FLORENCE is a city designed to be explored on foot, especially since the city administration pedestrianised large parts of the old centre, banishing the buzzing Vespas and tooting vehicles. This makes dawdling around gawping at its Renaissance splendours, amazing architecture – oh, and gorgeous shoe shops – a much safer proposition.
And if footwear is your fetish, you won't put a foot wrong. It's the city where Daniel Day-Lewis signed up as a shoemaker's apprentice before acting claimed him, Hannibal Lecter first dipped his toe into cannibalism and where shoemaker to the stars Salvatore Ferragamo's stunning creations for every star worth her handprint are on display in his museum. Just remember to pack your flip-flops as the cobbles are lethal in heels.
This makes dawdling around gawping at its Renaissance splendours, amazing architecture – oh, and gorgeous shoe shops – a much safer proposition.
And if footwear is your fetish, you won’t put a foot wrong. It’s the city where Daniel Day-Lewis signed up as a shoemaker’s apprentice before acting claimed him, Hannibal Lecter first dipped his toe into cannibalism and where shoemaker to the stars Salvatore Ferragamo’s stunning creations for every star worth her handprint are on display in his museum. Just remember to pack your flip-flops as the cobbles are lethal in heels.
Right next to the Arno River and a short stagger to Ponto Vecchio, the Hotel Continentale, is the catwalk model’s hotel of choice. Part of the Lungarno Collection, its rooftop bar is a favourite location for fashion shoots and this design hotel pays homage to the 1950s when Florence was fashion capital of Italy. Its 43 rooms are visions in white, and the sumptuous bathrooms a treat in a sweltering city. The twin beds pushed together instead of a double in our room wrongfooted us slightly but free admission to the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum more than made up for it.
Continentale Hotel, Vicolo dell’Oro, 6r, 50123 (www.lungarnohotels.com)
BEST SHOE MUSEUM
From his famous cork wedges and raffia sandals to his heels for Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, Salvatore Ferragamo was a legend in shoemaking. There’s a century of shoes on display in the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo and we guarantee you’ll have to be dragged out. Photography is banned, as is licking the displays. Who knew Audrey Hepburn had such big feet? Entry €5, Piazza Santa Trinita 5R (www.museoferragamo.com)
If you’ve any cash left after splashing out on leatherwear, head for Il Santo Bevitore, where the menu is a modern take on Italian fare. Forget pizzas and lasagne, here it’s all rabbit ragu and Eggplant gnocchi with burrata and anchovy sauce. Oh, and one of the waiters used to work in a restaurant in Edinburgh’s Leith Walk, so don’t worry about making yourself understood. We pushed the boat out and spent around E80 but lunches and snacks can be enjoyed for much less.
Il Santo Bevitore, Via di Santo Spirito, 66-red 50125 Florence, Italy
055 211264, www.ilsantobevitore.com
If you’re feeling fit, head across the river Arno from the centre and walk uphill to San Miniato al Monte, the oldest church after the Baptistry and where there’s a convent of Benedictine monks. With them safely tucked up for the night in their cells, the nearby Piazzale Michelangelo is where everyone goes for a fantastic view of the city of Florence and its Duomo, not to mention gazing at the larger than life David replica statue. There are food vendors, street musicians and tourists all enjoying the atmosphere and snapping the classic skyline view as the sun sets. Too lazy to walk? Catch the number 12 or 13 bus from the train station.
For those with steady legs and a head for heights, nothing beats the climb up to the top of Filippo Brunelleschi’s cupola or Duomo, on top of Florence’s Gothic celebration of a cathedral. Winding staircases and a heart-thumping ascent will be forgotten when you emerge at the top and marvel at the views over the red-roofed city. It took two centuries to build, so don’t expect to be up there in less than 20 minutes, plus there may be a queue to shuffle in first, but it’s definitely worth the shoe leather and the Euro 5 entrance price. And on the way up there are fabulous frescoes and graffiti galore to entertain you.
The Duomo, Piazza Duomo, open every day, entry E5, closed January 6, www.duomomilano.it
If you want to leave the Artbar walking in a straight line do not visit during happy hour which runs 8pm to 9pm or sample their four-spirit knock-your-socks-off special or their cocktails brimfull with fruit. Small and rustic, it’s friendly and reasonably priced and they’ll keep you topped up with popcorn at your table too. Salute.
Artbar, Via del Moro, 4 50123 Florence, Monday to Thursday, 6.30pm to 1.30am, Friday and Saturday 6.30pm to 2.30am, closed Sunday
BEST PLACE TO STUDY FEET
IN A city full of museums La Specola, Museum of Zoology and Natural History is might seem an odd choice, but it’s fascinating and not half as busy as the Uffizi. Filled with anatomy waxworks, an art developed in 17th century Florence for study purposes, it also has stuffed animals and insects and the sort of place Hannibal Lecter might have felt right at home. Check out the taxidermy hippo, a pet of the Medicis who lived next door at the Pitti Palace, and which once lived in the Boboli Gardens, giving a pastoral stroll that extra edge.
Museo di Storia Naturale la Specola, Via Romana, 17, 50125 Florence, entry E6, www.msn.unifi.it
BEST WAY TO GET THERE
Catch a Ryanair flight to Pisa and the bus leaves right from the airport, whisking you off to Florence a mere hour’s nap away. However, if you snooze you lose out on the views of the lush, olive-lined Tuscan hills and the chance to plan your itinerary in this shoe-lover’s Shangri-la. One you’re there you can travel under your own steam as Florence really is a city in which to stretch your legs.
Flights Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, from around £250 return, see website for current prices (www.ryanair.com)
Kirker Holidays: A three night package starts from £799 per person and includes return flights from Edinburgh to Pisa with Ryanair, return private car airport transfers, accommodation with breakfast for three nights at Hotel Continentale and timed entrance tickets to the Uffizi gallery. (020 7593 2283), www.kirkerholidays.com