Live Like a Local: Florence

Cityscape of Florence
Photo by SerrNovik/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Last month we visited Florence, Italy, a destination we haven’t visited in a while. Arriving in the city on sunny, clear winter day in December, we forgot how beautiful Florence is.

We checked into the Hotel Brunelleschi, hidden in a tiny piazza centrally located close to The Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery museum, but secluded enough from the crowds of tourists. Rich in history, part of the hotel is the oldest standing building in Florence a tower dating back to the 7th century and in the 12th century it was a women’s prison. Today it’s a four-star boutique hotel with 96 rooms with three restaurants, spa and gym. Some of the suites have picture windows with scenic views of The Duomo. Chef Giuseppe Bonadonna prepares typical Florentine dishes, as well as modern fare using local Italian ingredients, with great flair at the Santa Elisabetta restaurant in a romantic candlelit setting with only seven tables.

Since the weather was so cooperative the next few days, we decided to forego the usual museums and explore the streets, architecture and gardens in the bright sunshine and clear skies.

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The Boboli Gardens behind The Pitti Palace were a wonder with its crisply manicured formal gardens, lavish marble and stone sculptures and fountains.

We were attracted to The Oltrano area near The Pitti Palace, which is more off the beaten path with fewer tourists. We discovered narrow winding streets lined with boutiques and ateliers where craftsmen, designers and artists made their creations on the premises including an artisanal mapmaker and a couturier. &CO (AND COMPANY) is a whimsical home boutique where graphic designer and calligrapher Betty Soldi places her designs on stationery, initialed mugs and other ceramics.

Betty is also part owner of AdAstra Hotel on the second floor of a privately owned 18th century building near the boutique. The nine room hotel features quirkily decorated loft style rooms with mid-century Italian furniture and objets. The highlight of the hotel is the wrap around terrace overlooking an extensive private park and garden.

La Managere, a stylish complex with a restaurant, café, flower shop and home boutique was the hotspot for lunch with fashionable Florentines enjoying lighter than usual Italian sandwiches and healthy salads. Homemade veal meatballs in a tangy red sauce tasted were as authentic as an Italian grandmother’s at the popular Cibreo Trattoria. Cibreo also has a more formal restaurant, a most charming and cozy café and a theater.

One of the highlights of our trip was a one-night stay at the Four Seasons Florence. Located in a quiet residential neighborhood 15 minutes from the center, the 16th century Renaissance palazzo is a wonder to behold. Four Seasons has spared no expense restoring the magnificent property. Our suite was on the Noble floor where the most exclusive suites are. The soaring 30-foot ceilings had hand-painted frescoes and the walls were decorated with flowered Chinoiserie panels. A sprawling marble bathroom was as large as most hotel rooms.

The gorgeous public rooms were festively decorated for the holiday season and the atrium lobby featured a three-story modern Christmas tree with a zigzag of delicate crystal hanging shards. An 11-acre private garden, the largest in Florence, has a series of modern sculptures and a former monastery in the back of the property has been converted into an additional 36 rooms. Executive Chef Vito Mollica has earned a Michelin star for the Il Pallagio restaurant for dishes such as Cavatelli pasta with red prawns and baby squid, which was named the Best Dish of the Year in 2013. The stand-alone spa next to the outdoor swimming pool has 10 treatment rooms and features a Chianti Wine Massage.

Hotel Brunelleschi Piazza Sant'Elisabetta, 3, 50122 Florence https://www.brunelleschihotelflorence.com/

Hotel Via del Campuccio 53, 50125 http://adastraflorence.com/

Four Seasons Florence Borgo Pinti, 99, 50121 http://www.fourseasons.com/florence/

La Managere -Via de Ginori, 8, 50123 www.lamangere.it

Cibreo Trattoria Via dei Macci, 122R 50122

&CO (AND COMPANY) via maggio 51r, 50125

AdAstra Hotel Via del Campuccio 53, 50125 http://adastraflorence.com/

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