Florence Guide: Luxury Hotel Concierges' Recommendations

John O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, October 22, 2012

Renowned for its exceptional museums and galleries, Florence doesn't lack for cultural attractions. Nor is it short of swarming crowds of tourists eager to visit them. To help visitors escape the crowds and discover the city most alluring attractions, concierges from three luxury hotels in Florence give their guides to the city's best attractions, and advice on what to avoid.

Sharing their knowledge are :
Massimo Parlanti, head concierge at the St. Regis Florence
Simone Spulcioni, concierge at Hotel Lungarno, Florence
Ruggero Vannini, concierge at the Hotel Savoy, Florence

I’ve heard Florence is full of tourists – how do I avoid the crowds?
Massimo: Enlist the help of a tourist guide, concierge or a local who knows the secret paths and highlights of Florence.
Simone: Head towards the Oltrarno district, which is the perfect area to find antiques and artisans’ laboratories, or go to Santa Croce for the Florentine Artisan Leather works.
Ruggero: I’d recommend pre-booking tickets for all the main city attractions, such as Uffizi Galleries and the Academy Gallery. We can do it here and it’s a good way to avoid long queues.

I want to see a current exhibition – which one do you recommend?
Massimo: The exhibition Florence Through the Eyes of the Artist at the Gallery of Modern Art, Pitti Palace. It's a beautiful introduction to the city.
Simone: A current exhibition I love is Anni ’30 at Palazzo Strozzi . It’s all about Italian art from the 1930s and considers the impact Fascism had on art from that era.
Ruggero: Anni ’30 at Palazzo Strozzi is wonderful.

Which attraction should I definitely make time to see?
Massimo: Don’t leave Florence without visiting the city’s most iconic gallery, the Uffizi .
Simone: I’d choose the Santa Croce Basilica church, otherwise known as the Pantheon of Florence.
Ruggero: The Vasari Corridor is the city’s most interesting experience. The corridor is an elevated enclosed passage connecting the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti. An exceptional structural masterpiece, it was designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1565.

Which of the “must-visit” attractions should I avoid?
Massimo: I recommend following your own interests whether that be culture, religion, architecture or art as what is a ‘must see’ to one visitor may not be to another.
Simone: The Vasari Corridor – it houses plenty of art but the pieces aren’t as impressive as collections found elsewhere. Ruggero: Michelangelo Square. It’s always crowded with coach-loads of tourists.

What’s the best way to experience opera in Florence?
Massimo: The new opera theatre Nuovo Teatro dell Opera, opened in December 2011, recently became the official residence of the famous orchestra Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, which is conducted by Zubin Mehta. I recommend this and the historic Teatro Comunale opera house which was founded in 1862.
Simone: The best place is the new opera theatre; the best time is during the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino season.
Ruggero: The New Florence Opera Theatre is an extraordinary rectangular geometric structure and is one the most modern opera houses in the world. The acoustics are of very fine quality.

Where can I take the best picture of Florence?

A wedding party makes the most of the view at Piazzale Michelangelo. Image: Alamy

Massimo: The most beautiful sites are the Ponte Vecchio, Piazza del Duomo and Piazzale Michelangelo, which has magnificent panoramic views of the city.
Simone: The views from Piazzale Michelangelo and the San Miniato Church are wonderful.
Ruggero: I usually recommend taking pictures from Lungarno Torrigiani looking towards the Uffizi Gallery or from the little hilltop town of Fiesole which looks over Florence.

I’d like to try something new here – what do you recommend?

Performers gather in advance of Calcio Storico Fiorentino. Image: Alamy

Massimo: A great experience is to watch the Calcio Storico Fiorentino, a unique football tournament which originated in the 16th Century. Taking place every June, each of the teams taking part has 27 players who dress in Renaissance costumes and can use their hands and feet to get the ball across the goal line. The tournament ends with a grand fireworks display.
Simone: Take part in a boat tour on the Arno River, led by a ‘renaioli’ guide. In the past, renaioli were sand diggers who dug up the material needed to construct Florence’s palaces.
Ruggero: Take a romantic and leisurely boat cruise down the river Arno. On a clear day it’s idyllic.

I’d like to buy an unusual souvenir – what do you recommend?
Massimo: I’d recommend buying something from the Antica Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella, which was founded in 1612 and is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. Here you can purchase unique essences and extracts.
Simone: I’d also recommend the Antica Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella.
Ruggero: The golden Fiorino coin, the symbol of Florence. You can buy it in the jewellery shops along Ponte Vecchio.

And where’s the best place to buy leather goods?
Massimo: There are a lot of shops which sell leather items in Florence and most of them are concentrated in the historical centre of the city, near the Ponte Vecchio and Piazza Santa Croce.
Simone: The Scuola del Cuoio – the school of leather - at Santa Croce is worth a visit.
Ruggero: The best place to buy leather goods in Florence is the Scuola del Cuoio in Santa Croce Basilica.

I’d like to buy clothing made by Italian designers too – where’s the best place?
Massimo: The streets Via Tornabuoni and Via della Vigna Nouva have the best shops in the city – they should be your first stop.
Simone: Via Tornabuoni and Via Strozzi.
Ruggero: I recommend Sartoria Rossi in Via Vigna Nuova and Stefano Ricci in Via dei Pescioni.

What’s the best restaurant in the city right now?
Massimo: One of my favourites is Enoteca Pinchiorri, a three Michelin-starred restaurant on Via Ghibellina. For seafood, one of the best restaurants is Fuor d’Acqua .
Simone: Borgo San Jacopo is a must and has received awards. People must also visit Fuor d'Acqua – for seafood it’s perfect.
Ruggero: My favourite is “ Ora d’Aria ” with the celebrated Michelin-starred chef Marco Stabile at the helm.

Can you recommend a good place to try Italian gelato?
Massimo: One of the best gelatos is GROM on Via del Campanile. My favourite flavour is caramel and almonds.
Simone: Gelato alla Carraia isn’t very well known but is amazing. Try the Buontalenti, a liquer-based ice cream named after the supposed inventor of gelato, and pistachio.
Ruggero: The best ice cream is at Vivoli, the oldest place in town. Rice and tutti frutti are the top flavours.

Is there a good spot for takeaway pizza?
Massimo: Try Pizza Napoletana at the Vico del Carmine in via Pisana.
Simone: Go to Dante Pizzeria and ask for the Prosciutto crudo e funghi, it is the best.
Ruggero: Go to Yellow Bar, which is a five-minute walk from the Hotel Savoy.

And where’s best for drinks? I’d like somewhere glamorous, but not touristy.
Massimo: The place to be is the rooftop Se.Sto bar at the Westin Excelsior Florence.
Simone: For cocktails I like Fusion Bar, the bar in our hotel.
Ruggero: Colle Bereto is a trendy haunt for local crowds.

I’m going to propose to my partner while I’m in Florence – where should I do it?
Massimo: The ideal place to propose is on the Ponte Vecchio, which was the setting of one of the most popular love stories of all time, that of Dante and Beatrice.
Ruggero: The most romantic place to propose is on the Ponte Vecchio.

Who’s the standout creative talent in Florence right now – is there someone in particular whose work I should check out before I leave?
Massimo: Lorenzo Villoresi, a true Florentine known worldwide for his inspired perfume creations.
Simone:INO for the most creative Italian sandwich of the city… it provides the taste of talent!
Ruggero: The atelier in Via de Bardi, overlooking Florence, is where Lorenzo Villoresi creates his tailor-made fragrances. You’ll find him at work amidst hundreds of small bottles containing unique essences. The air there is thick with the scent of spices.