And living just over an hour by train from the city I visit quite often even if just to have lunch. On the first day we were allowed to travel after the initial lockdown I headed straight there and it proved to be a day that I will never forget. The once busy thoroughfares were empty, the stalls in the famous markets removed, and piazzas eerily quiet. I saw Florence in a new light, noticing hidden treasures that are often missed in the bustle of tourists. When we reached the Duomo we found that we were the only two people in the Piazza except for another lady passing through. For that moment the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore was just ours. Despite the heartache and despair of the past months I knew how blessed I was to have such an unique experience.
This past week I stayed for two nights in the neighborhood paralleling the Basilica Santa Croce and instantly fell in love. This is where the locals live and you won’t find many tourists. Browsing the quaint shops, enjoying aperitivo in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, and attending an event at the Tempio Maggiore (The Great Synagogue) I almost forgot I was in Florence. There is a small-town charm about it that is endearing. A highlight was discovering La Divina Pizza and it’s sweet owner, Roberta. She proudly told us how she prepares the dough using her mother yeast and uses only the freshest of ingredients. It will now be a go-to place for lunch or dinner.
On another trip my son and I decided we needed a long walk after an exceptional dinner at another favorite little place of mine located in Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, Ristorante Vincanto. As I am one to always take a different path whenever I can we decided to wander through the adjacent neighborhood towards the river away from Ponte Vecchio. We crossed the Arno and came across La Pescaia di Santa Rosa (the weir of Santa Rosa) named after the tower of Santa Rosa, nearby in the Oltrarno. It’s task is to protect the flow of the Arno, preventing risks that could destabilize the riverbed, but it also provides a place to sit in the middle of the river. As the sun was setting we joined the groups of friends and couples in a quiet moment of watching the sunset over one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Discovering these areas and having those moments remind me why I love to travel off the beaten path. To find the soul of any place you visit you have to take time to be adventurous and just explore. Yes, Florence has world-renowned sites, but on your visit take an hour or two to discover it’s hidden neighborhoods as well
The great cities of Rome, Florence and Venice offer treasures untold, but there is so much more to be discovered in this beautiful country. Let this guide inspire you to travel off the beaten path to discover the soul of Italy.