From Piazza dei Ciompi in part 1, let’s return to our starting point: Piazza d’Azeglio. Two blocks from this elegant square is one of the city’s most prized and immaculately maintained private gardens: Giardino di Palazzo Capponi. It is otherwise closed to the public, but those lucky enough to take a peak inside will find an exquisite, symmetrical green space dating back to 1740. A circular center fountain receives water from the nearby Orto Botanico, and one side is bordered by an exquisite rocaille-decorated aviary with stone statues adorning its roof line. It is important to have real estate goals in life, and this Palazzo is mine.
Do not fret if you cannot peak inside; another nearby garden lining Via Della Colonna is open to visitors on Saturday mornings. Purchase a ticket to the Museo Archeologico and take a stroll through the meticulously maintained flower beds and white pebbles of one of Firenze’s most beloved giardini. If I am heading west, I always try to walk along Via Della Colonna so that I can admire the roses lining the iron fence. The wide, straight streets of this northern neighborhood are reputable, prestigious addresses in the center. Keep an eye out for an open gate or two; behind these oversized entrances are enchanting interior courtyards and private gardens. Indeed ‘Hidden Florence’ is a tangible thing, made easier with a few local friends and a sense of ‘sveglia.’
A five to ten minute stroll from Piazza d’Azeglio can also lead to one of the city’s most visited churches: Santa Croce. How often do the Florentines visit? I cannot say for sure, however, if you can catch an off-time, the astounding church and accompanying cloisters are a potentially serene locale for a book and a catch-up with a friend.
Head farther north, cross the Viale, and extend yourself into a strictly ‘locals only’ neighborhood, equally as civilized and quaint. Surely you have heard of Osteria delle Tre Panche from a Fiorentini or two, or perhaps you have read about it in a magazine article. Next door, Sfoglia d’Autore is a prime example of community, buon cibo, and a genuine family-run business. Laura helms from Emilia Romagna, and with her kind-hearted husband and exceptionally talented daughter, the family sells Firenze’s best fresh pasta. You would have to go to Bologna or Parma to find passatelli of this level, and her ravioli al limone, gnudi ricotta e spinaci, and cappellacci mortadella e pistacchi are just a few examples of the family’s specialties. Her prepared items are equally delectable, and I obligingly walk an extra 15 minutes to take away the simplest of foods: her ceci, Sicilian caponata, zuppa di farro, spinaci, and other recipes far outpace the quality of other gastronomie.
Not far from Laura is one of the most unassuming and casual caffes where you can enjoy a simple, flavorful, and economically fantastic meal. Surely you would walk straight by Caffe Piacere if you didn’t know any better. Walking back to the center from Fissile, I spotted pesto di rucola on the menu. Trofie with orange and lemon rind and divine olive oil was spring on a plate for no more than 4 euro.
So now you are wondering where to rest your head in this northern neighborhood. The Four Seasons Firenze is a classic, certamente. Its private Giardino della Gherardesca is one of the biggest and most serene in the city center; from here you can watch the sunset over the Duomo. For an intimate guesthouse in an historic palazzo run by a lovely family, opt for 1865 Residenza d’Epoca. Cinzia, an opera singer, and her Belgium-born husband Michele, have created a truly unique guesthouse half a block from Piazza d’Azeglio. It has been completely renovated with thick walls, tall ceilings, and restored frescoes. Each suite is named after a historically significant author who lived in Florence at the time when the city was the capital of Italy. Perch yourself at the window in the Jessie White Mario room, overlooking a private interior courtyard, and imagine contemplating Mazzini’s biography as Jessie did. In fact, the original biography can be found on the shelf, falling apart at the seams but there for you to admire.
For a Goldilox ‘just right’ size, check in to Hotel Regency Firenze overlooking Piazza d’Azeglio. Each of the 32 rooms is generously sized, and with a private courtyard, breakfast or aperitivi is a relaxing and romantic occasion surrounded by lemon trees. The staff are a warm and welcoming bunch, each with a sense of humor that will surely set you at ease throughout your sojourn.
End your day where you began, in Piazza d’Azeglio, where the families are out watching their dogs and children run circles round each other, laughing and recounting the day. I promise you won’t find a tourist in sight.