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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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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Where Heather travelled in 2016

As we start a new year I’m enjoying the memories of last year’s travels, like flicking through a photo album in my head. I visited new places, returned to old favourites and had a great mix of travels with family, friends and the occasional solo trip. This year is wide open to new travel possibilities, but before we move on let’s take a moment to revisit some of the places I travelled in 2016.

Where Heather travelled in 2016

February – a weekend of culture in the Lake District

The Lake District

The Lake District

My weekend in the Lake District brought back memories of family holidays as a child, when we stayed in an old stone cottage in the Easter holidays. This time I was there with my blogging friends and Travelator Media colleagues, Zoe and Kathryn, to enjoy a cottage stay with the Good Life Cottage Company. Despite the rain we had a great time discovering the cultural side of the Lakes, at Blackwell Arts and Crafts House, Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm and Wordworth’s Dove Cottage, getting out for a blustery walk on Elterwater when the rain finally stopped.

Read More: A weekend of culture in the Lake District (or what to do if it rains)

February – a spring break in Athens

Acropolis in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Acropolis in Athens

Later in February I visited Athens with my parents and sister who lives in Greece, gathering for the weekend at the classic and elegant Electra Palace Hotel. The warm and sunny weather gave us the opportunity to visit the Acropolis without the scorching heat and crowds that descend on Athens in summer. We loved the fresh spring days, wandering around all the ancient sites and relaxing in a pavement cafes of Plaka to watch the world go by.

Read More: Visiting the Acropolis in Athens: here’s what you need to know

March – A Caribbean adventure in St Kitts

St Kitts Christophe Harbour Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

St Kitts Christophe Harbour

March took me to St Kitts, my first ever taste of the Caribbean, where I explored this island that is one half of the island federation of St Kitts and Nevis. I found a laid back and slightly scruffy charm, with lush fields that once grew sugar cane, plantation house hotels and a growing list of stylish new bars and hotels. I tried lobster on the beach and rum cocktails at Salt Plage, learned about the local medicinal plants on a rainforest walk and saw the batik being made at Romney Manor. The visit gave me a desire to visit more Caribbean islands, which despite being small in size are surprisingly diverse, each with its own character.

Read More: A stylish traveller’s guide to St Kitts

March – Cliff walks on the Gower in Wales

Walking on the Gower

Walking on the Gower

I’ve visited the Gower Peninsula in South Wales a few times now, since my son was at university there and in March we made a return visit to the lovely Promenade View in Mumbles. With husband Guy, my son and his friends we explored the coastal paths and gorgeous beaches of the Gower, breezing along the cliff paths of Pennard Cliffs and Three Cliffs Bay. We even clambered along the peninsula of Worms Head, just making it back before the tide turned and covered the jagged rocks with the sea again.

Read More: The Gower in Wales – find your perfect coastal walk and place to stay

April – A farmhouse stay in Costa Brava

Costa Brava in Catalunya

Costa Brava in Catalunya

After Easter it was off to Costa Brava, for a family break in a large and luxurious farmhouse (read my review) through Charming Villas. The fields around the house were bright yellow with rapeseed and from the bedrooms we had views over the olive trees to the snow capped Pyrenees in the distance. We spent a day in Girona, with pretty pastel houses lining the river, visited the Salvador Dali museum at Figueres and had a tapas lunch in the sunshine at Cadaques, before walking over the headland to Dali’s fishermens cottages in Port Lligat.

Read More: A driving tour of Costa Brava

April – Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast

Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland

On Northern Ireland’s scenic Causeway Coast I found windswept golden beaches, ruined castles and of course what most visitors come to see, the Giant’s Causeway. Along with the stunning landscape of the Causeway, I braved the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and visited the photogenic Mussenden Temple perched on the cliff-top, staying at the fabulous Bushmills Inn where a welcoming peat fire always burns. I also dipped into the thriving artizan food culture, with fabulous seafood and outstanding quality meat, all served up in huge portions with a healthy dollop of friendly Irish charm.

