The Best Text Ever
The text arrived on a Tuesday in May: “Any chance you’ve got an opening for a quick trip to Florence?” It was from my college roommate who I had studied in Florence with 26 years earlier. Of course! It would be fun to get back to my favorite city and a great opportunity to reunite with an old friend. Unfortunately the earliest I could fit in a trip was early November – too much travel this year! I booked two tickets using United miles (business over, economy back, 200,000 total miles), and we flew out the second week of November.
Our routing took us from LA to Denver on United, then Denver-Frankfurt-Florence-Frankfurt-LA on Lufthansa. I’ve grown to despise Lufthansa. Our luggage didn’t arrive in Florence until 27 hours after we did. Then, on the way back, Lufthansa put the two of us in different rows, and both of us in middle seats. Really? Despite several texts to Lufthansa and conversations with desk personnel, the airline was unwilling to seat us together. And they’ve done this before with my family – had five of us scattered throughout the plane despite being booked on the same reservation. Unfortunately Lufthansa is my most convenient flight option a lot of the time, but I’m going to start actively avoiding them.
A California Getaway to Florence
On to Florence! I’ve written about what we’ve done on past trips to make the city kid-friendly (see here and here), but it had been a long time since I had an adult trip. My friend has three kids as well, so the question for us became: what can we do this week that we wouldn’t do if we were here with our kids? The answer: a lot.
First Up: Vespas
We booked a half-day Vespa tour through the Chianti countryside with Florencetown for 130 Euros each. I’ve always loved Vespas but had never driven one before. We met up with our guide and the other five people in our group in the center of Florence at 9:30am and were shuttled roughly half an hour outside of town. We started with a quick Vespa lesson and a test where we had to ride around a circle of cones a couple of times, and then we hit the road. It was fun, but cold! The helmet kept my head warm but I regretted not bringing gloves. We rode for several hours, stopping at two vineyard/wineries: Ruffino (where they make Modus) and Folonari. We weren’t able to taste wines while on the ride, which was probably a good idea, but we ended the ride with a lunch at a farmhouse restaurant with plenty of food and wine. We then hopped back on the bus for the ride back to Florence, getting back at roughly 3:30pm.
This was one of the last tours of the season for Florencetown. I’d recommend doing a Vespa tour in April/May or September/October, when there aren’t a lot of tourists but it’s a little warmer. In the peak of the summer you could be looking at very hot days and large groups of riders. There wasn’t much traffic anywhere we went. The Vespas were easy to drive.
A long lunch with other travel writers
The first travel blogger I ever read was Georgette Jupe, who runs Girl in Florence. We had interacted online but hadn’t met in person before. Without kids, it was a perfect chance to change that!
We met for lunch at Irene Firenze at Hotel Savoy right on Piazza della Republica. My friend joined us, as did Laura Masi, who has an amazing Instagram account. This was easily our best, most enjoyable meal of the week. The food and wine were excellent and the conversation was fun, and three hours flew by. Seriously, next time you go to Florence sans kids, stop by Irene Firenze and have a long relaxing lunch. So Italian!
Dinners with old friends
Having spent a year in Florence, my friend and I both have friends in the city. We didn’t look up everyone, but we spent one evening with the director of our university’s program, making pizzas in a wood-fired oven at her villa with current students, and we met up with an Italian friend at a restaurant in town another night. My kids get annoyed when I combine family trips with friend reunions, so I don’t do it often. This trip was a great chance to get together with people.
What could be less kid-friendly than a three-hour bike ride in the hills around Florence? We met up with Giovanni from Fiesole Bike in Fiesole (a hilltop town easily accessible by bus from Florence), started with a 20-minute walking tour of Fiesole, and then drove 10 minutes or so up to our starting point. Giovanni had bikes, helmets and water for us, and we got going. I was picturing a purely downhill ride into Florence, but we went up and down a lot of hills – it was a serious ride, especially given that I’m not on a bike more than a dozen times a year. I couldn’t recreate the route we took if I tried – we traversed country lanes, went through small villages, stopped at overlooks and churches, went over pedestrian bridges and followed the Arno for a while. By the time we arrived near the Ponte Vecchio we were physically exhausted, but the ride was amazing.
I wouldn’t recommend the ride for kids under 14 unless they’re extremely confident on a bike and with traffic and pedestrians. There wasn’t much traffic in the hills, but once we entered Florence there were a lot of cars. Highly recommended overall – probably the best 45 Euros I’ve spent in Italy (Giovanni should charge more).
We’ve both been to the major museums more times that we can count, so we decided to see two new museums (for us at least). Casa Buonarroti is small but extremely impressive, filled with items from Michelangelo’s life, including several sculptures. There was maybe one other person in there when we were. Well worth checking out. No photos allowed.
And we went to the new Museo del Duomo, which houses original sculptures from the Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile, the bronze doors of the Baptistry, tools from the construction of the cathedral and original plans. Add this to your Must Do list – it’s now one of my favorite museums. The design is amazing and the works extraordinary. And it’s part of the combined 15 Euro entry ticket that includes climbing the Duomo and Campanile, which makes it extremely easy and inexpensive to visit.
Lots of Walking
We walk a lot whenever we’re in Florence with the kids. This trip we walked even more. We went out of our way to discover new restaurants. We hiked up to Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset. We climbed both the Duomo and Campanile (I don’t suggest doing those right before a three-hour bike ride by the way). Basically we never stopped moving.
We thought about heading to Siena, Bologna or Rome for a day trip, but there was easily enough to keep us busy in Florence for six days and five nights. We actually had a dozen things left on our list when we headed to the airport.
Where We Stayed
I booked the Antica Torre di via Tornabuoni for the sixth time in three years – still one of my favorite hotels anywhere. The location, right at the Ponte Santa Trinita, is perfect. Because the hotel is popular we had to change rooms once during our stay – our first room had a view of the Arno, Ponte Santa Trinita and the Ponte Vecchio and our second room had a view of the Duomo. No complaints! And I love breakfast and cappuccino at the hotel in the mornings.
Where We Ate
There are several restaurants that I return to over and over, but we only dined at one of them this time – MammaMia. Otherwise we explored, went to some based on recommendations or online reviews, and dined at others that simply looked good as we were walking past. My two favorite meals were cinghiale (wild boar) and polenta at Irene Firenze and cacio et pepe at Ristorante il Clarinetto roughly a 20-minute walk from the Duomo. We also loved Yellow Bar. Mister Pizza next to the Duomo was very good as well.
Finance / Summary
This was not an expensive trip. We paid roughly 200 Euros a night for the hotel, but plane tickets were free with miles. The costs of the Vespa and bike tours are above. Meals averaged 30-40 Euros or so for both of us including wine, although some restaurants were more – always worth it though. If you’ve ever dreamed of going to Florence, do it! Fall and spring are great times to go – the weather is cooler but there are far fewer tourists. It rained a lot while we were there but not on our Vespa or bike riding days, which worked out perfectly. And I love Florence in the rain anyway.
Have you traveled to Florence without kids? What were your favorite things? What should I do next time (if I ever take another trip sans kids)?