One month in Italy (PART 3) – Florence

When planning the previous leg of our Italian adventure we knew we were going to have a blind spot of about 3-4 days somewhere between Le Marche and the Amalfi coast. Thinking of the drive back to Amalfi, we didn’t particularly want to head too far north, and hence Florence, which is approximately west of Le Marche seemed like a good middle of the road option, and, offered the promise of a more intimate Italian city experience than Rome.

We were travelling by car, and being typical tourist drivers were keen to avoid what we had described to us as the ‘traffic hell’ of downtown Florence, which meant some careful thought as to how to leave and stow our charming Fiat. We decided that staying outside of Florence was a good bet, and quickly stumbled upon the charming Validrose BnB about 20 minutes from the heart of Florence.

It was raining when we arrived late in the afternoon, and though pretty tired, we decided to continue the food train we were on and signed up for a locals food tour with Curious Appetite to get our Florence bearings. After an enjoyable intro aperitif at Il Boro with our guide (and some powerful Negronis), we headed for three types of pasta at Tamerò Pasta Bar.

By this stage of our trip we were onto the whole ‘pasta before the main meal’ game hence throttled back a little, leaving Tamero’s only modestly full at the end of the second stop.

Next up was a serve of the quintessential Florentine cuisine, bistecca. Due to our resulting meat coma neither of us can remember where it was we actually ate, just that it was a long wait for a very rare steak which although nice, pretty much killed the small tour group. Just a half hour into our meal the table fell silent as we all contemplated our mortal boundaries, too full to really engage in any meaningful conversation.

The thing to do in Florence is eat steak, and coming from Australia where steak is plentiful, neither Mon or I really embraced the tradition. The steaks here are genuinely massive though, thick also, and easily capable of redefining the boundary of ‘blu’. If you do like steak, then Florence has plenty. If you don’t care for steak, then this particular chapter of Florentine cuisine may disappoint.

We were exhausted but still managed to slip in a gelato nightcap before heading back to our BnB via the train.

Valdirose itself is charming. It’s run by Irene Berni and Paolo Moretti who happily greet you in their gorgeous guest dining room for breakfast every morning. The house, the grounds, the attention to detail is a stylists dream – thanks to Irene who is actually a stylist herself. It’s the kind of place you keep finding little details to snap away at. Breakfast overlooked by Paolo and his father in law Giovanni is a quaint and refreshingly ‘unbusy’ experience that really defined our time in Florence.

A note on the location. If you want to go deep on Florence and stay out late and really absorb all of the city’s waking hours, then Valdirose may not be the option for you.

It’s a 10 minute walk downhill to the train, but that train stops at about 9.30pm at night. There is another train slightly further away, and a tram 15 minutes drive away (with a free car park) which operates late into the night, but the inconvenience of all options did curb our plans a bit. The tram was great and frequent, but at certain times of the day, the brisk 15 minute drive quickly evolved into a 45 minute standstill in traffic.

If Florence is on your must-do list, but not the only thing in this area, then Valdirose offers a unique and relaxing experience whose grounds and accommodation almost make it a destination in itself.

It rained the second day we were in Florence, and we were quite unprepared for its effect on our poorly planned itinerary.

Tickets to see the Statue of David at Accademia Gallery. Not checked. Tickets to the Duomo. Not checked. General knowledge of Florence’s main attractions. Yeah, we hadn’t really looked into it. Rome for us felt like a walker’s paradise, and to an extent, so is Florence. But you have to book. Every museum on our list was booked out for weeks. And it was raining. We returned to Valdirose at the end of that second day only slightly defeated but bearing a dinner of wine, meats and cheese from a local delicatessen. Not so bad.

Day 3 was more hopeful. And then it rained. We took the wrong route up to Piazza Michelangelo and slipped and held onto each other in the pouring rain as we navigated a grassy incline leading to the base of the piazza steps.

Seeing other saturated groups descending from the piazza, we decided to shelter in the nearby La Beppa Fioraia for antipasti and wine. The deep fried salted ‘dough balls’ were a highlight and once again we marvelled at our ability to redefine our lunchtime food pyramid (which was quickly establishing a base of cheese and rising to a high point of dessert wine).

The rain did stop eventually and we marched up to see Michael Angelo’s piazza. We saw the city from up high.

Whilst wondering Florence we discovered street artist Blub‘s ‘underwater’ artwork dotted throughout the city; each based on a famous renaissance painting with an ‘scuba’ slant. It became a mission to seek them all out.

By the fourth day we had decided that either Florence was failing us, or we were failing Florence, either way, Valdirose is well located for a side town day trip and we headed off to nearby Lucca.

The sun was playing nice that day and we decided to hire bikes and get exploring.  Lucca is ringed by a circular fortified wall, which serves as the main cycle route around the town. You then head in strategically and explore the labyrinthian streets.

Lucca is beautiful, and had we been more organised, an overnight trip would have been worth it. There’s enough good food here too to keep your taste buds occupied also. The gelato to go for is at La Bottega Del Gelato.

Afterwards it was about an hour and a half drive back to Valdirose and we took a recommendation from our host and checked out one of the local steakhouses (you can’t avoid it) in the nearby town. Simple but tasty food, good service and that feeling that you’re a long way from the tourist office.

In the end, Florence and us had an average first date. Somewhere between the rain, the distance we stayed from its heart and its demanding pre-booking regimen, we had few chances to properly bond.

It might very well be different for you, as a city is often reborn with every return visit. For us though, travelling back on the super auto, screaming towards the coast via Rome, Florence faded into the distance and with the promise of the warm Tyrrhenian Sea ahead, neither of us looked back.

Check out Part 1 & 2 of our Italian holiday here: Part 1 – RomePart 2 – Le Marche.

Written by Mark Welker and photographed by Monique & Mark Welker.

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