Bespoke tailors, perfect panini, and Tuscan gardens
"A good hotel is about soul," says Ori Kafri, general manager of J.K. Place, Florence's ultrasophisticated new hotel. The J.K.'s 20 rooms—no two alike and all done in a mix of '50s lamps, Neoclassical busts, and Art Deco ottomans—add up to something like a private home (with a perfectly discreet staff). The location on the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, a gathering place for vagrants, is less than ideal, and the breakfast room's communal dining may be too homey for some. But nearly every guest returns to sample another room, especially numbers 6 and 12, both with views of the church of Santa Maria Novella's glorious candy-striped facade. Rates, $380-$890. At 7 Piazza Santa Maria Novella; 39-055/264-5181; www.jkplace.com.
Fashionable fellows on the inside track—from London to Hollywood—know that Florence's bespoke tailors and cobblers are some of the most skilled in the country.
Sting regularly orders suits from brothers Piero and Franco Cisternino, who ply their yards of Ermenegildo Zegna cashmeres and English worsteds in a dusty atelier at 22R Via del Pugatorio ($ for appointments, call 39-055/280-118). A suit costs from $1,850 to $3,680 and usually takes 20 days to construct.
Master tailor Simone Abbarchi makes only 3,000 shirts a year, using exclusively Italian cotton, linen, and silk. After a 30-minute consultation at his studio (16 Borgo Santissimi Apostoli; 39- 055/210-552), clients order from seasonal fabric look-books ($96-$156 a shirt).
Oltrarno shoemakers Stefano Bemer and Roberto Ugolini are two of the best custom craftsmen in town. Neither man's shop has the studded-leather banquettes of Bonora, Florence's best-known cobbler, but their heavy handmade shoes are works of art. At Bemer (143R Borgo San Frediano; 39-055/222-558), the designs range from classic oxfords to slick, casual loafers (from $1,900). Ugolini's workshop (17R Via Michelozzi; 39-055/216-246) turns out mostly traditional wingtips and monk straps ($450-$1,000). Orders from both cobblers take about four months.
When a Smart Car Won't Do
For those who'd prefer to bomb around the Tuscan countryside in a vintage Triumph, Bellini Travel has a fleet of beautifully restored and perfectly maintained classic cars, mostly two-seaters from the sixties and seventies. There's also a VW Beetle, a Morgan, a Porsche 911S Targa, and one of Bellini's most popular cars, a divine little red Alfa Romeo Duetto (the kind Dustin Hoffman drove in The Graduate). Each car comes with a leather-bound log book highlighting interesting routes—via little-known back roads—and good places to eat and shop. With an office in Siena, the company can deliver a car to any part of Tuscany and Umbria, including the airports. Rates, $365-$1,200 for a long weekend; 44-207/437-8918; .
Tradition with a Twist
The menu at Andrea Angelini's elegantly rustic trattoria Simon Boccanegra is rooted in local culinary conventions, but it still manages to surprise with a menu of delightfully tweaked classics. Chef Alessandro Conficconi sprinkles sesame seeds over seared tuna and serves it with hot green radish; he dresses pappardelle with a rich quail-and-green-onion sauce and serves rack of lamb on a sweet-and-sour confit of red radicchio and asparagus. Our favorite? Orange-scented ricotta dumplings dunked into green bean soup. Dinner, $120. At 124R Via Ghibellina; 39-055/200-1098.
The light-flooded penthouse (number 701) at the Continentale is up a private staircase in a 13th-century tower. From the room, the view is of the bustling Ponte Vecchio; the terrace looks toward the Duomo. The big four-poster bed sits below a mezzanine-style bathroom that has a white stone bath on the balcony. Daringly cool but utterly private. Rate, $1,300. At 6R Vicolo dell'Oro; 39-055/2726-4000; .
