliffs and hills began to be marketed as a tourist attraction, and tourism has been the primary industry since. In fact, tourism has become so important in Cinque Terre that even when there is a transport strike, at least half the trains through the area continue to run to ensure that vacations go on as planned.

With beaches, exceptional hiking trails and historic World War II bunkers, there is a little something for everyone in Cinque Terre. Endless Travel can make your trip to Italy a walk in the woods. Reach out to us today.

Literary and Popular Media References

Dante compares the rugged cliffs of Purgatory with Cinque Terre in the Divine Comedy.

In Faville del Maglio, Gabriele D’Annunzio mentions the region’s Sciachetrà white wine.

Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street shot scenes in Cinque Terre.