Finally getting around to writing up our most recent [recent = three years ago] trip to Florence. I guess that’s what happens when you come away from the trip engaged and moving to California – LOL! I believe this was my third trip to Florence but also my favorite because we had the chance to explore some of Tuscany which is absolutely beautiful. I always “joke” with Kevin about wanting to retire there on an old vineyard one day. I’d say he’s still warming up to the idea.
May 6, 2017 – Galleria dell’Accademia & Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
We had an early train reservation from Rome to Florence so packed up and hailed a taxi to the train station from our Airbnb. [Note: Taxi cost 10 Euro including tip. Remember to always ask the taxi driver to turn on the meter otherwise, you can get up-charged. We didn’t do this when we arrived in Rome and paid a lot more than on our return trip to the train station.] Once we arrived at the train station, we simply located the platform and boarded the train for the one and a half hour ride to Florence.
When we arrived, we dropped our bags and met up with our friends for a quick breakfast at Ciccole Cioccolato before all setting out for a full day of sightseeing. Our fist stop was the Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses many beautiful paintings and plaster casts, including the famous Statue of David. Even though we pre-purchased our tickets for a specific time, we still had to wait about 10-15 minutes before being granted entry. I definitely recommend buying your tickets online as the general admission line was quite long. [Note: Ticket is 12 EUR + an added 6.5 EUR fee for online pre-booking.]
After we finished at Galleria dell’Accademia, we cut across town stopping to admire the Piazza del Duomo, Uffuzi Square, Palazzo Vecchio and eventually, the Ponte Vecchio [aka “Old Bridge”] which is lined with jewelry shops and other small vendors. Fun fact, Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge left standing after WWII and it is the very bridge that US soldiers crossed to liberate Florence during the war. Crossing over the bridge to the other side of Florence, we grabbed lunch at super casual pizza joint called L’pizzacchiere. We each got our own pie and quickly devoured them because they were so delicious.
We had 4PM reservations to climb the steps of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore so we made our way back the way we came to get in line. I found the entire process strange because again, we had pre-purchased tickets to enter at 4PM but you still wait in line to enter. The line moves quickly – only about 10 minutes despite a posting that says 30 – and if you arrive at the front before your scheduled time, they don’t let you in.
Once you enter, you immediately begin the 463 step climb to the top. It’s pretty narrow and low in some points but overall not terrible because there are a few places you can stop and catch your breath. As you get closer to the top, the stairwell narrows and merges with oncoming traffic so it’s slow moving. At the top the 360 degree views are incredible. It’s such a treat to see the iconic red roofs of Florence and the rolling Tuscan hills in the distance. [Tickets are 15 EUR/person and there is a separate fee to go to the top of the Dome and Bell Tower.]
For dinner that night, we went to 4 Leoni, a quaint Italian restaurant with delicious food. You can tell this spot is authentic because the menu is written entirely in Italian and they seem to cater to a more local crowd. Most of us got pasta but one of our friends ordered a steak and they actually bring it out for you to approve before it’s cooked, something I’ve never seen done at a restaurant before. We opted to skip dessert at the restaurant and instead went across the street to Gelateria Della Passera. This might have been my favorite Gelato while in Florence [and maybe even the trip] because they had the kiwi flavor which is my favorite and usually difficult to find.
On our walk back to the Airbnb, Kevin and I decided to stop off for one more glass of wine at La Prosciutteria. It is a fun deli with meats of every kind hanging from the ceiling and quite lively, even late at night. Definitely would love to go back and try a sandwich there one day!
May 7, 2017 – Wine Tasting in Tuscany
The following day we were scheduled for a half day of wine tasting in Tuscany with Tuscany in a Bottle Grape Tours. We booked a little late but they were very gracious about fitting our group of four in last minute. The tour starts around 915AM at their office where they had coffee waiting for everyone. Our group of 20, which is the max allowed, then hopped on a small bus out to the Tuscan countryside. Our knowledgable guide, a sommelier named Andriana, peppered us with interesting wine facts the entire 45 minute drive to our first winery. [Total cost is 132 EUR/person and includes wine and olive oil tastings at three wineries, full lunch and transportation.]
- Fattoria di Montecchio offers incredible vineyard views and has a super cute tasting room. Definitely recommend picking up a bottle of the olive oil here as they have their own press so it’s super fresh. We also loved the wine and took a bottle of their Chianti Classico Reserve home.
- Casa Sola is a small family owned vineyard with a 400 year old cellar. They age all of their wines in small barrels. This was our favorite winery stop! We actually ended up purchasing six bottles of wine because we enjoyed them all so much.
