June 28, 2010

La Bella Italia - Benvenuti a Firenze!

Our two week trip to Italy began and ended in Firenze – that most magical of medieval cities.

Of all the Italian cities I’ve visited, Florence is the one that has been slowest to capture my heart. Richard and I came to Italy shortly after we were married, spending almost a month, clocking nearly 3000 km on our small rented car. Back then Florence was much more indifferent to tourists, less willing to show the warm generosity of spirit that seems innate to all Italians.

But piano piano - slowly slowly - with each successive visit, the city reveals itself. Shunning modernity, proudly still Italy’s cultural capital if not its commercial one, the city is reflected in its citizens. Quick witted, practical and a bit self-deprecating, the pride of the de Medicis and the city’s glorious past are present in every Florentine, and even those not born there seem to have a bit of Dante, Leonardo and Machiavelli running through their veins.

Where else but in Italy do the policemen look so elegant?

We’d “done” the sights on previous visits – the David, the Uffizi, the Pitti Palace – of course the Duomo, climbing every one of those 463 stairs to the top. I can remember the first time I saw that enormous Duomo many years ago, and the sight of it still amazes me. It seems impossibly big, the buildings that surround it appearing almost superimposed against the rich red stone.

Brunelleschi's Duomo, appearing on the skyline like a mirage

This time, there was no set agenda, no list of top ten sights to see. We would let the city lead us, and for that, we followed our noses. 

We started right in our own backyard - or in this case, our own 15th century palazzo, the place we would call home for a few precious days.  The Four Seasons hotel in Florence, barely open two years, is a perfectly placed jewel in the city's centre, just 15 minutes from the Duomo.  Set in the largest private garden in Florence, the hotel is both palace and cozy retreat, filled with staff that are warm, friendly and welcoming, and - best of all - a chef that is passionate about food.

A panoramic view of the courtyard lobby at the Four Seasons

World Cup action in a beautiful al fresco setting

Favourite drinks quickly established: Hendricks and Fever-Tree tonic for the gentleman; a Valentino for the lady (a fancy version of a Negroni) 
Vitello tonnato at Al Fresco

Beef carpaccio with the season's tenderest arugula

Fresh pineapple juice - smooth and creamy as a milkshake

To share...a scampi and asparagus risotto that's just the right size.

...and a beautiful view to make the meal complete

That lunch was the perfect way to start our Italian eating adventures.  Next chapter....watching the World Cup with thirteen hunchbacks; snacking Italian-style for lunch and devouring pasta with four lions.