THERE ARE NO BAD DAYS IN TUSCANY / I’ve enjoyed Florence in record summer heat and wedged in lines between tour groups. But, being there in late fall, when temps are cooler and visitors are fewer, it’s even better. Average high temperature in November is around 60 degrees F and low’s in the mid-40s. That’s perfect travel weather to me and comfortable enough to sit outside for lunch or wine.
FLYING INTO FLORENCE on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my two daughters and I met up with several of their friends who joined us for the holiday. One even made the trek from Bangkok. The Florence airport is small and it’s close enough to town for a short and cheap cab ride into the historic part.
WALKING FLORENCE / We stayed at the Hotel Pierre, on a short side street between the Piazza della Repubblica and the Ponte Vecchio. It’s a great location for walking to all the popular galleries and sites—and a better hotel value outside peak travel months. Actually, walking is what you want to do in Florence and from all hotels in the historic area you can easily walk to the points of interest. Grab a simple map in the hotel lobby. You’ll find your way.
Mention Florence to anyone who’s ever been there and they will invariably say, “I love Florence.”
FOR MOST PEOPLE, FLORENCE IS everything Italy should look, taste and feel like. If it’s your first trip to Florence, visiting the Uffizi, Accademia, Pitti Palace and d’Uomo will rightfully be your priorities. But the piazzas, street scenes, shops, gelato, street vendors, chalk artists, wonderful food and watching the stylish young people passing by will contribute as much to your fondness for the city as the icons of art and history.
The piazza was covered with tents and stalls of olive oil producers in the region. Maybe it was that time of the season to debut tastes of the latest olive harvest. There were plenty of options for comparing toothpicked bread samples in bowls drizzled with recently pressed oils. A nice treat on arrival to town.
WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY there is no shortage of restaurants, trattorias and pizzerias, even though some eateries take tourist Euros without much reward in return. But that’s the same in any city that sees throngs of tourists. There are great restaurants, simple to sophisticated, in Florence.
Armed with only a recommendation, a description and general location of the restaurant—no actual restaurant name—we found Ristorante Buca dell’Orafo, near the Ponte Vechio. It was the best recommendation with the worst directions I’ve ever been given. The small restaurant is below street level off an alley-wide passage close to the Arno River. Even though it’s been there for decades, the current incarnation under chef-owner Giordano Monni delivers wonderful Tuscan basics and seasonally inspired interpretations of northern Italian specialties.
A PICTURE BEST RELAYS the rare beef artfully layered with shaved cheese and topped with crispy fried rosemary and dots of capers that my daughter ordered. Life changing! The POACHED PEAR WITH ORANGE ZEST is a signature autumn dessert. Looking for a perfectly grilled pork chop? You have found it. Buca dell’Orafo is a slow food restaurant, as it should be. Make a reservation. Take your time. Enjoy!
WITH AN EMPHASIS ON WINE and a simpler menu, we turned happy hour into a prolonged wine dinner at the Enoteca Pitti Gola E Cantina. It sits across the street from the Pitti Palace, with a commanding view from the covered street-side deck. Three young men and former employees turned their passion for wine into a wonderful bar, wine shop and small-plate eatery. Pastas, cheese and charcuterie of the region only make the great wine selection more enjoyable.
FLORENCE COMPELS most visitors to deep dive into history, art and architecture and there are endless jumping off points. Maybe we were a little intellectually lazy, but this was a re-visit to Florence for each of us and we took a more leisurely course.
We bypassed the inside tour of Pitti Palace and went directly to BOBOLI GARDEN behind the palace. On a weekday afternoon in November it was practically a private garden party. Built to impress, the hill-sloped garden behind Pitti Palace does indeed. Our easy-going stroll through the gardens fit our frame of mind.
Thanksgiving is a holiday with a focus on good food and our visit to Florence had a laser focus.
A LUNCHTIME VISIT to San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale, once the main fresh food market of Florence, offers plenty of options if you want to shop and cook. And a number of options if you simply want to eat. There are simple eateries throughout the market with good local fare, oil-clothed tabletops and welcoming hospitality. It’s a good place to pick up picnic fare if you want it to go.
THANKSGIVING DAY / A few restaurants in Florence promoted traditional turkey dinners for American visitors. God love ‘em for trying. We opted for a simple family trattoria on the other side of the river. Eight of us around the table gave thanks over pasta, pork, steak, bread and wine. It was a good final evening before flying home Friday morning.
If Thanksgiving is about spending time with family and friends, sharing good food and taking a welcome break from work and school, we were happy to give thanks in Florence.
There are no bad days in Tuscany.
POSTSCRIPT / A bonus to Thanksgiving in Florence is prelude to the Christmas season. With much more restraint than American stores and malls, the streets and shops display lights and decorations. It only serves as an invitation for yet another holiday visit.
Hotel Pierre / Via de’ Lamberti, 5 Florence / www.hotel-pierre-florence.com
Ristorante Buca dell’Orafo / Via dei Girolami, 28/r / www.bucadellorafo.com
Enoteca Pitti Gola E Cantina / Piazza Pitti, 16 / www.pittigolaecantina.com