Are you taking advantage of Europe being on sale these days? I know many readers are heading over the pond. If Italy is in your plans, either now or sometime in the next year or so, be sure to read this post. After all, who doesn’t plan on visiting Italy sooner or later. I’ve got four Italian destinations for you, so let’s get started. In Part 1, I talked about Venice and Milan, what to see/do/eat and what not to eat in Venice! In this post I’ll share tips with you about Firenze, so let’s dig in.
FIRENZE (Florence, Italy)
When in Florence, I stay at Hotel La Scaletta. It went through a renovation a few years ago, so it’s much more modern than it was back in 2011 when I first discovered it. I like a lot of things about this place. First off, Silvia, Sara, and the rest of the front desk crew are absolutely the best. They are so Italian and warm and when you’re there, you’re family! The hotel is well-positioned in being on the side of the river AWAY from all the crowds and heavily-visited sites. Yet, it’s close enough that you could walk there from the train station and you can certainly get to any of the main sites from Hotel La Scaletta with an easy 15 minute walk.
The Hotel La Scaletta rooftop has tables and chairs where you can have meals or just hang out and enjoy the views. The rooms aren’t large, though, certainly clean and recently refurbished, but the WiFi was glitchy, so if you have a lot of work to do, it’s frustrating. Breakfast is an extra fee, so I’d suggest taking your breakfast out at one of the many cafes in the area. Hotel La Scaletta is very reasonably priced and if you use your Citi Prestige Credit Card 4th night free benefit, well, it’s even a better price!
My favorite walk in Florence is inside the Boboli Gardens, which is right near Hotel La Scaletta. You all know I love to walk because I say I love to walk in almost every blog post about my travels. Call me nuts, but Boboli Gardens is such a great place to walk (it’s MUCH more spread out than you think). One morning, I spent a few hours walking in the gardens and then went back for a late afternoon walk as well. So keep your ticket in case you want to enjoy multiple visits in one day!
Another walk worth taking time for is behind and up the hill from Hotel La Scaletta to Abbey of San Miniato al Monte, a beautiful park and church. You’ll enjoy walking the hilly neighborhood, visiting the gardens, and be rewarded with the best views in Florence.
Florence is a meat city with meat, usually steak, being featured in all the restaurants. The Italians like to see their meat before it’s cooked, so be prepared to see huge slabs of meat being brought to tables all around you. However, thanks to the Hotel La Scaletta “girls”, I found the most wonderful FISH restaurant. Yes, fish in the city of meat. And I really shouldn’t be telling you this because it’s already hard enough to get a reservation, but I’m feeling generous today, so it’s called Fishing Lab. It doesn’t matter what you order, what kind of wine you enjoy, or what you order for dessert, it’s ALL excellent! The staff is fun too. We had to wait a few minutes for our table, so they opened a bottle of Prosecco and we started the evening while waiting! It’s worth the whole Florence scene with all the hoards of tourists swarming around every site just to eat here. Go there when you’re in Florence and thank me later.
My favorite cafe is the O’ Cafe which is just around the corner from Hotel La Scaletta. The mornings there are fun and great for people watching. The barista is a delight and he’s always in such a jovial mood! I like the space and the vibe, and their coffee and pastries are good too.
Although I’m not writing a specific review of the coffee culture in any of the Italian cities, I do want to talk about Italy’s coffee culture in general. Coffee is taken at the bar. There are many ways to order a coffee, but generally, you will hear caffe macchiato (espresso with a stain of steamed milk), caffe lungo (a long pull of espresso), caffe al vetro (espresso served in a glass) and a cappuccino. It is fairly common knowledge that a cappuccino is not ordered past breakfast, with meals other than breakfast, or after meals. Why? Because the milk in cappuccino is considered a meal component in itself and putting it on top of savory lunches and dinners disrupts digestion.
Espresso, means “quick”, and is a concentrated extraction of very fine ground coffee beans. It is usually a mix of 2 species of coffee: arabica and robusta. Some coffee shops in Florence make their espresso from 100% arabica while some add 20-50% robusta for added depth and body. A curious fact about the robusta species of coffee: it contains a slightly higher amount of caffeine. In agriculture, this added feature of elevated caffeine levels acts as a natural pesticide. Apparently bugs don’t like getting a caffeine buzz.
There could be a whole article written about the history of coffee and how it arrived in Italy starting with Venice and Caffe Florian, Istanbul, and Eastern Africa. Did you know that the birthplace of coffee was in Ethiopia? With all that being said, no matter where you stay in Florence, by the time you leave, you’re bound to have your own affinity for a cafe as I do for the O’Cafe.
Ah yes, gelato. I have two favorite gelato places in the world, and one of them is in Florence! It’s not located anywhere besides Florence, so between the gelato and eating at Fishing Lab, Florence is quite the destination. La Carraia is WOW. Excellent variety in their chocolate offerings, pistachio is excellent, as are all their flavors. There is no place to sit and the gelato is so good, I have to sit and enjoy it, so be prepared to sit on the stoop and dig in. When you go there, be sure to let me know what you tried and how you liked it!
One interesting museum that I rarely see on any “must see” list is the Da Vinci Museum. It’s dedicated to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci and the website describes it way better than I can. I hadn’t been before and really enjoyed what it presented and how it was all laid out. It’s an interactive museum, which makes it even more fascinating. We all know Da Vinci was a genius, but this place really brings his life and genius all together in one place.
People often ask me about day trips from Florence. There are many to consider, but the one I like best is to Pisa and Lucca by train. It can be done all in one day. Stop in Pisa first and walk to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s a fun walk through the old town and across the river. Take your photos of you and the tower and then head back to the train station. Sure, Pisa has the tower, but the real fun is in Lucca.
A ten minute walk from the station puts you inside the city walls of Lucca. Walk around inside the old city, enjoy a meal (the best pizza of my weeks in Italy was in Lucca), and then walk the wall! Yes, the top of the wall of Lucca is a park and a MUST walk place! Walking the wall will be one of your Italy highlights, it’s that fascinating and fun. The wall is massive and the path is beautifully tree-lined. Enjoy your walk and then rest on the train ride back to Florence.
Hope these tips about Florence are useful. Next up, Roma (Rome)! Have you been to Florence lately and have anything to add? Any questions? Please let me know in the comments below.