A long weekend in Florence with Massimiliano Giornetti

The creative director of Salvatore Ferragamo guides Avril Groom from serene chapels to buzzy trattorias on a tour of his adopted city. Portrait by Fabio Massimo Aceto

Massimiliano Giornetti at interiors shop Flair
Massimiliano Giornetti at interiors shop Flair | Image: Fabio Massimo Aceto

Icome from Carrara, but Florence [where the Salvatore Ferragamo HQ is located] is the perfect city for me to live in. I thought I would have to go overseas to study design in New York or London – places that I love – but then I found a course in Florence with links to both those cities, which allowed me to stay in Italy but do terms abroad. Going to other countries was very good for my creativity; I developed a sense of the contrasts that make fashion interesting. But my womenswear is also always inspired by the colours and ambience of Tuscany, and I am still in love with Florence.

The Royal Suite at the Four Seasons Hotel
The Royal Suite at the Four Seasons Hotel | Image: Barbara Kraft

It is a small and bourgeois city, but because of its pre-eminence in art and culture it is sophisticated, too. I am inspired by people and find watching locals and visitors quite fascinating. I also appreciate its craft heritage – it still has experts in traditional skills producing wonderful work. It can be hard to escape the crowds, but I live on the left bank of the Arno, in a quiet area.

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The best method of getting around Florence is to walk – that way you can be surprised by a little unsung architectural gem or a tableau of local life. We have more pedestrianised areas since Matteo Renzi, our young mayor, took over in 2009 – he is keen to make the city easier for walkers.

Sky Lounge Bar at Hotel Continentale
Sky Lounge Bar at Hotel Continentale | Image: Mauro Galligani

It is best to stay somewhere central. One of my favourite places is the Lungarno Suites, which is part of the Ferragamo family’s Florence hotel portfolio. The rooms overlook the river, so seem quiet and airy even in summer, and you are self-contained, so it’s like being in a beautifully appointed, modern home. The Four Seasons is also central, with a lovely garden and pool – part of it is a 16th-century convent, which took years to restore. And it has a superb spa where you can unwind after a hard day’s culture.

Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine
Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine | Image: Cozzi Guido/4Corners/4Corners Images

If you prefer a small, boutique hotel, JK Place has 20 rooms, all different and designed by local architect Michele Bonan. I’d describe it as modern Italian-fusion style, and right outside is all the beauty of the Piazza Santa Maria Novella and its church, which has breathtaking works of art – Brunelleschi’s Crucifix and the Strozzi family chapel designed by Filippino Lippi.

The interior of Loretta Caponi
The interior of Loretta Caponi

Every visitor to Florence has the Uffizi and the Accademia on their to-do list – although the summer crowds mean it is much better to visit them out of season, even if you pre-book. But there are many other, less well-known sights that can be equally rewarding. Two of my favourites are the peaceful Cappella Brancacci in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, which, like so many Florentine masterpieces, was built for a local family and has wonderful works by Masaccio and Masolino and recently restored Renaissance frescoes, and the tiny Cappella dei Magi in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. Completed in 1461, it houses richly coloured and detailed works by Florentine artist Benozzo Gozzoli. It is a design tour de force with a mosaic floor, gilded ceiling and carved and inlaid wooden seats.

Rural Siena district
Rural Siena district | Image: © Stefano Amantini/SIME/4Corners Images

In spring there is nowhere better to wander than the Giardino dell’Iris, on a hill above the Piazzale Michelangelo, which has many varieties of iris, the city’s floral symbol. But it is only open during the flowering weeks in April and May. Come the evening, if it is the music season, you must visit the new Opera House, or the old Teatro Comunale. Music is the centre of cultural life in Florence and is of a very high standard; Riccardo Muti started out here as chief conductor of the Maggio Musicale festival – in May and June – and now the role is filled by Zubin Mehta, so the event attracts excellent singers.

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Florence is still a wonderful place to browse for top-quality handicrafts. I love fine embroidery and for me Loretta Caponi is the best. She uses all the ancient techniques and has passed them on to her daughter. She does wonderful bespoke work, from lingerie for Hollywood stars to table linen for local families who have been going to her for years – the linen is my favourite.

My family are goldsmiths so I really appreciate fine jewellery work. I particularly like Alessandro Dari’s shop, which is very atmospheric, full of gothic crowns, towers and crosses, with Alessandro himself often playing his classical guitar. He seems to have reinvented medieval jewellery. I also love Studio Puck, with its imaginative collages of antique prints, framed in extraordinary ways. Its newest design is an interpretation of the city skyline on a square lamp.

An old craft in such a fertile, flower-growing region is perfume-making. I think the best perfumer is Lorenzo Villoresi, who is self-taught and has broken with tradition by using the spices and scents he discovered on his travels – Japanese incense and South American yerba mate, for example – to create something new, but presented in sealed jars like those of a Renaissance merchant. We also have the original Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella store; although the herbalist and apothecary is now a global brand, its original cloistered premises are lovely and still smell of herbs. And if you like collecting period interiors pieces, Flair is great, with lots of art-deco and 1940s items, while I am very attracted to its own designs in stingray or parchment. The taste level is exquisite.

All that retail therapy a piedi makes you hungry – never a problem in Florence, although many of the places I go to are off the tourist track. I love Tuscan food, sometimes with a modern slant. One of my favourite lunch spots is very near where I live: Il Santo Bevitore. It’s easy-going and buzzy with the many young creatives who work in the area. Otherwise, try Osteria delle Tre Panche, which is family run, tiny and democratic ¬ with three long communal tables – and specialises in truffles. Its homemade pasta with local cheese and white truffle is sublime. For the ingredients of an alfresco picnic go to Procacci, a historic deli, all dark wood and marble, and buy traditional dishes. It’s the only good food shop in a sea of designer brands on the Via Tornabuoni.

For dinner, my absolute favourite is Ristorante Cibrèo, where chef Fabio Picchi has reinvented basic, rustic ingredients to make stunning modern food. Traditional soups, larded liver or stuffed chicken neck are much more exciting than they sound. There is also a less formal place with the same quality food. Trattoria Sostanza is a 19th-century restaurant with white tiles, 1950s photographs, a traditional atmosphere and wonderful butter chicken. Its attitudes are traditional, too – no credit cards allowed.

Florence is not a trendy, clubbing city, but there are a few great bars for watching the evening passeggiata, or for a nightcap. Piazza del Carmine has long been the place to meet and Dolce Vita is the bar, full of the younger generation and bons vivants until the early hours. For a last drink, I take people to the Sky Lounge Bar in the Hotel Continentale – you have the city at your feet and the lights are magical.

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