Read More: 10 fab foodie stops on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast

May – Visiting laid back Menorca

Hiking in Menorca

Hiking in Menorca

May took me to Menorca, the smallest and calmest of the Balearic islands, a place that doesn’t like to boast too much about its charms, but is full of history, fashion and great food. I spent a day exploring Mahón, the elegant capital of the island, walked to unspoiled beaches along the Cami de Cavalls and  visited some of the island’s fascinating Talayotic monuments. Menorca has all the ingredients for a delightful break with mellow old buildings in Cuitadella, stylish shopping and lazy seafood lunches by the port.

Read More: How to spend a perfect day in Mahon, Menorca

June – A Uniworld Cruise through Burgundy and Provence

On a Burgundy river cruise

On a Burgundy river cruise

With husband Guy I took a Uniworld river cruise with Titan Travel through the South of France, from Lyon in the heart of Burgundy, to the medieval walled city of Avignon in Provence. The week flew by with rich insights into local culture and history, as we uncovered the secret passages of Lyon, visited the Papal Palace at Avignon and dipped into the world of Van Gough at Arles. Along the way there were plenty of opportunities to discover the delicious food and wine of Burgundy in vineyards, cookery classes and on board Uniworld’s extremely luxurious SS Catherine.

Read More: 10 things to expect on a river cruise with Uniworld

July – A road trip across Canada by RV

Canada RV trip Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Canada RV trip

As a child our family were great campers, and in July I rediscovered the great outdoors in a road trip driving a motorhome (or RV as it’s known in Canada) from Toronto to Montreal. With husband Guy, I mastered how to navigate and park up our home-on-wheels and enjoyed a range of outdoor activities like cycling, hiking and kayaking in Canada’s National Parks. We also found that with a bit of planning it’s perfectly possible to visit Canada’s vibrant cities on an RV road trip. InToronto, Ottawa and Montreal we dipped into cultural highlights from totem poles to street art and new tastes from Poutine to Maple beer.

Read More: How to drive an RV from Toronto to Montreal (Our top tips)

August – Cycling in Dorset

Cycling in Dorset Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cycling in Dorset

With the end of the summer in sight I went cycling with my daughter in Dorset, one of England’s prettiest counties. We set off from Dorchester, stopping for tea in Moreton and lunch overlooking Lulworth cove, passing Lulworth castle before finishing our ride in Wareham. We loved the quiet lanes, rolling countryside and sea views, not to mention all those impossibly picturesque thatched cottages, reminding me just how pretty England can be.

Read More: Cycling in Dorset on the Jurassic Coast

August – An active river cruise on the Danube

Melk abbey in Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

In August I took a short cruise with Avalon, starting with the cultural jewel of Vienna and passing through Austria’s scenic Wachau Valley until we reached Melk Abbey and disembarked at Linz. In Vienna we learned how to bake bread Austrian style, enjoyed the coffee culture and got to know the famous Lippizanner stallions in the Spanish Riding School. I also had the chance to try out many of the active excursions on offer, cycling past orchards heavy with plums and canoing down river with views of well kept vines in neat rows along the hillside.

Read More: Getting active in Austria’s Wachau Valley

Summer in Bristol

Ferry in Bristol Harbour Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ferry in Bristol Harbour

This year I’ve tried to enjoy more of my home town of Bristol, especially in the summer when there are so many festivals and things going on. I’ve discovered so much more of what’s on my own doorstep with levels of creativity and cool that had previously passed me by. In 2017 I hope to connect even more with all the fabulous things going on in Bristol so if you are thinking of paying a visit do let me know and I’ll be happy to give you some recommendations.

