Florence is much more than narrow medieval streets of brick & tile & stone & art. It’s good to get out and about in the parks & gardens & the surrounding countryside of the dolci colline or sweet hills which ring the city. In town, the Boboli Gardens or the Botanical Gardens which date back to Cosimo de Medici or my favourite, the Bardini gardens, offer respite from the crowds & the noise & the heat. They also offer a bit of height so that you can take in the little city in its entirety from a secluded vantage point. If you like to walk, there are many lovely routes to take you out into the countryside, especially to the south. One of my favourites begins on the southern side of the Ponte Vecchio, up to the left along Costa San Giorgio & winds up through walled gardens along via di San Leonardo then left along viale llileo with its splendid outlook over the valley & the elegant Florentine villas with their olive groves & italiante gardens, to pass by the magnificent Monastery of San Miniato al Monte & finish high on Piazzale Michelangelo gazing out over the city.
Another wonderful walk is along the ridge-line from the hill-top Etruscan village of Fiesole to the other hill village of Settignano. You can take the #7 bus from Piazza San Marco to Fiesole, have a coffee there, begin the walk which takes about two hours through woods & olive groves & past castles & ancient churches, with wonderful vistas back towards Florence until the path drops steeply into the little hamlet of Settignano. And there you can enjoy your just reward in the form of lunch at Caffe` Desiderio. It has been there as long as I remember & it has always been nice, but as of late last year, the new owners, Michele & Francesca, have taken it to a whole new level. The atmosphere is unpretentious & rustic in the old Florentine manner, a feeling of a welcoming hostelry of an earlier time with the whole leg of prosciutto on its big rack & the wine bottles stacked all around, but the food is cutting-edge modern Tuscan served by enthusiastic young Tuscans not afraid to experiment. I have eaten the classic Tuscan winter dish, Peposo, there & never tasted a better or more authentic version, but at the same time, I was also offered little pot of creme brulee with foie gras which was simply exquisite. There is an exciting range of wines, both local & from wider afield & a range of Italian designer beers to blow your mind. Or if you can resist all that you can have a board of the best salumi, formaggi e pane imaginable. The window in the back wall gives out over the Tuscan hills & the easy, happy atmoshere make this a compulsory stop for me. After too much of everything you just step onto the #10 bus which takes you back down to Florence. If you are feeling lazy you can just take the #10 from San Marco, eat everything in sight & take the bus back down again.
Or if you want to do that in Fiesole for a very special lunch indeed, the #7 bus or a taxi will take you to the utterly fabulous Villa San Michele in the photo above, where you can dine like the Medici of old. But then beware the waistline.