When you walk around Florence, you quickly realize that you cannot absorb the city quick enough. No amount of time is long enough to truly take in all that Florence has to offer. But that’s just what we tried to do on our last two days in Florence. The city is teaming with beautiful gardens that are leftovers from the rich residents from hundreds of years ago. These gardens are breathtaking. As you walk in them you realize that basically a rich person would build their very own Central Park for themselves and their families. And that’s literally what happened at the Boboli Gardens which lie behind the Medici’s main palace in Florence.
We came upon the gardens right after we had stuffed our faces with pizza, so to say we were kind of sleepy was an understatement. But luckily there are plenty of shaded areas in the gardens with benches for you and your loved ones to enjoy while you reflect on your mortality after having consumed so many calories. After we had sat down long enough and recuperated from our pizza feast, we explored the grounds with no real plan.
The main takeaway from this mini adventure was the following:
1- There were fruit trees everywhere, which was awesome.
2- You have to walk up a humongous hill to get to the great views, so prepare for the hellscape that will be your feet at the end of the walk.
3- The garden doesn’t have a natural water source, so the whole thing was watered and maintained with an ancient water conduit
Once we had made our way through the gardens and had taken in all the sights, we strolled through the museum and took a load off at the museum courtyard which is stunning. We decided to celebrate all of our walking with a tasty gianduja dessert. It was perfection, per the usual. A shortbread cookie, with delicious hazelnut chocolate filling topped with crushed hazelnuts. *Drool*
Which leads us to our first rule of this part!
Always celebrate a museum trip with a tasty pastry.
Think about it, it’s great positive reinforcement. Go have a learning experience, receive a tasty treat. Your brain is always going to want to try stuff like that if it knows that you’re going to feed it tasty cookies at the end of the road!
The only way to burn off all the treats we consumed that day was to keep on walking. So walk we did, we walked a mile towards Florence’s major landmark, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo for it’s iconic dome. This area is where all of Florence seems to converge, you have vendors, tourists, policemen, and crooks all converging here. The structure itself is a complete masterpiece, you can’t really go anywhere in Florence without seeing it in the skyline. It’s truly magnificent, words do not do it justice. Florence’s tourist attractions are actually worth it sometimes.
As we walked back to the hotel, your senses were constantly being bombarded with these amazing stores that sold everything a glutton could ever want. All the best hard meats in existence paired with cheeses that were just screaming to be eaten. Sadly, I had no way to store these tasty treats other than in my stomach, so I had to just look but not touch.
By the time we made it back home I was itching to try one of Florence’s signature dishes, the Florentine Steak or the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, this basically is a gigantic cut of T-bone steak. It’s quickly grilled, typically rare or medium rare, and just as soon as it’s grilled it’s devoured. The steak is usually shared by two people, but Mrs. Unmanly Chef wanted no part of this, so I decided I had to ride solo. No worries there.
We asked our concierge to give us their recommendation, because every restaurant in Florence likes to advertise that they have the Florentine Steak. But not every restaurant does it right.
Our concierge was insistent that we go to Gargani , he quickly made us a reservation and we were off to see if my arteries could take the blitzkrieg that was about to happen via the Florentine Steak. So prior to coming in the restaurant, I wont lie to you, I was a little nervous. What if I couldn’t finish the steak?! I pride myself on never turning away on a food challenge, but being in a foreign land without quick access to my home base left me apprehensive to taking on such a food challenge.
If you’re in Florence and you cannot make it to Gargani, visit Il Latini , they’re famous for being on Rick Steve’s so if that’s your jam, go there.
Gargani is a fantastic restaurant. It’s traditional Italian fare, but it does a great job putting a different spin on things. The caprese salad features a gigantic dollop of mozzarella cheese that goes perfectly with the fresh tomato they serve it with. Everywhere you go in Italy, the caprese is made differently and it’s always perfect.
But let’s cut to the chase, let’s talk about the steak.
It was so good. There’s nothing really to it, it only has salt and pepper on it. But something about the gigantic hunk of meat being grilled and served on a wood plank was so damn satisfying. I didn’t just finish the steak. I DEVOURED it. So much so, that if I was on my home turf, I maybe would’ve wanted another. It was that good. I compared to sort of like a backyard barbecue style steak, no fancy trimmings, just meat. The steak is typically sourced from Chianina, which is said to provide excellent cuts of beef from their Chianina cows.