Read More: 10 Cool things to do on Bristol’s Harbourside

September – Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites

Hiking in the Dolomites

Every year my friend Julia and I set off for a mountain hiking holiday, and this year we chose the South Tyrol in Northern Italy for our girl’s own adventure. Setting off from the luxurious Hotel Cyprianerhof, we made a circular route around the Rosengarten or Catinaccio range, staying in the mountain huts of the Dolomites. The trip gave us the challenge of climbing over high mountain passes and huts with limited facilities (what no shower?) but rewarded us with amazing views and a sense of achievement when we returned to Cyrianerhof for a well earned aperitif admiring the peaks we had climbed over.

Read More: Hiking in the Dolomite – a tour of the Rosengarten in South Tyrol

October – a sunshine break in Aruba

At the archaeology museum in Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

At the archaeology museum in Aruba

October took me for some much needed sunshine to Aruba in the Dutch Antilles. I found a warm welcome at Amsterdam Manor Resort, indeed everywhere on Aruba which describes itself as “One Happy Island”.  I found an island of contrasts – on one side a well developed tourist strip with white sand beaches, on the other a wild northern shore with waves breaking onto the jagged rocks and little in the way of development. There’s a sophisticated and cosmopolitan food scene and I loved the street art murals in San Nicholas, showing an unexpected side of the Caribbean.

Read More: My 10 favourite things about Aruba

November – 48 Hours in Florence

The Duomo in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Duomo in Florence

With the summer over and Christmas in sight, I nipped off to Florence for a weekend break with Citalia, to get a quick fix of culture and good food. Of course I saw the best known sights, like the Duomo and the David but also took some time to soak up the atmosphere and charm of this ancient city set in the heart of Tuscany. I loved the bustle and great food in the Mercado Centrale where I found a local tripe festival in full swing, dipped into the Salvador Ferragamo shoe museum and wandered through the Boboli gardens behind the Pitti Palace with views over the teracotta roofs of Florence.

Read More: How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence

December – Finding the Christmas spirit in Coburg, Germany

Christmas market in Coburg, Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Christmas market in Coburg, Germany

My final trip of 2016 took me to Coburg in Germany, where early in December we caught the first weekend of the Christmas Markets to soak up some seasonal spirit. This pretty town, with medieval buildings clustered around the town square, was also the birthplace of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria who visited Coburg several times. As well as enjoying the mulled wine and Coburger Bratwurst cooked over a smoky wood fire, we visited the elegant palaces of Ehrenberg, Rosenhau and the Veste fortress overlooking the town where Martin Luther stayed and worked for a few months.

Read More: Christmas in Coburg – Discovering th seasonal magic in Coburg

What’s next for 2017?

At the moment the New Year is wide open for travel plans with just a few things pencilled in and lots of possibilities. So far I’ll be off to:

Dublin in January – my son has just started university at Trinity College, Dublin so I hope to pay him a visit with my parents. You can read about our last trip – 10 fun things we did on a weekend in Dublin

The Liffey in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Liffey in Dublin

Seefeld, Austria in February – as a travel blogger I often come across places on blog trips that I want to return to with the family and Seefeld was one of them. I was there in September 2015 on a walking holiday and fell in love with the pretty resort of Seefeld which is also a popular winter-snow destination. I’ll be returning there in February to try out some of the outdoor snow activities like cross-country ski, snow-shoe and winter hiking with my husband and friends. I’ll be trying to have a proper holiday (believe it or not blog trips do involve quite a lot of work!) but I’ll still be posting some photos on my social media channels.

Otherwise I have on my wish list to see more of the Caribbean, Canada and generally explore some new destinations further afield as well as enjoying all the great stuff in Bristol where I live.

Whatever your plans for 2017, I hope that health, peace and happiness follow you, wherever you travel this year.

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Read about where Heather Travelled in 2016

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

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How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence

While the summer may be over, autumn can bring clear, sunny days in Italy. Just the time for me to nip off to Florence for a weekend break with Citalia, to get a quick fix of culture and good food. My challenge was to strike the right balance between seeing the sights (and there are plenty!) while taking the time to soak up the atmosphere and charm of this ancient city set in the heart of Tuscany. Read on to discover how I spent my 48 hours in Florence.

