The Hills and Gardens of Florence

Barbini Gardens

piazza michelangelo
hiked up the hill
I headed to Florence after dropping the boys off at school. The train ride from Pisa to Florence is only one hour, so I got there quickly and made my way to the less frequented bank of the Arno to visit the Palazzo Pitti. The Pitti Palace is often overshadowed by the Uffizi and the Academia, but it too houses an important collection of Italian art. The building itself is a massive mansion which served as the home of Florence’s royalty from the mid 1500s to the 1860s. The Galleria Palatine is packed with masterpieces to enjoy. Works by Raphael, Perugino, Titian, Rubens, Tintoretto, Botticelli, you name it, all major Italian artists were represented. In some rooms, it was hard to know what to look at, since all of the big name painters and famous works seemed to be competing for space.

It wasn’t fair that the ceiling seemed to be competing with the artwork in most rooms – gigantic angels or warriors were plastered in bright colors across the ceiling. Famous Italian artists also did most of the interior decorating of the palace, so my neck became quite sore from craning up to admire the artwork. I enjoyed a leisurely hour and a half stroll through the Palatine Gallery, then checked out the Royal Apartments, which were quite elaborately decorated and impressive, but a quick tour took only 15 minutes of my time. I also quickly strolled through the Modern Art Museum, which included Italian works from the past 300 years. The ones that interested me the most were the gorgeous Tuscan landscape paintings. Next I quickly walked through the Boboli Gardens, which rise out from the Palazzo Pitti onto a hill which gives a gorgeous view of the area and out towards the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s famed bridge. By the time I had completed my exploration of the Pitti Palace, I was feeling quite famished.

I picked a trattatoria close by recommended by my Eyewitness Travel Top 10 of Florence and Tuscany book called “Il Cantione“, a small restaurant tucked into an ancient basement close to the Arno. I descended down the stairs and was quickly enjoying some stuffed pasta with pesto and local wine. I topped it off with a “crostini”, grilled bread topped with cheese and tomatoes, before heading out towards the Bardini Gardens, a slight walk uphill. The Bardini Gardens were closed for a long time and just re-opened within the last 10 years. The view from the Gardens out over Florence was stunning, as well as the flowers, plants, sculptures, and fountains within the gardens. It felt like a repose within the city, steps away from the 6 floor apartments, yet up on a hill overlooking everything. I very much enjoyed strolling through the gardens, snapping pictures and breathing in the fresh air.

The next place I wanted to go was Piazza Michelangelo, which is supposed to have the best view of Florence. So I left the gardens and headed in that direction. There were no street signs, so I guessed and unfortunately I made the wrong guess – which in this case, turned out to not be quite so bad. For 45 minutes, I wandered along a road lined with gigantic villas and fenced in gardens, without being able to see the city below. Finally, I came to another main road and headed back towards town. Just my luck, I was on the road of San Miniato al Monte. San Miniato is famous for the chants of its monks, and its privileged view over Florence, even higher than the Piazza Michelangelo. I stopped in to see the church and the organ player was practicing for the singing of the monks. I went to the gift shop, got a postcard and asked when the monks would sing. They only sing twice per day and the next time was in only 45 minutes. I had enough time to walk down to the Piazza Michelangelo and back, which I did. The views WERE stunning, but the view from the church was decidedly even more impressive.

It started to rain lightly as I made my way back up to the church. I sat outside on the walls overlooking Florence until the monks began their chant. When they did, I ventured inside for a few minutes to hear the service, which was very nice. Then I headed back down into the city, basically running the whole time since the downhill was so steep. I made it back down to the river Arno in about 15 minutes at top speed, then crossed over towards Santa Crocce. Once in Santa Crocce, I had a little more time before I needed to get to the train station. I went shopping, selecting a gorgeous leather wallet and some things from the calligraphy shop Signum to take as souvenirs. I purchased an old ink pen and a book which explains the art of calligraphy, along with some stationary. Leather and paper products are huge in Florence, and I managed to find some that I absolutely loved!

On my way to the train station, I stopped by Grom gelateria, my favorite gelateria which I discovered last summer in Italy. Grom is a hugely successful business because they only use organic ingredients for their gelato. The strawberry is the best strawberry I have ever tasted – delicious and bursting with fresh fruit flavor. Unfortunately, they only serve it during June since that is when the strawberries are fresh. I made it back to the station in time to make it back for dinner – Giancarlo was preparing octopus and I wasn’t about to miss out!

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