When the sun rises, Florence greets the new day. The inhabitants leave their houses and mix with the crowds of tourists and students who wander, laden with guidebooks, maps and backpacks, moving steadily through small streets and historical buildings.
I have always envied the good fortune of those having the honour of feeling at home in this magical city, those who can go to sleep at night with the certainty of waking up the next morning in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But today we can also feel like part of the city and pretend to be walking in the Holy Spirit (Santo Spirito), along the streets rising toward Michelangelo Square, where one look embraces the Arno and the majestic Brunelleschi dome.
Our jaunt begins at Ponte alle Grazie, with its five arches over the Arno river: With quick and assured steps, we cross it and proceed down Lungarno Torrigiani, admiring the view of the Museo Galileo and the side of the Uffizi Gallery, which greets us on the opposite shore with its discreet elegance. We will return, soon, to see its priceless treasures.
Climbing, we take a peek to our right: here is Ponte Vecchio, a gallery of shops in miniature, displaying the best art of Florentine goldsmiths. In the windows, gold necklaces and pendants dangle, rings of every shape and colour, corals and diamonds of exquisite make, a shower of watches, chains and bracelets enough to adorn a host of Indian brides.
On the left, Via dè Guicciardini unwinds, punctuated by many artisan boutiques: pay attention and on the right you will find a small sign indicating a mysterious courtyard. Here Majolica vases, pitchers and fruit bowls await you, rigorously decorated by hand in bright colours. Careful where you put your feet: on the floor: Well-wrapped boxes wait to be sent to Japan, Ohio or somewhere in Russia with their precious contents.
Further on – the street rises a little, but nothing serious – we arrive at one of the most impressive places in all of Florence: we are in front of Palazzo Pitti, coveted by the Pitti family for their rivalry with Cosimo the Elder and his new residence. Everything changes, however: the Pittis were soon buried in debts and the palace was sold to the same Medici, and that whole family moved in with great joy, leaving behind the chaos of the centre city. All around it, fine and noble villas began to bloom, at Santo Spirito, along Via Maggio and Via dei Serragli, Vasari built the Corridor named for him, a privileged access road to the Palazzo Vecchio, and behind the palace grew the Boboli Garden, one of the most successful examples of Italian gardening in the world, where Grand Dukes sought refuge among ponds, fountains, caves or in the Rococo Kaffeehaus.
Leaving the palace behind, a few steps away is Santo Spirito, a picturesque little square almost out of a Disney cartoon: a fountain in the middle, benches all around, small open-air restaurants and a few street market stalls, the sombre face of the Brunelleschi basilica inviting reflection and prayer.
Now let’s take a break: how about we sit in the sun, nothing too hot, on a day at the beginning of autumn, and enjoy a gelato. Did you know that ice cream started right here? Although the origins are Sicilian, it was the Florentine chef Ruggeri who presented a cold dish based on cream, zabaglione and fruit to Catherine de Medici, who fell in love with this madness and took it with her to Paris.
Refreshed, we start towards the last leg of our trip. By bus or on foot, along Costa San Giorgio and Via di Belvedere, we climb towards Michelangelo Square: here we stop for the requisite photographs and to enjoy the splendid panorama of the historic centre of Florence.
Then we proceed quietly along Via delle Porte Sante and get ready for the best show: The abbey of san Miniato al Monte – the greatest example of Florentine Romanesque – is waiting for us, high on its hill, dazzling us with its white and green marble and wrapping us in its aura of calm and solitude.
Among the trees we still see the Brunelleschi dome and the shiny ribbon of the Arno, and all around lies the countryside, while behind us the abbey watches with its stately majesty.