Florence, or Firenze, in Italian, is hardly undiscovered territory . The Tuscan capital is the crown jewel of Renaissance cities: human in scope and scale, it boasts well-preserved architecture and invaluable art at every turn. Yet it’s also a modern city, its residents timelessly chic. Florence is small enough to be quite walkable, with a historic center packed with museums and churches full of priceless masterpieces, gorgeously-curated shops, a fabulous people parade of fiorentina fashionistas, and countless restaurants serving everything from rustic peasant fare to sophisticated international cuisine.
Just outside of the city itself, and on the hilltops overlooking the Arno River valley, centuries-old villas and lovely landscape await those brave enough to venture outside the confines of Florence proper. It’s amazing how quickly the scenery morphs from cobblestoned city streets to olive groves and grapevines. But then, just a handful of kilometers from this urban center, you look outside the window of your Fiat Cinquecento and realize: you’re in Tuscany. Bella toscana . Chianti, to be exact. It’s the region after which the famed wine is named, site of country homes of countless famous Florentines and international celebrities, and capital of destination weddings, honeymoons, and anniversary trips. Again, undiscovered territory this is not (which doesn’t mean that there isn’t something new to discover each time one visits). But it’s renowned for good reason. Tuscan wine country and the city of Florence, as travel destinations, are as close as one can get to perfection.
Below are our recommendations for two perfect days in Tuscany. Of course, how do you improve perfection? Stay for a week…
Florence and its Suburbs
For the classic in-city experience, we always love…
• JK Place Florence (Piazza SM Novella 7) – a favorite of the fashion crowd.
• Gallery Hotel Art (Vicolo dell’Oro 5), Hotel Lungarno (Borgo San Jacopo 14), and Lungarno Suites (Lungarno Acciaiuoli 4) – all properties owned by the Ferragamo family, and are as tasteful and elegant as the name would suggest.
• Hotel Savoy (Piazza della Repubblica 7) – a Rocco Forte gorgeous revamp of a Florentine classic, just around the corner from the Duomo.
For a lovely respite in the suburbs only 5 miles from the center, we love the muted opulence of the Villa Villoresi , in Sesto Fiorentino (www.villavilloresi.it). The villa was a 12 th century fortress that was remodeled during the Renaissance into a country villa. Today its loggia – the longest in Tuscany – overlooks the pool and beautiful garden full of orange and lemon trees. The villa itself is full of beautiful frescoed hallways, antique sitting rooms, apartments that open onto the loggia, and a medieval interior courtyard.
Florentine and Tuscan cuisine is known for its simplicity, its clarity of flavor, and its top-quality ingredients, including the famed Chianina beef and various types of wild game. Florence is renowned for its fabulous dining scene; we’ve given just a few favorites below, but the visitor (and resident) is really spoiled for choices here.
Trattoria Cammillo (Borgo San Jacopo 57/r): Classic Tuscan cuisine in 2 elegant rooms. Items to try: Tuscan chicken liver crostini, fritto misto (mixed fry), pappardelle with fresh porcini mushrooms, and roasted rabbit.
13 Gobbi (Via del Porcellana 9r): Warm and wonderful casual trattoria with a welcoming staff serving classic dishes like pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan tomato and bread soup), mixed salumi and cheeses, and the mother of all steaks, the bistecca alla Fiorentina . It’s a 3-inch-thick monster T-bone salted and seared on the outside, rare on the inside. Drizzle with peppery green Tuscan olive oil and squirt with lemon as the locals do.
Enoteca Pinchiorri (Via Ghibellina 87): Considered by many (including Michelin) to be the best restaurant in Florence, this romantic spot not far from Santa Croce boasts incredible tasting menus and wine pairings that exhibit the highest echelon of Italian cooking. Very expensive, but a must for special occasions and true food fanatics.
Chianti is peppered with gorgeous villas, seemingly at every turn in the windy road. Many of these villas have been converted into lodging, and many of the famous vineyards of Chianti have restaurants and sometimes hotels on their grounds.
To navigate the Chianti wine road, the fun and authentic way to travel is by renting a car from Chianti Classic Cars (www.chianticlassiccar.com) in Sesto Fiorentino. Driving through the Tuscan countryside takes on a whole new feel when you’re in a vintage Italian car!
This is the heart of Tuscan wine country, so it’s worth seeking out vineyards that conduct tastings and tours. A good place to start is with Badia a Coltibuono (www.coltibuono.com), a well-established name in Tuscany, where they conduct tastings and tours and cooking classes – and even have a B&B.
In the town of Gaiole in Chianti sits the lovely Castello di Meleto (Gaiole in Chianti, www.castellomeleto.it). Founded in 1256, this converted castle and fortress was used by the Florentines in their war against the Sienese in the 14 th century. It sits atop a hill dotted with pines and cypress trees overlooking the Chianti Valley, and the 1000 hectares of vineyard grapes that the Castello owns. The grounds are gorgeous, with an outdoor pool, various gardens, a wine center and store offering guided tastings, an 18 th century theater, and a restaurant.
Another castle nearby (and also in Gaiole in Chianti) is Castello di Spaltenna , (www.spaltenna.it) a complex including a castle and church that date back to 1030. There’s a spa, outdoor and indoor pools, tennis courts, gym, and Turkish bath to make your stay relaxing. There are also 2 restaurants on the grounds of the castello.
You’re in prime wine country in Chianti, so it makes sense to drink the fabulous local wines and eat the specialties that are made to accompany these gorgeous Sangiovese-based vinos. Meats (fresh and cured), cheeses, and game all figure heavily on local menus, and vegetables are seasonal and fresh.
Ristorante La Cantinetta di Passignano (Via di Greve 1/A, Badia a Passignano, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa). A gorgeous modern restaurant on a beautiful hillside, this is the perfect place to enjoy an aperitivo outside during warmer months, or a cozy meal in the sun-filled dining rooms in cooler months. Try the delicious pastas (even the seafood is great here), the octopus salad, the Chianina beef tartare with a super-fresh local egg yolk and shaved truffles, or a tagliata (sliced steak) smothered in porcini mushrooms. Fabulous desserts, and a very reasonable wine list.
Ristoro di Lamole (Lamole, Greve in Chianti). This casual spot with beautiful views offer up local specialties, like white truffle pasta, roasted pork, and of course the classic bistecca alla fiorentina .
Il Pievano (Localita’ Spaltenna 13, Gaiole in Chianti). The dining room is inside a 15 th century monastery in the Castello di Spaltenna resort. The dishes served are as gorgeous as the space: Tuscan vegetable ribollita soup, Pici pasta with lampredotto (stewed tripe) and fava beans, local Cinta Senese roasted pork ribs, and a medieval dish of pigeon with an apricot and almond chutney. Worth the splurge on a great wine to accompany the meal.