The 11:01 train from Pisa brought
us to the Santa Maria Novella Stazione in Firenze at 12:23.
It was a partly cloudy cool day (10C), perfect for
strolling to the banks of the Arno and the Hotel Berchielli.
We took the underground passageway
from the station to Via de Panzani turning left (east) on
Via de Cerretani in the direction of the Duomo. We turned
south on Via Roma (through Piazza San Giovanni) which
becomes Via Calimala after Piazza Della Republica and
then Via S. Maria which leads to Ponte Vecchio. Before
the bridge we turned right (west) on Borgo SS Apostoli to
the cute Piazza del Limbo (home of the Chiese Limbo and
its art treasures), on the left, and the side entrance of
Hotel Berchielli. The main entrance of the hotel is at
Lungarno Acciaiuoli, 14.
The trip could have been made in 10-15
minutes but we were in Firenze, one of our favorite
cities to savor. It doesnt matter how many times
you pass the Duomo, you must pause to capture its
magnificence and see the visitors from around the world
similarly enthralled. Nor is it possible to walk through
Piazza Della Republica without being impressed with its
size and harmonious beauty. Fashion, food - Firenze, why
not a little window shopping along the way? It's a good
thing we travel light and were in no particular hurry.
When we stayed at the Hotel
Berchielli last year, we were so impressed with the high
level of hospitality and traditional comfort and charm
that we could hardly wait to return. We especially love
the location in the city center adjacent to the Oltrarno,
the area on the other side of the Arno River.
The hotel was created and expanded
by the amalgamation of adjoining ancient houses. Thus the
interior corridors and staircases lead in various
directions and levels to a wide variety of rooms. The
marble staircases with blue and white wrought iron
railings are very attractive. A rooftop garden terrace is
a wonderful spot for relaxing in good weather surrounded
by some of Florence's finest buildings. This hotel has a
very special, unique character.
The side entrance leads directly to
the lobby, reception area and lounge while the Arno entry
leads down an arched passageway to a cozy bar and the
reception area. An eclectic mix of stained glass windows,
quality woodwork and trim in turquoise tones, black and
white granite and marble floors, woven area rugs and
contemporary furnishings combine in an attractive,
There are always at least two staff
members at reception, overseen by the affable General
Manager, eager to serve their guests. They were proud to
inform us that complimentary wireless internet access was
now available in the public areas and that some rooms
were able to pick up the signal. Since we had our laptop
with us, we were happy campers. There is also a
complimentary internet point in the lobby for registered
Since we had experienced a room
with a view of the Arno and bridges last year, it was
suggested that we might want a city view this time. In
fact we were offered an upgrade to a two level junior
suite on the sixth floor. The lower level was elegantly
furnished with two oversized upholstered chairs (convertible
into single beds), desk, tables and flat screen
television. The bathroom on this level had a stall shower.
The large window from this room
gave us a close-up dramatic view of Florentine homes and
their terracotta roof tiles. We had the feeling of living
in a neighborhood. The upstairs bedroom was equally
beautifully furnished with a king bed, desk, chairs and
another flat screen television. The bathroom here had a
tub with shower. Both lovely tiled bathrooms were stocked
with quality grooming products, and an array of towels.
There was substantial closet space on both levels (wasted
in our case).
It should be noted that the
lighting was excellent. The mattresses were firm, as we
like, and there were both soft and firm pillows. And yes,
our laptop found the wireless access!
A substantial breakfast buffet was
available in the Grand Breakfast Room. The staff was
constantly available to provide hot beverages of choice,
clear tables, maintain the buffet and take care of
After settling in we crossed Ponte
S. Trinita to stroll through the Oltrarno to check out
some restaurants we had heard about and to be sure that
there had not been any dramatic changes. Much to our
delight everything was as we left it. This is where you
can still find craftsmen making quality products by hand.
Hopefully they will be able to pass their expertise on to
the next generation.