How to See the Palio
The fantastically chaotic horse race that happens in Siena twice a summer sweeps up the whole city—and plenty of tourists—in an intoxicating wave of excitement. Which is precisely why attending the Palio and the parties that precede it requires a smart guide. Siena native Rita Ceccarelli ($ 39-057/727-1688; www.ritaceccarelli.it) is profoundly knowledgeable about the city and all things to do with the Palio. With advance notice, she can arrange tickets to prerace dinners and reserve a palchi, one of the much sought-after ground-level seats ($245-$430). Better yet, she can rent you an apartment overlooking the plaza where the race is run ($370).
Traveling with Children?
Book a one-bedroom apartment at the Lungarno Suites. It has a small kitchen and a living room with a sofa that turns into a very comfortable bed. Breakfast is delivered to the room, and the rates—$515 to $700—are good for the square footage. At 4 Lungarno Acciaiuoli; 39-055/2726-4000; www.lungarnohotels.com.
Studies in Leather
Scuola del Cuoio, in the former monastery of Santa Croce, is where the Queen of England gets picture frames and Madeleine Albright buys bags. But not to worry: This workshop does accessories that aren't so staid. Make an appointment with Laura Gori (whose family founded the company) for a custom-made bag in lamb, calf, crocodile, ostrich, or deer, in colors from pink to black. $480-$4,800. At 5R Via San Giuseppe; 39-055/244-533.
Rooms with a Few Views
Of the Ferragamo family's hotels in Florence, the Hotel Lungarno is the most stylish—if for the location alone. Right on the Arno, it has views that would make E. M. Forster rejoice. (Staying in room 216, a duplex done in nautical blues and creams, with cedar balconies overlooking the Ponte Vecchio, is like being on a boat.) And now the hotel has made even more of its prominence with a new restaurant, Borgo San Jacopo. Architect Michele Bonan has applied his minimalist aesthetic to the long, narrow space, creating a gray-and-beige gallery that stretches from the street right through to the river, where a huge arched window offers a fantastic vista. Though the service is still a little spotty, the food is excellent—as uncluttered as the decor—with fish playing a starring role. Dinner, $85. Rates, $445-$1,230. At 14 Borgo San Jacopo; 39-055/27261; www.lungarnohotels.com.
What Is the City's Best Fish Restaurant?
Fuor d'Acqua on a Friday evening. The catch of the day arrives at 8:30 p.m. from Viareggio, so book a late table and order what the maître d', Alessio, recommends. Fish is impeccably prepared, in olive oil, salt, and lemon. Everyone eats here, from local artisans to Roberto Cavalli. Dinner, $75. At 37R Via Pisana; 39-055/222-299.
Two of a Kind
Ceramicist Bruno Gambone, who arrived in Florence from New York in 1969, is more artist than potter. His work has been shown in galleries from Turin to Manhattan. But at his gallery (9 Via Benedetto Marcello; 39-55/355-358), you can pick up a vase, jug, or plate colored with minerals and natural pigments, starting at $20. Franceschi Pierluigi (11 Via San Giovanni; 39-055/220-642) is another craftsman, this one creating masterful picture frames of carved and gilded wood in 16th-century Tuscan style. Clients can bring measurements and photos to Pierluigi (not an English speaker) and he'll ship the finished design overseas ($40-$9,000 a yard).
Power Reds: David Lynch's Wine List
Believing that they make the greatest wines in Italy, Florentines are especially proud of their grapes. And it is Sangiovese that reigns supreme, especially in the Tuscan "big three."
Brunello di Montalcino, Valdicava This is very expensive in the States, so don't pass up the opportunity to drink a bottle when you're in Florence.
Chianti Classico Riserva "Giorgio Primo," La Massa This is decadent wine. Chianti has come a long way since the days of wicker flasks.
Montepulciano "Vigna del Nocio," Boscarelli Aromatic, elegant, and powerful, this vino nobile is the perfect partner for wild-boar ragù.
The Inside Track
Seeing the Florence that few others see is, as in all cities, a matter of knowing the right people. For travelers with an agenda, the city has a troop of top-rate specialists.
VILLA VIEWING Run by three well-connected young Italian women, Città Nascosta tailors tours of private palazzi and gardens to your spec- ifications, often with the owner as a guide (a visit might even end with dinner at the palazzo). The company can also arrange a private tour of the Uffizi. Rate available upon request. 39-055/680-2590; www.cittanascosta.com.