How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence

Arriving Friday lunchtime

Flying from London City Airport direct to Florence, I arrived at lunchtime to be whisked away by private taxi transfer, arranged through Citalia. Driving through the narrow streets, we arrived in 30 minutes at Hotel Balestri, where I was to stay for the next 2 nights. The hotel was well located by the river, close to all the historic sites – I always think that with limited time on a city-break you want to be a short stroll from the things you’ve come to see. From my window I had a fabulous view across the river to the Belvedere gardens and Piazzale Michelangelo on the hill and looking the other way to the well known arcades of the Ponte Vecchio.

View from Hotel Balestri in Florence

View from Hotel Balestri in Florence

After settling in, I relaxed in the hotel’s glamorous, mirror lined bar, treating myself to the local Florentine aperitivo of a Negroni. Mixed with red vermouth, campari and gin, it was certainly strong enough to get me into a good mood for the start of the weekend, and for something lighter there’s always the brightly coloured Aperol Spritz. Salute!

Negroni at Hotel Balestri Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Negroni at Hotel Balestri

Dinner at Mercado Centrale

On my first day in a new city I like to just meander to get the feel of the place, orientate myself to the main sites and go with the flow. At the recommendation of the Citalia Concierge, I planned to have dinner at the Mercato Centrale where there’s an upstairs food hall serving many different dishes in a lively, café atmosphere.

Let’s talk Tripe

Well that was the plan. But when I arrived at the Mercato I found that downstairs, where the produce stalls would normally be open in the day, a neighbourhood tripe festival was in full swing. Tables designed for communal eating were set up down the centre of the space, lit by silver candelabras, and decorated with posies of cabbages and flowers. Wooden fruit boxes served as impromptu trays, so that you could buy what you pleased from different stalls, then bring it to sit and eat with friends.

A number of trattorias had set up stall, each with a bubbling pan of tripe stew. With the plastic tokens I’d bought at the door, I tasted my way through different styles of stew, one with a rich, tomato sauce, another like an onion soup with white wine. Tripe is a Florentine speciality and although the white spongy lining of a cow’s stomach is not the most appetising prospect, it was defintely a lot tastier than I’d imagined.

Tripe in Mercado Centrale Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Tripe festival in Mercado Centrale Florence

Although quite full, I thought I’d just pop upstairs, only to discover a whole world of food on the first floor. The open, industrial style space had different food stands around the walls and tables set in the centre to eat with friends. I wandered around admiring the round balls of mozzarella with a creamy oozing centre, crusty sandwiches filled with brie and sundried tomatoes and the pizzas being freshly cooked in wood-fired ovens.

Upstairs in Mercado Centrale Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Upstairs in Mercado Centrale Florence

My head was turned by cabinets of cannoli filled with ricotta and pots of tiramisu. Fresh fish was laid on a bed of ice waiting to be cooked, while at the next stand the well matured beef, marbled with creamy fat and almost black with age, would soon be cooked as the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Sadly I had eaten too much tripe to enjoy anything more but I finished the evening at the vegetarian stand with some fresh pressed apple and kiwi juice with fresh ginger, before heading back to the hotel.

Dinner in the Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Dinner in the Mercato Centrale in Florence

Saturday Morning at the Mercato Central

While I’d enjoyed all the cooked dishes upstairs in the market, I wanted to see some of the produce stalls on the ground floor, so headed back on Saturday morning when the market was in full swing. Although I didn’t need to buy any fresh fruit or veg, I enjoyed walking round the different parts of the market devoted to fresh meat and prosciutto, plump cheeses and a butcher’s stall just for tripe.

Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mercato Centrale in Florence

Coming up to lunchtime I noticed the Nerbone stall was surrounded by a throng of people all waiting to be served with their lunchtime trippa alla fiorentina, just like mama used to make.

