In a sentence that’s so gross even I’m repulsed: a few years back I lived in Tuscany while writing a novel. When I say ‘lived’, I mean schlepped around from B&B to B&B, from Lucca to San Gimignano, Forte dei Marmi to Florence, for six weeks. But still, it counts for something. Oh no, no, no, you mustn’t call me a local, it’s too much, basta, basta!
Florence swiftly stole my heart, the old dog. That’s its thing! It’s a heart-stealer, an extremely pretty, romantic city boasting an exciting history, art superstars, terrific food, world-class shopping and breathtakingly long queues for nude statues. (Also, in July, far too many tourists, but as one of them, even a local one, I’m not meant to say that.)
As it happens each time I fall off a plane, I Goog everything from ‘finest Negroni in Florence’ to ‘best gelato in Florence’ to ‘local favourite pizza Florence.’ I need to know what’s best, old and new. If I’m in a city for only a few days, there is no time for a bad meal. They each must be sensational, lest my holiday slip below a 100% perfection rating. (Airports and, yknow, actual travel in general notwithstanding.)
And not a bad meal was had. Here are my favourites, perfect if you only have a few days and a stomach with a perfectionist complex:
Write-a-blog-about-it level ricotta cheesecake: Osteria Buongustai
This is a teeny, local-loved joint just back from Piazza del Republica (the big square with the antique carousel that must be ridden, no matter your age) serving delicious panini and very delicious spinach and ricotta crepes in dark, crowded, loud chaos but the homemade, warm baked ricotta cheesecake slapped in front of us with zero fanfare, was the stuff of dreams. We went back three times. Three.
Outstanding Gelato: Gelateria De’ Neri
Look, most gelato is pretty great when it’s summer and you’re in Florence. But at the same time, if I’m gonna eat gelato in Florence, I want it to be excellent. Here’s what a local taught me about gelato buying: Avoid places with all English wording, or with bright neon colours, or huge mounds or unnatural colours, or brand labels on the tubs (the equivalent of buying Streets ice cream posing as homemade.) The best gelato will be imperfect, smooth, flat and wavy, in a stainless steel mega tub, and somewhere nearby there will likely be the words ‘Gelato Artigianale.’ To that end, my stomach can personally vouch for the very popular, very traditional, very NOMNOMNOM Gelateria De’ Neri (they offer soy and sorbet options for the dairy-free, but I went hard on the ricotta and fig and rice flavours), the much-loved Vivoli, and also Cantina del Gelato. But like I said: Florence/summer/gelato – life is good.
Very delicious pizza: La Bussola
You’ll almost certainly come across this restaurant in your pizza-pie Googling, and with good reason: it’s delicious. Crispy and thin and simple. Ask the charming, playful waiters which to order, they know what’s up. (I went Margherita with olives.) The cocktails (“Two Americanos, please”) were strong and perfectly made, the interior was cool and dark, (the floating stools at the bar are terrifically ‘60s and quite frankly, they should be in my house), and the place is heaving with both locals and fellow pizza-Googlers. We had our concierge book us a table (and a babysitter, ahem) on the day and got an 8:30 booking easily, and they were accepting walk-ins, (with a wait). Dessert looked gorgeous, but my rule in Florence is to always walk home and grab a gelato. Duh.
The fancy, blowout meal: Cibrèo ristorante.
Celebrity chef, long-time local favourite and proprietor of a million fantastic reviews, Cibréo ristorante is not cheap, but it’s VERY worth it. (There’s also a Cibrèo trattoria and caffé across the street, and a theatre, Teatro del Sale, which apparently does great/odd shows + food) and are all great/use the same kitchen, however the menus/cost/experience differs. We had a Negroni outside at the caffé, before dining inside at the ristorante. We wanted to try the trattoria few nights later but – GASP! – it was closed because it was Monday. Remember this, cos it’s true of many restaurants in Italy. We were unjustifiably gutted.) The (traditional Tuscan, and pasta-free) food is exceptional (the chicken and ricotta meatballs are so YES) and the wine list was deeply impressive, if fermented grapes are your jam, which they probably should be if dining here. The diamonds were in the details for me, the eccentric, delightful service, the waiter sitting down with us at our table and talking us through that day’s menu, the enormous assortment of complimentary starters, the hilarious breadstick, the scent of the candle in the toilet… Some meals are different, they lodge themselves in your memory, and this really did for us. 15/10.
The luxurious afternoon tea and stroll: The Four Seasons Hotel
If you hanker for greenery after plodding around in the heat on cobblestone streets for days, I urge you to come here for coffee and cake, or a spritz. Head to The Atrium Bar, which, like the entire hotel, a former palace, is opulent, regal, plush, and just so, well, expensive, but head outside as a matter of priority: The Four Seasons sits gloriously on Florence’s biggest private garden, Giardino della Gherardesca, all five acres of it. It was walled off, owned by Florentine nobles and unseen by the public for five centuries but now we’re in! And thank grass for that, cos it’s friggen paradise. Have your drink (it won’t be cheap: be warned, in fact, anti-cheap is probably the best way of putting it), then take a long stroll, and lay down under a tree for bit. It’s pretty special, and unlike Australia, there are no bindies.
Ah, Florence, ever the gent.