FOR THE KIDS Camilla Baines is a formidable art historian and, more important, a working mother. With her as a guide, children will not be bored. Baines, 44, can customize her tour—say, "Early Bruneleschi for Adults," "The Ice Cream Shops of Florence" for kids—to keep everyone entertained. $ Rate, $60 an hour; 39-333/296-8721.
THE HIDDEN CITY With 30 years' experience as a guide and interpreter, Maria Rosa Canale, 55, knows the delightful oddities of Florence as well as anyone. She can show you what lies beneath the city (Roman ruins, archaeological marvels), outside it (Tuscany's overlooked churches), and behind its walls (little known wine shops and mosaic artists in the Oltrarno). Rate, $350 for six hours (for up to eight people); 39-055/422-0901.
SMART DRIVERS Think of Marco Carraresi (39-055/831-4485) and Massimiliano Quintavalle (39-055/400-652) as keys with wheels (usually a Mercedes). These two Florentines will drive you through the switchbacks of Chianti, arranging private visits to seldom-visited vineyards and villas, all while explaining the region's history, politics, and culture. Rate, from $500 per day.
For the Bambino Who Has Everything
Make an appointment with Loretta Caponi (4R Piazza Antinori; 39-055/213-668), whose home decor and clothing store is one of our favorites, to see her collection of vintage christening gowns. The exquisite 18th- and 19th-century robes aren't for sale—or even shown—to everyone, but Caponi will sell to certain clients. For fantastic off-the-rack clothes, there's Anichini (59R Via del Parione; 39-055/284-977; www.anichini.net), Florence's oldest children's shop, which makes organza dresses ($215-$365) and linen sailor suits ($175-$200), all hand-smocked.
When to Go
Every afternoon the resident monks of San Miniato al Monte, the stunning Romanesque basilica on a southern hill overlooking the city, sing Gregorian chants. To hear them is to be transported in time—a magical experience. 4:30 in winter and 5:30 in summer. At 34 Via delle Porte Sante; 39-055/234-2731.
The Perfect Panini
Between Ferragamo and Gucci on the Via Tornabuoni is Procacci, a Florentine institution that began selling truffles in 1885. Not much has changed since then—not the dark wood paneling, huge mirrors, or marble counter. And certainly not the thing to order: a glass of Prosecco and a tiny truffle cream-filled panino. Or five. Panino and a Prosecco, $8. At 64R Via Tornabuoni; 39-055/211-656.
Three Easy Places
Traditional Tuscan food is, in essence, simple and rustic—just like the three best trattorias serving it.
There's no better rustic Florentine food than what you'll find at the modest but always mobbed dining room of Da Ruggero. Classic ribollita is served with a swirl of tangy olive oil, taglierini pasta is tossed with zucchini flowers or porcini mushrooms, a pork rib roast is spiked with rosemary and garlic, and roast beef comes the Florentine way—so rare it's almost raw. The crème caramel is one of the best we have ever tasted. There's no wine list to speak of, but the house red is just fine. Dinner, $65. At 89R Via Senese; 39-055/220-542.
At Da Sergio, the Gozzi family's trattoria that's open only for lunch, businessmen and shoppers all sit snugly in two vaulted rooms with garish paintings and old photos of Florence. Changed daily, the fantastic menu always has a hearty soup; a pasta with tomato sauce or meaty ragù; and a roast, a grilled steak, or, on Fridays, fish. Lunch, $40. At 8R Piazza San Lorenzo; 39-055/281-941.
Da Omero's splendid rural setting, a 20-minute taxi ride from Florence, is outdone only by the food: housemade ravioli, fried chicken, superb tagliata (finely sliced steak topped with arugula), and a selection of olive oil to drizzle on bruschetta and salad. Dinner, $100. At 11 Via Pian dei Giullari; 39-055/220-053.
