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Florence, Italy, might be steeped in tremendous history, art and beauty, making it a lovely town to visit, but it’s an even more wonderful place to live. So says Florence native Patrizia Cantini — a food and wine journalist, cooking instructor and cookbook author — who urges travelers not to look at Florence as if it’s a museum of sorts but, instead, to discover a lively town with a thriving community. In other words: It’s best to explore Florence like a local.
You’re a frequent cook. Where can visitors find the best ingredients?I go to Sant’Ambrogio Market for vegetables and other fresh produce. At Mercato Centrale, I buy fish and meat. One of the best grocery stores is Pegna, a historical shop from 1860 where you can find quality products from Italy and abroad.
For the best pizza and pasta, head to:Pizzeria Da Sud inside Mercato Centrale. It is considered one of the top 10 pizzerias in Italy. I ask for the Neapolitan pizza; they use great anchovies. For fresh pasta, I suggest Vivanda, a small restaurant in a cozy, nontouristy part of town — reservations are recommended. One of my favorite dishes here is ravioli all’ortica: ravioli with a filling of ricotta cheese and nettle (a wild herb). The restaurant also has organic wines, because the owner has a farm not far from Florence.
For a true taste of Florence, you should eat:Bistecca alla fiorentina, a T-bone steak, which is the most famous Florentine dish. There are a lot of restaurants where you can have a good one. Try All’Antico Ristoro di Cambi or Buca Lapi. At Buca Lapi, order Chianina beef that is sourced from the south of Tuscany; it’s very tender and full of flavor. You cannot say you know Florentine gastronomy without tasting this type of steak.
To find true Italian goods, go shopping:Between Piazza della Repubblica and Via de’ Tornabuoni, which has the most famous Italian brands, such as Gucci, Ferragamo, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and so on.
If you like porcelain, you absolutely must visit the Richard Ginori shop on Via dei Rondinelli 17. The company dates back to 1735, and many Florentine families own these porcelain plates. It is a tradition to have them and, of course, I have them, too.
Florence is well-known for leather clothes and bags, but nowadays, these goods are mostly produced abroad. If you want a true Florentine leather bag, you can buy it at Pelletteria Artigiana Viviani on Via Guelfa 3/b.
Florence’s most beautiful shop is probably the world-renowned Antica Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella, which produces cosmetics, home fragrances, soaps and more. In the last 10 years in Florence, there has been an important revival of artisanal perfumeries. One of the best is AquaFlor, and another one I love is Acqua dell’Elba, which sells perfumes and home fragrances that are produced in a small laboratory on Elba island.
If you were a traveler to Florence, where would you stay?There are so many charming and beautiful hotels in town. Four Seasons Hotel Firenze has one of the largest gardens in town, as well as a fantastic restaurant. JK Place is very cozy; Hotel Helvetia & Bristol is elegant and centrally located; and Palazzo Vecchietti is a boutique hotel housed in a historical building. For people who prefer a modern atmosphere, there is Gallery Art Hotel.
It’s Friday night. Where to?I like the nightlife of San Niccolo, a piazza on the left side of the river that has small pubs and wine bars. Another lovely place is Dolce Vita, a wine bar that opened in the ’80s. An interesting and popular bar with a good selection of well-priced wines is Enoteca Sant’Ambrogio Caffe, located in Sant’Ambrogio square. Here, you can eat for free if you sit and order a glass of wine.
Do yourself a favor and skip:The sightseeing buses. Florence is a town best seen while walking. And don’t eat ice cream in bars, but look for gelateria, the true ice-cream shops.