Florence is such a fascinating and beautiful place, it’s no surprise so many of us want to see it for ourselves. Even within the bustle of the tiny historic centre, though, lie hidden pockets of tranquility.
Climb that flight of stairs, investigate where that path or doorway leads and you can find yourself almost alone, wondering at a precious masterpiece or soaking up a breathtaking view.
I’m sharing my Top 5 Hidden Treasures of Florence for you to hunt out if you’re planning a trip to the cradle of the Renaissance, and of course, they all feature in my upcoming romcom novel The Art Trip, released next month, so you can enjoy them there too!
1. San Miniato al Monte
Cross the Arno, make the long climb to reach this charming Romanesque church and you’ll be well rewarded. Once you ascend beyond the Piazzale Michelangelo up the final flights of steps into the foothills above the city, the crowds fall away, the air becomes fresher and the buzz of the traffic fades.
The church itself is wonderfully cool and peaceful, whilst its terrace offers a stunning panorama of the city below. Time it right and you may hear the unforgettable sound of Florence’s many church bells carried up to you on the breeze.
2. Chapel of the Magi
Deep in the heart of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, the chapel is a gem of a room, an intimate space frescoed in the richest way imaginable for the famous Medici family in the fifteenth century. Artist Benozzo Gozzoli portrayed a cast of characters from the Medici court processing through a lush tapestry-like landscape.
Stand in the hushed darkness, turning to look from one wall to the next, spotting something new each time, meet the eyes of faces from the past and try to decode the layers of symbolism for yourself.
3. Boboli Gardens
If you’re taking in the galleries of the Palazzo Pitti, be sure to look beyond the imposing building for a stroll in the Boboli Gardens behind the palace. These beautiful formal gardens are large enough for you to lose yourself in and a perfect tonic on a hot day.
Statues and herons stand poised above fountain basins, cool grottos drip and immaculate topiary walks offer welcome shade. Find a secluded corner of your own for a chapter or two of your current book, or walk up to the rose garden for beautiful views over hillsides dotted with olive groves and castellated houses.
4. Church of Orsanmichele
This church at the site of a former grain market is best known for the virtuoso statues of saints on its exterior, but step inside and you’ll be transported back to medieval Florence, when a miraculous image first inspired worship here.
The interior is both humble and magical, decorated as though inlaid with precious hardstones, whilst the beautiful ceiling shows heaven as a starry night sky. Some of the pillars even feature the grain shoots from which sacks were filled, a fascinating contrast of devotion and daily life.
5. Cloister of San Lorenzo
Peace and contemplation were central to monastic life, so it’s no surprise that the lovely cloisters of San Lorenzo are a blissful oasis of calm tucked away right in the heart of the city.
Restrained and shady, with a simple green garden at their centre, even today, they offer the perfect place for a little respite or contemplation almost in the shadow of the beautiful Duomo and its campanile.