Mercato Centrale in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mercato Centrale in Florence

Saturday afternoon – a walking tour of Florence

On Saturday afternoon I’d booked a walking tour of Florence through Citalia, who offer a range of pre-bookable tours and excursions to their guests. Our art-expert guide Carlotta gave us an excellent orientation of the main sites of the Centro Historica, explaining the birth of the Renaissance which emerged from the 14th century, bringing a new realism and use of perspective to art that had not been seen in medieval times. The whole of Florence seemed to be a calling card for the great artists of the age; Dante, Giotto, Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci, who flourished under the patronage of wealthy families like the Medici.

At the covered loggia known as the New Market or straw market, we stopped to meet Il Porcellino, the bronze statue of a wild boar. He’s a copy of the original marble version that was a gift from the Pope to the Medici family. This ‘little pig” is almost as well known as the David 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!

Porcellino in Florence

Stroking the nose of Porcellino in Florence

In the Piazza della Signorina

We continued to the Piazza della Signorina, where Cosimo I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany lived in the Palazzo Vecchio 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 but 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. The loggia to one side forms an outdoor sculpture gallery and is part of the Uffizi – the roof forms the terrace for the museum’s cafe. The sculptures seem to display a Florentine taste for stories of struggle and violence – the twisting Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna and the bronze Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini triumphantly lifting up the gory severed head of Medusa.

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence

Finishing our guided walk by the River Arno and the Ponte Veccio, we were well placed to continue with a tour of the Uffizi, the main art gallery of Florence with all the masterpieces of the Renaissance. Because the lines for the Uffizi often so long, it’s a good idea to either book a group tour like the one offered by Citalia, or to go online and book a timed ticket to enable you to skip the line.

If you are a real art lover, of course you’d need a whole day to do justice to the gallery, but a two hour tour is a good idea if you are just there for the weekend, as you will cover the most famous highlights. We enjoyed looking at the lovely goddesses in Botticelli’s Venus and Primavera and heard how Filippo Lippi’s enchanting Madonna with two angels was actually a portrait of the nun who became his lover and their children. Perhaps the violent depiction of Judith slaying Holofernes by Artemesia Gentileschi was the female artist’s revenge on the man who raped her as a girl?

Uffizi in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Uffizi in Florence

I enjoyed the views from the first floor windows of the Uffizi, looking in one direction towards the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo beyond, in the other towards the river Arno and the Ponte Vecchio. Behind an unmarked door in these galleries is the entrance to the Vasari corridor, a passageway that runs from here, across the Ponte Vecchio and ends at the Pitti Palace, providing an easy route for the Medicis to move from home to office.

Uffizi in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Uffizi in Florence

Saturday evening – window-shopping on Via Tornabuoni

By the time our Uffizi tour was over it was dark and I wanted to get a bit of fresh air and enjoy the streets of Florence at dusk, so I walked along Via Tornabuoni to do a bit of window shopping. This is where all the top stores like Prada, Pucci, Gucci and Tiffany are located and the street was looking very pretty with the Christmas lights strung between the buildings.

Shopping on Via Tornabuoni in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Shopping on Via Tornabuoni in Florence

Shoe heaven at the Ferragamo museum

At the end of the street, by Ponte Santa Trinita I spotted the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo and popped in as I had an hour or so to spare before dinner. I’ve always loved fashion and have memories of buying a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes at a church sale, where clearly no-one but me realised the bargain I was getting. In the museum below the flagship store, the shoes of the 1930s and 40s were laid out, still looking so fresh and wearable that I would have loved to try them all on. 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 like Marilyn Monroe, before returning to Florence.

Shoes at the Ferragamo Museum

Shoes at the Ferragamo Museum

In some of the inner rooms were other exhibitions of designs, posing the question of whether fashion crosses over into art. The stunning pieces from designers like Elsa Schiaparelli and Germana Marucelli answered a resounding yes and were a real treat for a lover of fashion like me.

