Mark Twain once described Florence as a “city of dreams.” We’re standing on the rooftop terrace of Antica Torre di via Tornabuoni 1, a medieval tower and boutique hotel dating back to the year 1200, and are completely on board with his assessment. Layers of red terracotta tiled roofs give way to ancient palaces, marble porticos, and the incredible Duomo of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. We’re completely aware that many people dream of seeing this view once in a lifetime and are filled with equal parts gratitude and awe at the beauty of the Tuscan capital. It’s these moments that remind us why we started Cohica - to share a slice of this magic with travelers - and over the next 48 hours, we’re on the hunt for the perfect Florentine hotel, rooftop restaurant and city guide for the first night of our 2021 Italian Origins small group trip.
Florence, or Firenze in Italian, is widely regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance, a period in European history during the 15th and 16th centuries when the Middle Ages transitioned to the modern era. Often considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities, it draws visitors from all over, who come to soak up its history, art and culture. Just strolling around the ancient center is an experience, with open-air markets, giant piazzas, dozens of museums and galleries, some of the world’s most famous fashion houses, and architectural masterpieces around every corner. The River Arno divides the city and has been both a blessing (economically) and a curse (flooding) throughout history. There is a lot to see here, including the famous Ponte Vecchio - a covered bridge dating back to the 14th century and the city’s only bridge to have survived World War II intact. The Uffizi Gallery and Galleria dell'Accademia (which houses Michelangelo's David) are visited by thousands each day, as is the city’s gem, The Duomo, which 600 years after its completion, is still the largest dome built in brick and mortar in the world. Although nearly all of the sites are worthwhile, one of our favorite Florentine activities is to grab a (delicious, freshly made and cheap!) panino at All'antico Vinaio and a cup of wine and park it on the steps in front of Palazzo della Signoria to watch the world go by.
However, this trip to Florence includes a packed schedule without the time to people-watch on piazzas. After a short 50-minute drive from our home in Lucca, we arrive to 95 degrees and empty streets. Like many of the world’s most incredible places, the pandemic has done a number on tourism here resulting in a strangely empty, zombie-apocalypse-like version of the busy city we’re accustomed to. Locals are either avoiding the heat behind closed shutters, or (more likely) at the sea for much of July and August, contributing to the silence. We drop our bags and head off for our first of three hotel site inspections of the day.
Choosing the perfect hotel in Florence is no easy task. We have our favorites, the places we’ve stayed and where we’ve booked for clients, but our 2021 Italian Origins small group journey is different. We’re looking for a special place to spend the first night of the trip that welcomes the group to Italy and captures the beauty, art and culture of Florence. Over the next few hours, we meet with gracious Hotel Managers, moving from one room category to the next, jotting down notes and questions along the way.
With aching feet (it’s been a minute since Megan wore heels, let alone on cobblestone streets), we check in to the exquisite Antica Torre Via Tornabuoni 1, a historic mansion turned boutique hotel spread across the top floors of two medieval towers. Our suite, which we agree is one of the most beautifully appointed rooms we’ve ever slept in, has stunning views of the Arno and the Santa Trinita Bridge. We’re ready to move in. Later, we meet Martina, who shares the hotel’s history with passion, as we visit the other incredible rooms and suites. It’s interesting how much a person’s love and passion for something can add to the overall charm of a place, but Martina brings both and we begin to see the property through her eyes.
We get a little dressed up for dinner - we’re in the city after all - and head to the rooftop before crossing the river to the Santo Spirito neighborhood. This side of Florence has a different feel - a bit more neighborhoody and perhaps a tad less fashion-forward - and we’ve always been drawn to it. We settle on a little restaurant called Osteria dell'Enoteca, where we sip a delicious light red and obnoxiously only order an antipasti and a primi, skipping the secondi in true American fashion. If we were meat eaters, now would be the time to indulge in a famous Florentine steak, Bistecca alla Fiorentina. We decide to skip dessert, instead ducking into Gelateria Santa Trinita for a double cone a few minutes before they close. We find a spot on the side of the Santa Trinita Bridge, happily eating gelato and gazing at the lit up Ponte Vecchio. It’s one of those hot summer nights when people are out, the temperature is perfect, and the scenery is stunning. One of the best parts of traveling - when memories are made without even trying.
We awake to another stunning view (they seem to be everywhere here), and indulge in a fantastic rooftop breakfast. We love a good hotel breakfast and at the risk of sounding snobby, somewhat consider ourselves connoisseurs. This one is top notch with tons of high-quality local ingredients, figs on the fruit plate and real whipped cream. Before checking out, we take off for one last stroll around the quiet city. The ancient buildings surround us, exquisite in the level of detail and craftsmanship as you look more closely. The Duomo towers above, striped marble spanning for multiple city blocks. And everyday storefronts selling news, tobacco, gelato, and panini, are covered with dark wood and gold embellishments.
The truth is that writing about Florence doesn’t do it justice. The typical adjectives - remarkable, amazing, incredible - don't apply here. They're simply not enough to describe the feeling you get when gazing out on the rooftops or up at the Duomo. It seems that Twain was on to something - just being here is like a dream.
Travel with us to Florence in September 2021, as we uncover the unique food, culture and traditions of four distinct regions in Italy.
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