Thursday, November 23, 2017
Travel

Experience the best of Florence, Italy, from galleries to gelato

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FLORENCE, Italy

The skies were clouding over as I strode briskly across that famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, ready for a productive day checking off Florentine must-sees.

Slight problem: The first museum on my list was open, but the ticket office was closed.

Okay, then, on to the Uffizi Gallery. Except this time both ticket office and museum were closed; I had forgotten it was Monday.

A fine rain began to fall as I wandered listlessly past the open arches of the building next door, the statue-studded Loggia dei Lanzi. This wasn't going at all as planned.

And then it hit me. Wait. This was the Piazza della Signoria, where novelist E.M. Forster's adorable Lucy Honeychurch witnessed a stabbing moments after complaining about the dullness of life in A Room With a View. And those had to be the steps where the brooding George Emerson carried Lucy's fainting form.

Sunshine filtered through. I had found Florence. Or rather, it had found me.

If you're planning a trip here, you could do worse than wander until you find what you didn't know you were looking for. Here are a few starting points.

What's new

The Opera Duomo Museum, devoted to art created for the famous Florence duomo (cathedral), has been given a major makeover and expansion. A highlight is the exhibition hall featuring a replica of the former facade of the cathedral. A 15-euro pass (about $17) will get you access to the museum as well as the cathedral dome and bell tower, both with steps to the top. Open daily except the first Tuesday of the month, but check website for unexpected closures. Piazza del Duomo 9, museumflorence.com/museum.

The Central Market (Piazza del Mercato Centrale on Via dell'Ariento) has a bright and bustling remodeled second floor, home to food stands, a restaurant, pizzeria, wine academy, cooking school and more. It's open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight.

Classic attractions

If there is one must-see in Florence it's Michelangelo's David. Yes, there are lines, crowds and a forest of smartphones waving in front of you, but all that falls away as you round the corner to the long gallery and confront 17 feet of cool, concentrated, confident youth. Galleria del'Accademia, Via Ricasoli 58/60, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. Admission is about $14.

The Uffizi Gallery, set in an imposing 16th century building, is home to outstanding art, including Giotto's altarpiece, the Ognissanti Madonna, which revolutionized painting by portraying the human figure in perspective, not just two dimensions. The gallery, Piazzale degli Uffizi 6, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. Admission is around $10.

You can't miss the Duomo, the Gothic cathedral encrusted in pink, green and white marble that is a striking feature of the city. The inside is less impressive but is open most days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for free.

The Ponte Vecchio isn't the most beautiful bridge in the world, but it is interesting, with its lineup of stores, mostly jewelers and souvenir sellers. It was big news in May when a sinkhole opened up, swallowing a score of cars on a stretch of road between Ponte Vecchio and the bridge immediately east, Ponte Grazie. The mayor of Florence vows to have repairs completed by November.

Around sunset, head to the Piazzale Michelangelo, on a hill on the south side of the Arno, for terrific views of the city. You can get here by taxi, the No. 12 bus or by walking about 20 minutes from the Uffizi Gallery.

Getting around

Florence is a walking city; bring comfy shoes. If you have a car or hire a driver, consider emulating Miss Honeychurch and cousin Charlotte and head for the hills. You're in the middle of Chianti wine country with several estates to visit, including Poggio Casciano, a 14th century villa that is part of the Ruffino wine company and about a 30-minute drive from the city. The estate produces Modus, a "super Tuscan" red blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. By appointment only; reserve tastings and tours, ruffino.com.

Farther afield is the Romitorio di Serelle, about 24 miles from Florence, where you can rent apartments by the week or have lunch on the property's wide terrace perched above rolling vineyards. romitoriodiserelle.it.

     
     
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