Home is where the heart is. That old chestnut. I can relate – a lot. I’ve just spent a couple of days in my old home city of Firenze showing one of my best friends around (or trying to). She says I was a good tour guide but I’m pretty sure she’s a bit biased – I’ll still take it (love you bestie 😘).
I used to live in Firenze (Florence), so it holds a special part of my heart. I moved there as a fresh faced 23 year old, definitely full of dreams that I wanted to chase. I decided that I wanted to try to learn a new language, and I’ve always loved Italian. So, I did a bit of research and settled on Florence because it’s walkable and beautiful to boot, culturally fascinating, has what I’ve heard is the most beautiful Italian dialect, and because I could rent a tiny little apartment in the heart of the old city.
I quit my job, packed up my life and booked a ticket to Florence, and Italian classes for when I arrived.
The Sant’Ambrogio neighbourhood, my old home
The Italian classes petered out because I became frustrated staying in a classroom for days when I wanted to be out in the city. Instead I picked up art classes and learnt to mosaic. Mosaic work is traditional in Firenze and some of it incredibly delicate. What better than to learn a traditional craft in a new place. My chats with the art teacher and other students kept my Italian puttering along. I can’t pretend I was ever an expert but I couldn’t have asked for a better way to try to learn Italian.
I haven’t had the opportunity to keep up with Italian conversation in the intervening years but it’s surprising how much you retain! Having spent the last few days touring friends new to Europe around Venezia and Firenze, I took the opportunity to listen and to try Italian first (before reverting to English). I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t as hopeless as I expected. 7/10 success rate for understanding and being understood? Not bad right?!
The thing about Firenze is the food. I pretty much gave my friend a food tour of the city so let me do the same for you! We stayed near Piazza Santa Croce, a really cool little neighbourhood in the north eastern corner of the old city and pretty close to my old home near Piazza Sant’Ambrogio. Head to Pasticceria Nencioni, along Via Pietrapiana, for a morning espresso and pastry – try a cornetto con creama or marmelade (like a croissant filled with custard or jam) and eat it at the counter like the locals. This was my breakfast stop around the corner when I lived in Florence – will you believe me when I tell you that even though I was walking everywhere I also had to join a gym! I mean, there was no way I wasn’t going to be eating pizza and gelato every day!
Find Salsamenteria De’ Ciompi along the same street for fresh homemade pasta, and around the corner Il Pizzaiuolo serves such good (what else) pizza. Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio (fresh food market) sets up every morning and has the best fresh fruit and veggies for a snack while wandering. I find I start craving fresh fruit and veg when I’m eating allll the carbs while travelling (not complaining).
Nearby you’ll find probably the best gelato in Firenze at It Procopio. Ummm big call I know, but try it and thank me later. If you prefer a slice of pizza to snack while wandering around, Pizza & Co is a tiny hole in the wall on the corner of Via Giuseppe Verdi and Via dell’Agnolo. I’d usually stop by for lunch and it honestly has the best sliced pizza I’ve tried so far in Italy.
Dotted all over Florence you’ll find little bars that serve ‘apperativo’ in the evenings. When I was living there this was one of my favourite types of dinner, and it’s still a great option. Basically if you see a bar that has a little buffet (what they serve changes with each bar), you can head in and by buying a drink you also get access to the buffet! And you can go back for seconds, thirds, heck even sixths if you like, no problem! Win win I’d say.
Further south towards the river but still on the northern side, you’ll find another of my other favourite galato makers. It’s a tiny hole in the wall place called Gelateria Dei Neri, on Via dei Neri. In winter they start serving not only gelato but also one of the best tirimisu’s I’ve ever had (drooling). It’s closed Mondays (Lunedi). A lot of foodie places are closed Monday actually, so keep that in mind.
Cross over the river at one of the many bridges, the Ponte Vecchio is the most famous but it’s pretty packed a lot of the time so sometimes of the other bridges is more relaxed, and bonus, you get a great view of the Ponte Vecchio! On the southern side of the river head to Piazza Santo Spirito and straight to Gusta Pizza. This is my hands down favourite pizza in Firenze. Order a pizza and a plastic cup of house vino rosso (red wine) to take away and go sit on the steps of the Basilica di Santo Spirito to people watch (or dog watch in my case). For dessert, make your way back to be river and walk west until you get to Gelateria La Carraia, on the southern side of the Ponte Alla Carraia (bridge by that name). The first thing you’ll probably see is a green sign and a que – it’s that good.
Apart from the foodie scene Florence is packed with culture. I could ramble on about everything to see and do but maybe I’ll save it for another blog post. Give myself another excuse to come back soon (as if I need the excuse!).
So I’m heading home fat and happy after another 4 days of heaven in Italy. If anyone else has any Florentine gems (foodie or otherwise) they know about please send them through to me and I’ll head back to try them out!