Destination Tuscany: Why Not Choose… Florence?
Welcome to Florence, the capital of Tuscany and birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. This entire dazzling city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. An artistic and architectural gem, it is an open-air museum offering an unforgettable stay. On either side of the Arno, discover the treasures which made Florence Europe's leading political, economic and cultural power for 250 years.
An Open-Air Museum
Without a doubt, the Piazza del Duomo is the perfect place to start exploring. Whatever road you arrive by, expect to be astonished, or even intimidated by the immense majesty and magnificence of the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral. The unrivalled beauty of this building will leave you speechless. From its dome or the top of its capanile, you can marvel at the mediaeval city's labyrinth of streets. The view is well worth the climb. Just next door, the baptistery is as captivating from the outside, with the splendid gold and bronze reliefs on its doors, as it is from the inside, with its sublime mosaics.
Now walk towards the Arno and through the Piazza della Signoria. No matter how many times you cross this vast square during your stay, you will never tire of it. And with good reason: you need to keep coming back to fully appreciate all the sculptures and statues. Make sure you stop to admire the Palazzo Vecchio, with its crenels and tower rising above the piazza. Just a short walk away, the Galleria degli Uffizi offers a chance to discover treasures from the private collection of the Medicis. Or if you want a full appreciation of the works collected over the centuries by this famous family, you need to visit the Palazzo Pitti, on the other side of the Arno (the area is known as the "Oltrarno"). But first, take a walk along the picturesque Ponte Vecchio. The houses and jewellery shops along this bridge date back several centuries, making it a legendary and unmissable place.
Stay on this side of the river now, and head for the Piazzale Michelangelo, a lively esplanade often crammed with tourists, but which is worth visiting, as it offers one of the city's most famous views. Another of the Oltrano's must-sees is the San Miniato al Monte basilica. This rather challenging visit is best avoided on very hot days, but your efforts will be amply rewarded by the unbelievable beauty of the site. After crossing back over the Arno, stop off on the charming and tranquil Piazza Santa Croce. You can visit its majestic church, or simply relax on this peaceful square, away from the Duomo's bustling crowds.
For those wanting to follow the trail through the Chianti vineyards and get to know Tuscany better, the magnificent and timeless Pisa and Siena are easily reached. However, one destination stands out above the rest: Lucca is a real gem, packed with history. This peaceful and sophisticated little city will delight you with its small churches and cobbled streets full of pretty boutiques where you can escape the crowds of tourists.
Top 10 Must-Sees
The Duomo: at the end of the 13th century, it was decided that Florence's Santa Reparata Church was not grandiose enough compared to the city's age-old rivals, Sienna and Pisa, and that it would be replaced by a huge and spectacular cathedral. Today, the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral is Florence's landmark building. This extremely ornate construction is poetry in stone. Its majestic dome offers a view as breathtaking as the treasures inside the building.
The Baptistery: undoubtedly the oldest building in Florence. The origins of this baptistery are still somewhat mysterious today, but visiting the building, your eye will above all be drawn to its three splendid bronze doors and the sublime mosaics decorating the interior. Completed in the 13th century, the vault retraces various episodes from the lives of Christ, the Virgin and Saint John the Baptist.
Piazza della Signoria: as well as the Palazzo Vecchio, the former government headquarters which is now the City Hall, the square contains several masterpieces of sculpture. Particularly worth seeing is the Loggia, an open-air gallery along its eastern side, with its collection of period statues. Sit for a while in the famous Caffè Rivoire and savour the special atmosphere of this lively square.
Galleria degli Uffizi: this gallery, composed of the rich collection of art left to the city by the Medici family, is one of the largest and most splendid museums in the world. It contains paintings by some of the greatest masters of Italy and Europe from the last eight centuries. In particular, you can gaze upon Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera, but also works by Raphaël, Rembrandt, Caravaggio and others.
Ponte Vecchio: a legendary site in Florence, this bridge is over 700 years old and owes its survival to several miracles, including that of being spared by Nazi destruction. Explore its shops and jewellers, and stop on the balcony in the centre of the bridge to admire the Arno. The light here at sunset is simply stunning.
Palazzo Pitti: this immense palace, which belonged to the Medici family for several centuries, contains multiple museums, including the Galleria Palatina, composed of the private collection of the first family of Florence. Raphaël, Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens, Van Dyck… the Florentine, Venetian and Flemish masters are displayed in all their glory. Don't miss Cristofano Allori's Judith, one of Florence's most popular 17th-century paintings.
Giardino di Boboli: behind the Palazzo Pitti is the Giardino du Boboli, Florence's main park and one of the largest gardens in Italy. Make the most of this tranquil haven in the heart of Florence by walking along its leafy pathways and discovering the Forte di Belvedere, the Grotta del Buontalenti and the Piazzale dell'Isolotto.
San Miniato al Monte: perched on top of a hill in the leafy suburbs of the Oltrarno, this magnificent Roman church overlooks the whole city. Before you step through the door, take a moment to feast your eyes on the magnificent view of Florence below, then admire the splendid façade of the church. Once you are inside, its beauty will leave you lost for words.
Santa Croce: the most majestic of Florence's churches, the Sante Croce boasts stunning frescoes by Giotto and other masters of the Middle Ages. Although the church is known for its opulence and splendid artwork, it is also famous for containing the tombs of famous Florentines: Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo and Dante.
Mercato Centrale: when you get peckish, head for this delicious and colourful market, offering unbelievable ranges of cheese, fruits, fish, pate, olive oil and other delicacies of Italian gastronomy. Whether you want artisan produce to take home or something tasty for a picnic, you're bound to find what you're looking for in this feast for the senses.
Italians are known the world over for their love of food! How could you not be tempted by a flavoursome, creamy risotto, a delicious plate of pasta, or one of the many Tuscan specialities using marvellous local produce? In Italy, bread is made without salt, but comes with olive oil and a delicious tomato sauce: it's a culinary masterpiece!
Finally, if there's one thing nobody can resist, it's Italy's famous ice cream. With Florence's abundant gelaterias, you'll certainly be spoilt for choice.
April: Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart)
In the Tuscan capital, Easter is celebrated with festivities on the Piazza del Duomo. There is a procession in Renaissance costume, featuring representatives from Florence's different neighbourhoods, as well as the Calcio Storico teams.
April-May: Mostra internazionale dell’Artigianato (International artisan market)
Head to the Fortezza da Basso for a huge event promoting the local and European art of living. Here, you will find stalls from artisans, designers, architects and gallery owners.
June: Calcio Storico Fiorentino
From 14 June to the final on 24 June, on the Piazza di Santa Croce, Calcio Storico teams battle it out, playing this ancestor of football: a curious mixture of football, rugby and wrestling.
2 July and 16 August: the Palio di Siena
This spectacular festival, which takes place twice in summer, is a bareback horse race. The tradition goes back 700 years and promises visitors an astonishing spectacle.
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