Roberto Ugolini on Via Michelozzi,
178, tel. 055-21-6246, was at his work table making a
pair of shoes for some lucky guy. It was fascinating to
watch him cutting and trimming the fine leathers. It
brought back memories of my first summer job in a shoe
factory when shoes were still made by hand in North
Moving on, we came to Mannina, Via
de Barbadori, 23-25, tel. 055-211-060. It was closing
time but Mr. M welcomed us in and took the time to
explain his process, the types of leathers, time frames,
etc. His client list is quite impressive; he makes both
mens and womens shoes. Linda figured that
after paying for the shoes our credit balance would hurt
more than her feet so she didnt take me up on my
We continued west on Borgo S.
Jacopo to Via Santo Spirito into the tiny Piazza Nazario
Sauro at the foot of Ponte alla Carraia which is home to Trattoria Dante,
where we had a fine meal last year.
The owner is a jovial man who is
very hands-on and it did not surprise us that he greeted
us with, "ah, Canada, welcome back". With the
quantity of food we eat it should not come as a shock
that we are remembered. Speaking of which, the portions
are very generous so we shared three dishes: insalata
Beppe (insalata verde, tonno, uovo sodo, acciughe,
capperi), spaghetti alla Sigarino (aragosta, seppie,
cozze, vongole, gamberi, cherry tomatoes), tagliata di
Manzo con Rucola and Parmigiano grana.
We settled into the fun, relaxing
environment inspired by the hand painted walls, high
brick ceiling, loads of wine bottles and our spirited
Our appetites grew as we sipped the
house private label rosso, light and fruity, from the
Crisp greens with tuna, anchovies,
capers and hard boiled egg glistening with quality olive
oil was a perfect starter. Next we were served delicious
spaghetti and seafood: fresh lobster, cuttlefish, mussels,
clams and shrimp enhanced by olive oil and cherry
tomatoes. The presentation of the sliced steak topped
with grana and arugula was as impressive as it was
The cream and chocolate tortes with
soft crusts and silky-textured fillings topped with pine
nuts and powdered sugar were delicious. Well done Dante -
excellent quality, preparation and service at fair prices.
Besides a good selection of Florentine favorites, the
trattoria is well known for its pizzas. After a grappa
digestivo, we walked across the bridge and along the
riverside back to our hotel.
Crossing over to
the Oltrarno another day, we paid a visit to Bartolozzi
& Maioli, Via Maggio, 13r, Tel. 055-282-675, world
famous for creating exceptional wood furniture and
furnishings. The founders daughter, Fiorenza
Bartolozzi, has successfully carried on the family
tradition, founded in 1938. They specialize in re-creating
antique works as well as their own designs. The results
are dazzling; the skills involved, the years of training,
the work required to achieve excellence is abundantly
clear. Looking to the future, they are working with
institutions in the industry to find and train candidates
in the art. We met one of the trainees, a young woman
from Hamburg, Germany, who was carving a book from wood;
her apprenticeship would last 6 months.
We walked east along the Borgo S.
Jacopo turning right on Via Ramaglianti to #8. If we did
not have specific information about how to find this
place we would never have known that Aliani e Perini
& C.S.N.C. Orafi, traditional purveyors of the
goldsmith craft, was located in this nondescript building.
It was quite intriguing to watch a demonstration of gold
being melted, cooled, flattened thin through a machine,
heated for pliability, a pattern drawn, distressed with
chisel and hammer, polished with a file, edges cleaned,
and finally a glistening piece ideal as an earring or
charm. All this was accomplished in 30 minutes, on old
and worn working surfaces with ancient implements by
The owner mentioned that Via
Ramaglianti was Via de Giudei in Roman times and that a
building right nearby was the location of the old
Synagogue. We managed to find the plaque marking the
Over the years we have passed
through Piazza Della Signoria hundreds of times and stood
in awe of the massive Palazzo Vecchio, taken photos of it
with the copy of Michelangelos statue of David in
front and the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, its size and
crenellated exterior denoting a formidable fortress.
The original palace was completed
in 1314. During the middle of the 15th century Cosimo the
Elder added significant renaissance decorations and
during the middle of the 16th Cosimo l deMedici
enlarged the palace for his vision of a grand-ducal court.
A new section was added that doubled the size.