Ferragamo museum in Florence

Ferragamo museum in Florence

Saturday evening – dinner in Oltrarno

By the time I’d spent an hour looking around Museo Salvatore Ferragarmo it was time for dinner. I crossed the bridge into the Oltrarno, the old working class area which is now a hip and trendy neighbourhood with artisan shops, bars and restaurants. The restaurant I was heading for was another recommendation of the Citalia Concierge, called Il Santo Bevitore, striking just the right balance between modern style and traditional Tuscan flavours.

Dinner in Florence

Dinner in Florence at Il Santo Bevitore

The teracotta tiles, white walls and simple wooden tables combined with crisp white table linen and interesting and flavoursome dishes that erred on the side of gourmet. I started with an excellent small plate of spinach ravioli with shrimps in a buttery sauce, followed by a marinaded carpaccio of beef scattered with sprigs of salad, capers and egg yolk. My desert brought together all the flavours of winter with a rosemary and raisin cake, topped by a sweet mulled wine ice cream surrounded by a pool of pear custard. I’d certainly recommend this restaurant for those wanting to try the best of Tuscan cuisine in an elegant but relaxed atmosphere.

A Sunday morning visit to the Academia

On Sunday morning I’d made an appointment to see one of the most popular characters in Florence’s artistic scene, a certain young shepherd boy named David. He lives in the Galeria dell’ Academia under a beautifully lit dome that was built just for him and thousands of people visit him each day to admire his physique from all angles. As I wanted to be sure of a visit I took the precaution of asking the concierge at Hotel Balestri to reserve a timed ticket, which can also be done online, and arrived as the museum was opening around 9.30am.

David in the Academia in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

David in the Academia in Florence

Michelangelo’s David was carved from a block of marble that had been lying for 40 years behind the cathedral, rejected by all the other sculptors when Michaelangelo asked permission to carve it. The piece was intended to sit on top of the cathedral but once complete it was considered too fine (and too heavy) so was given the prime spot outside the Palazzo Vecchio. The Florentines took the David as a symbol of city pride, as the smaller underdog overcoming its much larger and stronger enemies. From close up the head appears to be a little too large, but it was intended to be seen from far below, so the proportions were designed to make sense from a distance.

The Academia in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Academia in Florence

Unlike the Uffizi, the Academia is a much more manageable proposition and you can easily get around the main things in an hour. After admiring the David, most visitors take a look at the ‘Prisoners’ that line the hall leading to the David. These unfinished sculptures by Michaelangelo were intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II and were give this name as they seem struggling to be released from their blocks of marble. I also enjoyed looking at the plaster nymphs and maidens in the ground floor gallery, with rows of pretty girls in ringlets striking demure poses.

The star of Florence, the Duomo

By mid morning I was walking back from the Accademia along Via Ricasoli, the cathedral dome framed by the buildings at the end of the street. It was time to take another look at the star attraction of Florence, the Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. On Saturday’s walking tour, our guide Carlotta had walked us around the cathedral and given us many of the stories, but I wanted to take a closer look. I bought a €15 ticket from the office opposite the Baptistry entrance, which would get me into the Baptistry, Campanile, Museum and to climb the cathedral dome (the cathedral itself is free), including optional timed entry to enable you to skip the lines.

Duomo in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Duomo in Florence

My first stop was the gorgeous Baptistry, a hexagonal jewel box that sits in front of the cathedral. The patterns of white, pink and green marble on the exterior continued inside with small arched windows illuminating the magnificent gold mosaics on the roof depicting scenes of the Last Judgement. Outside, it was easy to find Ghilberti’s ‘Gates of Paradise’ by the crowds swirling around them. The bronze doors show Old Testament scenes in intricate relief, but are in fact copies of the gold covered originals, which now reside in the Museum at the end of the Cathedral.

The Baptistry in Florence

The Baptistry in Florence

The tickets to climb Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome had already sold out that day, but I’d already decided that my preference was to climb the 85 metre high Campanile, which would not only give me views over the old city but also a bird’s eye view the dome itself.

The Duomo in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Duomo in Florence

My timed ticket meant that I could skip the long line and start to climb the 415 steps to the top. Luckily 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.

