Of all the places we visited in Italy, I miss Florence the most. I would move there, should Alicia and I ever become wealthy and decide the fashionable ex-pat lifestyle is for us. I found the city less touristy than either Rome or Venice (though certainly still packed full of tourists), and with far more to see and do than smaller places like Assisi or Siena. Plus, we had the best food and wine on the entire trip in “Firenze.”
Part of that came from Alicia’s brilliant idea to find the best authentic restaurants in Florence. That’s harder than you might think, in any city. By the time we reached Florence late in the trip, we realized there’s this whole industry in Italy for restaurants that cater to English-speaking tourists and tour groups. Americans think they’re seeking an “authentic” Italian experience, but what they really want is Italian versions of their favorite Olive Garden dishes.
That wasn’t for us. So Alicia looked for the best-rated restaurants whose online reviews were exclusively in Italian – no snowbirds from Des Moines Yelping about how there’s no Hawaiian pizza. One place we found not only had no English menu, but almost no English-speaking waiters. They had to pull the one guy who spoke a little English off another table to serve us. And the food was fantastic. I’m not even entirely sure what I had, something with pasta and chicken and it was delicious.
The best meal (and the best wine) we had was at the Tre Pini Ristorante (Three Pines Restaurant), set in the Tuscan hills above Florence. Any description of the meal won’t do it justice. There was a wine tasting before the meal in the on-site vineyard. There were 27 (!) appetizers. The main course (prime rib) was brought out on the cooker with flames licking it as they cut. There was a singer during dinner who could give Sinatra a run for his money. It wasn’t just great food; it was a tremendous dining experience, and if I had to sum up the best Italian meals we had, it was all about the experience of eating great food and drinking great wine. The American notion that food is fuel, or that you would eat in your car in between two other activities, is simply nonexistent in Italy.
(I also highly recommend you have some of Tre Pini Saraceni wine shipped to you. We came home with a case of it. My favorites were the Chianti and Rosso; Alicia liked the Volare Pinot Grigio and almond Blue Champagne.)
I also found Florence to be quieter than other major cities, at least once you get away from Cathedral-Basilica-Academy area (I won’t pretend to know what the real names for parts of the city are). Alicia and I walked along the river Arno that runs through Florence and our little path was almost devoid of people. We were out at night in the drizzling rain finding little gelaterias, and we were the only ones in the joint. Despite its size (Florence has a population of nearly 400,000) I found an intimacy to the city that’s quite appealing.
There are other highlights too, like shopping (Florence has some amazing leather factories and small shops on its winding little streets), art (the sculpture in Florence, home of Michelangelo, is incredible) and architecture, but those will have to wait for another day. If you get a chance to go to Italy, make Florence a stop for all these reasons, but most especially for the food and wine.
Where is somewhere you’ve been and can’t wait to return?