Today the palace
is home to the Town Hall of Florence with many rooms
available for public viewing. It was finally time to go
inside! The courtyard was designed by Michelozzo. A copy
of the statue of the Winged Boy with a
Dolphin on top of the porphyry fountain by Battista
del Tadda occupies the center (the original by Verrocchio
is on display on the second floor). The stunning columns
are richly decorated and high above are the crests of
Church and City Guilds. Francesco, eldest son of Cosimo I,
married Johanna of Austria, sister of Maximillian (the
rich get richer) and the frescoes along the walls were
done by Giorgio Vasari to celebrate the wedding.
The Salone dei Cinquecento (room of
the 500s), was built in 1494 as the seat of the Grand
Council consisting of 500 members. The size (52m x 23m),
decorations and art make this a dramatically imposing
chamber, the centerpiece of the palace. The original
ceiling was raised 7m and although I didnt find out
the height I know that you will get a stiff neck from
looking up. You do have to look up to see the 39 panels
painted by Vasari (who was responsible for all the
decorations of the hall) and his assistants, which
represent episodes from the life of Cosimo I. Bands of
frescoes high on the walls just below the ceiling depict
the history of the city and episodes of city life.
The walls are covered with huge
frescoes that depict military victories by Florence over
Siena and Pisa. At the front of hall is the Udienza, a
stage, built by Bartolommeo Bandinelli for Cosimo I to
receive prominent citizens and ambassadors. Three statues
represent the Medici dynasty. In center stage is Pope Leo
X, to the right is Pope Charles V crowned by Clement VII.
Michelangelos famous marble
group, The Genius of Victory is in a niche at
the rear of the hall. Another of the Michelangelos
works is of a man beating a woman. Across the way, in
striking contrast, is one by Giambologna of a woman
beating a man - very democratic. There are six statues
along the walls dedicated to Hercules as a symbol of the
At the end of the hall is a small
room without windows that was built by Vasari for
meditation. Cupboards along the wall contain paintings
and sculptures and are covered with artwork
representative of the treasures contained within.
The enormity of the hall is most
evident from the corridor high above the people in
The Salone dei Cinquecento below were tiny!
The adjoining rooms used by the
Mayor as offices are now available for public viewing.
One room has a carved wooden
painted ceiling the panels of which are mirrored by the
magnificent stone floor below. Theres also a
painting of Pope Benedict.
The Siege room was the
Mayors office. There is a large painting of
Florence surrounded by troops with weapons ready for
attack. The room is further decorated with a painted
carved wood ceiling, frescoed walls and a multi-toned
terracotta floor. Hard to understand why the Mayor
Up to the second floor and the
Apartments of the Elements, the private quarters of the
one and only Cosimo I. The Room of Elements
is filled with allegorical frescoes representing water,
fire and earth. The fascinating ceiling represents Saturn
and a marvelous fireplace dominates one wall. It was a
pleasant day so we were allowed to go out on The
Terrace of Saturn to capture some great city views.
The private chamber of Eleanor,
wife of Cosimo I deMedici, is a series of rooms
with frescoed ceilings dedicated to females.
Sala dell Udienza, room of
the judge, contains the oldest decorations of the palace.
The carved wooden ceiling is laminated in pure gold. The
large wall frescoes done in soft pastels depict stories
of Roman history. A marvelous doorway, with marble
moldings and carved woodwork, leads to the Room of the
Fleur-de-lys (Hall of the Lilies) dedicated to
relationships with France.
A doorway flanked by two ancient
marble pillars leads to the Hall of Geographical Maps.
The cabinets along the walls, where the Medici Grand
Dukes kept their valuables, are decorated with 53 16th
century maps and oil paintings which are of important
scientific and historical interest of that period. A huge
globe, Mappa Mundi (1567), and the original statue of
Judith and Holofernes by Donatello have
prominent positions in the room.
Adjacent is the original room where
Macchiavelli worked when he was secretary of the Republic.
A terracotta bust and portrait mark his presence. In the
middle of the room is the original Winged Boy with
It was a pity we could not take the
journey through the Corridor, the secret
passage from the Palace Vecchio to the Pitti Palace,
which is available only by prior appointment by groups at
a fairly large fee. This amazing route, which starts at
Palace Vecchio, goes through the Uffizi and adjoining
buildings, across the Ponte Vecchio through buildings on
the Oltrarno and ends at the Pitti Palace. The Medicis
used this corridor to avoid the common people.
