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Four volumes of SUITCASE Magazine, with a new issue delivered to your door each quarter
In a little bar in the Tuscan wine region of Chianti, we overheard a woman introducing her son-in-law to a couple she had just met. “He is from Milan,” she said. “No,” he interrupted, before hastily correcting her: “I live in Milan. But I am from Florence.”
Florentines are deeply proud of their city, and for good reason. The Tuscan capital is steeped in history and art – from Vasari’s fresco of The Last Judgement on the domed ceiling of the Florence Cathedral, to the covered walkway of Ponte Vecchio and Michelangelo’s statue of David. Like most Italian cities, food and drink is right at the heart of everything. Saltless bread, hearty meat dishes and red wine are the axis on which the Florentine world spins.
It’s hard to imagine a city that better encapsulates dolce far niente, or ‘the sweetness of nothing’, the inimitable Italian mentality of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. The best way, and indeed perhaps the only way, to truly embrace Florence is to eat like a local, alongside the locals, while taking the time to enjoy the city’s simple pleasures: good food and good wine.
Occupying the first floor of a 16th-century palazzo, Ad Astra is one of the city’s greatest hidden treasures. The hotel is nestled on a quiet street lined with vespas, and the building – once a luxurious hideout for aristocrats – belongs to one of Florence’s most noble families, whose members are immortalised in the oil paintings lining the stairs. Ad Astra’s main living space is about as chic as it gets. With a soundtrack of jazz, there’s a frescoed ceiling, bookshelves, twinkling glass chandeliers, a tiled fireplace and plush velvet sofas. Each room is unique, with sumptuous textiles and colourful antique furniture – think standalone roll-top baths surrounded by walls covered with gilt-framed artworks. A patio wraps round the edges, opening out onto the largest private garden in Europe, flecked with roses and graceful statues. Leaving the hotel would be impossible if it weren’t for the surrounding area of Oltrarno, a bohemian district brimming with artists’ studios, boutique shops and independent cafés. Rooms from £220 per night.
Ad Astra Hôtel Particulier is a member of HIP Hotels hiphotels.com
This elegant yet relaxed spot on the corner of the bustling Piazza della Passera is perennially packed. Locals love the family atmosphere, quality produce and traditional Tuscan dishes. Visitors love the bold flavours, white tablecloths and lengthy wine list. Staff, meanwhile, treat everyone like they’ve been coming for years. Be sure to try the pappa al pomodoro, a typical peasant dish of stale bread mixed with sweet tomatoes, basil, garlic and herbs.
If you fancy a change from the meat-heavy dishes favoured by traditional trattorias, head for lunch at this elegant little place, which is adored by stylish locals for its creative vegetarian menu. The brainchild of an antiques dealer, it is located on a pedestrianised road, surrounded by homely coffee bars and bustling gelaterias. Chalkboards announce the dishes of the day, while photographs of Florence from days gone by line the softly lit walls.
Scoring a seat can be challenging in this raucous tavern, with its marble tables and tiled walls hung with copper pans. But it simply doesn’t get more Tuscan than this. Once inside, pour a glass of red from one of the giant bottles on the table (it costs €4 for as much as you can handle.) Try a hearty soup or pasta to start with before ordering Florence’s signature dish: an enormous T-bone steak rubbed with salt and served rare.
This cocktail bar and restaurant is simply exquisite, with peacock- blue walls covered with antique film posters, bronze lamps hanging over the cloud-patterned wallpaper and vases brimming with fresh flowers sitting next to flickering candles. Albanian chef Entiana Osmenzeza is in charge in the kitchen, and her menu mixes Tuscan flavours with Spanish and Balkan influences. The result is sophisticated, seasonal gourmet cooking.
There are few activities more glorious than strolling across Florence’s many bridges, crossing the River Arno from one quarter to another as buskers fill the air with music. Wandering with an ice cream in hand? Heavenly. Our quest for the perfect gelato ended when we discovered Gelateria Santa Trinita, a Wes Anderson-pink store selling seasonal flavours like grapefruit, kiwi, pistachio and bullet-grey sesame. It was so good we had to return first thing the next morning to have another taste.
When the sun shines or the dusk descends, Florentines head to their nearest piazza. The square is the heart of any district, and Santo Spirito has gained a reputation as the city’s most vibrant. It is laced with panini shops, laid-back bars and traditional osterias, with young locals tangling themselves together on the steps of the Basilica di Santo Spirito. Head there on every second Sunday of the month to browse the flea market for antiques.
Inside the hidden Liberia Brac, peruse shelves of beautiful books about theatre, philosophy and photography. Take a glass of spritz into a courtyard strung with ribbons, and flick through Italian art magazines or settle into the airy little restaurant opposite, which offers light, vegetarian food.
You could spend an entire afternoon at this humming food market, a theatre of local produce housed inside a vaulted space in the San Lorenzo area. Vendors sell tumbling piles of fruit and vegetables and stacks of local cheeses in one corner; tripe and cured meats in another. Truffles appear like mounds of rubble, with sellers offering samples. Join the crowded seating area at the edges for a plate of fresh pasta or a hearty Tuscan stew washed down with a carafe of red wine.
Arguably Florence’s hottest spot at the moment, this former cleaning equipment shop is now the site of a cocktail bar and a lauded restaurant as well as a florist’s. Arched ceilings and an industrial facade give way to walls of artwork, soft lanterns, long sharing tables and hanging plants. Downstairs in the brick- walled cellar, jazz musicians play to guests who lounge on velvet sofas and nibble seasonal dishes while choosing from a colourful selection of cocktails.
Is there any ritual more Italian than aperitivo? Florentines adore nothing more than an early evening spent with friends around big goblets of red wine or fiery Aperol spritz, picking at piles of olives or hot pans of pane con pomodoro flecked with garlic. Only steps away from the lively Piazza Santo Spirito, cosy Il Santino serves top-quality wines accompanied by cured meat and crostini bubbling with crumbled sausage and melted pecorino.
This is the second and largest branch of Ditta Artigianale’s Scandi-style coffee roaster and gin bar, set over two floors in a 1950s building just around the corner from the Ponte Vecchio. Here you’ll find Danish furniture, geometric wallpaper, solid wood panelling, a steely spiral staircase and artistic light fixtures. But of course the real reason to go is the coffee, which is as close to perfect as it gets.
In the folds of Florence’s leather market, you will find this tiny bar filled with locals who come to sip wine from around 10AM. Along with a wine list that reads like a map of the region, Casa del Vino serves little plates to accompany each glass – expect silvery anchovies, truffle crostini, pickled artichokes and strings of milky stracciatella di bufala cheese, served with a trickle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.
You know how you have that one incredible friend who knows their city inside out? Yeah, that’s us. We take the world’s most dynamic destinations, hand-pick the best parts and give them to you in one place. This is the kind of guide that you don’t need to run by a local. Eat your heart out, shop ‘til you drop, drink like a fish, dance your socks off, sleep – then repeat.
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