“Florence is a city that, though small, has quite a complex life. People find this surprising, but it’s true – not least because one of its greatest assets, tourism, has changed enormously. We all know the world is getting smaller, and along with the people who have always visited – Americans, British and Europeans – now there are Asians and Russians; it’s a far more diverse, international and more influential tourism.
As a result Florence’s eccellenze, its own competences, are more internationally recognised now too. Our Polimoda, or fashion institute, has grown and is a huge asset. There are also around 25 American universities – good ones, we’re talking NYU, Stanford – with study programmes in the city. The Pitti Immagine also fares well – not just the well-known Pitti Uomo menswear show, but also Pitti Taste, which is all about fine food and wine, Pitti Fragranze and Pitti Bimbo for childrenswear. They all reflect what is made here, what’s Florentine, and now they attract global audiences.
So Florence is no longer only known as this cradle of art and the Renaissance – a city-museum. Though, for such a small city, the number of truly fine cultural institutions is exceptional. There are, of course, the Uffizi, the Galleria dell’Accademia – the usual stops, which are still all well worth it – but there’s also a new modernity, with places that have been renovated. One that’s a must is the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, which was closed and completely rethought a few years ago, with extraordinary results – not just in the curation, but in all the colours, the backdrops, the way the collections are designed. It’s just beautiful.
Another is the Palazzo Strozzi, off the Via de’ Tornabuoni, where a contemporary art space was created in addition to the main museum. It has succeeded in reviving a part of the city centre that was rather closed and sad, and it’s given life to extraordinary and quite varied exhibitions.
Another thing that’s wonderful is our new opera house, which opened in 2011. The programming is always invigorating and totally world class. The new building has impressive acoustics that the old one was missing.
And then there are the smaller museums, which perhaps don’t have the international profile but are special because they are so specific to Florence. The Museo Stibbert is one. The quality of what it has is exceptional: medieval and Renaissance armour, not just European but Asian and Islamic, as well as historic costumes and impressive portraits. And it’s almost unknown, possibly because it’s a bit outside the centre, near Rifredi. Another place I’m always trying to talk my friends into visiting with me is the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. It is an actual workshop for artisanal stonework of different kinds, like intarsia inlay, that started up centuries ago, and the museum inside is all about the amazing history of this craftsmanship.
Florence’s growing international profile has meant more demand for a better kind of lifestyle hotel, for sure. The Savoy, in the Piazza della Repubblica, has always been a top hotel, and for years now it has been part of Rocco Forte’s collection. I recently collaborated on the renovation of its lobby and restaurant terrace with [Rocco Forte Collection director of design] Olga Polizzi. We at Pucci had never worked in hospitality before, so that was a big one. We printed scarves on glass for tables, we made new prints for cushions and there’s a fantastic Pucci rug in the lobby. It’s all about the pinks and blues and aquas: very happy, uplifting and sophisticated. I’ve always sent people to Irene, the Savoy’s restaurant, even before the renovation. It looks very refined, but is completely welcoming. Chef Fulvio Pierangelini’s food is extremely fresh, quite healthy – which isn’t always so easy to find here – and delicious because his ingredients always speak for themselves.
And then you have to at least see, if not stay at, the Four Seasons, which is in the magnificent Palazzo della Gherardesca, especially for its garden – it’s enormous and lush, one of the biggest in the city, perhaps the biggest, and such a treat to be able to use when you’re in town. All the Lungarno hotels that Leonardo Ferragamo does are good – in particular Hotel Lungarno, which has recently been redone, though still with all its original blues and whites and character intact, and which has a great position in Oltrarno, overlooking the river. And then if you want to be a bit outside the bustle of town, you have Villa Cora, which is a bit of a best-kept secret on a hill just south of the city centre, a lovely and private hotel in a little-known but beautiful part of Florence.
The city has a simple, straightforward cuisine, and we’re lucky to have a few restaurants and trattorias that are like institutions. I always rate Cammillo because it’s cosy and the real deal; the salad with celery, bottarga and egg is sublime. There’s also Coco Lezzone – it, too, is very simple inside, but with excellent food and service. Everyone always talks about the meat here, the bistecca, but for me it’s the vegetables – they are delicious. If someone’s quite traditional, I send them to Cantinetta Antinori, in the Palazzo Antinori, because the setting is so atmospheric, the food is typically Tuscan and the wines are, of course, fantastic. And something I always suggest is to stop in for panini al tartufo at Procacci, on the Via de’ Tornabuoni. They’re tiny brioche finger sandwiches with a delicious truffle paste, and you do this in the afternoon, standing at the counter or sitting at one of the high tables. And for gelato, it has to be Vivoli, which is one of the oldest gelaterias and, I think, the best. If you’re invited to dinner and you want to impress your hosts, bring a semifreddo millefoglie from Vivoli. It’s a delicate pastry cake with gelato inside, and it is to die for. And for something quick but stylish, try the Frescobaldi restaurant on the Piazza della Signoria. It’s classic with a twist – cucina Fiorentina but with a different attitude: fresh and not at all pretentious.
I see Florence becoming more and more of a shopping destination in its own right, but we’ve always had amazing traditions of artisanship. One place that embodies this is the Farmacia Santissima Annunziata. I love everything there, but in particular a fragrance that’s made with Egyptian geranium leaf – it’s delicious and powerful at the same time and I adore it. It also has condensed perfume oils – white flowers, rose – you just put a drop here and there and it gives a room a wonderful smell.
Another very Florentine shop is Loretta Caponi, for clothes and homewares. It does divine place mats and they come in the most amazing colours: softest green, acid yellow, orange, raspberry. I love mixing them when I entertain. And then, of course, you need the beautiful cutlery from Pampaloni, the silversmith – in brushed silver, which is different and so beautiful – not to mention the little silver espresso spoons.
I have a semi-secret jeweller I love, called Matassini. It’s a little store, but the craftsmanship is incredible and it will make you anything you want. And there’s a lovely ready-to-wear selection; if you go and meet the owners and take the time to appreciate, they bring out all these quite beautiful, fine pieces. Another artisan who’s not well known outside Florence, but who does amazing work, is Paola Locchi. She has a workshop where she does glass blowing and restores fine crystal. She will fix very delicate, valuable Murano glass or you can buy the glasses and vases she makes herself.
When you think about it, places like Coco Lezzone and many of our artisans are so successful because they’ve stayed in the same family for ages. That’s very Florentine and we should be proud of that heritage. But I’m also happy to see this new modernity developing and hope it continues; it can only be good for the city.”