Tonight we found our way to one of
our favorites, La Casalinga, Via Dei Michelozzi, 9. You
know youre there when you see the line up of
motorbikes along the sidewalk in front. The family
members are always present, happily greeting patrons and
pointing them toward a table in either the front or back
The regular menu and daily specials
offer basic Roman recipes simply prepared. As usual,
there were tempting special items from which to choose.
Linda selected penne al sugo della nonna, followed by
brasciola di maiale ai ferri. Tagliatelle al carciofi (artichokes
are in season and we had them every way possible during
our trip) and branzino al forno were my choices. The
pastas were a work of art. The pork chop was tasty and
tender and the whole fish was grilled crisp and moist
inside. Substantial portions of quality home cooking at
extremely reasonable cost will keep us coming back.
The main store of Salvatore
Ferragamo is a few steps from our hotel at the corner of
Lungarno Acciaiuoli and Via de Tornabuoni. Around the
corner at Piazza Santa Trinita 5r, in the Palazzo Spini
Feroni, is the entrance to the amazing Museo Salvatore
Ferragamo. This private museum is dedicated to the
history of the Ferragamo company, the life of founder
Salvatore Ferragamo and his footwear creations. I cannot
begin to tell you how impressed and captivated we were to
see the collection that spans the masters entire
career, from his return to Italy in 1927 to his death in
Only someone who had a combination
of highly technical and artistic skills and the
creativity in choosing colors, materials and blending
them into unique designs could produce a collection such
as we had the privilege of viewing. Salvatore Ferragamo
not only had the ingenuity to mix and match colors and
innovative materials into exquisitely styled footwear,
but to develop the crafting techniques to bring his
creations to reality. Each shoe on display is a treasure.
Find time to go between 10:00 and 18:00 except Tuesday
when it is closed. Take a virtual tour on the Ferragamo web
Our good value
food search brought us to Piazza San Lorenzo and after
fighting through the leather coat dealers we fell into
Trattoria Toscana Gozzi Sergio at #8. Having been in
business since 1915 we figured it must have some
substance. Since Gozzi is only open for lunch and we had
to put it to the full test. This would be our big meal of
the day. Oh my, what a terrific find. The menu changes
daily so it would be easy to eat here every day. Zuppa di
porri was a hearty grain and bean preparation and
fagottini di pasta fresca in brodo di gallina was real
chicken soup with little sacks of fresh pasta filled with
ground meat, squeezed closed at the top - think dim sum.
Linda claimed to be stuffed after
her thick soup, but managed to sincerely make love to
tender ravioli with ricotta and spinach al sugo (meat
sauce). Chicken soup was a teaser so I added a side of
fagioli all olio to my tender arista di miale al forno (pork
chop in the oven) with incredibly tasty gravy. It is
common in eateries like this to find your dining
neighbors eager to chat and trade favorites - no
exception here. We now have enough suggestions to keep us
going for a while. Great food, service and dining
companions in a totally laid back environment with
incredibly reasonable prices makes us devotees.
When we visited
the Officina Profumo
Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Via della Scala, 16, two years ago, the
new museum was in the formative stage. It is now open to
the public with a collection featuring the original
vessels used for mixing and storing the ancient
preparations. The pharmacy founded by a Dominican
monastery in 1221 was opened to the public in 1612 in the
antica speziera where the herbalist shop is housed today.
Its a pleasant trip back in
time. Ancient formulations and newer adaptations are
beautifully packaged and presented in the original
showrooms. The aromas will captivate your senses and the
knowledgeable staff will answer all your questions. We
discovered attractive little tins of delicious pastilles,
which make great gifts for special people.
Every visit to Firenze we head to
Vivoli for their famous gelato but every time we go, it
is closed. Everyone we asked assured us it was open, away
we went but once again, it was closed. Does Vivoli really
exist? We ended up at Grom, at the corner of Via del
Campanile and Via delle Oche, near the Duomo. Its a
chain which we first encountered in Genoa. The gelato is
made with natural products, not too sweet, with pretty
I was telling the manager of our
hotel of our frustration at not being able to find our
kind of gelato in the city. He suggested we try La
Bottega del Gelato, Via Por S. Maria, 33r. This is one of
the main tourist streets in Firenze which leads to Ponte
Vecchio. How quickly we forget! This was the first
gelateria in which we had gelato in Italy in 1978, the
year the shop opened. We had no basis for comparison then
but we and our children thought it was good enough to
return twice a day for our 3 days in the city. Its
still pretty darn good (excellent flavor and texture
without overpowering sweetness) and will be our Firenze
gelato headquarters from now on.
