This year we took the most amazing trip I have ever been on to experience Italy. No, we did not take the Staten Island Ferry to experience some red sauce among the locals, instead we spent a week in Florence and Tuscany. Since we left I think about quitting my job in finance, and becoming a wine taster or the guy who drives a tractor in the vineyards, but then again the buy-side is an amazing place to be.
We started our Honeymoon in the Italian Riviera (review coming soon), and now were in one of my favorite European cities. I went once years ago, and have been wanting to bring Nicole with me for years so we figured it would be a great place to spend some time during our honeymoon.
Below you will find a complete guide to the city of Florence, which I highly suggest you follow my exact itinerary in order to have the best trip of your life.
Where to Stay: Grand Hotel Minerva
The hotel is a four-star hotel which is located in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, a few hundred feet from the main Florence Train Station. We were greeted by the nicest concierge who seemed a bit nervous to tell us that our hotel room was not ready, however this came with a bit of good news. The hotel upgraded us to their ‘favorite room in the entire hotel’, and they wanted to ensure everything was up to their standards. The hotel is currently revamping their property, and the hard work of their team is really showing. They expect the work to be completed by March 2016, however while we were there you would never guess they were doing any work. Never were we interrupted by the sound of construction, or the look of a work zone. While we waited for our room, we went up to the roof of the hotel to find their rooftop bar and pool (the first part of their re-model.) This was an amazing feature, the pool overlooks the city of Florence with The Duomo sitting front and center. Pretty awesome view while eating pizza and drinking a Peroni. The view was so unreal, we decided to take advantage of the poolside lounge chairs and relax.
Once our room was ready we were escorted by Andrea, their Director of Marketing and Sales. He was extremely nice and was able to provide all sorts of recommendations for attractions, restaurants, and the area. Both he and is staff were a pleasure to work with. They informed us our room was called the ‘The Romantic Room’ (room 402), which was beautiful and massive. The windows and shutters opened up to the square with views of Santa Maria Novella, The Duomo, and the terra-cotta roofs you could see for miles. The room featured a four posted bed, walk in closet, gigantic bathroom which was as large as many hotel rooms throughout Italy. The bathroom was fully mirrored with a chromotheraphic glass shower, stand alone tub, and his and her sinks.
This hotel was truly a perfect place to stay, not only due to the beautiful room and hotel, but also the location. Piazza Santa Maria Novella is removed from the hustle and bustle of the Duomo area, however we were only a five to ten minute walk to all of Florence. We highly recommend this hotel, and believe this is the best place to stay while visiting one of my favorite cities. We cannot wait to go back once the renovations are complete.
What to Do: Sightseeing and Tours
Prior to our trip, we were in contact with Walkabout Florence and working with them made it clear why they are the number one sightseeing guide in the city. We booked two trips with them, but when we go back I look forward to doing more with them. The two trips we did were some of our favorite experiences of the trip, and highly recommend them to everyone.
Florence Food Tour and Cooking Class (Walkabout Florence)
We decided to take a cooking class while we were in Florence through Walkabout Florence. We had to meet at their offices which was a little difficult to find, but once we got there we were greeted by Molly and Gloria. We were a group of 24, but separated into 2 groups of 12 to tour the city and pick up our ingredients. For the first 2 hours of the tour we walked around Florence learning about its history, stopping places to get fresh ingredients to cook with, and of course a coffee break (an Italian must!) We picked up fresh tomatoes, pork, Tuscan bread, ground beef, and cheeses. Once we picked up all of these ingredients we hopped on a private bus to head a villa in Tuscany to cook our meal.
It was about a 20 minute drive and a little bit of a hike to get there, but when you finally get there it is unbelievable. The villa overlooks all of Florence and has the most spectacular state-of-the art but still with a Tuscan charm kitchen. There were 3 islands to prep on, and another island with an oven with openings on both sides of the island, stove on top, and a bread toasting station.
We were warned by Molly and Gloria (the most amazing tour guides) that the chef did not speak any English, but they would translate for us. And also, her favorite thing to do is sing while cooking. Chef Carmella was the coolest, most passionate chef that it didn’t even matter that no English was spoken.
