Overview: This is a full experience taking you from the popular city center across the Arno river and up into the nearby hillside on Florence's ... more »
Overview: This is a full experience taking you from the popular city center across the Arno river and up into the nearby hillside on Florence's ... more »"Left Bank." Along the way, we will explore less trodden piazzas, cafes, parks, small streets, churches, museums, shops as well as some of the more famous sites. less «
Tips: Wear comfortable shoes and clothes for the significant walk and trek up the hill.
We're going to start our walk in Piazza della Signoria at Cafe Rivoire (open from 8 am, closed Mondays), one of the city's oldest and most famous cafes and the perfect spot to enjoy cappuccino and a pastry or, in winter, one of their famous hot chocolates.
It's tempting to stand at the counter with the locals but I think as visitors you're more... More likely to be attracted to a table on the terrace from where you have a ringside view of the exquisite piazza laid out in the late 14th century. I'm sure you're going to spend more time here on another occasion; I personally like to explore this square in the evening when the crowds have gone and the magnificent monuments and pieces of sculpture are flood lit, so, for now, just sit with your delicious cup of Italian coffee and soak up the atmosphere of one of the world's most beautiful manmade open spaces.
When you're ready to go, settle your bill (yes, I know, it's not cheap) and head across the piazza towards the gap between the Loggia della Signoria (commonly known as the Loggia dei Lanzi and the Palazzo Vecchio that leads into the courtyard of the Galleria degli Uffizi.Less
Look out for the living statues that are usually here, strange human sculptures fully coated in gold or silver that are able to remain as still as a piece of Michelangelo carved marble for hours on end. Walk through the courtyard passed the people queuing for entry to the Uffizi; hopefully you've pre-booked your tickets for later in the day or... More tomorrow. At the end of the grey stone courtyard, you come out in the arcade below the Uffizi's south corridor and there directly ahead of you is the river Arno.Less
From here you will get your first glimpse of your final destination today, the triangular shaped, horizontal striped church of San Miniato al Monte, perched high on a hill to your left. To your right you will see the rear side of the Ponte Vecchio and the modern buildings on the opposite bank adjacent to it. The medieval buildings on both sides ... Moreof the river close to the ancient bridge were blown up in 1944 to render it impassable, and these have now been replaced with modern galleries, shops and cafe/bars. Peer over the wall and directly below you will spot the small jetty and gardens of the Societa Conottiere Firenze (the Florence rowing club), from which you regularly see enthusiasts rowing at all times of the day.
8, Lung'Arno De' Medici Anna Maria Luisa, Florence
With the Ponte Vecchio behind us, let's walk along the narrow pavement passed the ever-growing collection of padlocks on a long metal chain. I lucchetti d'amore, they have been placed here by couples to symbolise locking in their love, toss the key in the river and hopefully they'll be locked together forever.
On a very much different note, on ... Morethe left, after the Uffizi, on Piazza dei Giudici, you'll see the Museo di Storia della Scienza (aka Museo Galileo), a museum for those whose principle interest is science rather than art, for here you'll find a fascinating collection of scientific instruments that includes solar clocks, celestrial globes and even an array of items that belonged to Galileo. (Check current opening times on the door.)
Piazza dei Giudici 1Less
A little further on is Piazza Mentana with the popular Hotel Balestri.
Now we come to Ponte alle Grazie, the current bridge replaces the original (built in 1237) that was blown up in 1944. A short detour to the left will take us to the Museo Horne, a house that was the home of English art historian Herbert Horne and is now open to the public (small entry fee).
Museo Horne is a house that was the home of English art historian Herbert Horne and is now open to the public (small entry fee). In addition to a fine collection of paintings and furniture, you get a good feel for what it must have been like to live in a Renaissance palazzo, albeit one that was carefully modernised over the years, check out in... More particular the kitchens.Less
We cross the bridge, taking in first the great view of the Ponte Vecchio, and then cross the street (careful of the traffic) to enjoy the sweeping vistas eastwards to the distant Alpe di San di San Benedetto. The towering hillsides, often snow-capped in winter, can appear as a seductive retreat on a stifling hot summer's day. Ahead of us to our ... Moreright, who wouldn't want to own of the beautiful apartments that line the Lungarno Torrigiani with views north across the river to the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and Brunneleschi's iconic dome on the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.Less
We arrive on the south bank of the Arno at Piazza de' Mozzi where, if time allows, enjoy the quiet of another small museum, the Museo Bardini which, like the Horne, is a treasure trove of privately collected works of art, furniture and musical instruments albeit in a more modern palazzo built towards the end of the 19th century.
Stroll eastwards along the narrow pavement of the Lungarno Serristori dodging between fellow pedestrians and joggers and shortly on the right we'll come to the shady gardens of the Piazza Demidoff, one of my personal favourite private corners of the city and a popular haunt of the city's dog walkers (not all of whom scoop!). The square is named... More after the Russian ambassador Nicolai Demidoff who lived in Palazzo Serristori at the eastern end of the garden. His son, Anatole, commissioned the statue in the centre from the sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini but as the marble soon began to deteriorate due to corrosive effect of the overhanging lime trees, Giuseppe Martelli was commissioned to design the protective iron and glass canopy. Lovers of Italian cinema will recognise this square immediately as it featured heavily in Mario Monicelli's film Amici Miei.Less
Cross through the gardens keeping the deep ochre facade of the hotel Silla on your right - another good option to stay next time - and the gorgeous similar coloured walls of the Palazzo Serristori on your left.
