Italy Travel: Celebrating Art and Cuisine in Florence

Eating Italy’s tour of Florence’s Santo Spirito neighborhood includes sampling foods at local alimentari (grocers).

Art and fine cuisine are always trending in Florence. Here are some recent developments to help illustrate that point.

Art lovers will revel in the first collective art exhibit of 12 contemporary artists. Entitled “Closer Encounters: Ytalia – Energy Through Beauty,” the show is based at Forte Belvedere (Via di S. Leonardo, 1) and will intersect with museums all over the city, from the Uffizi and Basilica Santa Croce to Boboli Gardens. It runs daily (except Mondays) through October 1. And don’t forget the Duomo Museum, which now requires reservations, and the Accademia Gallery (home of Michelangelo’s “David,” which advises visitors to “skip the line” by buying ticket online.

Looking to take a piece of Florence home? For six decades the Biennale Internazionale dell’Antiquariato di Firenze (BIAF) has delighted art and antique lovers. Held in the historic Palazzo Corsini (Via del Parione, 11), the exhibition is dedicated to Italian antique art, furniture, tapestries, statues and beautiful objects. This year the BIAF runs September 23 through October 1.

Food in Florence seldom is served without Tuscan wine (maybe breakfast is an exception). At Cantinetta Antinori, occupying a Renaissance palace owned by one of the Italy’s oldest wine families, guests may sit down to a traditional Tuscan menu along with some of the best Antinori wines. The evocative restaurant, at Piazza Antinori 3, is open Monday through Saturday, noon to 2:30 p.m. and 7 to 10:30 p.m.; it is closed on Sunday. Those who want to go farther afield can visit Antinori’s Chianti Classico winery at Bargino and dine at the Rinuccio 1180 restaurant on the winery’s rooftop with views of hillsides dotted with olive groves and ancient churches.

Gluten-free products and menus are not new to Italy, but the choices are getting better every year. In Florence, #RAW Food Bar in Oltrarno offers a sophisticated take on vegan and gluten-free fare that should appeal even to dedicated carnivores. Diners can try it Tuesday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., on Via Sant’Agostino, 11r.

Less than a year after the launch of its first food tour in Florence, Eating Italy has created a second tour in the Tuscan capital. While the inaugural tour “The Other Side of Florence” runs during the day in Oltrarno, the new 3.5-hour tour departs in the evening and takes visitors through the hip Santo Spirito neighborhood while sampling artisan foods (such as truffle cheese and wild boar salami) and sipping Chianti and other drinks at seven different stops. There’s also a live cooking demonstration. Eating Italy also offers cooking classes in Florence, as well as food tours of Venice and Rome.

Serious gourmands can partake in the monthly Spoon dinners at the Lungarno Hotel’s Borgo San Jacopo restaurant. Michelin-starred Chef Peter Brunel invites the best chefs from around Italy to create exclusive menus, available on a single special evening. Overlooking the Arno River, the hotel and eatery reopened on June 1 following an extensive six-month renovation.

J.K. Place Hotel continues to attract discerning travelers looking for that “home-away-from-home feeling,” as does the four-star Brunelleschi. Villa Cora and the Four Seasons Florence are set in verdant gardens, and the latter offers special programs for children.

Outside the city, Tuscany is full of country hotels and castles: Castello di Ama, Castello di Nero, Relais La Suvera, Villa Il Poggiale and Villa la Massa are only a few of the myriad choices between Florence and Siena. The Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte on the coast at Via Reggio offers a Mediterranean seaside addition to a Tuscan trip.

In April, Toscana Resort Castelfalfi, a medieval hamlet in the heart of Tuscany, added a new five-star hotel to its property: Hotel Il Castelfalfi – Tui Blue Selection. Amenities include the La Via del Sale restaurant, headed by Executive Chef Francesco Ferretti; two bars: Ecru and Giglio Blue; and the full-service La Spa. Il Castelfalfi is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts.