My first ever trip to Italy opened me up to so many new and stimulating occasions. Historically it has so many eye-catching edifices and monuments that not only are visually outstanding but the tale connected to many will have you emotionally absorbed as well.
Being a self-confessed gourmand, I was not only spoilt when it came to the number of delightful offerings available but also intrigued by the nuances that were evident between the different regions and cities. The variations were sometimes slight, but to the locals in whatever the province, their way was the only way. Italians pride themselves on it, and I love that passion!
Florence is no different, and the locals here are fiercely proud of their home and its strong connection to the produce they cultivate and the delights that are created and shared with families, friends and most certainly the tourist who flock to savour said delicacies.
Trying to find the best Osteria or Ristorante to sample some of the culinary offerings available can often be a hit and miss affair. Trip Advisor and similar sites can be helpful but still its only opinion and not gospel.
I found a fascinating, fun way to sample some of the flavours of Florence with a mob called Eating Italy www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com This type of tour hasn't always appealed to me as I am one of those guys who think he will always make the best choices. When I manage to rise above my ego I realise that's not always the case!
So, on further investigation and a chat with Eating Europe PR Manager Wibke Carter I was more than convinced to join ever-impassioned guide Francesco and a small group of like-minded foodie fanatics on a sunset tour of epicurean proportions. The tour consisted of six stops of varying tastings within a couple of square kilometres. An easy pace ensued so you don't have to be superfit to indulge.
I loved the mix on offer and it was a lot like a travelling degustation tour. Truffle Cheese and Finocchiona salami at our first stop, where owners Marzio and Katiuscia showed a real delight in welcoming us into their family-run Alimentari (grocery store) which are deliciously different to ours here in Australia.
An apertivo was next with a father-daughter duo; this was bar meets tobacco store - yeah I know right? They still love a ciggy in Europe! Still, it wasn't a smoked filled affair at all, just a funky little bar where we were given the secrets of preparing the perfect Negroni. The first taste was a little confronting but after that its all systems go and I have continued to hone my aperitive skills here at home. A couple more entertaining and tasty treats before I got to rip into what I knew was going to be a personal highlight for me.
The king of Florentine cuisine, Bistecca all Florentina at I'Raddi - a hidden away Trattoria owned by a local sporting star and where I was delivered my own hero: the perfectly cooked aged steak with cannellini beans. Our ever-bonding group regaled in the 2kg hunk of goodness cooked to perfection. We were all in raptures as we devoured the delicacy, while the kitchen staff delighted in being a part of the action and engaged in the way an Italian chef loves to. The end result was a resounding successful adventure, a few kilometeres walked, lots of laughs had and some amazing tastings. I would definitely get on board with Eating Europe again.
Must dos in Florence:
- Hire one of the locally accessible bikes and ride along the banks of the Arno River. You can enjoy the historic beauty and immerse yourself in the romance of it all as well.
- Take a tour to the top of The Duomo Florence. This is a terrific way to get the best view over the whole city, but the journey to the top will have you mesmerized by the architecture and the artistry along the way. If you have an issue with enclosed spaces or heights, this one's not for you.
- Grab a Gelato from La Carraia and take a stroll through the Giardino de Boboli, a marvellous garden space littered with delightful sculptures from the 16th through the 18th centuries. The perfect spot to take a breath and marvel at where you are.
Where to stay:
Hotel Mercure Firenze Centro is situated in close to the perfect location for those wanting easy access to all that Florence is famous for and has all the customary features of an Accor hotel. Just minutes from the cities central train station, Santa Maria Novella and walking distance to many of the cities museums, galleries and what seems a never-ending supply of delightful Osteria's and Ristorantes, you will find it hard to beat. The hotel itself has an exterior that conceals the comfort and style that awaits you once inside. Surprisingly spacious rooms with large comfortable beds, air conditioning, and the obliquity free WIFI. Afternoon or evening Negronis or an Aperol Spritz at the hotel's bar are a must. It seemed to be the spot to exchange the day's tales with others with the wanderlust.
www.mercure.com will get you a good price, and even better if you are an Accor plus member.
Getting there: I've said it before and I will say it again. Cathay Pacific always deliver for me and I have never had to use the 3 strikes and you're on my poop list with them. They are just a classy outfit right across the board and their flights to Europe, Italy and beyond for me are perfect. I am always happy to split the trip with a stopover in their hub in Hong Kong. Cathay has numerous flights to Rome and Milan weekly, so visit www.cathaypacific.com for the latest specials deals and times.
- Scott McRae is The Travelling Guy. For more travel goodness, visit www.thetravellingguy.com or follow @scottythetravellingguy on Instagram and Facebook