South Tyrol – our final days hiking in the Dolomites

It’s become a tradition for my friend Julia and I to spend a few days walking each year, and last September we were testing ourself in the Rosengarten range, part of the Dolomites of South Tyrol. I’ve already written about Day 1 in which we scaled the gentler slopes and Day 2 in which we scrambled over a high pass to walk through a rocky lunar landscape. Now you’ll hear about Day 3 and 4 of our walk to the final mountain refuge along a grassy plateau and our precipitous descent to the valley again for a welcome return to the lovely Hotel Cyprianerhof, where we had started our walk.

Hiking in the Dolomites

Hiking in the Dolomites

We set off from Rifugio Bergamo

After breakfast at Rifugio Bergamo (also known as Grasleitenhütte) we were packed and ready to leave, just as the sun was creeping up to the terrace. We had very much enjoyed our stay at this wood panelled mountain lodge, which had been originally built as a base for mountaineers and was full of nostalgic books and old photographs. We took some departure photos with the owner Hans, a strongly built and bearded man of the mountains, who showed us photos of the festival he runs at the hut when everyone dresses up for that bygone era when the hut was built.

Heather and Julia at Kolnerhutte

Heather and Julia at Kolnerhutte

Descending the hill we looked back at the rifugio still in shade, perched in a cleft between two rockfaces. It was amazing to consider how it could be built in such a remote spot. All we could hear was the rushing of the mountain river that cascaded down behind the rifugio and looking up could see the white streaks of airplane jets making criss-cross patterns in the sky.

Hiking from Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Hiking from Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

The sun warmed us as we skirted the mountain side on a balcony path, with views of the valleys ahead and pine forests below. The path descended to cross another mountain river where we hopped over boulders and then continued upwards on the other side of the gully.

Leaving Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Leaving Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

A difficult climb to Rifugio Alpe di Tires

After crossing a few more pebble filled mountain streams the path became steeper and steeper, winding up through the rocky landscape. Now we were scrambling and climbing rather than hiking, with metal cables and ropes to help us in the most exposed places. With rocks sliding under my feet and no karabiner to clip me on safely, I must admit I was quite scared at this point. After my fall in Austria the year before, I knew how easy it would be to slip on the gravel surfaces, with a heavy rucksack to drag me down. I slowed down the pace and breathed deeply to calm myself, leaning into the rock and taking it one step at a time until we reached the top of the slope.

Hiking in the Dolomites

Hiking in the Dolomites

Thankfully, the path at the top of the slope was much easier, winding through a flower-filled meadow and we decided to take a detour to Rifugio Alpe di Tires which we could see up on our right. The beautiful modern refuge with its bright red roof, sat on a grassy plateau, on the saddle between two valleys with fantastic views in both directions. The terrace  and cafe were full of walkers and climbers and the stylish interior would not have been out of place as a hip city hangout. As grey clouds gathered, the 10 minute stop we’d planned turned into an hour, with a rain shower bringing mountain bikers and hikers running inside. Still it was no hardship to stay a little longer, sipping our raspberry lemonade.

Read about our our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Read about our second day’s hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites

Hiking in the Dolomites

Leaving Rifugio Alpe di Tires

As blue skies re-appeared, we set off on the path that skirted the mountain, until Rifugio Alpe di Tires was just a tiny toy house in the distance, easy to spot because of the red roof. As the path climbed ever higher, I was worried that we might be in for a repeat of the vertical rock climb, but was reassured that the path must be quite manageable when we passed walkers accompanied by their dogs.

Signpost hiking in the Dolomites

Signpost hiking in the Dolomites

Now we were practically level with the tops of the grey rocky crags across the valley and reached a grassy plateau where blue flowers like larkspur were blooming in the meadow. The fence with a gate, told us that there must be cows up here, munching their way through the grass, surrounded by stunning mountain scenery.

Blue flowers on our hike in South Tyrol

Blue flowers on our hike in South Tyrol

The final walk to Rifugio Bolzano

Beside the path was a large cairn of rocks and from here we could see Rifugio Bolzano where we’d be spending the night. Although it seemed to be just a short walk across the grass plateau, we knew that distances in the mountain are not easily judged by the eye and that it would be nearly two hours before we arrived there.

Cairn in the Dolomites

Cairn in the Dolomites

After our climb, it was time for a break and a rest, so we shrugged off the rucksacks and took 20 minutes for a snack and a drink. I took the opportunity to take a few photos, while my friend Julia lay on the grass for some quiet time, contemplating the views.

Julia resting in the Dolomites

Julia resting in the Dolomites

Just as we left our rest spot, the sky darkened and the rain started to come down, turning the gravel path into sticky mud. With waterproofs on, we trudged along the path across the plateau, marked by a series of white cairns and nearly two hours later arrived drenched at Rifugio Bolzano.

Read about our our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Read about our second day’s hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol

A cosy stay at Rifugio Bolzano

What a relief it was to take off our muddy boots and wet waterproofs, to hang up our poles and enter the cosy, wood panelled dining area. We found the place was already full of families, with children playing games and relaxing before dinner time. Rifugio Bolzano was built over 100 years ago and with 47 beds is one of the larger refuges in the area – we soon settled into our private room with wooden beds and threw open the window for a view of the mountain.

