Since we live so close to Italy, I don’t know how many times we’ve travelled to this country. And every time we’ve been, it always manages to exceed my expectations, with the food, the views and its charms. Last month, me and my sister in law spent three days in Tuscany – two days in Firenze and one in Siena. Saying that we ate a lot is an understatement, as we basically ate and drank our way into the three days we spent there. But with food displays like that, how are we to blame?
Once there, we also met with some Italian friends who showed us a bit around Firenze and gave us tips on where to go for the best food and the best views. Here’s a snapshot of our three days in this charming region.
I cannot not start with this. The immaculate food. Everywhere you look, there is an amazing food display, with shops sometimes even offering food to try. One highlight of the trip was going to the food market (Mercato Centrale Firenze) and see all the hustle and bustle of this place. There is a huge food court with traditional Tuscan food and wine. Although it is mainly a touristic place, and probably the prices are a bit higher than the ones you find in the smaller local markets, this is the best place to see and try out the local food of the region. From cheese, to meat, to truffles, to coffee, wine, bread… anything you might think of, you will find it here to try, buy and eat.
Needless to say, the food in the restaurants is divine. We went to a local restaurant on the outskirts of Firenze’s city centre in order to try out the Bistecca Fiorentina (Tuscan steak). Although it was too raw for our taste (I would rather have had it a bit more cooked, but that would have been blasphemy to the Tuscan chef!), it was juicy and impressive. You cannot go to Firenze and not try out the bistecca!
The pizza, desserts, pastries and chocolate are also obviously pretty impressive. Although there were restaurants that offer better food than others, I cannot say that I was let down by any of the ones that we tried out. Checking out reviews on Google before heading to a restaurant, surely helps in choosing the good ones though. And getting out of the main, touristic areas and searching for restaurants in the small alleys might also do the trick. Touristy restaurants never provide you with the best food 😉
One last thing. If you’re walking close to Piazza della Signoria, and you see a long line of people close to a take out shop, then you’ve kind of hit the jackpot. There is this place called All’Antico Vinaio, and it sells bread with different fillings. We were told to go there by our friends. I had my doubts about it, as we spent like 30 to 45 minutes waiting in line. But once you get that first bite of the bread, then yep, definitely worth the wait. For me, the filling was nothing out of the ordinary, but the bread… that was the real deal. I felt bad for the other food shops around it, but hey, life is a competition. Nothing challenges you more than seeing a bunch of people lining up for some good old bread!
Being a Catholic country, Italy has a lot of churches. From small chapels to cathedrals cropping up from everywhere, you will definitely stumble upon at least a few while strolling around the cities. These churches, especially the cathedrals, are not only impressive from the outside, but they also offer some outstanding views when you climb on top of them. Since they are located at the centre of the city, once you manage to walk up a considerable large number of stairs, you get rewarded with the most intense, stunning view of the city. Unluckily for us, when we visited Siena, the weather wasn’t that good, but the view was still so worth it!
Walking in the city
One of the best things for me in any Italian city, or well, any big city for that matter, is wandering around. There is always something to see, to observe, and you never get bored strolling in the same streets. I had already been to Firenze a while back, but it’s never boring to visit a city for a second time, because you will always see something new. Meeting up with friends who have been living in Firenze for almost a year, helped us to find the best spots to view the city. So on our first night in Firenze, we headed to Piazzale Michelangelo in the evening, sat on the steps and saw the city come alive at night time. That was an outstanding view… the hillclimb is worth it, I promise!
Siena on the other hand is quite small, except for the big piazza at the centre of the town, which is the place where the famous Palio takes place. As for the rest, it is made up of narrow cobbled streets and tiny restaurants. If you walk a bit out of the centre, you will stumble upon some nice country Tuscan views, adding to the charm of this magnificent town.
A visit to Italy, no matter how short it is, will always warm your soul, your belly and your heart. As Giuseppe Verdi once said: “You may have the Universe, if I may have Italy”
Photos credit: Claire Attard