Carmella, Molly, Gloria, and all of the extra hands on deck made this one of the most unforgettable experiences in Italy. They truly make you feel as if you are at home (that is if you live in a gorgeous Tuscan Villa.) You couldn’t ask for anything more, best service, best view, so much fun, amazing food, and the best part no cleaning. After dinner we hopped right on the bus and headed back to Florence. Once we left they gave us the recipes to the fresh pasta, bruschetta, pizza, roast pork, and tiramisu so we can make them once we got back home. This tour was probably my favorite experience in Italy.
Chianti Wine and Food Safari (Walkabout Florence)
The second trip we booked through Walkabout Florence was the Chianti Wine and Food Safari (Walkabout Florence) which departed at 9:00 in the morning, and didn’t return until around 7:00 that night. This full-day tour took us into the Chianti Classico region where we visited multiple wineries, stopped in the two of Greve and ate lunch at a remote restaurant in the hills of Tuscany. The restaurant, La Cantinetta di Rignana, (one of George Clooney’s favorites) had panoramic views of vineyards and villas and delicious food coming out of their large brick oven. This definitely a place everyone should pop into when they are in the region. Another highlight was stoping at Fattoria di Cinciano. We had a wine tasting here, and were able to explore the property. Before we left we purchased two of their bottles to bring back to NY, both of which were great: Cinciano Chianti Classico and Cinciano Pietra Forte. Great way to see Tuscany, and this tour should be booked by everyone who visits Florence. If you have a chance request Alex as a tour guide, definitely made the day a lot more funny and interesting.
Food and Nude Tour (Florence for Foodies)
The last tour we booked was through Florence for Foodies, which was another amazing group. The tour we chose was their ‘Food & Nude’ tour, which was a great way to spend the day. Never thought I would enjoy seeing The Statue of David as much as I did. Our guide, Mimi was so passionate about teaching us the history of the museum. She wasn’t just spitting out information she was teaching us the history and how to read the paintings and sculptures. We happened to be the only 2 to attend this part of the tour so we had a personal experience.
After the museum we went to meet the rest of the group to start the food tour (the part we were most excited for.) We first went to a little coffee and pastry shop where we had coffee and rice pastries. Mimi was explaining how the Italians drink their coffee, what they order, and times to drink it. While sitting there Mimi thought it would be fun to give us all Italian names. After this she would randomly call us by our Italian names throughout the day.
From here we went to the central market. Downstairs were stands with fresh fish, cheese, meat, produce, and pasta. Upstairs was more of a Smorgasburg feel with all food vendors where you can order a meal. We went to Nerbone which is one of the oldest stands at the market and famous for their bolito. This is a boiled beef sandwich served with salsa verde and salsa piccanted (a spicy cayenne sauce.) It was so good I would have been satisfied and felt I got my moneys worth if the tour ended here. Plus we had it with a glass of their house red wine.
After eating so much so early we took a break by walking around the market and learning about all the different stands, best cuts of meat and what they are used for. We definitely needed time to digest.
We then went to Conti Stefano which is an awesome store with tons of different olive oils, balsamic vinegars, sauces, jellies, and home décor (the wifes favorite part.) We were greeted by Yvonne, the owner Stefanos wife. She took us downstairs to a tasting room where we tried dozens of olive oils, vinegars, and appetizers. She was so knowledgeable and passionate about every product, knowing exactly where it came from, its best features, and what to pair it with.
We then went to a local wine shop where just the locals go and learn about the Tuscan wines and their origins. We started with champagne and followed with several wines. After we were all pretty toasted the owner took out the grappa, but told us we needed the full experience. He sprayed it all over our hands, face, around our heads than into our mouths. As gross as it tasted, we were all hysterical and pretty much felt like family by this point.
It was already late at this point and we surely thought the tour had to be over, but Mimi insisted not without dessert. We visited Florence’s oldest and best gelato shops, where we had gelato, sorbetto and semi-freddi. All three huge samples were delicious and we were stuffed. The tour was finally over, but no one wanted to leave we all had such a great time together. Definitely worth booking a tour.
For where to eat in Florence, check out our article Where to Eat in Florence (coming soon.)