Indagare member Lisa Frelinghuysen recently returned from a family trip to Florence and discusses her favorite works of art and newly discovered restaurants.
We had a wonderful time in Florence and loved staying at the Hotel Lungarno (Borgo San Jacopo, 14; 39 055 27261). The kids loved the hearty breakfast (especially the fresh juices, unlimited croissants and Nutella). The location was perfect, allowing us to have cocktails on the Arno and be a bit removed from the hoards of tourists, and yet right next to the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge is particularly beautiful in the early morning, we found, when the shutters were closed and we could admire the many different iterations of the Florentine fleur-de-lis hinges; the kids delighted in finding their favorites. The views of the sparkling sunset in the evening were incredible, drawing the cheers and applause of onlookers.
We found some great restaurants on our side of the Arno including Osteria Cinghiale Bianco (“Restaurant of the White Boar”) (Borgo San Iacapo, 43; 39 055 215 706), where they cook the real deal. The restaurant was packed but we were given our own little dining room with a vaulted ceiling. Pizzeria Dante (Piazza Nazario Sauro 12r; 39 055 219 2191) had great pizzas, Quattro Leoni (Via de’ Vellutini, 1r; 39 055 218 562) had great interiors.
Seeing San Miniato was a moving way to start our visit, with its beautiful views, stunning and very spiritual interior, and the choir singing mass. We saw the Fra Angelico frescoes at the Convent of San Marco, which I adore; they are quiet, meditative and meaningful. Next, we admired the spectacular Massacio frescoes at the Brancacci, which are full of color and life, outlining the stories of St Peter. Later we made our own frescoes with the sweet English artist Hector at his Via San Spirito studio. He must have been a restoration artist because his knowledge of old techniques was impressive. We each made a fresco using the drawing and layering techniques and painting with earthy pigments, making us feel like we were living the Renaissance (except for the mod and delish gelateria down the block, which won awards for its distinctive favors). Although I was hoping to fill my luggage with new Ferragamo heels, the kids were wild about their frescoes and insisted on bringing home their cement works of art.
We bought timed tickets to see the L’Accademia and the Uffizi, which worked brilliantly. I had debated whether to get a guide for the museums
- I love guides - but felt that seeing the museums on our own was the right call. I’m very comfortable with this period of art, and we had asked each child to research and give us a little report on an artist, which allowed the kids to own and lead the discussions, instead of being lectured to by guide. My ten-year-old Diana’s description of Botticelli’s works still makes me smile.
I had given each of the kids journals before the trip and everywhere we went, we drew, which was a fun way to really appreciate the art (and get the five year old through long dinners). The older children were a tad reluctant in the beginning, but they too plunged into sketching.
Climbing the Duomo early in the morning was surprisingly thrilling. Although I lived in Florence years ago, I don’t think I ever did the climb (I probably thought it was touristy). The kids loved racing up the tiny tunnels of steps, eventually coming upon the spectacular frescoed ceiling, and then after millions of more tiny steps, finally arriving on top of the beautiful red-roofed city. We were surrounded by gorgeous 360-degree views and breezy air.
We went down the stairs and spent some time gazing at the Baptistery doors, and then inside the Baptistery, soaking in the gold, mosaic ceiling with its levels of stories. After being around throngs of tourists outside, we found peace and quiet inspiration in the vaulted interior.
One afternoon was “kids’ choice” and they chose to ride around on those awful segways. Of course we had tons of fun, with my son leading us around the labyrinth of the artists’ district, zipping up and down millions of tiny streets, but I was relieved when we were back on our feet. We had peaches in the Boboli Gardens and checked out the wares at the San Lorenzo market.
Our last evening, I took the family up to Villa Il Salviatino for dinner. The views from Stanford’s old villa, where I had lived, were still stunning and the setting so romantic, but the hotel and restaurant seemed a bit overdone to me.
On our last day, we left Florence and drove down to our friend’s country house by the sea to swim in the Mediterranean and feast with friends in the countryside—a welcome break after days in the city. This felt like authentic Italy, with no tourists. The seaside and countryside, with medieval castles atop hills and fields of sunflowers, were breathtaking.