The AnOther Guide to... Florence

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Sophie Bew shares the eating, lounging and people-watching spots that circumvent the city’s typical tourist throngs

Introducing a new series of alternative city guides, specially curated for the cultivated traveller.

Come summer time, Florence’s covered bridges are positively sticky with a steady flow of visitors. It would be tempting to tell you to avoid Ponte and Palazzo Vecchio altogether – the home of the replica of Michelangelo’s David (confusingly the real one is in the Galleria dell’Accademia, a 12-minute walk north) – but if you’ve never been, the sites are too divine to miss. If you turn your gaze from David you’ll see Benvenuto Cellini’s magnificent and distinctly underrated bronze statue, Perseus with the Head of Medusa. Then there’s the city’s candy-like pink and green cathedral, Palazzo Pitti (the home of the Medicis), the Boboli gardens, the Uffizi gallery – all of which are world-renowned sites but come with whopping queues in the warm weather. I strongly recommend a winter visit to some of these spots. Year-round though, there’s a plethora of palatial beauty (and calm, and space) to be absorbed in a few slightly lesser known locations. Here they are...

Gucci Garden

This is a mere stone’s throw from the gaggles of David gapers but it’s certainly a breath of fresh air. Adjoining a store brimming with the brand’s signature eclecticism – jacquard loafers, illustrated matchboxes, Florentine stationery – is a quite excellent restaurant. Waiters wearing the ubiquitous loafers and grosgrain ribbon ties proffer chef Massimo Buttara’s delicous fare: cloud-like Taka buns; Ultra-gourmet burgers in kitsch pink takeaway boxes; risotto, carpeted with scampi carpaccio, arrives on special red-bloom emblazoned Richard Ginori porcelain.

Farmacia Santa Maria Novella

Founded in the 13th century by Dominican monks, the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one of the most beautiful shopping spots in the world. Behind an unassuming entrance the hallowed halls of this tiled treasure trove boast centuries-old recipes for pot pourri, elegant candles, scented terracotta pomegranates, flacons of expertly mixed perfumes and exquisite ceramics for your bathroom. All this looking out onto the orange blossom-clad cloisters of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella that is also definitely worth a visit. 

Museo Nove Cento

Across the road from this sacred pharmacy is one of the city’s only line-free museums. Dedicated to 20th century Italian artists, it’s filled with the Surrealist paintings of De Chirico, and Morandi’s pleasingly peaceful still lifes. It’s an art-filled haven unlike any other in the city.    

Il Papiro 

Pick up stationery supplies at Il Papiro – the most exquisite hand-embossed cards, letterheads and stamps. Watch the technicians marbling wrapping paper, with lethal-looking inks and streams of luminescent gold.

The English Cemetery

A near impossible sight: a beautiful cemetery on a roundabout island in the north-east of the city. It’s definitely worth the walk from the centre. 

Trattoria Cammillo

Booking a table at Trattoria Cammillo is a must. If not only to guarantee the table but also to ensure one of your most memorable meals of the year. It’s a humble-seeming, classic restaurant – football shirts adorn the walls but elegant dishes grace the menu – pasta con brodo, delicate fagiole beans dusted with bottarga, morone (fish) carpaccio. A linen-dressed table for one on a wet evening makes for excellent, steamy-windowed people-watching. 

Giardino delle Rose

Eschew the pricey (and lengthy) entry to the Boboli gardens and wind your way up to the rose gardens from the bohemian quarter of San Niccolo, south of the river. On your way you’ll find many a spritz spot but this hilltop oasis also makes for the perfect picnic spot overlooking the city’s rust red rooftops come sundown. Failing an organised hamper, dinner at Osteria Antica Mescita San Niccolò, back at the bottom, would go down very well instead.  

Villa San Michele

There are countless sweet hotels amid the hubbub of the city but for an unparallelled night’s stay try Belmond’s Villa San Michele – a former medieval monastery – in the Fiesole hills just outside and overlooking the city. A private garden suite offers more than sanctuary after a day at the Uffizi – it’s impossibly luxurious, not least with the 300-year-old wisteria and lemon-tree studded lawns as backdrop to the evening’s glass of chianti. Dinner in the cloisters is a similarly soothing affair, with candlelight flickering across the view of the winding river Arno.   

Orto Botanico di Firenze

Another alternative to Boboli – this time in a wealthy neighbourhood off the tourist track, where real life bubbles away. The botanical gardens offer a dreamy reading spot amid orangeries, fountains and extensive iris plantings. 

A riverside beer  

Find this bustling beer garden on the Circolo Rondinella del Torrino – festooned with lights, and offering plenty of space, it’s one of the most low-key outdoor drinking spots in the city. Right on the edge of the rushing river Arno, hours can be wiled away here in the sun.