Dining at Rifugio Bolzano

Dining at Rifugio Bolzano

We were slightly taken aback to find that there were no showers at the refuge, only communal washrooms where we had to take our chance for a bit of privacy. Still the atmosphere was friendly and convivial as we settled in with a drink and then ordered a dinner of hearty mountain fare, with the filling kaiserschmarrn pancakes for desert.

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

By the morning, the showers had passed and the rain seemed to have washed the air clean, revealing sunny views of the jagged rocky teeth that make the distinctive landscape of the Dolomites.

View from Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

View from Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

Our final day hiking back to Cyprianerhof

From Rifugio Bolzano we walked gently downhill across green pasture dotted with white standing stones, feeling a little bit like Hansel and Gretel following the trail. At the end of the plateau we could see down into the valley, although it was difficult to identify on the map which of the villages might be below us. Somewhere behind the ridges before us lay the luxurious Hotel Cyprianerhof, which we were very much looking forward to reaching that evening.

Hiking near Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

Hiking near Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

From the plateau the path became a narrow ribbon, zig-zagging steeply downwards, taking us towards the valley. Despite going downhill, the descent was by no means easy and as we got closer to the tree line, there were more steep steps with tree roots and the gravel was slippery from rain showers. After a couple of hours we reached a cross where there was a lovely picnic table for us to take a break and eat some of our snacks. The worst of the descent was now over although we had our waterproofs on and off with frequent showers, and there was still a good 3 hours to walk before we would reach the hotel.

Read about our our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Read about our second day’s hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites

Hiking in the Dolomites

A walk through the forest in South Tyrol

We now skirted along the side of the slope through forest, the smell of cow dung mixed with the scent of pine needles. The air was cool and damp in the shade of the forest canopy and moss gathered around the tree roots. Along the trail were a few wooden sculptures, carved from trees and logs that must have fallen there; an overhanging giant mushroom and a fierce eagle’s head jutting into the path.

Walking back to St Cyprian

Walking back to St Cyprian

At times the path crossed tricking streams that had been channeled into wooden troughs where you could stop for a drink or fill up a water bottle. Through gaps between the trees we could look down into the valley and from down below the sound of Sunday church bells and a brass band practicing in the church wafted up to greet us. The gentle walk gave me time to absorb the details of the forest, the tiny pine cones crunching underfoot and the orange mushrooms the size of a coin set into the bright green clumps of moss.

Hiking back to St Cyprian in the Dolomites

Hiking back to St Cyprian in the Dolomites

The final descent to Cyprianerhof

Now we were on the downward slope, on a wide track that would take us down to St Cyprian in the green valley, with the distinctive jagged peaks of the Dolomites rising in the distance – the ones that we had climbed over just a few days before. We have a tradition on our hikes of taking a ‘Before’ and ‘After’ photo and so on arriving at Cyprianerhof, we grabbed a passing walker to take a picture of us –  tired but thrilled at the prospect of the luxury that awaited us. Take a look the picture below – I think you can guess which is the ‘Before’ and which the ‘After’ ?

Before and after our hike in South Tyrol

Before and after our hike in South Tyrol

After four days and three nights in the mountains, staying in simple accommodation with limited shower facilities, you can imagine what a treat it was to enter our room at Cyprianerhof. It was all as lovely as we remembered; the luxurious natural fabrics and cosy faux fur throw, the huge bathroom with polished stone sinks and the apple on the bed to remind us to stay healthy in the mountains.

Bedroom at Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol

Bedroom at Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol

A well deserved Aperitif after our walk

Soon the wild women of the mountain were transformed into chic and sleek creatures, with freshly washed hair and make-up, changed into the clean clothes that we had left at the hotel – what bliss! It was time for a well deserved aperitif at the drinks party offered for hotel guests on the lawn outside; a Hugo for me and an Aperol Spritz for Julia.

Heather and Julia at the end of the hike

Heather and Julia at the end of the hike

With the view of the peaks that we’d climbed on our first day, we toasted our success and endurance in scaling those rock-faces, climbing over the passes, and surviving the lack of showers with only hearty mountain dishes and the odd beer to sustain us. Now we deserved the delicious meal and elegant surroundings that awaited us at Cyprianerhof – we’d certainly earned it!

A well earned aperitif in the Dolomites

A well earned aperitif in the Dolomites

Read about our our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Read about our second day’s hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Where we stayed in South Tyrol

To compare prices and book Hotels in South Tyrol on HotelsCombined.

Night 1 – Hotel Cyprianerhof

Website: Cyprianerhof.com A luxurious 4 star hotel in St Cyprian with extensive facilities for wellness and activity excursions. The hotel’s philosophy is to offer guests the full experience of the Dolomites, allowing them to recharge and clear their minds through hiking in the mountains, combined with relaxation in the spa and sauna facilities.

Hotel Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol

In summer there is a programme of hiking as well as climbing and Via Ferrata, while in winter guests can try snow-shoe, ice climbing and cross-country ski. The hotel is affiliated to the Wanderhotels group of hiking hotels with hiking and snow-shoe excursions included as part of the half board package that includes breakfast, afternoon tea and evening meal. The food here was excellent using local and seasonal produce. Half board package including activities from €156 per person per night. You can check prices and book for all hotels in South Tyrol on HotelsCombined.

Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol

Night 2 – KolnerHütte / Rifugio Fronza alle Coronelle Website: Rifugiofronza.com

Cost: from €52 per person for half board (evening meal and breakfast)

The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms, with 60 beds in total. Blankets are provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There is 1 hot shower which costs €3 to use. The Refuge can also be reached from St Cyprian by a bus to the foot of the Laurino chairlift, then take the chairlift up to KolnerHütte. Many people use the chairlift to reach KolnerHütte quickly and then walk the higher mountain routes from there.

Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Night 3 – Grasleitenhütte / Rifugio Bergamo Website: Grassleitenhuette.com

Cost: from €52 per person for half board (evening meal and breakfast)

We received a warm welcome at this family run Rifugio that was built in the last century as a base for wealthy mountain climbers and still has an authentic Tyrolian atmosphere with wood panelling, old pictures and maps. The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms with duvets provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There are 2 hot showers which cost €3 to use. The refuge has a charming traditional feel and is family run with friendly owners and excellent cuisine and wine.

Our bedroom at Rifugio Bergamo Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Our bedroom at Rifugio Bergamo

Night 4 – Schlernhaus / Rifugio Bolzano Website: Schlernhaus.it

Cost: from €39 per person for 2 bed room including breakfast. Meals can be ordered from the modestly priced menu and half board is available for groups of 8+ people.

The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms, with 120 beds in total. Duvets are provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There are no showers, only a washroom. The refuge is large with a traditional wood pannelled dining room and panoramic views of the mountains as well as friendly staff. The Refuge seemed to be a favourite with families and several people had dogs with them.

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

Night 5 – Return to Hotel Cyprianerhof (see above)

Read about our our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Read about our second day’s hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Getting to South Tyrol

South Tyrol is the north-east corner of Italy, bordering Austria to the north and Switzerland to the west. We flew to Venice Marco Polo Airport and hired a car to drive to the nearest village of St Cyprian, which took around 3 hours. Alternative airports would be Milan Bergamo (2 hrs 50 mins), Innsbruck (1 hr 50 mins), Verona (2 hrs), Venice Treviso (3 hrs). For those using public transport, trains and buses are available from most airports to Bozen/Bolzano and there is a bus (number 185) running from Bolzano to St Cyprian which stops ouside Hotel Cyprianerhof, running around once an hour (journey time 50 mins). The taxi from Bolzano to St Cyprian would take around 30 mins. To compare prices and book Hotels in South Tyrol check out HotelsCombined.

Speaking the language of South Tyrol

In South Tyrol both German and Italian are widely spoken, since the province was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1948, then became part of Italy after WWI.  In the Dolomites we found that German was more commonly used although most locals will easily switch between Italian and German. English is less widely spoken although you will not have a problem in larger hotels and in mountain huts there is generally someone with a little English. Because of the dual languages all towns, villages and mountain huts have two names – both German and Italian. For simplicity in this article I may use just one of the names.

Hiking in South Tyrol

Hiking in South Tyrol

Plan your hiking routes in the Dolomites

A good resource for planning your hiking routes in the Dolomites is the Sentres.com website and the South Tyrol Tourism website also has plenty of information to plan your holiday in South Tyrol.

You will find timings for walking routes on the Sentres website. However, be aware that these are times for fit walkers without any stops for rests or photographs. In our experience we found that for each 2-3 hours of the ‘official’ time, we needed to add 30 mins to allow for being less fit and 30 mins for a drink stop in a refuge. So overall we would add 1-2 hours to the times given per day.

We used the Tappeiner 1:25.000 Map No 29 Schlern – Rosengarten – Sciliar – Catinaccio – Latemar – you can order it on Amazon and a similar map was for sale at Cyprianerhof for €9 and probably other places locally. We could not find an English guidebook to the routes we were walking but we found we could navigate fine with just a map as the paths were well marked.

Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol

Here are the routes and timings we took

Day 1 – Cyprianerhof to KolnerHütte

  • Official time: 4 hours
  • Actual time without stops: 4 hrs 30 mins
  • Actual time with stops: 6 hours
  • Our route was: Cyprianerhof – Nigerhütte 2 hrs / Nigerhütte – Messnerjoch hütte 1 hr / Messnerjoch hütte – KolnerHütte 1 hr 30 mins

Read about our Day 1 hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Day 2 – KolnerHütte to Grasleitenhütte

  • Official time: 5 hrs 30 mins
  • Actual time without stops: 6 hrs
  • Actual time with stops: 7 hrs 30 mins
  • Our route was: KolnerHütte – top of Coronelle Pass 1 hr / top of Coronelle Pass – Rif. Vaiolet 1 hr 45 mins / Rif. Vaiolet – Grasleitenpasse 1 hr 30 mins / Grasleitenpasse – Grasseleitenhutte 1 hr 30 mins Warning: very steep climbing with cables over Coronelle Pass

Read about our Day 2 hike – Over the pass in the Dolomites – hiking in South Tyrol

Day 3 – Grasleitenhütte to Schlernhaus

  • Official time: 4 hrs
  • Actual time without stops: 5 hrs
  • Actual time with stops: 7 hrs 30 mins ( we made a 40 min detour to Rif. Alpe di Tires)
  • Our route was: Grasleitenhütte – Rif. Alpe di Tires 3 hrs 25 mins / Rif. Alpe di Tires to cairn at start of plateau 1 hr 20 mins / Cairn at start of plateau to Schlernhaus 1 hr 30 mins. Warning: very steep climbing with cables on final part of route 3 up to Rif. Alpe di Tires

Day 4 – Schlernhaus to Cyprianerhof

  • Official time: 4 hrs 30 mins
  • Actual time without stops: 6 hrs
  • Actual time with stops: 8 hrs
  • Our route was: Schlernhaus – Junction of route 3 & 7 1 hr 50 mins / Junction of route 3 & 7 – Turning to route 7B 1 hr / Turning to route 7B – Tschafonhutte 1 hr / Tschafonhutte – Cyprianerhof 2 hr

You’ve just finished reading about Day 3 & 4 of our hike

Thanks to the South Tyrol Tourism board who hosted my walking tour of the Dolomites.

