Florence-based artist and designer, Gigi Ettedgui, shares her insider's guide to the Italian jewel, from unique artistic and architectural experiences to the city's best flea markets, gardens, cafes and cappuccinos.
BY GIGI ETTEDGUI | AUGUST 2023
Florence from the water © Jamie Sharp
Before moving to Florence, I fully expected to be in awe of the city's monumental history and culture, of its art, and its majestic landscape. Machiavelli, Masaccio, Michelangelo and San Miniato; it's all right at your fingertips.
What I was not expecting: for this Renaissance energy to feel so present, its backstreets filled with artisans at their work tables in their botteghe - carving, sculpting, stitching, painting, gilding and chiselling; to drink coffee with a view of Brunelleschi’s unfinished facade in Santo Spirito; eat dinner at the precious Pampaloni silver factory among their treasures; taste the award-winning vin santo at Castello Sonnino; learn life drawing in a true atelier; or share gossip and delicious plates of pasta in the magical and family atmosphere of Trattoria Cammillo.
The exceptional craftsmanship, talent and kindness of the Florentines, and the beauty and charm of this Renaissance jewel make Florence the perfect destination for a weekend break - or, if you are lucky, much longer.
Where to Stay
Ad Astra: Nestled in the Torrigiani Gardens, this beautiful hotel feels like you have your own secret garden. A perfect refuge two minutes away from the heart of Florence’s Rive Gauche, Santo Spirito, with all its artisans' ateliers, antique shops, and trattorias.
Casa G: If you are more of an urban soul, you'll likely find Casa G your perfect home away from home. With its beautiful modern-yet-classical interiors, this palazzo turned boutique hotel is in the heart of Florence’s Rive Droite (Right Bank) via Tornabuoni.
Villa San Michele: A beautiful grand dame hotel with elegant terraced gardens and spectacular views. With all the flourishes one would expect from a Belmond hotel, this is the place to stay when you want to push the boat out or celebrate a special occasion.
What to See & Do
Charles Cecil Studios: The Charles Cecil Studios train artists in figurative drawing and painting, and portraiture, using the Sight-Size technique. Entering the studios is like stepping back in time: soft grey walls, the sound of footsteps running back and forth, the smell of turpentine, palettes covered in paint, and light falling through high windows; the perfect balance of stillness and motion. This unique teaching studio has produced some world-class artists. We work only by natural light and the atelier shares its premises with one of the oldest sculpture studios in Florence, Romanelli.
San Miniato al Monte: Overlooking all of Florence from one of the highest points in the city, San Miniato al Monte has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world to reflect, be silent, and feel closer to God, nature, humanity. Go to catch the sun setting over this beautiful city while listening to the Olivetans’ Gregorian chants.
Florence architectural details © Mark Luscombe-Whyte
Cappella Brancacci: Do not miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to climb the temporary scaffolding surrounding the chapel, Cappella Brancacci, and look at Masaccio's work face to face. Monumental. Modern. Masaccio. Expulsion from the Garden of Eden; The Tribute Money; if you only have time to see one fresco in Florence, this is it. It’s the beginning of man, of the Renaissance, and of modern art.
Basilica di Santo Spirito: With its breathtaking facade by Brunelleschi, this basilica is as beautiful inside and out with an exquisite wooden crucifix carved by an 18-year-old Michelangelo. The cafe opposite, Cafe Ricchi does the best cappuccinos in Florence.
Betty Soldi’s studio: Betty Soldi’s studio is housed in a limonaia overlooking the Boboli gardens. Beauty flows from her pen and magic from her smile; Soldi’s calligraphy is exquisite and she collaborates with the likes of Santa Maria Novella and Gucci.
Palazzo Bianca Cappello: While browsing fine antiques on Via Maggio, look out for the exquisite facade of Palazzo Bianca Cappello. Commissioned by Francesco de Medici for his lover (and then wife), Bianca Cappello, its carvings depict the lovers' journey through symbolic allegories, while the palazzo had a tunnel leading directly to the Pitti for their secret meetings. One of the most romantic gestures of all time.
Where to Eat
Cammillo: Cammillo is my home away from home, and most Florentines'. It is family run, with fabulous food and incredible energy. It’s how you imagine Italian restaurants and Italians should always be. It’s a series of small dining rooms, pristine white table cloths, olive oil so green, and superb waiters who immediately make you feel like an habitué even if it’s your first time. At the back of the first room is the family table, where you eat almost in the kitchen. An unforgettable experience.
Trattoria Sostanza: One of the oldest restaurants in Florence, Trattoria Sostanza is full of delicious chaos, terrazzo floors, and walls covered in family and clients’ photographs, drawings and memories. Its unmissable dishes include the tortino al carciofi and petto di pollo al burro - a majestic experience. This sort of culinary dynamite comes in small packages so make sure to book far in advance.
Street scenes, Florence © Mark Luscombe-Whyte
Trattoria Sabatino: Family-run and a Florentine treasure, enjoy the perfect bowl of pasta for under five euros, served on jade-colored gingham tablecloths. Communal tables and chaotic, but convivial, hospitality; I have lunch here everyday as it's next to the studio.
Regina Bistecca: Save some space for delicious martinis and the best hamburgers at Regina Bistecca. This charming spot is opposite the Duomo, and many believe its interior architecture is by Michelangelo. This former bookshop was the literary and artistic epicentre of turn-of-the-century Florence.
Castello Sonnino: A half-hour drive outside of Florence, the de Renzis’ Castello Sonnino is unmissable. Its traditional vinsantaia is one of the most beautiful spaces in Italy, and the wine is sensational. My favorites are their Vinsanto and their 100% Sangiovese Cantinino. The castello is a place of rare beauty; an exquisite family home that encapsulates the spirit of Florence: beauty, family, heritage and skill.
Where to Shop
Pampaloni: Beautiful silverware, crafted in Florence and family-run since 1902. Pampaloni has made silverware for the Vatican, Gio Ponti and Elsa Peretti.
Principe di Firenze: The best, most elegant, pyjamas of all time. When I think of chic Italian men, Principe di Firenze is the place that immediately springs to mind.
Santa Maria Novella: A completely unique shopping experience, Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella has been crafting fragrances and herbal remedies since 1221. Its historic store, right by Basilica Santa Maria Novella, is the oldest pharmacy in the world and worth a visit for the architecture and interiors alone.
Fleamarkets, Fine Art, Antiques: Florentine fleamarkets are a treasure trove. My favorite is Piazza della Indipendenza, on the third weekend of each month. I also love the Santo Spirito flea market, which falls every second Sunday of the month.
For fine art and antiques, be sure to wander along Via Maggio and discover its beautiful facades, courtyards, art galleries and antique stores. Some of my favorite shops are Tornabuoni and Traslucido.
Views of Florence from Villa San Michele © Mark Luscombe-Whyte
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Gigi Ettedgui is a London-born Florence-based artist and designer. Follow Gigi on Instagram: @gigi_schizzi
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Mark Luscombe-Whyte is a British interiors photographer and a regular contributor to Cabana Magazine. Follow Mark on Instagram: @markluscombewhyte
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Jamie Sharp is Cabana's Social Media Editor. Follow Jamie on Instagram: @jamiesharp