The Barefoot Principessa
Few cooking schools in Florence can top those led by Principessa Emanuela Notabartolo di Sciara, a chic Sicilian Venetian who offers on-request instruction to just four people at a time in her apartment on the Arno, in day- or weeklong courses. Her English is good and her kitchen repertoire formidable: A specialty is Timballo del cardinale, a stunning dish in which rigatoni and mozzarella are molded into a dome and covered in stuffed tomatoes, and Di Sciara can also arrange afternoon excursions to private vineyards (usually owned by her friends). $ Rates available upon request. 39-055/222-244.
TRIPE This is street food, meant to be purchased from a street vendor and eaten standing up off an aluminum tray with a plastic fork. The best tripe can be found in the Piazza de' Cimatori or at the Mercato Centrale.
RIBOLLITA This hearty, cold-weather dish is a slow-cooked stew of old bread and vegetables. Besides Da Ruggero, Trattoria Mario (2R Via Rosina; 39-55/218-550) and Da Burde (6R Via Pistoiese; 39-055/317-206) serve excellent versions.
BISTECCA The famous bistecca alla fiorentina is a vast T-bone (weighing as much as six pounds), from the white Chianina cow. Da Omero gets it right, as do Il Latini (steak, $20; 6R Via dei Palchetti; 39-055/210-916), Perseus ($85 for two; 10R Viale Don Minzoni; 39-055/588-226), and Angiolino ($25; 36R Via Santo Spirito; 39-055/239-8976).
A Great Gelato
Treat yourself to a cup of the pear and caramel flavors from Vivoli, the best place in Florence for ice cream; it's humming year-round. $ At 7 Via Isole delle Stinche; 39-055/292-334.
The Honeymoon Suite
There isn't a room more romantic than Relais La Suvera's golden-yellow Maria Gabriella di Savoia Suite. Inside the 12th-century tower of this villa hotel (located between Florence and Siena), the room is furnished with the princess's early-19th-century family heirlooms (her father was King Umberto II). It's a virtual museum, filled with oil paintings, watercolors, tapestries, and bronzes. Of particular note are the Louis XVI commode, the crystal chandelier, and the acres of green- and gold-lacquered chinoiserie. But the highlight is the canopied bed: with a gilded wood crown, draped in silk and cotton. The windows offer an unblemished view of the Sienese hills and the village of Casole d'Elsa. Plan to stay at least three nights. Rate for the Savoia suite, $1,200; 39-0577/960-300; www.lasuvera.it.
The Best Cappuccino in Town
is actually on the edge of town: Caffetteria Piansa, once a coffee-roasting plant in the eastern part of the city, is now a busy bar serving 1,300 cups a day of its blend of Arabica and Robusta beans. The slowly frothed milk (the slower the better) creates the dense, creamy topping that Florentines rave about. $ At 128-130 Viale Europa; 39-055/653-2117.
Take Home a Truffle
The favorite food shop of Florentine foodies is Pegna, hidden behind the Duomo, and everything you can't find at home is here: whole white and black truffles, pounds of dried porcini, and incredible cheese. We particularly love the buccia di rospo, a pecorino made by a small producer in San Casciano. At 8N Via dello Studio; 39-055/282-7012.
For expert navigation of Florence's shops—including nearby factory outlets (Bottega Veneta, Prada, Gucci)—bring Carolina Santarelli and Elisabetta Bodri along on your spree. They know where to find one-of-a-kind pieces as well as where chic Florentines buy off the rack (it's at Luisa Via Roma). They're especially good at bargain hunting. Do the January sales with them and you'll save more than their daily rate (from $360). The pair can also arrange drivers for expeditions throughout Italy, and they wield enough power to open and close stores for VIPs. 39-055/247-7835.
Chianti, Ceci, and Chocolate
WINE BUFFS TAKE NOTE One of Italy's most famous restaurants, Enoteca Pinchiorri (dinner, $250; 87R Via Ghibellina; 39-055/242-777) is a Michelin three-star temple of haute cuisine. Never mind that the foie gras trilogy is a tad fussy. You're here to be awed by the sheer magnificence of the wine list. Young swells head to Beccofino (dinner, $120; 1R Piazza degli Scarlatti; 39-055/290-076), which pours 30 vintages by the glass. It has a minimalist look and nouvelle Tuscan food, like minted pea soup with goat cheese and pancetta.
HEAD FOR THE HILLS For a few years now, Benedetta Vitali (a veteran of Cibrèo) has been indulging fans with forward-thinking cooking at Zibibbo (dinner, $150; 3R Via di Terzollina; 39-055/433-383), just north of town. The dining room with red floors is as playful and colorful as the menu: chickpea purée scattered with pomegranate seeds, spaghetti with buttery tuna belly.
FAST FOOD The majestic boiled beef sandwich at Nerbone (in the Mercato Centrale; 39-055/219-949) is as much a symbol of Florence as Michelangelo's David. Have it bagnato (moistened with broth) or with salsa verde (a sprightly parsley sauce).
SWEET SURPRISES Most tourists, familiar only with the thick hot chocolate at the historic Caffe Rivoire ($8; 4R Piazza della Signoria; 39-055/211-302), don't know about the chocolate creations of Paul de Bondt and Luca Mannori at Hemingway (9R Piazza Piattellina; 39-055/284-781). The lovely tearoom-cum-brasserie has a terrific selection of pralines and truffles. The handcrafted chocolates at the new Vestri (11R Borgo degli Albizi; 39-055/234-0374) are just as inspiring, especially the chocolate gelato—plain or spiked with chile, orange, or mint.
—Anya von Bremzen
Eat Like a King
The chef at Ristorante La Giostra goes by the full name of A.R.J. Dimitri Miezko Leopoldo, Principe d'Asburgo Lorena. He's noble (originally from Vienna, he has lived in Italy since the age of seven), and so is his calling to cook spectacular, unpretentious food. "I dreamed all my life to have a little restaurant," says the prince. "Ever since watching my mother make a cake and seeing it grow by magic." With his masterly pastas, melting risottos, and seasonal truffle concoctions, the prince has achieved something like magic himself. As a nod to his heritage, there's also a fabulous Wiener schnitzel and a Viennese flourless chocolate cake. "Throughout my life, I have gathered recipes," he says. "Some are around two hundred and forty years old, discovered among family records." The cake recipe, however, is more recent: "I learned it forty years ago from our stable boy." Dinner, $55. At 12R Via Borgo Pinti; 39-055/241-341.
Lo Spillo ("The Pin") is Florence's smallest shop, packed with the prettiest jewels—both antique and costume—from amber necklaces to Art Nouveau earrings. We fell in love with a prize find of owner Sofia Casalini: an Italian platinum-and-diamond ring from 1905. $65-$3,500. At 72R Borgo San Jacopo; 39-055/293-126.
"The best personal trainer in Florence is Stafania Taddei. She specializes in Pilates and she'll come to your hotel room." 39-348/338-3495.
—MARCHESA BONA FRESCOBALDI
The place to buy a piece of Florentine religious history is Bartolozzi e Maioli. Everything here is real, from the chandeliers taken from deconsecrated churches to the wooden and plaster saints. At 13R Via Maggio and 5R Via dei Vellutini; 39-055/239-8633; www.bartolozzi.net.
Set in the middle of the famous Antinori wine estates and in the shadow of the old monastery of Passignano, Osteria di Passignano is one of our favorite country restaurants in Tuscany. The yellow-painted room with vaulted brick ceilings is a divine setting for Matia Barciulli's imaginative interpretations of classic Tuscan dishes. The presentation is modern, but this is cucina based in tradition: red mullet in an olive crust, risotto with cherry tomatoes and scallops, and spicy veal with eggplant chutney. Given the setting, the wine has to be Chianti Classico Riserva di Badia a Passignano, produced from vines growing by the doorstep. Dinner, $110. At 33 Via Passignano, Badia a Passignano; 39-055/807-1278; www.osteriadipassignano.com.
Pick up a copy of Florence Concierge Information, an English-language bimonthly guide produced by the city's concierges. Available at most hotels, it lists up-to-date opening times for galleries and museums. Not even the best guidebooks always get these right.
