We’re featuring some of our favorite European cities this week, fabulous destinations for culinary tours and cooking classes. Case in point? Fabulous Florence, which is hands-down one of the best places to visit on a cooking vacation. Good food, good wine, great art, and wonderfully “walkable,” there is a reason so many travelers flock to Florence each year.
For today’s feature, we’re talking about the ‘other’ side of Florence, specifically the “Oltarno.” Literally “beyond the Arno,” the Oltrarno is the part of Florence south of the Arno River. It includes some of our favorites things to see and do in Florence, including:
- Palazzo Pitti
- Giardino di Boboli
- Giardino delle Rose
- Piazzale Michelangelo
- San Miniato al Monte
- San Niccolò
Although lesser known than the Galleria degli Uffizi or the Galleria dell’Accademia, the Palazzo Pitti is one of the best art museums in the world, and one of my favorites. It includes numerous works by Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Perugino, Gentileschi, Caravaggio, and more. But don’t miss the Gallery of Modern Art, which includes a large collection of artists of the Macchiaioli school.
Giardino di Boboli
My children’s favorite place in Florence, the Boboli garden is a classic Renaissance garden full of “avenues,” statuary, fountains, and smaller mini-gardens within the garden. There are places to gather, but also nooks and crannies to explore.
Giardino delle Rose
As you head toward the Piazzale Michalanglo (see below!), stop at the Giardino delle Rose. Designed in the 19th century by Giuseppe Poggi, this terraced garden is best seen when the roses are in bloom, of course, but it always offers amazing views of the city and beautiful sculptures by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon.
Florence’s most famous panoramic spot, the Piazzale Michelangelo is where everyone goes to see the beautiful Florence skyline. Part of Florence’s charm owes to the strict laws that keep the medieval and Renaissance character so intact. The low, red tiled buildings provide the perfect backdrop for the stunning emergence of what shoots above them: namely, Brunelleschi’s awesome dome and the tower of Palazzo Vecchio. Nowhere is this more evident than when looking out from Piazzale Michelangelo.
San Miniato al Monte
This Romaneque basilica actually sits above the Piazzale Michelangelo on one of Florence’s highest points. Besides the breathtaking views, I love this church because of its quiet, calm interior, its beautiful wooden ceiling, and the imposing stone staircase you have to climb to reach it. It’s a point in Florence few people take the time to reach, but it’s well worth the climb.
The San Niccolò neighborhood is home to many art galleries and artisan shops, particularly in the fields of clothing and jewelry making. It’s also a windy, beguiling part of the city, and a great spot for a foodie walking tour, such as the one you can enjoy on our Florence for the Food Lover culinary tour. The neighborhood is home to both our favorite bakery in Florence and our favorite gelateria!
Have you been to Florence? If so, did you make it to the “other” side of the Arno River? What were your favorite spots?
And if you’re enjoying a longer stay in Florence, you can use it as a starting point for exploring other towns such as on a day trip to Pisa!
By Peg Kern
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