Bartenders in the know, know to go to Rivoire in Florence for the original version…
Bartenders in the know, know to go to Rivoire in Florence for the original version…
How to spend a relaxed summer day in the heart of the Renaissance with a balance of culture, cafes, and a little bit of shopping…
8AM Waking up in my room with a view at the Savoy right on Piazza della Repubblica. My extra comfortable bed makes for a good night sleep and after a shower I have a bit of fruit from the breakfast buffet. I hold off having coffee so as to have it at Gilli across the street.
9:15AM Quick caffe at the counter at Gilli before heading out for some exploration. Lots of options, but I start with a visit to Santa Maria Novella to take in important Early Renaissance art work without the crowds. Masaccio’s Holy Trinity marks the beginning of the Renaissance, and the extensive work of the Tornabouni Chapel has work by Ghirlandaio, Da Vinci’s teacher, and showcases meticulously painted frescos on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Some of the best examples if Italian painting of the era are in this bejeweled church and without the long queues like at the Uffizzi gallery.
11:30AM No trip to Florence is complete without a stop in the Farmacia de Santa Maria Novella to pick up some of their one of a kind forest scented potpourri and a bottle of their Acqua Colonia fragrance, the original perfume made for Catherine de Medici.
1PM A leisurely walk over to the Mercato Centrale where the upper floor has many lunch options on offer. Several different food counters, wine bars, food shops are temptations for the best of Italian food choices. A nice truffle panini or a slice of pizza, salad, fresh cooked vegetables or plates of pasta.
2:30PM A bit of shopping starting at the Via Tornabuoni and surroundings. Scarves at Faliero Sarti and decorative paper gifts at Il Papiro make great souvenirs.
4:30PM When the heat and crowds gets to be too much, sitting on the terrace of Rivoire with views over the Piazza della Signoria to have and iced coffee or an iconic Negroni makes for a great tonic. Linger a while and take in La Dolce Vita.
6PM A spiritual visit to San Miniato al Monte to listen to the monks chant vespers is a rare and moving experience. After the service, take the short walk to Piazzale Michelangelo to look over one of the best views over Florence in the entire city.
7:3oPM Time for a glass of fine wine aperitivo at Le Volpe e l’uva in Oltrarno, one of the best wine bars in Florence before walking down the road to have Tuscan cuisine at the lively Santo Bevitore.
10PM A short and easy walk across the river I make my way back to the Savoy. Pausing briefly on the Ponte Santa Trinity to observe the Ponte Vecchio. Back at the Savoy I enjoy a nightcap glass of grappa at Irene before tumbling back into my cloud like bed and the enjoy the sweetest of dreams.
Italian life is best captured in the local cafes…
First things first, when at an Italian caffe, if you choose to have your coffee at the bar or counter, you go to the cashier to put in your order and pay first. You then take the sales receipt to the counter and hand it to the barista and specify you coffee preference. Should you decide to sit at a table then the waiters come to you, but be aware it costs more to sit then to stand. Tipping for coffee is not required though most people leave the small change, the 10 cents and 20 cents coins, from what they paid for coffee, on the counter as a small thank you.
The iconic Caffe Gilli sits literally in the centre of Florence and is a beacon to local life in Florence. On the festive Piazza della Repubblica Gilli terrace life is popular and lively and inside the classic cafe of times gone by remains grand in its polished opulence. While the main counter is always popular it is completely buzzing during the morning rush hour with locals and tourists alike cozying up around the counter for a morning espresso or cappuccino. Then they all come back later for a bit of trendy aperitivo before heading home or out to dinner.
This historical caffe and pastry shop sits in the perfect spot on the elegant Piazza della Signoria. From the outdoor tables you have an amazing view of the Palazzo Vecchio, and in the summer months music plays on many nights making this cafe prime positioning. Rivoire began its life as a chocolatier and remains a purveyor of fine sweets and pastries, but it is a true cafe and most importantly it holds the certificate for serving the original negroni. Indeed Rivoire serves up some of the best Negroni in the city and makes it a great place for aperitivo and well as a morning coffee. Do not leave Florence without tasting their cantuccini (biscotti).
If having your coffee while listening to the church bells then Le Scuderie on the Piazza del Duomo should fit the bill. Another one of the old Florentine cafes, Scuderie, like Rivoire and Gilli serve excellent coffee with pastries and have pedigree.
The Negroni is one of my favourite cocktails.
Here is an enjoyable article from Alcademics.com I thought was worth sharing as it tells the rich history of the world famous drink. Next time you are in Florence stop into Rivoire for a true taste of the past…
Sit on the Piazza della Signoria in the evening and listen to the music. Its a free outdoor concert.