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Florence – 18 things to do in a weekend – video

Florence is so packed with delicious art and architecture that it would take a lifetime to see it all. Of course there are some unmissable highlights, but it’s just as much fun to watch the world go by from a cafe terrace or escape the crowds in the Boboli gardens. On my weekend with Citalia I had just 48 hours and not wanting to miss anything I certainly packed in the sightseeing!

Florence 18 things to do in a weekend

Here’s my video that covers the key things to see in Florence and some fun things that I enjoyed while I was there. You don’t have to see it all, just take your time and have a few stops for a slice of pizza or a gelato as you discover this historic city.

If you can’t see the video above about my weekend in Florence, see it on my blog here or Youtube here and please do subscribe using the button above
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Here are some of the things I enjoyed during my weekend in Florence with Citalia – you can also read more in my other articles from the weekend;

How to spend a perfect long weekend in Florence
10 delicious things to eat in Florence

Duomo in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Duomo in Florence

1. The Duomo

Most visitors to Florence will visit its star attraction, the Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which is free to enter. The west facade, covered with intricate pastel coloured marble looks old, but in fact dates only to the 19th century. Most famous of all is the terracotta-tiled dome, designed by Filippo Brunellesci who studied the Roman Pantheon to come up with the double layer egg shaped design which you can still climb inside today. Buy a €15 ticket from the office opposite the Baptistry entrance to visit the Baptistry, Campanile, Museum and to climb the cathedral dome, including optional timed entry to enable you to skip the lines.

The Baptistry in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Baptistry in Florence

2. The Baptistry

Right in front of the cathedral is the octagonal Baptistry of St John, the exterior clothed with patterns of white, pink and green marble. Inside, the small arched windows illuminate the magnificent gold mosaics on the roof depicting scenes of the Last Judgement. The north doors of Ghilberti’s ‘Gates of Paradise’ are a magnet for the tourists, showing Old Testament scenes in intricate relief, although these are bronze copies of the originals in gold, which now reside in the Duomo museum.

3. Climb the Campanile

Rather than climb the dome itself, I decided to try the 85 metre high Campanile, for views over the old city and also a bird’s eye view the dome itself. The lines were long, but with my timed ticket I had a much shorter wait to start my climb up the 415 steps to the top. There were three different stages to take a break and admire the view before I arrived at the very top, looking down onto the Dome. Although the views were fantastic, be warned that it’s not for the fainthearted, as it can be quite claustrophobic trying to pass the long stream of people on the narrow stone stairs.

Porcellino in Florence

Stroking the nose of Porcellino in Florence

4. Stroke the nose of Il Porcellino

At the covered loggia known as the New Market or straw market, you’ll find Il Porcellino, the famous bronze statue of a wild boar. This ‘little pig” is a copy of an earlier marble version and is a popular lucky charm for visitors to Florence. Put a small coin in his mouth and watch it fall through the grill below, then stroke his nose, and your dreams are sure to come true!

5. Feast your eyes in the Mercato Centrale

The morning is the best time to admire the fresh produce in the Mercato Centrale, since this part of the market winds down after lunch. It was a pleasure to wander around and admire the traders at work, butchers expertly cutting up meat, fishmongers fileting fish, the fruit and veg being arranged in attractive polished pile. The deli counters sold everything from cheeses to dried mushrooms to bottles of limoncello to take home as a souvenir. I also enjoyed a tasting at the stall piled with cantucci, a twice baked almond biscuit that’s perfect to dunk in your morning coffee.

Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mercato Centrale in Florence

6. Try some Tripe – the Florentine speciality

While we might feel a little squeamish at eating tripe, in Florence it’s considered a local specialty, so consider giving it a try. In the market you’ll see the white, spongy cow’s stomach on sale at the butcher’s counter and on the menu of many traditional Trattorias, a hearty home-cooked dish with a rich tomato or wine sauce. In the Mercato Centrale, the crowds were flocking around Da Nerbone, the stall on the ground floor of the market that serves tripe as a lunchtime snack in a bread roll.

7. Stay at Hotel Balestri with Citalia

My hotel was the four star Hotel Balestri, booked through Citalia, which was perfectly located for a city break, just a 5 minute stroll from the Ponte Vecchio. My window overlooked the river and despite being so central it was a quiet location, set apart from the busy tourist areas. The decor was clean and modern with a glamorous Art Deco feel, plenty of marble and mirrors. There was no restaurant, but a sitting area and bar where I tried the Negroni cocktail, a favourite aperitivo with the Florentines since it was invented here.

