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One perfectly imperfect day in Florence, Italy

Author: Elle Canada

Travel

One perfectly imperfect day in Florence, Italy

Stay at Il Salviatino (top), a beautifully restored 15th-century villa, for a quiet retreat with stunning views (below).

As I stand on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s famous bridge, I can almost feel the history under my feet. But I can also feel the rain pelting down on my head, so I dive under an awning – the 700-year-old bridge is one of only four left in the world that are lined with shops – and snap some pictures of the umbrella-topped vis­itors enjoying the scene. That’s the thing about this enchanting city: Even though it has been pouring non-stop since I arrived here two days ago, drowning out sightseeing, shopping and truffle hunting, I – and my fellow bridge admirers – still want to be outside.

Florence is full of obvious historic archi­tectural and design wonders. But, if you pay attention, there are countless subtler details from centuries past: Look up in a market and you might see a frescoed 18th-century ceiling; look down and you might find you’re walking on a mosaic floor that still looks beautiful after weathering two or three centuries of foot traffic. Even if the weather isn’t co-operating, here’s how to craft a perfect day in Florence.

MORNING Start at Mercato Centrale: two large floors of fresh local food. Downstairs is the market, with stall after stall of brightly col­oured fruit and veg, pasta, olive oils and vinegars, and upstairs is the prepared food: pastas, pan­ini, salads, cheese and gelato. I want to eat everything, but I limit my purchases to two tiny jars of truffle honey. (A month later, my family and I tuck into the honey, along with some cheese and bread and a glass of bubbly, and it tastes just as you’d imagine: that floral sweetness laced with a savoury earthiness. Amazing.)

Next, take in Piazza della Signoria, a buzzing square in the heart of historic Florence. Michelangelo’s David stood here for 369 years until it was moved inside the Accademia Gallery to protect it from damage; a replica now stands in the same spot. (The committee who ori­ginally decided where David would stand in 1504 included Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli. Quite the crowd.)

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AFTERNOON
With centuries-old apothecary jars and tools lining its walls, the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella is required viewing. (Even the locals will tell you that.) Started by monks in the 13th century, it is the oldest pharmacy in the world and still produces many of the elixirs and perfumes that made it the official pharmacy to the Medicis in the 16th century.

Next, head to shoe mecca Aquazzura, just a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio, to pick up the ultimate Florentine souvenir. The shoe brand’s only store is actually in a 15th-century palace that was purchased in the 18th century by the Corsinis, a powerful family in Florence at the time. The marriage of original details (frescoed ceiling and gilded doors) with modern updates (plush sofas and sculptural light fixtures) makes the space as beautiful as the shoes on display.

And then there’s the Duomo. Even if you have seen dozens of cathedrals around Europe, this one will take your breath away, mainly because of its pink, white and green marble facade and large red dome, which can be seen from almost any vantage point in the city. It shares Piazza del Duomo with the Baptistery, which is smaller but also impressive – its gilded-bronze doors were dubbed “the gates of paradise” by Michelangelo.

EVENING There’s no written menu at Cibrèo in Florence’s historic centre – the manager simply pulls up a chair and tells you what’s cooking. You won’t get pasta here, but the authentic Tuscan cuisine – from polenta to meatballs to potato and ricotta soufflé – are must-tries. And the raspberry tart was so good, we ordered a second round.

DAY TRIP Tuscany is known for truffles – that pungent, almost garlicky tuber that you either love or hate. I love them. About a 15-minute drive to a hilly verdant area overlooking the city is a truffle academy run by “Giulio the Truffle Hunter.” With his faithful dog, Edda, who is trained to sniff them out, he takes guests truffle hunting. He shows me a specimen the size of my fist – weighing in at 220 grams, it’s one of Edda’s biggest finds and will fetch around $500. But when we drive up to the nearby forest, the sound of the heavy and unrelenting rain on the roof of the car has poor Edda shaking with fear. We don’t have the heart to make her get out and work, so we return to the academy for lunch: truffle bruschetta, truffle and bean soup, truffle omelette and truffle ice cream. Not a bad con­solation prize.

WHERE TO STAY: IL SALVIATINO
Damp days in Florence are still pretty good days—even better when you have a restored 15th-century villa (complete with frescoed ceilings, marble fireplaces and high-thread-count sheets) to retreat to. Il Salviatino sits high and regal on a hillside with postcard-worthy views. About four kilometres from the city centre, the 45-room hotel is a quiet escape after a day of sightseeing, and the regular shuttle into town takes only 15 minutes.