After getting caught up on our
email and reading the Toronto newspapers online we were
off. One of the hotel staff had heard of our gelato
search and told us of a dairy and gelato emporium way
east on the Oltrarno side of the river. It was a glorious,
sunny, relatively warm day, perfect for a long stroll. We
started going east along the cityside bank of the Arno
planning to cross over at the Ponte alle Grazie. Along
the way, we remembered a restaurant that had been
recommended and popped up to Corso Tintori to check it
out. The menu looked interesting, the aromas were
positive and the owner was an agreeable fellow. We made a
dinner reservation more on that later.
Continuing east along Tintori we
encountered a stream of folks eating slices of very good-looking
pizza. This was followed by the smell of fresh baked
dough. At #11r we found the culprits, Amore Mio Pizza
where Mom was in the back churning out the beauties while
her daughter tended the counter. This was our kind of
pizza, real wheat dough, rolled thick, baked dry with
flavor enough to enjoy on its own. Now add fresh quality
toppings and herbs and you have a winning combination.
Its sold by the slice, nice size slices at very
fair prices. We opted for the classic margherita which is
the true test of pizza as far as were concerned.
This was the real stuff. The line-ups were justified. We
were on a roll.
After crossing Ponte alle Grazie we
continued east along Via di Niccolo to Piazza G. Poggi
and no sign of our gelato destination. Its was true
that the exact location was not clearly defined nor did
we have the name of the place, so we thought it was time
to ask for help. A waitress in a local bar came to our
rescue; the news was good and bad. Yes, she knew of the
place and yes, the gelato was very good, but, it was
closed for the season.
Not all was lost. This area between
Ponte Vecchio and Ponte alle Grazie and destinations east
is a very pleasant, pretty neighborhood with many
restaurants and shops worthy of our attention in the
Later in the evening we returned to
Ristorante del Fagioli, Corso Tintori, 47r, tel. 055-244-285.
An open cucina is to the right as you enter; the large
pots of soups and sauces looked and smelled wonderful.
The chefs stopped their chopping and stirring long enough
to deliver a friendly bona sera.
The owner seated us in a wood
paneled dining room and explained the preparation of
every item on the purely Tuscan menu. After careful
consultation we decided to share pappa al pomodoro (tomato
based ribollita) and ribollita alla paesana. Both
versions were delicious, thick with finely chopped bread
and vegetables but they were served lukewarm and the
portions were too small for the price, our only quibbles.
Secondi were excellent in all
aspects. Linda had crocchettine campagnole (meatballs
with potatoes) and I, roast rabbit with a side of fagioli
and fennel, dressed with fine-quality olive oil. Portions
were ample and very good value. Ricotta cheese cake was
served with a touch of chocolate sauce. Preparations are
top notch in quality and execution. House wine is served
by the bottle, the red a good Sangiovese; you pay for
what you consume.
Chiese San Michele on Via
Calzaiuoli in the center of the city was built in 1337 as
a grain lodge. Constructed on the site of a kitchen it is
known as Orsanmichele, kitchen garden of St. Michael. It
was converted into a church of the craft and trade guilds
between the end of 14th and beginning of the 15th C. The
14th century ground floor Roman arches formed the loggia
of the grain market. Inside two of the side pillars are
the original grain chutes which moved the grain from the
third floor storehouses to the ground floor. The guilds
commissioned statues of their patron saints to embellish
the façade of the building. The ones seen today are
copies while the originals are preserved in an adjacent
building. A gorgeous ornate tabernacle protects a
painting of Madonna and Child.
The nearby Oratorio della
Confraternita di Dan Martino dei Buonomini is one of the
oldest charitable institutions in Firenze. It is worth a
visit to see the 15th century frescoes covering the walls.
Going east on Via Dante Aligheri on
the way to visit the Bargello Palace we stopped into
Badia Fiorentina, home of a young religious community
where the monks and nuns maintain a tradition of
contemplation and prayer. The Monastic Fraternity of
Jerusalem was founded in Paris in 1975.
