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Florence: the renaissance of cultural breaks
You've probably heard that Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance. However, that well-worn out phrase is a colossal understatement. The capital of Tuscany was so much more than the cradle of an artistic movement; it was for centuries the financial and artistic centre of Europe. Literally meaning “flourishing”, Florence is a living monument to its glorious past. The old town's incredible skyline, dominated by the iconic dome of its cathedral, mixes up Romanesque, Gothic and medieval styles with its celebrated Renaissance architecture. Florence's 80 plus museums also contain veritable treasures, including works from Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Botticelli.
Stay in the historic centre
If you want to really immerse yourself in the culture of the town you simply have to book a hotel in the historic centre of Florence. Rates may be more expensive, but this is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, closely rivalling Rome and Venice. What price then for a view from your hotel room over the incredible Duomo cathedral or the sublime Ponte Vecchio? Quite often, less than you may think.
Florence has a huge selection of character hotels to choose from. You may find a charming luxury villa, boutique hotel or even an old palace.
If you are on a budget, cheaper options can be found a short walk from the historic centre with rented rooms and B&B accommodation popular alternatives.
Where to start?
With so much to see in Florence, the big question is: how much of it you can fit into your stay? Your first instincts will probably attract you towards The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore.
This iconic cathedral, more commonly known as il Duomo, has a mammoth egg shaped domed roof, 91 metres high and 45.5 metres wide. Construction started in the 13th century and the dome, the largest in the world at the time, was added in the 15th century.
Il Duomo ranks as the third largest Christian church in the world today and boasts incredible views from its Cupola. Breath-taking, however, may be a more appropriate description for the ascent to the roof, up 463 narrow steps and past the spectacular frescoes of the last judgement by Giorgio Vasari.
If that climb gets you in the mood, you don't have far to go for another. Across the colourful Piazza del Duomo, with its street performers, upmarket restaurants and boutiques, boldly stands Giotto's Campanile. Just 414 steps this time will take you up to the summit of this gothic bell-tower and give you some spectacular 360 degree views over Florence.
Photographers or artists can find many other vantage points throughout Florence offering different skyline opportunities, such as from the paved terraces of the Bardini Garden on the banks of the river Arno.
Arguably the most spectacular view, however, comes from the Piazzale Michelangelo. This 19th century square, perched on top of a hill on the south side of the river, offers amazing panoramic views over the Ponte Vecchio and Duomo. The square features bronze copies of Michelangelo's work, including the most famous of them all – David. Although you can walk up the winding path to the summit, you may prefer to catch a bus.
The greener south side of the river is also home to the Palazzo Pitti, a vast renaissance palace laid out in front of the beautiful gardens of the Giardino di Boboli.
Hotels in this part of Florence are more sparse – although there is a good mix of luxury and mid-range offerings, some even offering unrivalled views of the town's second wonder - Ponte Vecchio, or in plain English: The Old Bridge.
This fortified bridge, with a series of shops bulging out from its medieval structure over the river Arno beneath, has stood here since 1345, after the 12th century stone version was destroyed in a flood. As Florence flourished in the Renaissance, the bridge was smartened up and only jewellers and goldsmiths were allowed to trade. You can still find yourself a smart piece of jewellery in its chic boutiques today as you make your way across wonderful structure a bit more serenely than you may have done in medieval times.
A renaissance of your Florence adventure?
If you're a real art lover, one trip to Florence is never going to be enough to view all of its renaissance jewels.
The Uffizi Gallery will probably be your first port of call. Famous for Botticelli's Birth of Venus and da Vincci's Annunciation, it posses the greatest collection of Renaissance art in the world. You may even need a couple of visits to really appreciate all the masterpieces in this huge gallery set in a splendid 16th century U-shaped renaissance building.
The Accademia Gallery is a must see too – if only for its huge marble Michaelangelo sculptures, including the original statue of David, the symbol of Florence's own renaissance.
Florence isn't all about museums and buildings though. You'll no doubt want to spend time enjoying Tuscan specialities in the city's restaurants, washed down with a local Chianti and then maybe a fresh home-made ice-cream: a Gelato. You may also be seduced into the many designer boutiques such as Gucci, Prada or Armani or enjoy a night at the opera – another art invented in Florence!
When you've finished your stay this time round, you may very well be tempted to find a hotel for your next Florence renaissance so you can live a whole new experience next time round!
Price rangefrom €19to €2,885
- Hotel Soggiorno Primaverafrom €59
- Hotel Residenza Le Rondinifrom €67
- Hotel Guesthouse Sayurifrom €62
- Hotel Hotel Duomo Firenzefrom €109
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