Thirty minutes outside Florence is Villa Gamberaia (72 Via del Rossellino, Settignano; 39-055/697-205), six perfect acres with a water parterre, bowling green, lemon garden, and an assortment of fountains, nymphs, and grottoes. The simple formality is magnificent—the interplay of light and dark, space and void—and its views of the Arno Valley are framed with cypress and boxed topiary. Farther afield, Villa Cetinale (Sovicille, Siena; 39-057/731-1147) is an hour's drive from Florence. Tended since 1977 by disgraced British politician Lord Lambton (it's a long sordid tale), this exceptional garden flanks a 15th-century villa and is best in May, when the wisteria and roses bloom. Particularly impressive is a long grass avenue that runs 240 yards before reaching a statue of Napoléon. Up two hundred steps lies the Romitorio, a five-story hermitage where monks lived until the late 19th century.
Finding "Old" Firenze
With every big Italian brand from Prada to Alessi represented, shopping in Florence can feel like shopping anywhere. But in the narrow streets of the city, expert craftsmen carry on Florence's artisanal traditions.
On a quiet block in the Oltrarno (the south side of the Arno), Locchi makes exquisite glass items based on antique designs. The real specialty here is reproducing broken pieces from, say, an 18th-century chandelier. At 10 Via Burchiello; 39-055/229-8371.
The Castorina family began doing wood restoration more than a century ago. Today, in their Oltrarno studio, five descendants cut, inlay, turn, and gild wooden ornaments, from Baroque picture frames to decorative finials for a four-poster bed. At 13-15R Via Santo Spirito; 39-055/212-885; www.castorina.net.
In a series of vaulted rooms between the river and Piazza Santa Maria Novella, Galleria Antonio Frilli sells marble and bronze sculptures in the Classical and Renaissance styles ($250-$55,000). One of the city's oldest shops, it earns commissions from all over the world—the most famous being the 1990 reproduction of Ghiberti's celebrated bronze doors for the eastern facade of the Baptistery in Florence. At 26R Via dei Fossi; 39-055/210-212; www.frilligallery.com.
One of the only trimmings stores with an on-site workshop, Passamaneria Valmar sells every conceivable tassel, trim, tieback, cord, and border ($3-$45). If you don't see what you want, ask if it can be made for you. At 53R Via Porta Rossa; 39-055/284-493; www.valmar-florence.com.
At Casa dei Tessuti, the delightful Romoli brothers, whose father began selling fabric in 1929, carry exquisite Italian cashmere (from $180 a yard) and embroidered lace (from $250 a yard). Come with time to spare; you may bump into the Queen of Holland. At 20-24R Via de' Pecori; 39-055/215-961.
The Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, an opera house with a fine orchestra, chorus, and ballet company, may be the best place outside Milan to hear music. The fall season is mostly opera; orchestral works dominate the spring. Next year's Maggio Musicale festival is a mix of everything, including Tosca. For the best acoustics, sit at the top, in the seconda galleria; the stalls are where you go to be seen. At 16 Corso Italia; 39-0935/564-767; www.maggiofiorentino.com.
If you're looking for famous labels, Le Volpi e L'Uva, a narrow squeeze of a wine bar near the Ponte Vecchio, is not for you. Owners Riccardo Comparini and Emilio Monecchi seek out small lesser-known producers who, they believe, make wine with real passion (for this reason, the stock is continually evolving). Count on finding a selection of heavyweights such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone, and Chianti Classico, but chances are, you won't recognize many of the bottles. So be ready to experiment; Comparini and Monecchi are happy to guide you through the unfamiliar. $7-$48. At 1R Piazza dei Rossi; 39-055/239-8132.
"Da Sostanza is my favorite place for lunch. The artichoke pie and butter-roasted chicken are a must." Dinner, $55. At 25R Via Porcellana; 39-055/212-691.
—DIEGO DELLA VALLE, TOD'S C.E.O.