View from the Campanile in Florence

View from the Campanile in Florence

After taking photographs from every angle I started the long climb down, which was pretty claustrophobic as I had to keep stopping to let a long stream of people pass on the narrow stairs. Still it was well worth it for the views.

The Dome of the Duomo in Florence

The Dome of the Duomo in Florence

After fuelling up with a quick slice of pizza and gelato from one of the numerous cafes along the main tourist drags, I decided to head across the river to explore the Oltrarno, where I had dined the night before. 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.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ponte Vecchio in Florence

The shops were originally populated by butchers and leather tanners who had an easy way to get rid of their waste into the river, until in 1593 the Medicis decided that the smell was unbearable and ordered the shops to be let to goldsmiths instead. Above the shops is an enclosed passageway called the Vasari corridor which runs from the Pitti Palace on one side of the river to the Uffizi and Pallazo Vecchio on the other.

Ponte Veccio in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ponte Veccio in Florence

Sunday afternoon at the Pitti Palace

Just a little way up the road on the other side of the river I reached the Pitti Palace, the residence that was purchased by Eleanora de’Medici, wife of Cosimo I who decided that she wanted a home away from the bustle of the city with a large garden for her 11 children.

Heather at Pitti Palace in Florence

Heather at Pitti Palace in Florence

While I didn’t have time to look around the whole palace, I was keen to see the costume museum, since I love fashion and textiles. I very much enjoyed the exhibition which showcased the couture collections of notable Italian women – wealthy of course, but also patrons of a different kind of artistic achievement just as the Medicis had been in the past.

Costume Museum at the Pitti Palace Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Costume Museum at the Pitti Palace

The most startling part of the costume musum’s exhibits were the clothes of Eleanora de’Medici, her husband Cosima I and their son Don Garzia. Startling because these were the very clothes they had been buried in, which had been removed from the bodies when their tombs had been opened, pieced painstakingly together and put on display. While the doublet and tunic of Don Garzia was pretty much intact, Eleanora’s dress was just a jigsaw of delicate scraps, bordered by well preserved gold lace embroidery.

Boboli Gardens in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Boboli Gardens in Florence

My final hour was spent wandering around the Boboli gardens behind the palace, a tranquil contrast to the crowded streets on the other side of the river. Walking back through the parterres and formal gardens 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. It was a lovely memory to lock away as I made my way back to Hotel Balestri ready to head home after my weekend in Florence. Have you visited Florence and if so, what was your perfect weekend?

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

View of Florence from the Boboli gardens

Where to stay in Florence

I can highly recommend the four star Hotel Balestri where I stayed in Florence, 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 wardrobe space was quite small, but fine for a weekend break and there were the usual amenities of a flat screen TV, small safe and kettle to make tea and coffee. 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.

Hotel Balestri in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Balestri in Florence

My luxurious bathroom was lined from floor to ceiling in light brown honed marble panels. Marble is used everywhere here in Florence, since the Tuscan quarries that Michelangelo used are not far away. 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.

Hotel Balestri bar in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Balestri bar in Florence

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.

Breakfast at Hotel Balestri Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Breakfast at Hotel Balestri Florence

Breakfast was served in a private area through mirrored doors beyond the bar. In a side room was set out an excellent spread of cold meats, cheeses, pastries, yoghurts and breakfast cereals, with some hot eggs and bacon as well.  I found the hotel staff were extremely helpful and friendly, and they were able to make timed entry bookings for the museums so that I didn’t need to stand in line. Hotel Balestri would be an ideal choice for those who want a well located, stylish and comfortable base for their weekend break in Florence.

How to book your perfect weekend break 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

Citalia is offering a three nights for the price of two in Florence staying at the four star Hotel Balestri on a B&B basis from £363 per person – a saving of up to £ 226 per couple. The offer includes return international flights from London Heathrow with British Airways. Based on departures 28th January 2017.

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Read about a weekend 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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