Go to Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset for the best views of the city. While there explore the nearby San Miniato al Monte and stop in to listen to the chanting of the monks.
Do your Christmas shopping early as with so many artisan craftsmen in the area you will find unique and one of a kind gifts.
Stop and taste the wine. So many great bottles, so little time!
Explore the Santo Spirito area in the Oltrarno side of the river. Lively part of Florence where the locals hang out.
Art without the crowds: the Branacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine has outstanding 15th century frescos and showcasing some of Masaccio’s early work. A rare jewel and worth the effort.
Head for the piazzas! And the popular Caffe Gilli or Rivoire for aperitivo time or after dinner drinks. You’ll have a near feast of aperitivo snacks or enjoy the free music on the piazzas for after dinner entertainment. Not to mention any time is a good time to sit in a caffe and people watch, rest one’s feet, or just enjoy an espresso in these two spots, this is Italy after all and caffe life is the way of life here.
For a more trendy twist on cocktail hour, L’incontro bar in the Savoy Hotel offers a sophisticated take on the classic. Breezy in summer and cozy in colder months with views of the Piazza della Republica.
For an upscale wine bar, and this is prime vino country after all, the baby grand panini bar Procacci on Via Tornabuoni offers exceptional wines by the glass along with the world famous Truffle panini.
While I do enjoy a meal at places like Cibreo, I tend to prefer a more laid back trattoria style of eating when I’m in Florence as I crave hearty, homemade style cuisine. A place which serves high end food in a relaxed environment is Caffe Pitti, right in front of the Pitti Palace. Their specialty is truffles though they offer a modern Tuscan menu. And for the sweet tooth a semifredo with berry sauce that is heavenly.
Quite touristy, though you will see some locals here as well, is Paoli, (12, Via Tavolini) between the Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria. A complete Italian menu serving all the favourite dishes so you can’t go wrong. What makes this place a bit more special is it is located in a medieval building with fading frescos of old Florence. A great place to sit and take in a bit of historical Florence. Service is hit or miss, but for the most part friendly. This is a good “all arounder” for a solid dinning experience and a jovial place to be.
For a lively ambiance with an elegant menu, try trattoria Parione (Via Parione 74/76). A contemporary take on Tuscan cuisine is exciting though the portions are large. The place is quite busy but the service is excellent so you won’t be kept waiting. Great local mushroom dishes.
For a good all around meal Caffe Italiano is a classic eatery not far from Santa Croce (Via dell’Isola delle Stinche 11/13r). Small but appealing menu and serving a good selection of wines by the glass. At night they have the best pizza in town in the tiny alcove next door. Serving only 3 choices of pizza all are baked in a wood burning oven and since there is not a lot of space to sit, pizzas can be ordered for take away.
…After pizza you can always stop at Florence’s best gelateria Vivoli located just down the street from Caffe Italiano. Choose from tempting selection of flavours made daily from seasonal ingredients. Some of the best ice cream around.
Pizza and vino at Caffe Italiano
Shop for Florence’s famed artisan paper products. They make great gifts and you support a centuries old tradition. Wonderful shops include Il Papiro, Johnson’s & Relatives, Il Parione, and Signum. Buy a box of small decorated note cards as they always come in handy.
Pick up perfume like Catherine de Medici used to wear at Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. The shop alone of this centuries old apothecary is a museum in itself.
Hard to resist the many delicious pastries and candies throughout Florence. Especially when they are so lushly displayed and so prettily packaged. At Migone (Via Calzailuoli) near the Duomo they will package their extensive array of handmaid candies in boxes decorated like many of Florence’s popular landmarks. This makes for excellent gifts to take back as you can give chocolates in a colourful box of the Duomo. Fabulous! And of course Rivoire started off as a chocolate shop so their candy and pastry counter is worth a stop.
Pretty Florence themed boxes of chocolate at Migone
One of things I love to do when I get to a city is find a cafe. get cozy, and move in so to speak. From pole position I can people watch, observe the locals, and for brief moments become part of the town. I usually pick a favourite and stick to it, create my ‘hangout.’ Sure, I occasionally venture to try another cafe, and have more then one I like to frequent, (see my Rome list) but once I have picked ‘my’ cafe it is usually for life. It will be my first stop upon arrival and part of my daily routine during my stay.
Except in Florence where I have two. Here I must take equal turns (usually once a day in each) between the very pretty genteel cafe life at Rivoire on Piazza della Signoria, and the iconic Caffe Gilli on the Piazza della Republica. Both offer that Grand Cafe glamor with marble counter space to sip a bevarage with the locals, and both offer amazing views of the piazza albeit different piazze. And most important the both offer delicious sweets, a hearty cup of espresso, and old world service. So I very happily stop in to each at least once a day when I visit trying hard not to pick a favourite child. I am not complaining mind you as there are worse things in life then starting your day with coffee in one and ending the day having aperitivo at the other.
