When Lonely Planet Local Nardia Plumridge first laid eyes on Florence as a teenager, it was love at first sight. Today, the Renaissance capital’s classic cafes, quaint cobbled streets and hidden churches are her daily inspiration, and the city's fantastic cuisine and culture satisfy her craving for la dolce vita ('the sweet life').
The Palazzo Vecchio's Torre d'Arnolfo offers some of the best views of Florence © Luís Henrique Boucault / Getty Images
I like to start the day… with a fluffy cappuccino at Cafe Gilli. The cafe dates back to 1733, and today it retains an old-world charm, with baristas in dapper suits serving stiff caffeinated drinks on a long marble bar (the best spot for people-watching). Their selection of pastries and chocolates is one of the best in Florence, making for a sweet way to start the day.
The best view of Florence… is from up high in the tower of Palazzo Vecchio. Many travellers race to the Duomo to climb its terracotta dome but I prefer the less-visited medieval Torre d'Arnolfo, which offers stunning 360-degree views across the city that will take your breath away. Inside the palazzo you'll also see the opulent rooms and old apartments of the famed Florentine Medici family. It’s a worthy excursion for any traveller, including those visiting with kids.
The rolling hills and vineyards of Chianti make a great day trip from Florence © Peter Zelei Images / Getty Images
When I want to escape the city… I like to drive into Chianti for the quaint towns and the array of wine tasting options. Within minutes of leaving Florence you are surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and villas perched on top of lush, green hills. An easy 20-minute drive from the city, the Villa Medicea di Lilliano villa and wine estate hosts tastings and cooking classes in a 16th-century country kitchen. Drive up, take a tour then indulge in their award-winning wines. The hardest part is leaving.
My favourite way to cap off the weekend… is by indulging in long, lazy Sunday lunch in a traditional trattoria. I can happily lose an afternoon with good food and great company at Trattoria dell’Orto in San Frediano. The family-run restaurant serves up plates of delicious pasta (try the incredible pappardelle al chingale – wild boar pasta) and roasted meats (pollo al mattone – brick-roasted chicken), all washed down with local house wine. My belly never leaves disappointed.
Lonely Planet Local Nardia Plumridge on the hunt for the best spots in the Oltrarno neighbourhood © Sofie Delauw / Lonely Planet
For a quiet moment… I pop into the Badia Fiorentina. Part of an abbey founded in 978, the church is home to the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem. Their daily vespers are an incredibly atmospheric and serene affair. The front section of the church is graced by the monks and nuns of the abbey who take part in the choral offerings. It is right in the heart of Florence, yet you could easily walk by and miss it. The shop sells products handmade by the monastic community, including soaps, beauty products and olive oil.
When I want to get lost… I go snooping in the Chiesa d'Ognissanti. Florence is littered with ornate religious buildings, and even in the most innocuous corners of the city you can find empty places with an exciting history. This baroque church is the final resting place of art alumni such as Botticelli, yet the most intriguing tomb is that of Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister, in a secret backroom. Caroline lived on this street in the 19th century before being banished from the city once her brother had lost power and favour with the Florentines. Yet she secretly returned before her death to her beloved adopted home.
The Medici Dynasty Show offers a great insight into the history of Florence © The Medici Dynasty Show
When friends are in town… I take them to see The Medici Dynasty Show, a one-hour English-language play detailing the last days of the Medici and the family pact created by Anna Maria Louisa to ensure all the family’s artwork remained in Florence after their demise. It’s an ideal pre-dinner cultural excursion to delve into the history of Florence and to understand how the city came to be the largest holder of art anywhere in the world.
Come nightfall... I like to dive into a jazz session in the basement at La Ménagère. A concept cafe, restaurant, homeware shop and florist, it’s a venue that satisfies at any time of day, and on weekend nights from 9pm the downstairs room comes alive with free live music in a ’50s-style vintage set-up. It feels like you are in a scene from a glamorous period movie.
Dare you try... Florentine tripe sandwiches? © Susan Wright / Lonely Planet
Adventurous foodies should try… the quintessential Florentine delicacy lampredotto, served from many street-food carts around the city. Not for the fainthearted, it’s made by simmering cow's stomach until soft, wedging it in a bun and lacing it all with a green or red sauce. Try it at Da Nerbone in the central food market, where they have been serving hungry locals since 1872. You never know, you may like it so much you return for a second helping.
When I'm in need of some pampering... I book myself in at the one-seat beauty treat that is Ziziai. This sleek salon, tucked down a backstreet near the Duomo, is run by the effervescent Simone and Valeria. With over 25 years' hairdressing experience, Simone is in charge of tresses, while Valeria focuses on make-up. Book an appointment and enjoy a little pampering in between your visits to Florence's cultural attractions.
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