The narrow street takes you to the right passed small stores like the old-fashioned electrical shop catering for the local community. At the tee junction, turn left and immediately on your left you'll see the parish church of San Niccolò, one of so many seldom visited Florentine churches that are often architectural treasures in their own right... More. The cool, dark interior contains the church's original Gothic beams as well as altars by Vasari, a fresco attributed to Michelozzo and paintings by many other Florentine masters. Turn left as you come out and admire small shop that specialises exclusively in Christmas cribs (presepe).
Of note, the church is closed during lunch hours (12-4pm) so you won't be able to go inside then, but on the facade there is a fascinating marble plaque that marks the level of the water of the devastating flood in 1966 (this area, so close to the Arno river, was one of the worst affected). There is also a carved stone plaque from the 16th century marking the height that the same river flooded in 1557 (check out the little hand pointing to the line).Less
Now cross the road to Via San Miniato with the cafe/restaurant Il Rifrullo on your left, the perfect place to stop for a drink or something to eat with a pretty garden too for al fresco dining when the weather permits.
Ahead you will see a stretch of the original city walls dissected by the Porta di San Miniato. During the catastrophic floods of... More 3rd / 4th November 1966 when the Arno breached its banks and the water level rose to over 6m in some parts of the city, this area of the city was very badly inundated and the original doors on Arnolfo's gateway washed away. They were eventually recovered, restored and recently put back in place. Walk through the gate and enjoy the feeling of suddenly being in the countryside for here the lush green hillsides fall to the feet of the city walls and you instantly feel as though you've left the hustle and bustle of the tourist-packed streets behind you.Less
The climb now starts in earnest but take it slowly, keeping as much as possible to the shady side of the street. You pass a pretty plant shop where the tempting array of imaginatively displayed herbs and flowers often spills out onto the pavement. Shortly, the road forks giving you two options to the summit; to the right, the narrow lane of... More Monte alle Croci winds up to San Salvatore al Monte but I suggest you take the broadly spaced stairs ascending to the left, the Via di San Salvatore al Monte. As you climb, you'll notice that the stairs are lined at intervals with Stations of the Cross.
If you are doing the walk in May or June, be sure to stop en route at another little- known haven of tranquillity, Il Giardino delle Rose (the garden of roses) for not just over 1,000 different varieties of rose plus a Japanese garden but fantastic views of the famous Florence skyline without crowds of fellow visitors in sight. Usually open mid-May to the end of June, the roses are at their best in the early part of the period.Less
Continue up the hill until you come to the wide Viale Galileo where the almost spiritual solitude of the streets you've just enjoyed is rudely broken by the roar of tour buses and crowds of people flocking to and from Piazzale Michelangelo. It's crowded with coaches, cars and people alike plus it's a souvenir stall holder's paradise but it is... More worth making your way through all this for the stunning view of the city from the balustrades.
For from here you have that view across the terracotta rooftops of the most famous architectural monuments to the Renaissance as immortalised in pictures, sketches and postcards down the ages. Far below, the Arno cuts through the city centre. Ahead in the distance, high hills spring up sharply from the valley floor and the hilltop villages of Montorsoli, Fiesole and Settignano can be spotted nestling amongst the trees.Less
Piazzale Michelangelo isn't a place to linger. Take your photographs, maybe buy an ice cream and then return back the way you came before turning left up the broad stairs beneath a canopy of umbrella pines to the church of San Salvatore al Monte.
The San Salvatore al Monte is a church of simple design by Cronoca and christened by Michelangelo "la bella villanella" (pretty country maid). (Bear in mind that, at the time, this area would have been very much considered the countryside proper.) Many people tend to head straight on to San Miniato so you'll possibly have this charming little... More church all to yourself. Sit quietly on the steps and prepare yourself for the final assault up the monumental marble stairs to your destination.Less
It's quite a climb up the steep steps that cut through the cemetery so take it easy, stopping when you want to take in the wonderful view of the city behind you. Soon you'll come out on the gravelled terrace and the gracious facade of this lovely Romanesque church will appear immediately in front of you.
You'll want to stop to recover your... More breath and take in once more that most incredible of views with the city now framed in the foreground by a swathe of green. When you decide to enter inside you may be struck, as I always am, by a sudden desire to sit down and spend a short time simply looking. At the prominent raised choir with the long low ceilinged crypt below in which Vespers are sung every afternoon (5.30 in summer, 4.30 in winter) or the marble pavement with depictions of animals and signs of the zodiac.
When you're ready, explore the church further going down into the crypt or up the stairs and into the sacristy to admire Spinello Aretino's lush, colourful frescoes depicting the life of St Benedict. More than anything, I always think of this beautifully sited church as a hilltop refuge, the perfect counterpoint to the crowded chapels of Santa Croce and Il Duomo. Spend time here just relaxing, looking, soaking up the peace in what is a precious corner of one of the world's loveliest cities that also affords one of the best views of that city.
Before leaving, some may want to wander quietly between the well-kept elegant mausoleums of the city's long dead, others may want to visit the small shop run by the monks selling religious artefacts as well as sweet-smelling aromatherapy products.
Now make your way back down into the city again perhaps rewarding yourself en route with a much deserved gelato from the small café on the left as you approach Piazzale Michelangelo.Less