Piazza seating at Rivoire
Rivoire is on the picturesque and historical Piazza della Signoria. Sitting outside offers the best views of the Palazzo Vecchio and at night the nearly operatic musical performances out on the piazza gives free entertainment. You are sitting in a live museum where what Florence has to offer hits all the senses. It is therefore very hard to drag yourself inside, but the advantage there is being closer to the locals as outside you will have a more touristy crowd for the obvious reason of the piazza views. Inside is an old fashion caffe in the best sense of the word. Mirrors and polished marble floors, crisp linen table cloths, it is like stepping back in time. Rivoire began its life as a chocolate shop so the pastries are superb. And the hot chocolate is not to be missed, thick and rich, it is dessert in a teacup and hearty on colder days. I hold a special memory at Rivoire as upon my very first trip to Florence, I came here, and even on a warm Spring afternoon chose to sit inside by the window and write postcards as I drank a cappuccino feeling like I was really living the Italian dream like I imagined it… And I really was in that perfect moment at Rivoire.
Inside counter at Gilli
Yet I am trying hard not to play favourites here, and Gilli too is a forever favourite place for me. The Piazza della Republica lacks the intimacy and decorative elements of the Piazza della Signoria, so space is much more open and there is a dramatic grandness to everything on the piazza itself. So Gilli has a much more energetic vibe to it, and it is wonderful for aperitivo time, a great place to have a Campari, and sip the Florentine born (some claim here at Gilli) cocktail of the Negroni. But here too the interior of this classic caffe is really where the beauty is, a true jewel of cafe life. While not a large space, it feels quite grand with chandeliers and marble, and the back sitting room is very elegant. But it’s the action of standing with those at the counter, watching the coffee being made, where you feel the heart of this place. Whether to pick up a thimble of espresso or to have a drink, standing at the altar of this caffe’s counter is one of the great experiences of Florence.
So hard to chose and why when you don’t have to. If you’re looking for me you will find me here or there… at both places, enjoying being part of Florence.
Piazza della Signoria, 5, 50122 Florence, Italy
Via Roma 1/R – 50123 Firenze – Italy
I hadn’t been to Florence for a while and I missed it. The dark and dusty narrow streets that lead to the sunny piazzas. The living museum where art meets sky and the genteel elegance of the city itself. And my favourite pass times of cafe at Gilli and aperitivo at Rivoire… I missed it all.
But I wasn’t relishing going in July, in the heat of summer and bus loads of tourists, yet I couldn’t wait until the autumn, I wanted to go now. And so I did, and found loads of tourists but thankfully not as many as I had feared, and while the heat was hot it was manageable. Yet even if those things had been at their worst I still wouldn’t have given a toss as I was just thrilled to be back, walking those shady narrow streets, enjoying the laid back pace that comes with summer. Sitting in the piazza under the warm evening sky, grappa in hand and listening to the band play … movie themes, then a little Abba! and then wind down the evening with the required orchestral tunes like ‘O Mio Babbino Caro.’
Because I had been many times before I could forgo the usual stops like the Uffizi Gallery -though I was tempted as I do love visiting my favourite paintings, but alas, the queue was very long and I wanted to take in the joys of the city itself. I opted instead to check out the art works in Santa Maria Novella, and to listen to the monks chant in San Miniato al Monte. Explore areas where the locals hang out like around Santo Spirito and the Mercato Centrale, before taking in lazy, late afternoon views of the city from Piazzale Michelangelo. This was a more relaxed pace and a more intimate trip. Subtle yet infinitely more personal.
I took breaks, many rest breaks, in the many cafes and wine bars during the day. Discovering a new favourite snack of the truffle panini at Procacci on Via Tornabuoni where you can get wonderful wines by the glass and a selection of fine panini among them their now famous truffle panini which is the perfect nibble to accompany that glass of Brunello or Prosecco.
Instead of shopping at all the designer boutiques, where indeed there were many tourists, I chose to support the long held Florentine tradition of local craftsmanship and bought paper products, books, and hand crafted leather by smaller business. Especially the paper products as I fear without consumer support they may disappear and with it a long standing art form. I even walked into a sculpture studio where I was warmly greeted just to browse.
And so in the heat of summer Florence proved to be the perfect tonic. My Campari and soda on the piazza. And while I can’t think of a time to not go to Florence, I now think summertime in the small city might be one of the best times to go.