Travel review: Florence

The Ponte Santa Trinita bridge in Florence, Italy. PIC: PA

The Ponte Santa Trinita bridge in Florence, Italy. PIC: PA

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It’s a working city, but in the historic streets of Florence Adam de Jacot Boinod finds it’s easy to get lost in the Renaissance.

For me to get away properly I need to change climate, language, culture, my domestic setting (of course) and most vitally I need to change centuries. The centre of Florence and the banks of the river Arno are mercifully free from any modern architecture.

It is not a living museum. The city still breathes but her history is respected. Gloriously the silhouette of the Duomo is set against a complete backdrop of unimpeded skyline.

Anyone trying to understand European culture over the last 500 years has to grasp the Tuscan journey of human confidence. Popes and powerful regional families, fortified by the fortunes of their banks, created an unparalleled patronage for artistic talent.

All books and brochures take you to the majority of the well-known sites. Both Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and his Spring in the Uffizi Gallery froze me in their hold. The Bargello, a former prison, houses Donatello’s David, such an androgenous contrast to the Michelangelo version housed in the Accademia.

But it’s my own discoveries from numerous visits that I cherish most. These include the harmonious proportions of The Pazzi Chapel, the silence felt in the many church cloisters (my favourite being the one beside the Basilica di San Lorenzo) and the elegant promise of the countryside seen from different heights within the enclosed Boboli Gardens. Up in the hills I recommend Bellosguardo for its orchards and cypresses and San Michele in Fiesole for its landscaped gardens.

I always find myself in Florence with an inevitable visual overload; my eyes ever sharpened. To counteract this I went to listen to a rendition of romantic duets at Saint Mark’s English church (Via Maggio, 16) full of brio and cries of ‘bravos’. Likewise the morning mass in the Duomo echoed with its Gregorian chants to sublime effect.

I discovered two restaurants. Guelfi and Ghibellini (Via Ghibellina 87) is without an extremely grand and luxuriant series of rooms offering ‘music from a further room’. It was converted from a property of a noble family which in the late 17th century housed the treasurer to the resident pope. Discretely set upstairs it creates true privacy.

The menu boasts amongst its traditional options the refined Laudemio olive oil only available from select local farms. This is clearly very high-end and perhaps is best reserved for a very special occasion!

Meanwhile Caffe dell’Oro (Lungarno degli Acciaioli 2) with its Euro Pop music was keen to attract a younger crowd. The setting is excellent: right on the riverbank and overlooking at a distance of a few yards the Ponte Vecchio. The décor is clean and tastefully contemporary. For the menu I loved the fish egg Bottarga, one of its signature dishes.

Which other hotel can you name with its own museum and the remains of a Roman bath? The hotel Brunelleschi is tucked away from the heat and noise of the high-end neighbouring couture shops.

It has a modern neutral décor enveloping the oldest structure in the city, a brick tower that was once a women’s prison. My room was very spoiling with three window views of the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio. Of their two restaurants I tried their informal one for a delicious lunch. The perfect break from arduous museum visiting.

I had to start my trip in Pisa, as there’s a common problem for airplanes landing in Florence. It’s something to do with narrow runways and the wind. Beware! The airplane was grounding when it lifted up into the sky and took us away to land instead an hour away in Pisa.

There the leaning tower truly defies science so I preferred to photograph it from a distance! The baptistery has a bare interior in stark contrast to the one in Florence. The lawns of the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) that surround the Duomo give a wonderful frame to the devout architecture. But even before I eventually did get to Florence all was forgiven. I had shot back in time. By several centuries!

GETTING THERE

Classic Collection Holidays ( 0800 294 9318; classic-collection.co.uk) offers 3 nights at Hotel Brunelleschi, Florence from £890 per person in May. Price based on 2 adults sharing a classic executive double room on a bed & breakfast basis, and includes return flights from London City (other UK departure airports available) to Florence and private transfers.

Adam travelled with a return fare on Gatwick Express from Victoria

GX tickets start from 31.10 for an open return when you book in advance on gatwickexpress.com.

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