 

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Florence Black Book: An insider's guide to the Tuscan city

Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Take a walk

Edgardo Osorio is the man behind Aquazzura, the shoe brand beloved by celebs from Julianne Moore to Kendall Jenner. Although it was his métier that brought the Colombian-born designer here in 2005, Osorio knows his adopted city well. “Florence is a city where you should wake up early, go shopping, see all the museums and at night have dinner, get drunk and go home,” he says with a laugh.   “My favourite thing to do in Florence is just walk around – the entire city is kind of a museum. Start at the Ponte Vecchio and walk up the hill; within 20 minutes you’re at Piazzale Michelangelo, where you have a wonderful city view.” READ MORE: New Zealand's art deco time warp

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Discover an off-the-beaten-path museum

“Stefano Bardini was an eccentric art collector, and the Bardini Museum [a medieval church he bought and restored in 1881 to be his home and studio] has a lot of sculptures from the Medici family. It’s not a very visited museum but it’s quite stunning.” READ MORE: Weekend getaway: Portland

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Shop for stylish homewares

“Another place where I buy a lot of things for my house is called Flair. It’s probably the best decorating shop in Florence. They have vintage ’50s, ’60s and ’70s pieces and a very nice mix of things.” READ MORE: Inspiring Instagram accounts that make you want to travel

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Pick up some porcelain

“Richard Ginori was the most historic porcelain maker in Italy, and it went bankrupt two years ago. The Gucci group bought them and made a wonderful new store and they have a wonderful designer. The shop is absolutely stunning.” READ MORE: Weekend getaway: Miami

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Stop for a posh snack

“Procacci is a little wine bar in Via de’ Tornabuoni, the main shopping street, so after shopping all day, it’s nice to have a beautiful glass of wine here. They’re famous for their ‘truffled’ mini sandwiches.” READ MORE: Weekend getaway: Las Vegas

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Taste the best gelato

"Gelateria La Carraia is, for me, the best gelato in Florence. My favourite plan is to go before sunset, get my ice cream, sit on the bridge and watch the sunset as I eat it. Best plan ever.” READ MORE: Weekend getaway: Brooklyn

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Take home some linens

“Loretta Caponi handcrafts embroidered linens, baby clothes and the most beautiful pyjamas. It’s a wonderful souvenir to take home – they’re super-elegant and something you wouldn’t normally buy for yourself.” READ MORE: Weekend getaway: Long Island City

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Have a cuppa

“I love La Via del Tè; it has the best tea in Florence. It’s a really cute shop, and its name means ‘the road of tea.’” READ MORE: ELLE Editors' favourite Canadian brunch spots

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Eat with Miuccia

“Trattoria Sostanza is a hole in the wall, but it’s a charming little place. There are only a few tables, which you share with other people. You might sit next to Miuccia Prada on one side and a Japanese tourist on the other – there’s a real mix of people. The buttered chicken is to die for.” READ MORE: Take a stylish tour of Denmark's cool capital

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Go antiquing

“I love Maurizio Salici Antiques & Lifestyle. He buys things from Sicilian houses at auction or directly from the owner, so it’s all these incredible antiques – everything from corals to sculptures to anything you’d find in a beautiful Sicilian house.” READ MORE: ELLE Escape: Cool Copenhagen

Image by: ELLE Canada By: Ciara Rickard Source: Maurizio Salici Antiques & Lifestyle

Florence Black Book: An insider's guide to the Tuscan city

Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Enjoy authentic local fare

“Cammillo is classic Tuscan food, mom-and-pop style. They have the most amazing fried mozzarella, fried vegetables. It’s a place where real Florentines go.” READ MORE: Somewhere in time: Stay at one of Ireland's most luxurious manor houses

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Visit a Tuscan village

“I love San Gimignano, a beautiful little Tuscan village. It has one of the best contemporary art galleries in Italy, called Continua. It’s a super-charming little town.” READ MORE: A perfect day at the beach: Antigua

Image by: ELLE Canada By: Ciara Rickard Source: Getty Images

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Take a day trip

“Forte dei Marmi used to be the Hamptons of Tuscany. It’s an hour from Florence, and it’s where all the wealthy Tuscans have their summer homes. You have all the ’50s and ’60s beach clubs, pastel colours and beautiful little cabanas by the beach. It’s a place to go read a book, relax, eat pasta, drink lots of wine and then go shopping after.” READ MORE: Island hop: Cecilia Nord’s Antigua black book

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Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Shop (or just window-shop) for shoes

“The Aquazzura store we have in Florence is unique – it’s worth paying a visit. We have 18th- and 19th-century frescoes…you’re really inside an old palace, Palazzo Corsini. It’s one of the most beautiful – if not the most beautiful – palaces in Florence.” READ MORE: Enter another era at Ballyfin

Image by: ELLE Canada By: Ciara Rickard Source: Aquazzura

Florence Black Book: An insider's guide to the Tuscan city

Aquazzura designer Edgardo Osorio: Pack (and purchase) flats

“Bring a pair of comfortable flats for walking around or a nice wedge if it’s summer. The streets are very old in Italy and there are a lot of stones, so I wouldn’t advise wearing heels if you’re running around.” (Leather “Belgravia” flats, Aquazzura, $880, at NET-A-PORTER.com) READ MORE: Verona Black Book: An insider's guide to the Italian city

Image by: ELLE Canada By: Ciara Rickard Source: Aquazzura


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One perfectly imperfect day in Florence, Italy