Joanna Lowry | January 13th, 2013
E M Foster wrote in A Room With A View that Florence has a “pernicious charm”. For some, this means their Tuscan jaunt ends with a spell of dizziness and a stint in hospital. Stendhal syndrome, or Florence syndrome, is an actual psychosomatic disorder that causes fainting, confusion and hallucinations in certain individuals when exposed to Florentine art (which to me sounds similar to the effects of ingesting psychedelic drugs). While I (somewhat disappointing) did not experience Stendhal syndrome, my first trip to Florence — city of Renaissance treasures and storied palazzi — did inspire a lot of gawping. Here are my top tips for a tripped-out trip:
Walk into any bar between 7pm and 9pm and you’ll find a throng of trendy types sipping cocktails and nibbling canapes. Order a negroni, locate the buffet and gorge on free olives, pasta salad, mini-paninis, cheese and prosciutto. For views of the Arno River head to Golden View Open Bar, situated next to the Ponte Vechio, the oldest bridge in Florence. Or check out Volume, a former hat factory filled with vintage knick-knacks and books.
The Uffizi Museum is home to frescos, tapestries, paintings and sculptures by the likes Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. To tick of the bucket list: Botticelli’s Primavera, an allegory for the lush growth of spring featuring an amazing floral grunge dress. Be sure to buy tickets online in advance or be prepared to spend half your day in a queue.
3. Pitti Palace
Pitti Palace is where the grand dukes of Tuscany lived. If you have the luxury of time, get lost in the surrounding Boboli Gardens, famous for its fountains and grottoes. The costume gallery, which houses beautiful Italian-designed dresses from the 18th century until the present-day, is also worth a visit.
The Basilica di Santa Maraia del Fiore — better known as ‘Duomo’ — is the grand Gothic Revival cathedral in the heart of Florence. The doors facing the front of the Duomo were designed by Ghiberti in the early 1400s, and a young Michelangelo thought they were so beautiful that they could be the gates of heaven. It’s free to check out the cathedral itself, but it’ll cost you €8 to go up inside the 463-step, 37,000-tonne dome and €6 to climb the Campanile bell tower. Not for the faint of heart, but well worth the cash (plus the experience will alleviate some the inevitable first time trip to Florence pizza/pasta carb guilt).
5. San Lorenzo market
San Lorenzo market is Florence’s most famous. Outside there’s a gauntlet of leather goods, silk scarves and souvenirs, but it’s the indoor Mercato Centrale that’s really worth perusing. An Aladdin’s Cave of edible treasures, vendors flog everything from truffle oil, pickled vegetables and charcuterie, to white Chianina cattle steak (a Florentine special) and chicken heads.