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March 2014: leave the winter at home and
March: leave the winter at home and come to the Relais Grand Tour! Great discounts and if you are a Rick Steve reader you can save additional money!
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From Euro 60.00! You will have a great stay and save money for shopping and restaurants in Florence! And if you will come here with Rick Steve...
Florence and SurroundingsThe Relais Grand Tour and Grand Tour Suites are located in the same building in the heart of Florence historic center, in the most vibrant area of this great city, between San Lorenzo Market, the Duomo and the Academy Gallery.
The B&B is an ideal place to stay also for those who come to Florence for shopping and Italian fashion: the Fortezza da Basso is located at a short walking distance, and this is the venue of the man and woman fashion shows of Pitti Moda.
The Cathedral (Duomo) is only 5 minutes on foot, and the Uffizi Gallery is about 12 – 15 minutes.
The very famous San Lorenzo Market, with its kiosks of clothing and the large indoor food market is only two blocks away, and represents the most lively area of the town, abundant with small, characteristic restaurants where the Florentines, lovers of good traditional food, go. In the same area, only 5 minutes on foot from the Grand Tour, it's possible to visit the church of San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapels.
Boutiques like Armani, Prada, Gucci, D&G, and Valentino, are less than 15 minutes away between the Cathedral and the magnificent Piazza della Signoria, which is next to the Uffizi Gallery.
The Ponte Vecchio offers a romantic view of the city from the river, and you only have to cross it to see the Pitti Palace and its Boboli Gardens, besides the splendid Carmelites Church and its Brancacci Chapel.
Florence is an enormous museum and gallery, and it's easy to find art treasures turning any corner in the centre of town. After the Uffizi, after the Academy, the Duomo, the Bargello, Palazzo Pitti (www.firenzemusei.it) and Cathedrals like Santa Croce or Santa Maria Novella, our city also means other lesser-known sights.
Here we offer a short list of small places we love, where you will appreciate Florentine art and way-of-life.
Art, a short walking distance from the B&B, lesser known sites:
- Cenacolo di Santa Apollonia: admission free - Tue-Sat 8.30am-1.30pm. From our door turn on the left and at the corner (Via XXVVII Aprile) turn on your right. The first door you see is the cenacle entrance (in case it's close ring the bell). Frescoes of Passion of Christ and Andrea del Castagno's Last Supper (1445-1450), together with the Crucifixion, Deposition ad Resurrection, also by A. del Castagno.
- Giardino dei Semplici: admission E.3,oo – Mon-Tue-Thur-Fri-Sun 9am-1pm; Sat 9am-5pm. Located less than 5 min. walk from San Marco sq. (enter in Via Lamarmora and then turn on your right in Via Micheli 3). It's a 16th cent. garden, a lovely place full of trees, exotic plants and are variety of flowers.
- Museo Archeologico: admission E.4,oo – Mon. 2-7pm; Tue, Thur. 8.30am-7pm; Wed, Fri, Sun. 8.30am-2pm. Recently renovated, the new entrance is in Via della Colonna, Piazza SS.Annunziata square, church side (we suggest you to visit the church too, since it's between S. Marco sq. and the Archeological Museum). It's the best place to see important Etruscan art. The Orator (bronze) and the Chimera (bronze, mythical beast) are here, and there is a very important collection of Greek ceramics.
- San Lorenzo Basilica: admission E.2,5o - Mon-Sat 10am-5pm. Located in San Lorenzo square, less than 5 min. walk from the B&B. Artworks of Donatello, Bronzino, the Annunciation of Filippo Lippi, and our favourite Marriage of the Virgin of Rosso Fiorentino.
- Palazzo Medici Riccardi: admission E.4,oo – Mon, Tue, Thu, Sun. 9am-7pm. Located 2 steps from San Lorenzo church. Entrance in Via Cavour 1. The charming Chapel of Michelozzo is covered with frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli and show the Journey of the Magi which is superb. Don't miss the Lippi's Madonna and Child.
- Palazzo Davanzati: admission free – Mon-Sun, 8-15am-1.50pm. Closet 1st, 3rd, 5th Mon. of the month, 2nd and 4th Sun. An ancient typical Florentine aristocrathic house recently restored. 3 floors, enormous "salotti", a completely frescoed bedroom, ancient fireplaces and much more.
Art - On the other side of the river, lesser known sites
- Chiesa di Santa Felicita: admission free – Mon-Sat 9am-noon and 3-6pm. The main reason to visit this small church is Pontormo's Deposition altarpiece in the Cappella Barbadori-Capponi. Pontormo is one of the most important artists in Florence during the Mannerism style.
