As first timers in Italy, our plan was to experience Rome and only Rome. With so much ancient history, we knew even a week wasnt enough to soak it all in. The plan was to return to Italy and travel the northern part some day.
However, the more I learned of Florence (or Firenze, in Italian) the stronger my urge grew to visit this city described by many as a fairytale. And then it was decided pretty quickly that the 1.5 hour train ride ($40ish pp) north would be well worth it.
Wanting to experience Firenze like a local, we opted for an apartment rental, and were able to secure one through Air BnB. This was my first time using Air BnB and I LOVED it! What a perfect way to save money and stay amongst the locals. Ill be using this site much more for future trips.
For our first day in town we took a stroll down to Piazza Vecchio for some people watching and shop browsing. Did you know the Historic Centre of Florence was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982!? The Historic Center is still bound by the walls from the 14th century. The city holds many years of artistic history and has been named the symbol of the Renaissance.
Another popular piece of Florence is the stunning views so later in the day we grabbed a late lunch at Pane e Olio and set off to Michaelangelo’s Hill (Piazzale Michelangelo) for sunset.
Pane e Olio was a small local restaurant, and a great find! We were able to sit outside on the cobblestone streets and continue the people watching while indulging in amazing pizza, pasta, and house wine.
Piazzale Michelangelo is located just south of the historic center and was designed in 1869 by an architect named Giuseppe Poggi as an honor to the famous painter Michelangelo.
Tonight’s setting atop this hill was perfect: live music playing, stunning panoramic views, the colorful sunset, and wine🍷❤️ A little embarrassing to admit, but this flawless moment made me get all teary eyed.
Since Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region and since we needed a little nature on this vacay, we spent the next day at the winery in the Chianti area. How did we get there?
Early in the morning, we headed to the train station to figure out transport to Greve, where many wineries are. A woman at the help desk told us a train doesnt go there but we can take a bus called “SITA” and she pointed behind her. After a few more stops to ask random people about this SITA bus, a man in a flower shop stopped what he was doing, walked outside, and gave me specific directions to the SITA bus station. The bus is called BUS ITALIA, and when combined, SITA makes a nice little nickname. Anyways, we bought 4 tickets to Greve, had lunch at Ristorante Vincanto, and then set off for wine country! The ride was about 50 minutes from Florence but only 18.5 miles away. What made the ride interesting though was that it was filled with middle school aged kids. Many of them were standing because they wanted to chat with their friends and there wasnt much room on the bus. Along the way the bus would stop and let off a few kids here and there.
Our goal was to get dropped off at the base of Castello di Verrazzano, where you have to walk about 25 minutes up hill to the castle, but we accidentally got off one stop too late. There was a restaurant close by, called Enoteca di Greve, so we walked in and had a glass of wine and some cheese. The place seemed deserted except for two ladies working behind the counter. They told us buses run often and we were able to catch the next bus back. This time I specifically asked the driver to drop us at the base of the castle.
An italian man full of knowledge about the region, the process of making wine, and the beautiful castle, escorted us around. He later told us this castle is 1,000 years old!
The tour ended with a wine tasting (and smelling) of three different red wines from the castle; minituscan, classico, and classico riserva, with riserva being the most expensive. We ate salami and bread with our tasting and were able to try a spoon full of the best balsamic vinegar I have ever tasted! I guess this should be expected for 48 Euro for a small bottle.
After the tasting we were free to roam around the grounds. The views atop this castle were spectacular and I am wishing we could spend more time here. Its the views here that remind me on a fairytale.
But as the sun sets, we catch a lift back down the mountain and walk across the street to the nearest bus stop to catch the next bus back to Florence. I feel very lucky to have experienced two vibrant and imaginative sunsets for my time in Florence.
For our last night in the Renaissance city we wandered around, perused the leather district (florence is know for its leather), and enjoyed some pasta, gelato, and wine. And found the Duomo, which is just as remarkable at night!
Florence was supposed to mark the end of our time in Italy…..until we missed our flight home due to late trains and had to spend one last night in Fiumicino, a city nearest to the airport. Oppps.
And we dreamt we were back in Florence.
“Florence is a dream that will keep returning for the rest of your life”, and we feel grateful to have experienced its majesty.