At the Villa San Michele
One of the oldest hotels in the area, this 15th-century former monastery in the Fiesole hills can, when it works, compete with the best villa hotels. The San Michele recently added a cooking school offering seven courses, taught by such chefs as Giuliano Hazan (Marcella's son), on culinary traditions like pastamaking and entertaining. The junior suites are newly redone; the third-floor suites have the best views, and a few suites are just steps from the pool, a rarity in Florence. Cooking-school rates, $970-$3,370 per person for two to five nights, including room. At 4 Via Doccia; 39-055/567-8200; www.villasanmichele.com.
"The best place to buy silver in Florence is Pampaloni Argenti. It has original Tiffany molds from the twenties. See Gianfranco for custom orders." At 47R Borgo Santissimi Apostoli; 39-055/289-094.
—LORENZO VILLORESI, BESPOKE PERFUMER
At Pandemonio, the remarkable and inexplicably little-known trattoria in the up-and-coming San Frediano quarter near Santo Spirito, Giovanna Biagi is a master of impeccably fresh, perfectly prepared cucina famiglia. Her torn egg noodles with pesto and tomato, pasta with gorgonzola and arugula, seafood soup, and a chicken roasted with wild mushrooms left us gasping. Dinner, $110. At 50R Via dei Leoni; 39-055/224-002.
Going for Baroque
Principessa Giorgina Corsini's extensive knowledge of her family paintings from the 15th to the 18th centuries comes as a bonus to any tour of the Palazzo Corsini. Highlights of the 150-work collection include a 1525 Madonna by Jacopo da Pontormo. The artist, an apprentice to Leonardo da Vinci, is celebrated for his portraits, often displaying the telling dimple or smile that was Da Vinci's hallmark. Da Pontormo's paintings are valuable because his fresco in Florence's San Lorenzo (now under whitewash) was only half finished: Da Pontormo could never get beyond the colossal genius of Michelangelo. The principessa organizes visits to the Corsini Collection at her discretion, with as much notice as possible. Rates available upon request. 39-055/218-994.
The Savoy Gets It Right
Sir Rocco Forte's Hotel Savoy, which has the best standard room in town and a perfect location (on the Piazza della Repubblica), remains one of our favorites in any city. Here's why:
VIBE It's as cozy and relaxed as a place half its size (there are 107 rooms). The restaurant and bar are popular with locals, and in summer, the crowd spills out onto the square.
STAFF Suave Luca Finardi, front-office manager, can tell you all the city's secrets. Daniele Scaldini, head concierge, knows the cheap pizzerias as well as the gastronomic sensations.
SERVICE We asked about tomorrow's weather; 30 minutes later a detailed forecast was slipped under our door.
BEST ROOM No. 206 has a balcony overlooking the piazza.
Rates, $560-$2,200. At 7 Piazza della Repubblica; 39-055/27-351; www.roccofortehotels.com.
Has Cibreo Upstaged Itself?
The justly renowned Cibrèo, which serves gutsy but refined Florentine food, has added another outpost to its burgeoning empire. Having already opened Trattoria Cibrèo next door to the original (which serves the same fantastic pappa al pomodoro and stuffed chicken neck at a third of the price), owner Fabio Picchi heads even closer to the casual and inexpensive with Teatro del Sale. At once a private club, theater, grocery store, and restaurant, this informal dining hall has a stage for nightly readings and performances of jazz and one-acts. Every day three meals are laid out buffet-style, and the Cibrèo-caliber food is as terrific as you'd expect. But be warned: The after-dinner entertainment is mediocre at best, and there's no skipping out before the show starts (Picchi makes sure of that). Better to book for lunch and eat in peace. Annual membership fee, $8-$15; lunch, $35; dinner, $55. At 111R Via dei Macci; 39-055/200-1492; www.teatrodelsale.com.
Each February the very best oils from all over the country start arriving at Olio e Convivium, an Oltrarno restaurant and food shop in the Palazzo Capponi (anything made before then is considered last year's leftovers). On a good year you'll have 60 different bottles to choose from. You can sample the goods, too, with Olio's terrific antipasti and Italian cheese. At 4 Via Santo Spirito; 39-055/265-8198; www.conviviumfirenze.it.
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