Bedroom at Hotel Balestri with Citalia

Bedroom at Hotel Balestri with Citalia

8. Window shop on the Ponte Vecchio

My walk took me across another of Florence’s must-see attractions, the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge with an arcade of jewellery shops that seem to hang precariously over the river. The shops were originally populated by butchers and leather tanners, until in 1593 the Medicis decided that the smell was unbearable and ordered the shops to be let to goldsmiths instead. The shop windows dripping with gold jewellery are still there today, and it’s a popular place to hang out with a view of the Uffizi and the river.

La Strega Nocciola Gelaterie in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

La Strega Nocciola Gelaterie in Florence

9. Time for Gelato

One of the pleasures of Italy is the frequent stop for a gelato tasting, to cool and revive before moving on for more sightseeing. Look out for gelato artiginale, where the gelato is made on the premises from fresh ingredients, without the lurid artificial colourings you’ll find in some gelaterias. My favourite was La Strega Nocciola (Via de’ Bardi, 51) close to the Ponte Vecchio on the south side of the river, with a stylish, modern feel and delicious flavours. I also enjoyed the gelato at Vivoli close to Santa Croce (Via dell’Isola delle Stinche, 7) and Neri (Via dei Neri, 9/11) which had a neighbourhood feel and was packed with families choosing their afternoon treat.

10. Palazzo Vecchio

In Piazza della Signorina is the Palazzo Vecchio, where Cosimo I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany lived with his wife Elenora, until she sensibly moved with their eleven children to the Pitti Palace across the river. There’s a statue of Cosimo on horseback in the square and the imposing statue of Neptune in the fountain also has his likeness. At the door of the Palazzo stands a copy of the David by Michelangelo which stood here until 1873, when it was moved to the Galleria dell’Academia and now lives under its glass dome. Even if you don’t have time to visit the Palazzo apartments be sure to pass into the first courtyard to see the beautiful frescoes on the roof and walls of the loggia.

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

11. The statues in the Loggia dei Lanzi

To one side of Palazzo Vecchio is the Loggia dei Lanzi which forms an outdoor sculpture gallery, sheltered from the weather by the roof terrace of the Uffizi. The sculptures display scenes of struggle and violence, with the twisting Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna and the bronze Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini triumphantly lifting up the gory severed head of Medusa.

12. A hot chocolate at Café Rivoire

On Piazza della Signoria I couldn’t resist stopping at Café Rivoire for a hot chocolate and cannoli filled with whipped cream and candied orange peel. You pay a premium for waiter service at a table, but if you’re short on time copy the locals and order directly from the bar, which is much cheaper. It’s a great place to watch the crowds swirling through the Piazza della Signoria which is one of the busiest spots in Florence.

Caffe Rivoire in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Caffe Rivoire in Florence

13. The Old Masters in the Uffizi

The Uffizi is the main art gallery of Florence with all the masterpieces of the Renaissance and it’s a good idea to book a tour like the one offered through Citalia, or to reserve a timed ticket online. You could easily spend a whole day in the gallery, but a two hour tour will cover the most famous highlights, such as Botticelli’s Venus and Primavera and Filippo Lippi’s enchanting Madonna with two angels ( a portrait of the nun who became his lover and their children).

14. L’Accademia – Michaelangelo’s David

Another popular visit is Galeria dell’ Academia where most people come to see Michaelangelo’s sculpture of the shepherd boy David who slew the giant Goliath. The figure was carved from a block of marble that had been rejected by other sculptors and was originally intended to sit on top of the cathedral. Once complete it proved too heavy so was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio, but later moved to l’Academia under a beautifully lit dome. After admiring the David, take a look at the ‘Prisoners’ , a series of unfinished sculptures by Michaelangelo that seem to be struggling to be released from their blocks of marble.

The David in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The David in Florence

15. The Pitti Palace Costume Museum

Walk across the river at the Ponte Vecchio and you’ll stroll through the Oltrarno district to the Pitti Palace, the residence that was purchased by Eleanora de’Medici, wife of Cosimo I who decided too move her large family away from the bustle of the city. I particularly enjoyed the Costume Museum, displaying the couture collections of notable Italian women, as well as a startling exhibit of the funeral clothes removed from the tombs of Eleanora de’Medici, her husband Cosima I and their son Don Garzia.

16. The Boboli Gardens

After visiting the Pitti Palace I wandered around the Boboli gardens, walking up through the parterres and formal gardens to the small lake with fountain at the top of the hill. The garden was commissioned by Cosimo I and is one of the Florentine’s favourite places to come and relax. On my way out I came across a spot where the view of the Duomo was framed by olive trees, the roof tiles of Florence glowing in the evening sun.

View of Florence from the Boboli gardens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Florence from the Boboli gardens

17. Dinner upstairs in the Mercato Centrale

The Mercato di San Lorenzo or Mercato Centrale was one of my favourite places to eat in Florence. Upstairs the open, industrial style space had different food stands around the walls each serving a different speciality, with bar staff who come around to take your drinks order. I admired the oozing balls of mozzarella, deliberated over the wood-fired pizza ovens, the matured beef and the fresh fish laid out on ice, finally stopping at the stall selling truffles for a plate of their antipasti covered with a generous layer of truffle shavings – heaven!

18. Designer shopping at Via d’Tornabuoni

Most of the top designer stores are to be found on Via d’Tornabuoni where I spotted Prada, Pucci, Gucci and Tiffany, to name but a few. At the end of the street, by Ponte Santa Trinita I popped into the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, a must for shoe collectors and fashion lovers. Salvatore Ferragamo learned his trade in Italy, but emigrated to California in the 1920s where he made his name selling shoes to film stars and celebrities, before returning to Florence.

