Florence: why it's a time of renaissance in the Tuscan capital

Laura Holt discovers a city buoyed by more flights and smart hotel openings

When people talk about Florence, they often mention Stendhal Syndrome. The dizzying disorder - which was said to induce palpitations, fainting and even hallucinations in its victims - was coined by the 19th-century French author to describe the feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of Florence's art. But arriving in the Tuscan capital at sunset, I couldn't help feel the idea was outdated.

True, the city still brims with Renaissance riches. You only have to step inside the Uffizi (00 39 055 294 883; polomuseale.firenze.it; €6.50) or stare up Michelangelo's five-metre statue of David inside the Galleria dell'Accademia (00 39 055 294 883; polomuseale.firenze.it; €6.50) to be convinced of its cultural credentials. But as I walked around streets lined with upmarket boutiques and watched young couples doing the early-evening passeggiata - it struck me that this is a city that bubbles with energy, not one that languishes in the past.

For a start, there's a trove of exciting new restaurant and hotel openings, proving that Florence is very much at the forefront of things. There's also a jubilant mood in the air, following the recent ascension of the city's 39-year-old mayor, Matteo Renzi, to the Palazzo Chigi in Rome - becoming Italy's youngest prime minister with his fresh-faced brand of politics. And, there's good news for travellers too, as British Airways has just launched direct flights from London City. Dizzying it may be, but you don't have to spend all your time in a museum, to set your heart fluttering in Florence.

UNPACK

The Portrait Firenze (00 39 055 2726 4000; portraitfirenze.com) opens on 1 May in an enviable position overlooking the River Arno and the city's partly covered, medieval bridge, the Ponte Vecchio. Part of the luxurious Lungarno Collection, it will offer 34 sumptuous rooms, designed by the Florentine architect Michele Bönan, with B&B doubles from €495.

If you can't wait until then, consider The St Regis (00 39 055 27161; stregisflorence.com) at Piazza Ognissanti 1, which has recently undergone a grand transformation. Encased within a 15th-century palazzo, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi - the architect behind Florence's Duomo (cathedral) - it offers room-only doubles from €350.

THINK LOCAL

The Oltrarno is often overlooked by tourists, but this southern section on the other side of the Arno is home to centuries-old arts and crafts workshops. After peering into hole-in-the-wall ateliers, such as bespoke shoemaker Roberto Ugolini (00 39 055 216246; roberto-ugolini.com; Via Michelozzi 17r), I made my way to the Boboli Gardens (00 39 055 294 883; polomuseale.firenze.it; €7), where I walked amid a meandering patch of 16th-century parkland, dotted with Renaissance statues and fountains.

Florence: a statue in the Boboli gardens Florence: a statue in the Boboli gardens EAT

In 1995, the Ferragamo family opened Il Borro, a Tuscan hamlet hotel near San Giustino. They planted grape vines and olive groves to make their own wine and oil, and started to produce honey and cheese as well. Today, all these products are on the menu at Il Borro in Florence (00 39 055 290 423; ilborrotuscanbistro.it). The fashion dynasty's first foray into the restaurant sector opened in August, just behind designer Salvatore's first ever boutique at Lungarno Acciaiuoli 80r. I settled on a delicious starter of buffalo mozzarella with olive pesto (€10) followed by beef tartare with capers in a red-wine sauce (€10).

Alternatively, try Cucina Torcicoda (00 39 055 265 4329; cucinatorcicoda.com) which opened at Via Torta 5 in December. Sequestered away in the russet-red dining room, I ate cod with cannellini beans (€16) washed down with a Monsanto chardonnay - a delicious Tuscan tipple.

DRINK

Surrounded by a stylish crowd, I sipped a lemongrass and gin-based Fusion 75, topped off with a splash of champagne (€13) at Fusion Bar (00 39 055 2726 6987; lungarnocollection.com). Located within the Gallery Art Hotel, this sleek addition to Florence's nightlife scene mixes Japanese sushi and cocktails with Italian antipasto and deserts. What makes it even more fun at present is its collection of super-fast, streamlined road bikes scattered around the lobby. The special installation looks at some of the most memorable moments from the Giro d'Italia and World Cycling Championship, which took place in Florence last year. It will remain in situ until December.

SPEND

On a whirl along Via Tornabuoni it was easy to see why Florence is considered one of Italy's top fashion cities. All the big names are here, from Dolce & Gabbana to Armani and Gucci - whose founder, Guccio, was born in Florence and even has a museum dedicated to his life's work (00 39 055 759 23 303; guccimuseo.com; €6).

If your look is more retro than red carpet, rummage through the vintage wares at Boutique Nadine (00 39 055 247 8274; boutiquenadine.com) where I picked up some fetching Seventies-style shades for €59.

DON'T MISS

The Duomo dazzles from all angles: its huge terracotta dome reaches towards the heavens; its white-marble façade reveals flecks of red and green the closer you get. To take in its full might, climb the cupola or the campanile (bell tower), both of which are included in the €10 ticket (00 39 055 230 2885; museumflorence.com). From this elevated position, I spied the city spread out like an elaborate tapestry beneath my feet with landmarks such as the Basilica de Santa Croce, rising above the rooftops.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Getting there

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) has just launched flights between London City and Florence, in competition with CityJet (0871 405 2020; cityjet.com). Vueling (0906 754 7541; vueling.com) also flies from Heathrow, while nearby Pisa is served by easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) from Bristol and Gatwick, by Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Stansted and by BA from Heathrow.

Staying there

Laura Holt travelled to Florence with Citalia (0843 770 4443; citalia.com) which offers a three-night city break in April for £555pp, including flights and B&B accommodation at the Hotel L'Orologio.

More information

firenzeturismo.it

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
News
Lars Ulrich of Metallica performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
music
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game