I think it took so long for me to write this post because subconsciously, I knew whatever words I wrote down, they wouldn’t do Florence justice. However, I have a feeling the photos will do more talking than the words in this post. When I say I fell in love with this city, that’s an understatement. Between the cobblestone streets, the storybook architecture, and the vast difference in landscapes around the region, there’s something old-world and magical about Florence. And I’m fully aware how cheesy that sounds, but I still stand by it! Before I got there, I actually wasn’t too excited about Florence – I knew Positano and Cinque Terre were going to be beautiful and Rome had so much history, but I didn’t think much of Florence until we got into town and found our “hotels.”For those of you who haven’t read my Rome or Amalfi Coast Travel Diaries, I went on a group trip to Italy in May and none of us knew each other before we met in Rome. It was such an incredible experience put together by both Trova Trip and Helene Sula (of Helene InBetween) and I’ll recommend both the organization and Helene’s blog to anyone that ever asks. I met about 15 amazing people from all over the world that I still keep in touch with today. Nothing like exploring a new country to bring people together!
Anyway, when we got to Florence, our trip guides told us that we would be staying in apartments in groups of 3-4 as opposed to traditional hotels, and these apartments would be spread out over a few blocks. Turns out Laurel, one of the funniest, kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever met, was my roommate. Yay! So we went to check out our new digs and were not disappointed. We were situated a bit off a main street and the apartment included two rooms (ours with a couple of twin beds), a living room, and a lofted kitchen with glass stairs that were a tad scary climbing up. We didn’t spend much time here simply because… Florence, but it was an awesome way to feel at home in a new city. A couple of us actually looked up how much it would be to rent those apartments monthly and, surprisingly enough, it was less than my rent in Chicago. Que the longing to move abroad.
Our first night in Florence was spend at a local trattoria where we ate way too much food and drank way too much wine, and had so much fun. I don’t remember the name of the place we ate at, but it honestly doesn’t matter. As long as you look for dinner around 7-8pm or later and make sure there are actual Italian people in the restaurant you’re thinking about, you’ll have an amazing meal. Most Americans tend to eat dinner around 5-6pm, so touristy/gimmicky restaurants will cater to that cliental, but if you wait a little bit, the authentic restaurants will open, and you’ll be very thankful you did.
The next day was technically a “free day” meaning we could do whatever we wanted to do and a few of us planned to spend the day on a wine tour (we booked ours through TripAdvisor) through Tuscany. I’m swooning all over again at the thought. We met our guide in the center of town and they filed us into a van and we took off for the hills of Tuscany. To my surprise, it only takes about 45 minutes to get from the bustling city center to the rolling hills that make you feel like you’re in the middle of a fairy tale.
We made three stops that day – two different wineries and one olive oil farm and WOW. This was my first time ever trying Chianti wine and we were right in the middle of Chianti wine country. One of the stops along the way was called Diadema which had the prettiest bottle of sparkling wine I’ve ever seen (pictured above). Our last stop was for dinner where we all shared a family style cheese board (above), pasta, meat, and biscotti dipped in red wine.
The rest of the group that didn’t go with us to fulfill their Under The Tuscan Sun dreams, spend the afternoon making pizzas and gelato from scratch. Let me tell you, the decision between the two of these activities was a hard one, but I think both groups had a great time.
That evening, we all met up and continued to drink wine directly out of the bottle while walking down the streets of Florence and singing at the top of our lungs. Now, if you remember, I first met all these people back in Rome, but we all bonded so quickly, that this is where we were just five days later – passing around a bottle of wine belting out Old Town Road and making our way to a fine establishment called One Eyed Jack’s. This was the only time we really went wild over the whole trip (by wild, I mean the only time we were drunk of anything other than wine – sorry mom) and it was so fun! There was a cover band playing pretty much all American songs – I’m told that Europeans actually really like American music. I REALLY lost it when they started playing Sweet Home Chicago. So much so that someone else who happened to be from Chicago came over and said “you must be from Chicago.”
As if we didn’t have enough to drink, the whole group planned a wine tour day the very next day! And yes, we knew that when we booked the tour the day prior. And no, we didn’t think we’d ever have enough.
This tour was just to one winery called Castello Vicchiomaggio, but we got to spend more time taking in the views and enjoying a couple glasses. We then made our way to the cutest little restaurant, La Cantinetta di Rignana Ristorante that had plenty of room for our group of nearly 15 and allowed us to eat delicious food while taking in this beautiful view the entire time. This place even had a garden out back, so you know the food was as fresh as it was delicious! This was one of my favorite things about Italy in general – the quality of food was incredible – something I don’t think I’ve experienced before, but something I can’t wait to try again.
When we got back from the wine tour, there was still some time to head over to the leather markets, something I had been looking forward to the whole trip. I had planned on buying a leather jacket and because I’m incredibly indecisive, decided to go on my own so as to not hold the others up. I plan to write a post in the future about how to navigate these markets because they can be overwhelming, but I surprised everyone when I met back up with them (after running to a random seafood restaurant in the rain!) with a leather jacket, a crossbody purse, a laptop bag, and a duffle. I love leather and I love the quality and style of these pieces. I still use them today and they are really the only bags I use.
The next morning was our last few hours in Florence. A few of us woke up early and made our way to Piazzale Michalangelo which is by far the best place to walk to get sweeping views of the entire city. Just be warned – there are SO many stairs to get to the top, so please don’t make the mistake I did and wear heels. Bring a bag with some tennis shoes or at least flats – PLEASE!
This was our last stop before we were to hop on the train to Cinque Terre and it was so bitter sweet. On one hand, Cinque Terre was going to be beautiful, but on the other, we were leaving Florence – my new city of choice, but I knew that if I were to ever spend more time in Italy, it would be in Florence.