Florence is a magical destination in all seasons, with art, stunning architecture and beauty at every turn.
Just meandering through the different areas of the city is one of the elements of travel here that we love; seeing the city from different perspectives, at a pace that suits you and all the while working up an appetite for another of the city’s highlights, its food.
Here we share with you a recent experience of Florence focused on art, beauty and light which was immensely satisfying and can be enjoyed at any time of the year.
The Uffizi Gallery; a private tour experience
We first visited Florence separately over 25 years ago and have returned together a few times over the years, but only recently did we both make our first visit to the Uffizi Gallery. A friend in our Tuscan village suggested that the best money we could spend is on a private guide of the gallery. After a little research, we made a reservation with Paolo for a private 3 hour tour. This was a great decision. Paolo took care of booking our tickets and we were on our way.
Before even making it inside the gallery, Paolo explained the background to the building and some of the history of the Medici family. Once inside, we were given an earpiece to hear what Paolo was saying, which was perfect for those of us who don’t like the structure of a tour where you need to circle around the guide to hear the information. Here, we could wander and look at different things all while still hearing the commentary. For those with a short attention span or who are more curious than others, this is a perfect tour guiding solution.
The Gallery was a visual feast from start to finish. The building itself is amazing with different frescoes covering the ceiling of all of the corridors, and one beautiful room having 6000 individual mother of pearl shells adorning its ceiling.
However, it was the stories, symbols and renaissance art iconography information that Paolo shared which was most incredible, and made the experience so much richer.
We heard the meaning attributed to a painting’s background and to the skin colours of the people in the painting; as an example, if a person was painted white and/or there was no water in the background, it meant that the person was dead at the time of painting. We also heard about the meaning of the clothing worn, the people painted in the crowds, and how the geometries and perspectives were pointing to the most important elements.
There was another story of an artist priest who had run off with a nun but it was ok because he was a friend of the bishop. His subsequent painting of Mary and baby Jesus was in actual fact a family portrait of his wife and two sons, and also baby Jesus. Without Paolo by our side, we would have missed this side story and the many other rich details he shared.
Paolo also enhanced the gallery experience by referring to a wealth of material he had on his phone; he showed us photos of the x-rays of a Michelangelo painting that were taken during a restoration, and which also showed its earlier restoration works, and the information of how and why they restored it the way they did.
We were also fortunate to see one room that hadn’t been opened for 25 years, with its main restored feature being a wall painted with a map of the Tuscany region. It was a first viewing for Paolo also and it really was magnificent.
The price for Paolo to guide us was €130. With his knowledge, passion and easy delivery, this is one gallery experience that we will remember and it has certainly changed the way we now look at renaissance art. We highly recommend Paolo and you can get in touch with him via the web address below. He also offers tours of another 11 museums, churches and palazzi in Florence. We will certainly be using his services again on our next visit.
Lunch at Trattoria La Casalinga
The trattoria’s of Italy are generally warm, friendly, a little rustic and usually have the home cooked goodness that we long for, and it’s for these reasons that they are usually our preferred destination for lunch and dinner. Following our tour of the Uffizi gallery, we wandered across the Ponte Vecchio and found ourselves in the very cool neighbourhood of Santo Spirito. It was a little after 1.30pm and having worked up an appetite, we literally walked past Trattoria La Casalinga as some people were coming out the door and decided to dine here. It looked interesting and it also sounded like it was filled with locals. We secured a table in the virtually full room and took in the delicious perfume coming from the kitchen as we reviewed the simple menu.
With only women cooking in the kitchen, we knew we were assured of some special home cooked ‘nonna style’ tastes. This was certainly delivered when Nancy ordered the artichoke frittata, which she said reminded her of the way her mum used to cook frittata. Damian had just seen and smelled a simple plate of roast chicken and roast potatoes delivered to a neighbouring table, and so decided to order that, along with some delicious contorni. For us, the wow factor of a trattoria comes from its simple, good food, and this was just superb.
Accompanied by a little carafe of red wine, and followed by a delicious dolce of ricotta cheesecake with strawberries and an espresso, we were fully fuelled for our afternoon adventure.
The light of Tuscany is renowned and has been mesmerising artists for centuries. It’s hard to quantify how it’s different and why it’s special, other than to say it’s diverse but always beautiful, especially at dawn and dusk. It is something that simply needs to be experienced and felt. With Florence being split by the river Arno and with 7 bridges crossing it, there are plenty of picturesque vantage points during the day to wander and experience this natural wonder unfold.