A Weekend in
Words by Gigi Ettedgui
Images from Mark Luscombe-Whyte and Jamie Sharp
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.
Before moving to Florence, I expected to be in awe of the city's monumental history, its art, its majestic landscape. Machiavelli, Masaccio, Michelangelo and San Miniato at your fingertips.
But 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 amongst 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 craftsmanship, talent and kindness of the Florentines, and the beauty and charm of this Renaissance jewel make it a perfect destination for a weekend, or, if you are lucky, longer.
Where to Stay
What to See & Do
I am lucky to live just in front of Villa Bardini; it’s my escape when I am craving a little nature and a sensational view of the city. I cut up through the Bardini gardens and descend through Boboli, ending at the Pitti Palace. I normally can’t resist popping in to have a look at the collection of paintings, from Titian, to Ribera to Carracci.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Where to Eat & Drink
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.
Eat: 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.
Eat: Trattoria Sabatino
Family run and a Florentine treasure, enjoy the perfect bowl of pasta for under five euro, served on jade colour gingham tablecloths. Communal tables and chaotic hospitality. I have lunch here everyday as it's next to the studio.
Eat: Regina Bistecca
Save some space for delicious martinis and the best hamburgers. Opposite the Duomo…and many believe its interior architecture is Michelangelo. This former bookshop was the literary and artistic epicentre of turn of the century Florence.
Drink: Harry’s Bar
Founded in the early 1950s by Arrigo Cipriani’s best friend, who wanted to recreate the iconic Venetian bar for a Florentine clientele, Harry's Bar serves delicious Martinis and Bellinis (from my favourite barman, Lapo). And not to mention the iconic shade of pink table linens; what blue is to Kaspia and green to Flore.
Do not Miss: 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
Beautiful silverware, crafted in Florence and family run since 1902. Pampaloni has made silverware for the Vatican, Gio Ponti and Elsa Peretti, among others.
The best pyjamas of all time. When I think of chic Italian men, Principe di Firenze is the place that immediately springs to mind.
The most exquisite handmade books, marbled paper and stationery.
A unique shopping experience: Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella has been crafting fragrances and herbal remedies since 1221, and its historic store, by Basilica Santa Maria Novella, is the oldest pharmacy in the world.
See below for flea markets, antiques and vintage.
Antiques & Vintage