- Casa Emma is the largest of the three. When we arrived, we immediately sat down for lunch which started with a crisp glass of white wine paired with bread, oil and vinegar. We then tasted their Rose with some charcuterie and a Chianti Classico with tomato bread soup. Their Chianti Reserve was served with spaghetti pasta and after that we were stuffed! We really enjoyed their olive oil and white wine vinegar. Technically they can’t produce vinegar by law since they aren’t in the correct region so they send the product they grow off to be pressed and bottled in the “correct region” and then have it sent back.
In addition to all these great tastings, we learned a ton about the Tuscan wine region from our guide such as…
- Chianti wines must have at least 80% Sangiovese Grapes.
- All wines that come from the Chianti region are regulated by DOC [Denomination of Controlled Origin] and DOCG [Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin]. Each winery must send six bottles of wine a year to have them reviewed and approved by the Consortium. Once they are approved, the Consortium then sends a specific amount of numbered labels to use in production and sale.
- DOCG is considered higher quality wine than DOC. Super Tuscans are often the “best” and most “unique” wines from a winery. However, it’s just a nickname so you’ll never see “Super Tuscan” written on a label.
- Chianti Classico and Chianti Reserve are considered “table wines” and intended to be consumed with food – simple food with simple flavors.
- Recommended age for Chianti Classico is 5-8 years after bottling and for Chianti Reserve 10-20 years after bottling.
- Olive Oil is also produced by most wineries in Chianti. One tree can produce only 2-3 bottles of olive oil in a year.
- The “extra virgin” designation in olive oil is referring to low acidity. To keep acidity low, olives must be pressed within hours of picking.
- The bread in Tuscany is typically made with no salt out of respect for history when salt was expensive to obtain.
After the wine tour, we parted ways with our friends who were heading home to Naples then set out to do a bit more exploring. Our goal was to visit the San Lorenzo Outdoor Market but it started to rain pretty heavily so we took cover while enjoying a gelato snack at Coronas Cafe and then a coffee at Caffe Gilli. Eventually, we gave up on trying to wait out the rain and left to do a bit of shopping. Kevin was looking for a nice pair of loafers and I wanted a leather jacket. Kevin eventually found a pair from Goccia Shoes and after much debate, indecision and negotiating I ended up with a beautiful leather jacket from Leonardo’s Leather Works. In hindsight, I definitely have not worn it nearly enough to justify what I paid [350 EUR but down from the tagged price of 860 EUR] but it’s a piece I’ll have for life.
By this time, the sun had finally come out so we just strolled along the Arno River before eventually stopping at Spumantino Al Ponte Veccio for a glass of wine and a little people watching. Overall we enjoyed this wine bar but I’d imagine it’s considered pretty “touristy” since it’s right outside of the Ponte Veccio bridge.
We didn’t have set plans for dinner so we asked our waiter for a recommendation and he sent us to Cantinetta della Ferme. This is definitely a hidden gem in Florence, with an upscale vibe – not ideal for a couple who had been trekking around in the rain most of the day! It’s tucked away on a small side street so definitely not very touristy but the food is reasonably priced and the menu offers good meat and seafood options. They even sent over complimentary lemonchello after dinner which was the perfect ending to our weekend in Florence.
Bright and early the next morning, we were off to Cinque Terre!
Accommodations & Country Specific Details
We stayed in this tiny studio that we found for super cheap on Airbnb. It had incredible reviews but I don’t think I would stay there again. The bed was technically a mattress on the floor, the shower was a drain in the bathroom floor and the entire place had a dampness about it. Of course, we barely spent anytime there and the location was fairly central which allowed us to walk everywhere. I’ve definitely stayed in much worse conditions but in the future I’d opt to pay a little more money to stay in a more established place.
To Florence: By train from Rome.
Around Florence: We walked everywhere in Florence and took an organized tour to/from Tuscany.
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Language: Italian but had no problem finding English speakers. Our favorite Italian phrase was ‘molto buono’ or very good food!
Outlet Adapter: The standard voltage is 230 V. The standard frequency is 50 Hz. The power sockets that are used are of type L.
Passport/Visa Requirements: U.S. Passport valid for at least six months from date of departure. No visa for visits under 90 days required.
Weather: We were in Italy the first two weeks of May. While still technically spring season, it is one of the best months to visit before the towns become overrun with tourists for the high season. That said, we had terrible weather in Florence. As I mentioned in my post, it rained almost the entire time we were there. We definitely did not pack the correct footwear and I would have preferred another layer under my raincoat.