After three days in the Tuscan countryside, our driver from Andiamo! Tours picked us up in Montepulciano and drove us 2 hours to Florence. We got a glimpse of Siena along the drive but didn’t have time to stop and it was also pouring rain so no one was up for it anyway. We stayed at the Hotel Degli Orafi, which is located right on the Arno River and is about a 2 minute walk to the Ponte Vecchio. We really loved this location and my husband and I splurged on their “Room with a View” Suite which is where scenes from that movie with Helena Bonham Carter were filmed. Our room featured a huge covered patio with view of the river and Ponte Vecchio – we loved it!
Having never been to Florence, we knew we wanted to hit several of the big sights. We were with my mother-in-law, who is a real trooper in terms of sight seeing and walking, but really strenuous activities, like climbing the dome of the Duomo, were out of the question. So, we took it easy and only did a few things a day and stopped for leisurely lunches and gelato breaks as well. Stephen and I usually ended with some wine on our room patio. It was actually nice to slow down and not feel like we needed to “do it all.”
After checking into our hotel, our first stop was the famous rose-colored Duomo. We walked around the outside and inside for a bit. I have to say that the interior of the Duomo is pretty lackluster – don’t expect any soaring stained glass or gold-leafed opulence like the Vatican. However, the painted interior of Brunelleschi’s dome was incredible and worth the wait in line.
The Ponte Vecchio
Right next door to our hotel was the Ponte Vecchio, which is one of the oldest bridges in Florence and is lined with shops selling gold and other expensive jewelry. Our room had a huge patio and it overlooked the bridge so we got some great views and photos of it. Unless you really want to shop for gold jewelry, I found the actual bridge itself kind of boring. Our room at the Hotel Degli Orafi has a “Room With a View” Suite, which is what we booked for me and Steve. They actually filmed scenes from the movie there (the original with Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands) and the view from our balcony was amazing. We loved having coffee there in the morning.
The Basilica of Santa Croce
This was my favorite sight that we visited while in Florence. The Basilica of Santa Croce was completed in 1442 and has 16 chapels in it that are decorated with incredible frescoes,many of which were painted by Giotto. I took an art history course in college on Renaissance to modern art and we spent a full week studying frescoes so this was a highlight for me to finally see them in person. I took so many photos of the frescoes. The church is also gorgeous inside and out and there are many famous Italians buried here, including Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo. A bonus was they were doing a large Christmas market in the plaza out front that was lovely!
The Accademia and Michelangelo’s David
On our last day in Florence, we had tickets for the Accademia, which is a small museum housing Renaissance art, including the famous Statute of David and other sculptures by Michelangelo. Of course, the David was the highlight of this visit and even I was surprised a the immensity of the statute. It’s an amazing work of art and really unbelievable that this was sculpted by one person out of one piece of marble.
Another benefit about visiting Florence in late November was the lack of crowds. I think we waited a total of 10 minutes to enter the museum and other than people milling around The David, it wasn’t crowded at all. The museum also has some of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures called “The Slaves” depicting Christian slaves in bondage. The Renaissance painting collection was also quite impressive. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the Uffizi Gallery but that gives us a good excuse to return to Florence.
Overall, we loved Florence. I have always liked Rome but I think Florence is even better. It’s much more walkable and scenic than Rome and the art and architecture here is amazing. I also have to say that we enjoyed our meals in Florence more so than in Rome. We ate pretty casual while here and had the usual pizza and pasta but everything was much tastier and better executed than Rome. We also did one night where we visited a steak place known for the huge Florentine steaks but I have a separate food post to come later!