We asked Chef Concierge Paul Lydka at Four Seasons Hotel Firenze to gather the savviest sight-seeing suggestions he could find—not just his own, but also those of other local connoisseurs, including some he works with every day at the Hotel. Florence, known for the many artistic treasures from the Italian Renaissance, continues to thrive as a vibrant centre for the arts, music, fashion, winemaking and traditional crafts.
Get Style With Fashion Designers—and a Museum
It may not rival Milan in terms of resident design houses, but Florence lives and breathes fashion nonetheless. And Via de’ Tornabuoni is a virtual alphabet of high-end Italian designers, from Armani, Bulgari and Cavalli all the way down to Ermenegildo Zegna. You’ll also find Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, a shoe collector’s heaven, with more than 10,000 pairs in its archives. Or visit Galleria del Costume in the Palazzina della Meridiana, accessible via the Boboli Gardens.
The recently inaugurated Gucci Museum, celebrating its 90th anniversary, is a must for fashion lovers. Original models from throughout the years are on view—from clothing to shoes, bags to crockery and cutlery, saddles and even a Gucci Cadillac. Another attraction is the fact that the museum has some unique articles made just for it, which cannot be bought anywhere else in the world—in other words, it’s the perfect place to acquire a Gucci bag or wallet that no one else has.
Culinary Experiences for Every Taste
From the internationally famous Chianti wine, passing through the local olive oil production, to the numerous types of pecorino cheeses, Tuscan salami, and exquisite seasonal white and black truffles, there is something for every taste in Florence’s San Lorenzo Market. The emblematic building hosts market stands with the most unusual ingredients, making this a paradise for food lovers. Arrive before midday, walk the corridors and have lunch in one of the trattorias.
Exceptional Scents at Perfume Ateliers
Established in 1612 by Dominican friars, the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is best known as a luxury perfume brand. In fact, it makes the products used in the Four Seasons Firenze Spa. Many of its products—perfumes, creams, powders, etc.—are still made according to the methods the friars used. Beyond the shop, there’s a little museum (visits by appointment) that contains apothecary’s bottles—some of which, it is said, were designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Incidentally, the products in the guest room bathrooms at Four Seasons are supplied by Florence’s other great perfumer, Lorenzo Villoresi, whose similarly atmospheric atelier can also be visited by appointment.
Explore Nearby Wineries
Tuscan wines are justly revered, and given how crowded and hot the city can sometimes seem, a tour of the region’s vineyards is a great excuse for a day in the countryside. (Room service can rustle up a picnic.) Among those most worth visiting: Badia a Passignano, not least for its sublime setting; Verrazzano (pictured); Castello di Fonterutoli; Capanelle; and Casa Emma. There is also a very good organic vineyard close to Florence called San Michele a Torri—as well as wines, they also produce excellent olive oil, and their homemade cold cuts are delicious.
Shopping for Exquisite Leather Goods
For obvious reasons, Florence has long been celebrated for its leather industries—Il Bisonte is one of the best local brands. At the back of the great Santa Croce church, behind the apse by the cloisters, the Scuola del Cuoio or “leather school” sells handcrafted wallets, handbags, briefcases and more in calfskin, ostrich, stingray, Nappa and snakeskin, by craftsmen you can see at work. The standard of work is very high, but the prices are a fraction of what you would pay for designer brands.
Elegant Dining at Il Palagio Restaurant
With its garden setting and palatial, chandelier-lit dining room, Il Palagio at Four Seasons Firenze, recently awarded its first Michelin star, is one of the most elegant in the city, offering a classic Italian menu—exquisite carpaccios (of fish and meat), outstanding pasta and risotto, and equally outstanding fish and meat secondi piatti. Dessert, too, is an absolute must—so innovative, so delicate are the creations of the chef pâtissier. The wine list features a remarkable collection of modish Super Tuscans, and a chat with any of the sommeliers will leave you better educated about Italian wine. On a warm evening, there is nowhere lovelier to dine than on the restaurant’s garden-facing terrace.
Itinerary: A Perfect Day
After a delicious breakfast at Il Palagio and perhaps a spin around the gardens, head to the Duomo to admire Brunelleschi’s architecture. Pause by Ghiberti’s bronze reliefs on the Baptistry doors. Depending on what’s on, it might then be worth taking in the exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi, a magnificent Renaissance palace.
By now you’ll be hungry. Trattoria Gargani is a great eatery that just happens to be housed in a 14th-century palazzo close to Santa Maria Novella. After lunch, wander across the Ponte Vecchio—it’s always packed, but don’t miss it—and explore the area known as Oltr’Arno, literally “the other side of the Arno” and Florence’s Rive Gauche, where you’ll find the majestic Boboli Gardens. Hail a taxi back to the Hotel for a massage in the Spa before a Bellini and a memorable dinner at Il Palagio.
Best Time to Visit the Art Museums
Of course, everyone should see the Uffizi, with its peerless collection of works by Botticelli, Caravaggio, da Vinci and Piero della Francesca, but even out of season you’d be advised to book ahead. It’s impossible to avoid the crowds completely, especially in summer, so consider visiting it on a Tuesday when it is open until 10:00 pm. The Accademia Gallery is also open until 10:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There are many other rewarding places to see art, such as the Uffizi Loggia, which contains a remarkable collection of Roman and Renaissance sculptures.