Approaching Bargello Palace we were
struck by the handsome Volognana tower adjoining the
Palace. The Bargello Palace is also known as the Palazzo
del Popolo (Palace of the People), since it was
originally built for the heads of the Florentine
Government. It was in turn a barracks and prison and now
an art museum. It is the oldest public building in the
city and its crenellated design became the model for the
Palazzo Vecchio. The two-story building is designed
around an open courtyard with Mayors coats-of-arms as
decoration and an open well at the center.
The museum houses one of the most
important art collections of Gothic and renaissance
sculptures in the country. There is also a very fine
representation of decorative art; ceramics, tapestries,
textiles, silver, coins, ivory, bronze, jewels and some
armor. Much of the collection is from the Medici family.
We were impressed
by the huge marble statue Oceano by
Giambologna, the most important sculptor between
Michelangelo and Bernini who worked only for the Medici
family. His nudes in movement and small bronze works were
impressive. Michelangelos first statue God of
Wine is historically significant. His unfinished
works, such as the unfinished bust of Brutus, were his
way of expressing his feelings and ideas. Other famous
works illustrate his genius in presenting the human body
in graceful harmony.
There is a superb bronze collection
by Cellini. Particularly impressive was the magnificent
bust of Cosimo I with an intense facial expression.
A marvelous grouping of animals by
Giambologna is presented on the second floor terrace
which leads to an enormous room which was used by the
Mayor. This room contains the work of Donatello,
including his elegant David, intense St.
George and the amazing terracotta bust
Riratto di Niccolo da Uzzamo. Donatello is
credited with being the first to express individual
expression and character.
We had passed Ristorante Pennello,
Via D. Alighieri, 4r, tel. 055-29-48-48 earlier and were
attracted by the light wood framed exterior. A glance at
the menu and interior made a positive impression, so here
we were for lunch. We were greeted by the owner, the
affable Gino, who makes it his business to get to know
everyone who crosses his threshold. The rooms were filled
with locals, business people and shoppers, all of whom
Gino knew by name. We soon discovered that the
buzz, reflecting enjoyment of the food and
environment, was justifiable.
Linda did not need much convincing
to start with the house made pappardelle al cinghiale,
which she declared to be perfection. I was
delighted to find zuppa di farro on the menu and to have
it prepared properly thick and served hot, pure ecstasy
with the touch of luscious olive oil I added. We had
superb agnello al forno (roast lamb) with fresh young
spinach. Lemon gelato was a refreshing finish. The house
rosso was excellent. This was another great find; a
caring host and cucina, quality ingredients and
preparation and good size portions at very fair prices.
Our next stop was at the Church of
Santa Trinita, in Piazza S. Trinita. Francesco Sassetti,
a wealthy Italian banker, acquired the rights to the
chapel at right of the main altar. Domenico Ghirlandaio
was commissioned to paint frescoes of the life of St.
Francis of Assisi, which are marvelous, as is
Ghirlandaios altarpiece, the Adoration of the
Palazzo Davanzati is located nearby
at Via Porta Rossa, 13. This splendid home, built in the
middle of the 14th century, was owned by the Davanzati
family from the beginning of the 16th century until 1838.
The current owners are restoring the palace to depict the
way of life of a wealthy merchant family during the
renaissance period. Looking up at the tower from the
inner courtyard, we could see the balconies of the three
floors above but only the first floor was available for
viewing when we were there.
This structure is an example of the
evolution of a casa-torre into a marvelous palace. The
restoration has been done with great care to preserve as
much of the original design and materials as possible.
The original wall frescoes, window shutters and doors
have been restored and repainted and the original wood
ceilings and brick floors are still in place. 15th
century life at home is further illustrated by a
collection of furniture and furnishings including a
toilet, a hole in a ledge. There is also a small museum
of lace works, needle and bobbin lace and a collection of
This evening we returned to La
Casalinga for tortellini a sugo coniglio, roast chicken
and potatoes, mixed salad and house rosso - pure comfort
for the senses and wallet.