- La Specola Museum: admission E.4,oo – Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri, Sun 9am-1pm; Sat 9am-5pm. If you're on holiday with kids, maybe it's not a bad idea to visit this zoology museum, which, from the room 24 exposes also realistic body parts and anatomical models. Elementary schools are used to visit La Specola during the year.
- Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte: up the hill where Piazzale Michelangelo is located, overlooking all the city. Bus n. 13 from the train station; address of the church: Via delle Porte Sante 34, a very short walk from the piazzale. It's one of the loveliest church in Florence, with the Carrara and Prato marbles façade, together with glittering mosaics of the 13th cent. The interior is frescoed and there is an 11th cent. crypt. Gregorian chant sung daily by the monks at 4.30pm in winter and 5.30pm in summer.
Shops and Restaurants in Florence we like – but the real list is much longer!
- Coccole: hot chocolate, chocolates, biscuits, home-made small cakes, tea house, and the best chocolate-cappuccino in the city center. In summer frozen chocolate, sorbets, ice-creams... Very cosy.
- L'Olandese volante: Via San Gallo, 3 min. walk from here. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate! But not only; together with a good choice of pralines from Holland, you will find smoked fish, some kind of cheese, herbal teas, ginger cakes...
- Herbalists' shop Doctor Vranjes: Via San Gallo. Home Italian essences (our favourite is "fiori di Sicilia") and eau de toilette, body lotions and special face creams for all skin types, lip balms. Also: special "tisanas" (infusions).
- Café Nabucco Wine Bar: at the end of the street where the Grand Tour is located. Not for your breakfast only! This is a very good place for the buffet aperitifs and wines. Well-known by the locals.
- Café "I'Birba": Via San Gallo. The place is nice, convenient and offers genuine sandwiches and maybe the best home-made "torta di mele" (apple pie) in the area, available after 1pm. No fees for the table service.
- Pugi bakery: Via San Gallo and Piazza San Marco. If you're looking for a slice of good pizza or a very good sandwich, Pugi shop is what you need. All the pizzas are great, and their famous "schiacciata" (savoury) is one of the favourite light-lunch for Florentine people.
- Restaurant "Il Vegetariano": Via delle Ruote 30; about 5 min. walk from the B&B, Via S. Gallo area. Tue-Fri 12.30-2pm and 7.30-10.30pm (average E.15-20, no c.cards). If you prefere not to eat another 1kilo-Florentine-steak, or just want to try something different, this is the best vegetarian restaurant in Florence.
- Ice-cream "Carabé": Via Ricasoli, after the cross-road with the Academy street, less than 5 min. walk from the B&B. One of the 3 best "gelaterie" in Florence, with organic Sicilian products. Fruit water-ices are superb.
- Ice Cream "Il Re Gelato": Fortezza da Basso, at the corner with Via Ridolfi. Actually is our most favourite in the city. Organic ingredients coming from all Italy, a special taste in each flavour, due to the essential oils like orange flowers, jasmine, cocoa...You must go and taste.
- Trattoria "Nerbone": if you love Italian food, you can't miss the main food market in town, located in Piazza del Mercato Centrale, just 2 min. walk from us, and the trattoria Nerbone inside it. The place opens at 7am and closed around 1pm: pasta and soups well coocked, but everybody come here for the "panino al lampredotto" (cow's intestine) with special sauces, "trippa" (tripe), and "bollito misto" (a mixed boiled cow's meat, tongue, trotter, etc.).
- Restaurant "Pepò": Via Rosina-Piazza del Mercato Centrale. Mon-Sun 12.30-2pm and 7.30-10.30pm. (average E. 40,oo). It's one of our favourite place to eat, good value for money. Home cuisine, tuscan food with an excellent steak, some fish dishes. The menu changes day by day and everything is fresh. Nice small place. Could be crowded after 8.30pm.
- Restaurant "Coquinarius": Duomo square, Via delle Oche 15R.(small street) Mon-Sat 12 - 11.00pm. Not expensive at all, it offers pastas, salads, smoked fish and Italian cheeses. Own-made cakes. Bistrot atmosphere, very very nice. It can be considered as a Café and not only as a restaurant.
- Restaurant Tiberio: close to the Vegetariano in Via delle Ruote, here the food is simple and well done. A steak, a special pasta, the fried fish. A good address for locals.
- Ice-cream "Grom": Duomo sqare, Via delle Oche. Simply delicious. Try the "torroncino cream" or the dark chocolate, or the "cassata siciliana", or the "crema di Grom".
- Café "Procacci": Via de'Tornabuoni 64R. Mon-Sat 10.30am-8pm. Small traditional fiorentine bar and shop, ideal place to relax after the expensive shopping in Via Tornabuoni, where all the main boutiques and jewelleries are located. PS. not cheap.
