Florence is a city full of captivating sights. It is impossible not to be swept away to times of Italy past here, where the very veins of history run through the tall, narrow streets as a enticing trail leading visitors from breathtaking scene to breathtaking scene. Around each corner appears a new treasure to be celebrated and admired. No matter whether you are a scientist, historian, artist or an everyday guest, Florence is a sightseeing dream.
While I heartily recommend spending some decent time wandering the city and visiting the main attractions, I also think there is something to be said for walking further afield. On my last visit to Florence my companion and I decided to put our map away and by losing ourselves in the city, we found the road to the magnificent Fort di Belvedere and its beautiful gardens. This time I had no map and one wish in mind for my visit, to find the location I had been told had the best views of the entire city, the Piazzale Michelangelo.
Piazzale Michelangelo was constructed in 1869 as a viewing terrace front for a planned museum to be dedicated to Michelangelo and his works. Whilst the museum plan was never completed, the neoclassical-style terrace has taken on a life of its own with the building now housing a restaurant of outstanding views and a bronze sculpture of Michelangelo’s David looking out over the city.
It takes a walk to reach the terrace, but I assure you every step is worth it for the unforgettable panoramic views of Florence and beyond.
But that is not all. Follow the roadside path further up the hill and you will discover steps leading to the Romanesque basilica of San Miniato al Monte and its adjoining monastery. The basilica itself dates from 1018 and holds the relic of St Minias, its namesake.
The marble exterior of the basilica is simply stunning and I loved the view with the small graveyard just below the main courtyard. Inside, you are free to walk around and take in the features of the interior, including a 12th century mosaic of Christ and St Minias, 13 &14th century frescoes and the 11th century altar in the crypt below. The crypt is the oldest part of the basilica and offers a rare opportunity to view the relic of St Minias which are housed in the altar there.
Entering the basilica is like stepping into a timepiece, showing Florence through the ages. Aside from the historical and religious importance of the site, the care that has been taken to keep and preserve the basilica by those that live there is quite touching and remarkable given that some parts are celebrating their 1000th birthday this year.
After descending the steps and continuing down the left side of the hill, I came across my final surprise of the day. Just to the right of the steps leading down is a doorway to Giardino delle rose, a garden created by Giuseppe Poggi, the same architect responsible for the creation of Piazzale Michelangelo. Unable to resist my curiosity, I found myself surrounded by a mix of pretty roses and well-placed sculpture.
In spite of the general busyness, the gardens are peaceful and I meandered happily about, dodging those choosing to have an afternoon snooze or picnic lunch.
Further down still and you find yourself surrounded by houses and restaurants once again, but this part of the city has more of a village feel. There is no place I found that made me feel more at ease in Florence.
As with many popular destinations, it is the side streets and lesser known trails that give a true flavour of the place you are exploring. While Florence is a city of sights and incredibly beautiful ones, I have discovered that it is when walking off the beaten tracks that you might just stumble across something even more special.