Until now we had done our best to
control the urge to take advantage of the multitude of
SALDI signs in every store. When we arrived in the
country, merchants were offering reductions of 20% to 50%,
now we were seeing 50% to 70%. At this level even with
the conversion to our Canadian dollars, prices were
becoming appealing. So today would be devoted to shopping
and eating. Lunch was a terrific budget choice while
dinner was an exceptional gourmet dining experience.
The hunt for low cost value eating
brought us to Piazza D. Mercato Centrale. The market is
well known for the lunch counters inside. We had never
found a worthwhile eating establishment of any kind
around the outside area but today was the exception.
Via Rosina runs at an angle off the
northeast corner of the Piazza. The tiny Trattoria Mario
is at #21 (lunch only), to the right as you enter the
street. After wiggling through the people waiting for
their names to be called, I managed to let one of Mario's
sons know that "Don" would await his turn. It
took about 20 minutes to be called. What a scene: shared
tables and bodies jammed together on low stools to
maximize the available seating space across from the semi-open
kitchen with the daily menu on a chalkboard. The menu
selections were traditional Roman dishes at extremely
Linda ordered tortelli di patate al
sugo cinghiale and the waitress seemed pleased when I
ordered my wild boar stewed. Both were delicious.
Dont come to dine but for a fun eating experience.
For our last night in Florence, we
planned a special dinner at one of the citys finest
restaurants, expensive, but excellent value for the
Alle Murate, Via dei Proconsolo, 16r, resides in the
restored Palace of the Guild of Judges and Notaries where
the art and history of Romanesque Florence is united with
gastronomic excellence for an evening of sheer pleasure.
This medieval public building was
resurrected after 500 years of oblivion. Its ancient
architecture and frescoes are in dramatic contrast to the
smashing contemporary design of the restaurant. We passed
through the portal into the front lounge with its stone
walls, light wood panels, attractive seating and subdued
lighting making an initial positive impact. The staff
greeted us warmly, took our coats and led us to our table
in the main ground floor dining room.
We were awestruck
by the sight of the frescoed vaulted ceilings and
surrounding walls. Here we were in modern Firenze but in
the midst of a magnificent circular representation of the
medieval city. Our hostess offered to take us on a tour,
which we accepted. A wide wooden stairway at the rear led
to the exquisite first floor dining room for a close look
at the frescoes. The earliest confirmed portrait of Italy's
greatest poet, Dante Alighieri was pointed out to us.
The stone cellar is an ancient
Roman archeological site. The visible wells provided
water for dying clothing. Dining rooms have been carved
out of the stone foundation to offer a unique venue for
We came to dine and dine we did
with superb service, timed for our relaxation and
enjoyment. Each item on the menu was explained in detail.
Its a romantic experience with soft jazz and water
running down the glass wall of the cucina.
Crisp, dry prosecco from the north
was a fine aperitivo. A bevy of starters included;
octopus marinated in orange, fennel and olive oil, celery
salad with slivers of smoked tuna and egg roe, and turnip
soufflé topped with fabulous sun dried red peppers
A full bodied red wine, Basilicata-Carato
Venusio Aglianico dei Vulture, 2001 had a lovely
lingering cherry flavor. We sipped and savored until our
primi arrived. Lentil soup for me,
a thick, rich version with mussels and red pepper and
Tortellini for Linda, filled with eggplant in a sauce of
butter, thyme, parmigiano, garnished with crisply fried
Our mains were filet of bass in
ginger sauce and porcini mushrooms and roasted free range
lamb from Castentino stuffed with artichoke, sided with
battered fried mushrooms and shallots.
At this point we were delighted,
every dish was divine. We had to have dolce to put Alle
Murate to the final test. A platter of assorted pastries
sealed the deal. Dark chocolate cake, Bavarian cream,
apple pie with custard cream, and orange cake were a
dream accompanied by a luscious Vin Santo. Coffee was
served with truffles filled with cherries but we had to
Value comes in all shapes and sizes
and the Alle Murate experience qualifies. If your budget
allows, make reservations. Dinner only is served. Closed
Tomorrow we were off to the
Province of Arezzo, first to the city of Arezzo and then
on to Cortona.
CASTAGNETO CARDUCCI | PISA | FIRENZE
CORTONA | PERUGIA | FOLIGNO | TERNI
ORVIETO | ROMA
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