- Da 'Ino: Via dei Georgofili 3R- Uffizi area(jan and feb. Tue-Fri 12-5pm Sat.11am-7pm; during the other months 11am-7pm Tue-Sat) High quality artisanal enogastronomical products to taste and/or to take away.
- "Spazio A" Boutique: Via di Porta Rossa 107R. Mon 3-7pm and Tue-Sat 10am-7pm. Creations for women by Alberta Ferretti, Moschino, J.P. Gaultier. The staff is friendly and the clothes are fab! Expensive, of course, but not exaggerate.
- Aspesi Boutique: Via di Porta Rossa 81R. Mon 3-7pm and Tue-Sat 10am-2pm; 3-7pm. If you're looking for clothes in special very elegant colours, this is the right place. Linen, silk, velvet, light wool. Expensive, but the quality is high.
- Calvani Shoes: Via degli Speziali 7R, Piazza della Repubblica area. Mon-Sat 9am-7.30pm. Sun 3-7pm. Men's and women's shoes, different styles, from eccentric to elegant. Sport foot-wear, boots...Very chic!
- Malloni: the most trendy. Shoes and clothes (women only) in a very contemporary design, totally made in Italy.
Florence is the perfect location to explore the Tuscan region and its gorgeous towns.
A small palce to visit very easy to reach in 30 minutes by bus is Fiesole, located on the hilltop, (bus n. 7 from S. Marco square). An interesting walk from the central square of this small town (piazza Mino), following the direction for San Francesco church, which has the most enchanting view of Florence. Visit also the archeological area with its roman theatre. There are a couple of good places to eat, one of them very romantic with a terrace overlooking Florence.
Other small towns to visit in a daily trip across the countryside are not difficult to be reached.
The most known is certainly Siena, world-famous for its Palio (horse racing) and the medieval narrow streets and its marvellous Cathedral. Best choice is to take the bus from Florence and you will be there in about one hour.
Together with Siena you can't miss San Gimignano with its towers, and the small towns of Montalcino and Montepulciano, where wine tastings are a must during a daily tour in the Chianti area.
Pisa and Lucca are easier to be reached by train from Florence. While Pisa is famous for the leaning tower and the Piazza dei Miracoli, Lucca is a small medioeval place with one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the area. Good for a daily tour.
Arezzo and Cortona: both by train from Florence. Arezzo is famous in our Country to represent one of the most important Antiques Market (first week-end of each month). Vendors are over than 500, and they offer paintings, a wide range furniture, objects from the past, terracotta, restored works. Visitors are about 20.000 each week-end, and they are not only collectors and dealers, but also people curious about art and history.
Cortona is a very beautiful village up a hill, very famous for the Italian artist Piero da Cortona. The church of San Domenico has an altar piece of the 15th cent. and works of Singorelli and Beato Angelico, who also frescoed the cells of the San Marco Convent (today the San Marco Museum) a block away from the Relais Grand Tour.
Tuscany: best food, wines and olive oil
Our region is world-famous for its wines: from the Brunello di Montalcino to the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and from the Classic Chianti wine to the Sassicaia. Excellent wines of smaller producers can be reached exploring the country, and it's not unusual to find a small cellar where a wine by glass is offered togher with a tastings of pecorino cheese and salami.
But we also have special olive oil: the Extra-Virgin Tuscan olive oil is perfect for the Bruschetta, on beans, salads, and – why not – on the T-bone Florentine steak.
What to say about food? Typical soups like "ribollita" (cabbage, beans, onions, carrots, celery, a little tomato, extra-virgin olive oil, bread) and "pappa al pomodoro" (bread, many tomatoes, onion, celery, extra-virgin olive oil) they are a Florentine specialty, just like the "fagioli all'uccelletto" (beans in tomato sauce) and the famous bistecca.
Tuscany is famous for grilled meat: from the steak to the chicken, the rabbit, the pork sausage. Then we have the "trippa alla fiorentina" (Florentine tripe coocked in a sauce made of tomatoes, onions, celery and parmigiano), and other more simple food like prosciutto Toscano that you can taste inside your paninoAnother excellent food is the boiled mixed meat ("bollito misto") of pork, beef, chicken, together with potatoes, carrots, celery and onion. The meat is sliced and placed inside a bun with a sauce made of parsley, chilli, garlic and basil, or is served in the pot with mustard or a home-made mayonnaise.
Cakes and biscuits? Said that we have some of the most famous maitre chocolatier in Italy, the famous Cantuccini and Vinsanto are a must at the end of a good dinner. We also have the "ricciarelli" famous and excellent typical from Siena area, and the "brutti ma buoni" (ugly but good). The Panforte cake and the "castagnaccio" with chestnut flour, sugar, raisins, olive oil, rosemary are florentine's most typical seasonal cakes.