This leads us to our next rule:
When in Florence, you must get the Florentine Steak, at least once. It’s worth all the meat sweats that will most likely ensue.
We finished with a mascarpone cheesecake that was simple and delicate. The Italians love serving cheesecake and I can’t blame them, their version is so light and delicate that you just want to come back for more. The mascarpone cheese is the perfect substitute to the cream cheese that’s used in cheesecake in the States (often times).
Overall Gargani was great and its a must visit if you’re in the Santa Maria Novella vicinity.
We started our last day in Florence by touring some more gardens and more importantly some of the pastry shops. Florence is littered with amazing pastry shops all serving up delicious treats. My favorite Italian treat, was not the gelatos, but rather the donuts! These squishy masterpieces were covered with sugar and then filled with a perfect chocolate hazelnut filling. The end result was heavenly.
Aside from the delicious donuts, we also made sure to do one of our favorite tourist activities. Visit foreign grocery stores! Which leads us to our next rule:
When in another country, always visit their grocery stores.
The grocery store experience in Italy is so much more aesthetically pleasing than the ones back in the states. It’s basically what the likes of Whole Foods and Trader Joes try to accomplish in their stores, but fail to.
Visiting a grocery store in another country is a great way to see how much things actually cost for the typical person over there.
Although the Italian grocery store had great ingredients, at least when it came to the dairy & meat section, everywhere else had a limited selection. On top of that the inefficiencies of the check-out line already had me pining for the checkout lines back home. One check out person for the whole store?! Oh the humanity!
All our food exploration led us to lunch, obviously. We were making our way up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, but before we did that we decided that we needed to fuel up. Because why wouldn’t you ingest over a thousand calories worth of bread and cheese before you go on a 15 minute hike up a hill? It’s common sense people.
Right at the base of the hill lies a perfect little pizza shop that is run by a husband and wife team. Il Pizzacchiere is everything you could want out of an Italian pizza. And I will easily proclaim that this was the best pizza I had in all of Italy. This restaurant is tiny, it can only seat about 12 people tops, but it’s worth the wait. The ingredients are fresh and the pizzas are masterful. The pricing was reasonable and the Owner was so gracious that you just wanted to come back again and again. Order the calabrese pizza and you’ll have a great meal.
The pizza feast led to the required Italian hike. All I can say is take a look at the view. It’s worth it.
We visited the Bardini gardens on the way down and that also has spectacular views, but we were in a rush to see the David since that was the last thing we needed to check off our list. Which leads us to our next rule of the trip.
Skip the David.
If you’re not a art lover, the museum is just another museum. I mean it’s all amazing, but seeing it in person did nothing for me. Plus it’s filled with so many annoying people that seeing this masterpiece is sullied by having to deal with a bunch of dufuses competing to get a selfie with a gigantic naked man in the background.
The night ended at Osteria Pastella. This restaurant does just about everything right. First of all the space is enormous by even American standards and the chef making pasta in the restaurant street window is beyond charming. The menu is simple and offers an elegant array of meal options.
We started with a crostini plate, and the star of the show was the chicken liver crostini. I’d never tried something like it and I swore to myself that I would try making it at home. It’s has a perfect savory smooth texture that goes perfectly with the house bread that they serve it on.
We shared the ossobucco and my god it was the best one that I had in all of Italy. It was perfectly tender, the meat simply melted in your mouth and left you wanting more. Luckily, I had more and was so stuffed by the end of the meal. But no Italian meal is complete without dessert and the folks at Pastella do an amazing job serving you high end desserts.
The banana cake that was served to us was unlike anything we had ever had before. It was a spongy layer of yellow cake that had a creamy smooth banana mouse in between. I usually am not one for a sponge cake, but oh my god this was good. They also decided to give us a chocolate lava cake just for kicks and that was just as good. Everything was perfection, which was per the usual for Florentine cuisine. Everything about this damn city is delicious.
We wrapped up our final day/night in Florence and prepared to board a train for Rome. As we prepared to leave for Rome, we packed our bags with heavy hearts. Florence was the one city that we felt like we didn’t have enough time to truly soak in all the nooks and crannies of the city. This is a city that typifies Italy in my opinion. It’s everything you’d want to show someone who is visiting Italy for the first time.
Florence’s beauty is breathtaking, as one famous Florentine resident once said, “beauty awakens the soul to act.”
He must’ve been talking about Florence.
Off to Rome.