Designer shopping in Florence

Designer shopping in Florence

Read more from my weekend in Florence

How to spend a perfect long weekend in Florence
10 delicious things to eat in Florence

Planning your weekend in Florence

My weekend in Florence was arranged through Citalia who are a leading specialist in Italian holidays, winning the title of ‘Best Tour Operator to the Italian Peninsula’ for seven years in a row. They have more than 85 years experience in putting together flexible itineraries to suit your needs, using Italy’s finest handpicked hotels. The Citalia team are expert and knowledgeable in all things Italian and even have local concierges in each destination for personal recommendations, advice and help with day trips, car hire, or restaurant bookings. For more information visit the Citalia Florence page

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18 things to do in Florence

Thanks to Citalia who hosted Heather’s stay in Florence. This trip was part of a project between Citalia and Travelator Media.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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10 delicious things to eat in Florence

January 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Europe, Leisure, featured, Eating and drinking, Italy

Italy is a nation of discerning food lovers who really care about the provenance of what they eat, making it heaven to visit for foodies. But since Florence is such a tourist hotspot, I was slightly worried that during my long weekend with Citalia, I’d only find unremarkable, dumbed down versions of Italian food. In fact it was just the reverse and by understanding a bit of the food culture, following my nose and taking some recommendations from the Citalia concierge I managed to eat extremely well. If you’re planning a trip to Florence, here are a few of the delicious foods you’ll want to try.

10 delicious foods to try in Florence

1. Let’s start with the Gelato

You can’t come to Italy, let alone Florence without enjoying a gelato (or three or four). But when you’ve tasted a few you start to realise that there’s gelato and then there’s gelato. There is the gelato that is sold along the main tourist streets, piled high in brightly coloured mountains, which I’m sure tastes perfectly fine. But if you are aspiring to be part of the gelato cognoscenti you need to look out for gelato artiginale – it means that the gelato is made on the premises from fresh ingredients. Although the colours may be more subdued since nothing artificial is used, the flavours will be fresh and authentic. A gelateria artiginale will often sell the gelato in covered metal containers so you need to choose the flavours from a list rather than by looking at the gelato on display behind the counter.

La Strega Nocciola Gelaterie in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

La Strega Nocciola Gelaterie in Florence

Since I’m always striving to taste something delicious without putting on pounds, I tend to pass on the wafer cornets and go for the smallest size container which costs around €2. For that you can often choose two different flavours, and the quantity is deceptively large, so it’s a bargain! My favourite gelateria in Florence was;

La Strega Nocciola (Via de’ Bardi, 51) – close to the Ponte Vecchio on the south side of the river, with a stylish, modern feel and room to sit inside while you contemplate what you’re eating. The gelato was absolutely delicious!

I also enjoyed the gelato at;

Vivoli (Via dell’Isola delle Stinche, 7) – tucked away in the backstreets near Santa Croce it’s a small, old fashioned looking cafe and gelateria with plenty of tempting cakes too.

Neri (Via dei Neri, 9/11) – a small gelateria that has a real neighbourhood feel and was packed with families choosing their afternoon treat, also serving waffles and iced yoghurt.

Gelato in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Top: La Strega Nocciola Gelaterie in Florence Bottom: Highly coloured piles of gelato are probably not gelato artiginale

2. Pizza – of course!

Well, Italy is the home of pizza and if you’re in Florence you should take full advantage of pizza as it was originally intended – as a quick and tasty street-food. If you’re constantly on the move, trying to see as many of the glorious sights as possible, there are many stalls along the main tourist routes that will sell you a slice of pizza which they can heat up for you to eat on the go.

Pizza in the Mercato Centrale Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Pizza slices at David Bedu in the Mercato Centrale

If you want something that’s a bit more authentic then look for a café that has a wood-fired oven burning at the back to cook the pizza, so that you get it fresh and piping hot. Upstairs in the Mercato Centrale you’ll find La Pizzeria Sud! with the two pizza ovens working hard and at the stand next to it you can buy focaccia pizza slices from artisan bread-maker David Bedu

Pizza in Florence

Pizza in Florence – a quick and tasty snack

3. Cafe Rivoire: Hot chocolate & cannoli

Although I normally avoid those cafés that inhabit the prime position in a tourist hotspot, I couldn’t resist stopping at Café Rivoire. It has a terrace facing Piazza della Signoria – ideal for people-watching the crowds that swirl around the Palazzo Vecchio. You’ll pay a premium for waiter service at a table, but perhaps it’s worth it just to rest your feet after tramping the cobbled streets and take a break to watch the world go by.

Rivoire in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Rivoire in Florence

Since I was short on time, I did as the locals do and ordered directly from the bar, then stood at one of the small counters inside, which is much cheaper. I sipped a rich and smooth hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and from the cake counter selected a cannoli. This typically Italian pastry originates in the south and the crisp biscuit shell is filled with sweetened ricotta filling finished with candied orange peel. The sugar rush was quite enough to re-energise me to continue my afternoon of sightseeing.

If you go: Cafe Rivoire, Piazza della Signoria, Florence.

