By Anthony Grant
Few destinations evoke images of slowness and beauty the way Florence does. There’s something about the way this Italian city is cradled in the lush Tuscan hillsides and about the richness of its Renaissance past that’s still such a force here you can practically taste it. And art, art everywhere, beginning (or ending) with Michelangelo’s gleefully in the buff David: we’re talking hardcore gorgeousness here.
Florence doesn’t have, and probably never will, a particularly hopping restaurant or nightlife scene, preferring to beat to its own, resolutely Renaissance, drum. In fact, for gay nightlife, aside from a few standbys like YAG B@R and Piccolo Caffe, it’s a non-scene, and Florentines looking for one take the one-hour train ride north to Bologna. You can too, but between the Uffizi Gallery, Pitti Palace and frescoed cathedrals, or just lingering in the lap of luxury at a well-located hotel like the Savoy, there’s plenty to keep you anchored in Florence for a few days or more.
Choose your Florence hotel carefully and bear this in mind as you do: with a few exceptions, Florence’s historic heritage is best left to its museums and streets. You won’t find anything the least bit old-fashioned about the Hotel Savoy, which sits squarely on the Piazza della Repubblica, this close to the Duomo and a short walk from the the Ponte Vecchio. Their restaurant, L’Incontro, is one of Florence’s best and also has a terrace on the bustling but car-free piazza. You can sip Negroni cocktails to your heart’s content, and feel very much the center of attention. The guestrooms at this Rocco Forte property have uplifting bathroom mosaics and crisp Italian linens and there’s even a rooftop gym where you can work out with the Duomo at your feet. Right across the street is Gilli, an atmospheric café that’s been around a bit longer than Starbucks – since 1733, to be precise, and they make a mean cappucino for a nice price.
If your appetite for the Renaissance knows no bounds, you should definitely navigate your away through the dense patchwork streets to the Four Seasons Firenze, which is a 15th-century palazzo recently converted into a hotel. It’s like a museum – a very, very luxurious one. Even if you don’t stay there on your Italy vacation, stroll around the lush Gherardesca gardens which form the property’s backyard, or make an appointment at the luxe spa.
In the city center you’ll find no shortage of shops selling marbled paper and leather goods. But if you want something with flair for your home, check out Flair on the Piazza Scarlatti, or for lighting, scented Sicilian candles and such, Lungarno Details. If you need your Prada fix, head over to the Via Tornabuoni, where the big Italian luxury brands are clustered.
For post-shopping or post-touring relaxation that doesn’t involve Campari, I’d suggest a nice lunch at the sleek but affordable Caffe’ Slowly, in the Via Porta Rossa, or downtime at Soulspace, a chic new day spa replete with Turkish baths and a garden; it’s near the very famous church of Santa Croce. And for a day-in-the-country feeling, lunch at Hotel Villa San Michele in Fiesole, in the green hills above Florence, is an unforgettable experience.
As far as restaurant picks, if truth be told, I rarely get past the gelato in Florence, and if you sidle up to the counter at Perchè No! for tantalizing scoops of white mint, creamy coffee crunch or strachiatella (chocolate chip), you’ll get my drift. The gelateria’s name translates as “Why Not!” Indeed.
Anthony Grant created the first travel blog for TV station France 24 in Paris and is former Senior Editor at Forbes Traveler (where he now contributes features) in New York. Follow him at http://voyagiste.wordpress.com/