Rivoire in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Rivoire in Florence

4. Gilli: For elegant sweet treats

On Via Roma, one of the main thoroughfares of Florence’s Centro Storico, I was tempted by the sweet treats on display at Gilli. With paneled dark wood interiors, marble counters and an elegant terrace overlooking Piazza della Repubblica, it’s something of a Florentine institution for coffee and cakes or an aperitivo in the evening.

Gilli sweets in Florence

Gilli sweets in Florence

I couldn’t resist the displays of fruit jellies, marzipan fruit, chocolate praline and marron glacé piled on elegant silver trays and dishes in the window. This must surely be the place to stop and buy a sweet souvenir to bring home as a gift for your loved ones – if they last that long!

If you go: Gilli on Via Roma facing Piazza della Repubblica, 50123 Firenze

Gilli sweets in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Gilli sweets in Florence

5. Truffles and more in the Mercato Centrale

The Mercato di San Lorenzo or Mercato Centrale was one of my favourite places to eat in Florence. Downstairs are the traditional fresh food stalls that close in the afternoon, but upstairs is an amazing restaurant hall where you can choose from any of the stands selling different dishes. It’s perfect for families and groups of friends as well as the solo traveller, since everyone can wander around to choose whatever takes their fancy, place their order and take it back to one of the central tables to eat. The bar staff will also come around and take your drinks order, which you pay for separately, making it all so very easy.

Truffle Platter in Florence

Having walked around the whole food hall, salivating over the oozing buffalo mozzarella and taking in the joyous atmosphere of friends chatting over a glass of Chianti, I was seduced by the fragrance of truffles wafting from Il Tartufo. From this stand, specialising in truffles, I chose a mixed plate of antipasti (€15) and watched as it was covered with a generous layer of truffle shavings – absolute heaven! Just to stay healthy after all the pastries I’d been snacking on, I also quenched my thirst with a glass of fresh pressed apple and kiwi juice with ginger (€5) from Marcella Bianchi’s Vegetarian and Vegan stall.

Mercato centrale in Florence

Mercato centrale in Florence

6. Shopping for food souvenirs

I know I keep coming back to the Mercato Centrale, but if you’re looking for food souvenirs to take home, this is a great place to look for ideas. It’s a pleasure to wander around and admire the traders at work, butchers expertly cutting up meat, fishmongers fileting fish, the fruit and veg being arranged in attractive polished pile. The deli stalls have plenty of dried sausages and other moveable feasts and you can buy dried mushrooms to enrich your stews back home and limoncello to remind you of those sun drenched afternoons. I also enjoyed a free tasting of cantucci, the twice baked almond biscuits in enticing flavours like almond and orange or chocolate and coffee at the icantucci stall in the market – a lovely treat to take home to dunk in your cappuccino mid-morning.

Central Market in Florence

Central Market in Florence

7. Let’s talk Tripe!

We might feel a little squeamish at eating tripe, coming as it does from the lining of a cow’s stomach. In Florence, however, it’s considered a local specialty, a hearty home-cooked dish that you might remember your Nonna cooking you as a child. I even came across a tripe festival (part of the Bienale eno Gastronomica di Firenze) being held one evening downstairs in the Mercato Centrale, where a number of trattorias had set up their stall with a bubbling pan of tripe stew. For a couple of euros I could buy a small dish of stew served with bread from different vendors; some cooked with white wine and onions, others with a rich tomato sauce laced with olive oil.

Tripe festival in Florence Photo:Heatheronhertravels.com

Tripe festival in Florence

The flavour of the sauce was delicious, although there’s something about the gelatinous texture of tripe that takes a bit of getting used to. It’s clearly still a popular dish, since there are butcher’s stalls in the market that specialise only in lampredotto, and the crowds were flocking around Da Nerbone, the stall on the ground floor of the market that serves tripe for lunch in a bread roll. Go on – give Tripe a try!

Tripe festival in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Tripe festival in Florence

8. Aperitivo time!

By now it must nearly be time for dinner, so we’ll follow the Italian custom of stopping at a local bar for an Aperitivo – time for a chat with friends before heading home for dinner or out to a restaurant. Of course you’ll find delicious Chianti reds from the vineyards of Tuscany and a glass of sparkling prosecco is always popular.

Negroni in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Negroni in Florence

If you’d like to try the local cocktail, order a Negroni. It was invented in Florence in the 1920s by Count Camillo Negroni, who one day decided to order his regular campari and vermouth with gin, instead of soda water. The Negroni is mixed with equal parts of red vermouth, gin and campari – which gives it a refreshing but slightly bitter taste, offset by the fruity vermouth and slice of orange. Personally I found the levels of alcohol a little strong for me, but you can always order an Americano which uses soda water instead of gin or the bright orange Aperol spritz that’s drunk all over Italy. I tried my Negroni in the bar of the lovely Hotel Ballestri where I was staying with Citalia.

9. Bistecca alla Fiorentina

The steak in Florence is renowned for its flavour and quality, coming from the Chianina cattle that graze in the surrounding Tuscan countryside. Traditionally the Bistecca alla Fiorentina refers to the T-bone that is cut in a thick slice and served rare with only a few minutes cooking on each side over a wood grill. This allows you to fully appreciate the flavour of the beef and even if the steak appears huge, it’s expected that you’ll share it among friends.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina in the Mercato Centrale Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Bistecca alla Fiorentina in the Mercato Centrale Florence

In restaurants the Bistecca alla Fiorentina is normally priced according to weight (and it’s never cheap) so you should be shown the steak and told the weight before it’s cooked for you. You’ll be able to enjoy a Bistecca alla Fiorentina in many traditional trattorias or osterias in Florence and if you’re upstairs in the Mercato Centrale look out for several stalls that sell steak, sausages and other meat dishes.

Steak in the market in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Steak in the market in Florence

10. Il Santo Bevitore: Tuscan dishes with a gourmet twist

Crossing the Ponte Vecchio into the hip and trendy neighbourhood of Oltrarno across the river, I dined at a modern Tuscan restaurant, Il Santo Bevitore. This was a recommendation of the Citalia Concierge and was an excellent choice if you enjoy good food in relaxed but elegant surroundings. It was obviously popular with both locals and visitors and was getting busy as I arrived, so do ask your hotel to make a reservation. The white walls and simple wooden furniture were mixed with white table linen, heavy silver cutlery and fine glassware for an elegant take on the neighbourhood trattoria.

Beef carpaccio in Florence

Beef carpaccio in Florence

The young staff were friendly and attentive, dressed in that trendy waiter’s uniform of jeans, with black t-shirts and aprons. Everything I ate was absolutely delicious, starting with a selection of different breads and a fresh local white wine. I ordered a small plate of spinach filled ravioli, in a butter sauce with shrimps and a wafer of grilled cheese, followed by a tender Carpaccio of marinated beef scattered with salad leaves and shavings of pecorino and egg yolks. The meal was completed with a mulled wine ice-cream served on a rosemary and raisin cake, surrounded by a pool of creamy custard and cubes of quince jelly. This is also a good choice if you are travelling solo as there are seats at the bar that are great to enjoy the atmosphere without feeling out of place.

If you go: Il Santo Bevitore, Via di Santo Spirito, 64/66 near the Ponte all Carraia, Florence. My three course dinner with wine, water and service was around €50.

Il Santo Bevitore in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Il Santo Bevitore in Florence

A final snack at La Prosciutteria di Firenze

As a parting tip let me tell you about the La Prosciutteria where I enjoyed a delicious snack of prosciutto in a panini layered with cooked aubergines and garlicky aioli. On the recommendation of the Hotel Balestri concierge I popped in on my final afternoon for a snack before I left for my flight, and enjoyed the no-frills-just-good-food ambiance. The filled rolls are handed to you wrapped in paper to eat at a wooden table and you can also order sharing boards of prosciutto and cheese with a glass of wine. It’s conveniently close to the Palazzo Vecchio at Via dei Neri, 54 and they have branches in other cities like Rome, Milan and Siena.

prosciutto in Florence

Prosciutto in Florence

One thing you can be sure of is that you won’t be going hungry in Florence. There are delightful family run trattorias, osterias and pizzerias wherever you turn, so follow your nose and ask the locals or your Citalia concierge for recommendations to find somewhere delicious to eat. And if in doubt I’d just head for the Mercado Centrale to dine on their first floor – I could have happily eaten there for every meal of my weekend in Florence!

Planning your weekend in Florence

My weekend in Florence was arranged through Citalia who are a leading specialist in Italian holidays, winning the title of ‘Best Tour Operator to the Italian Peninsula’ for seven years in a row. They have more than 85 years experience in putting together flexible itineraries to suit your needs, using Italy’s finest handpicked hotels. The Citalia team are expert and knowledgeable in all things Italian and even have local concierges in each destination for personal recommendations, advice and help with day trips, car hire, or restaurant bookings. For more information visit the Citalia Florence page

Where to stay in Florence

I can highly recommend the four star Hotel Balestri where I stayed in Florence through Citalia, conveniently situated by the river, just 5 minutes from the Ponte Vecchio and 10 minutes from the Piazza della Signoria. My bedroom was spacious with clean, modern lines and plenty of wood and leather. The dark wood parquet floor, leather headboard and furniture had an art deco feel, with even the walls covered in a cream leather effect with decorative wood bands. The French windows opened wide to a lovely view of the river Arno and over the bed was a photo print of the coloured marble facade of the Duomo.

Bedroom at Hotel Balestri with Citalia

Bedroom at Hotel Balestri with Citalia

My luxurious bathroom was lined from floor to ceiling in light brown honed marble panels. The bathroom was modern with a large backlit mirror, plenty of shiny chrome fittings and shower set in the corner with water draining straight into the floor. The luxurious feel was completed with white monogrammed bath-robes, billowing white shower curtains, and plenty of nice toiletries. I wafted around in my marble bathroom enjoying all the space and feeling very spoiled indeed.

Bathroom at Hotel Balestri with Citalia

Bathroom at Hotel Balestri with Citalia

Hotel Balestri does not have a restaurant, but that’s hardly an issue when there are so many excellent places to eat within an easy walk. There is a bar area that adjoins the reception and like the bedrooms, the style is modern with clean lines and a slightly art deco feel in the mirrored tables, marble floors and leopard-print stools.

Hotel Balestri bar in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Balestri bar in Florence

I found the hotel staff were extremely helpful and friendly, and were happy to make restaurant recommendations and bookings. Hotel Balestri would be an ideal choice for those who want a well located, stylish and comfortable base for their weekend break in Florence, which can be booked through Citalia.

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Read about 10 delicious things to eat in Florence

Thanks to Citalia who hosted Heather’s stay in Florence. This trip was part of a project between Citalia and Travelator Media.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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