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"When I Fell In Love With The Duomo." by Joe Riccio

Florence is a city that, more than anywhere in Europe, embodies the splendor and endless wealth of the Renaissance. At certain times of the day, when the sunlight reflects in just the right manner, it would appear that the entire city was constructed from marble, and the brilliant array of shimmering colors allow you to easily imagine how so many brilliant artists called this inspirational place home.

Much of this historic grandeur has been beautifully maintained, and is exhibited in each of the properties run by Gidec Marketing and the amazingly helpful
Marketing Director, Cristiana Sagato. These range from Villa Il Garafaolo, a sprawling estate once inhabited by Dante and Beatrice that overlooks the old city, to luxurious apartments at Palazzo Rimbotti that overlook Uffizi and Brunelleschi’s Dome, to name a few.

I had the utmost privilege to lay my head down for 4 nights in the aforementioned Apartment Vista Duomo. Located on a high floor, all of the windows practically open directly into the Cathedral of San Gaetano, one of the city’s only Baroque churches that is marked by the crest of the Medici family, and beyond that is a direct line of sight to the most famous dome of all.
The space itself, while boasting modern appliances and amenities, imparts a feeling of royalty immediately upon entry. The living room is flanked by plush couches and antique tables, with vaulted, intricately detailed ceilings. There are two bathrooms, one equipped with a modern shower and the other with a tub complete with drawn curtains, all outfitted with product from Bulgari.

For those interested in making the most of a visit to Mercato Centrale, there is a fully equipped kitchen. The bedroom is huge, and with the windows open at night one can stare directly into the eyes of the cherubic angels clinging to the Medici crest as you drift off into slumber.

Centrally located, less than a ten-minute walk to all of the city’s finest eateries, there is simply no other way to experience Florence. The opulence of the Gidec properties is unrivaled, and each has its own character and manner of conjuring up images of a glorious era gone by.

While in the city, it is obvious that Uffizi is a must-see, but in order to gain exclusive access to the Vassari Corridor, the walkway over Ponte Vecchio commissioned by Cosimo Medici out of concern for his safety in public, the curators at Gidec will refer you to Florencetown, a tour operator celebrating their 10th year in business, and one of the few organizations that can get you where you want to be.

I decided to take them up on their offer and, in the process, attend one of their cooking classes, and this is the account of that day.

For me, one of the primary draws of the class is the tour of the Mercato Centrale, which I had only been able to see once thus far. I meet with one of Florencetown’s chefs, along with a group of around 10 others (mostly American) at 8:45, and are promptly off to market.

Though the top floor of the Mercato Centrale has been renovated into an sleek, modern food court – complete with its own branch of Eataly – the lower level remains the same as it ever was, an intense sprawl of goodness as far as the eye can see. The produce stands are perhaps the most impressive, flanked by barrels of dried porcini mushrooms, countless buckets of olives, and cured meat hanging alongside globes of sharp provolone. Men crowd around one particular stall to order up greasy, delicious-looking pork sandwiches to eat while simultaneously enjoying an espresso and a cigarette. The towering shelves lined with fresh fish on ice are continually replenished as they are bought out, and I spend a few minutes staring longingly into a case filled with what I can only describe as “blankets” of tripe.

It worth noting that Tuscan wine is a particularly good value here, as to be expected, but what is peculiar is that restaurant prices practically mirror those in wine shops – good to know if you’re looking to pick up a late night bottle for the hotel room but all the stores have closed.

The chef makes a few purchases at the Mercato and we are led a few blocks away to Florencetown’s demo kitchen. They also feature a much more comprehensive class at their estate in the vineyards of Chianti, as well as tours/classes revolving exclusively around pizza or gelato, to name a few.

Upon arrival we are each provided with an apron and a prep station at one of the large marble tables. We will be responsible for the preparation of two things today: Tiramisu and fresh pasta (in two different shapes). As the chef spouts off regarding a few of the primary fundamentals of Italian cookery, he prepares the two sauces that will accompany our pasta – one meat, one vegetarian.

We begin by preparing the Tiramisu, which go into the refrigerator to come together while we roll out the fresh pasta into both tagliatelle and ravioli (filled with a pre-made mixture). The class goes at a relaxed pace, allowing for the information to sink in for both amateurs and veterans alike, and at the very end our finished pasta is cooked and served with the sauces, focaccia, and wine. Shortly after, the tiramisu is out of the fridge to be devoured while each student is awarded their “diploma” for completing the class. Not a bad way to spend the morning, but I’ve got a couple of hours until I need to be at Uffizi and want to make the most of it.

Saturday is much busier than any day I’ve witnessed so far, and crowds seem to fuel the high temperatures, which prompt a gelato break at Gelateria Botteghe Leonardo. All of the gelato is stored in canisters and the pistachio is not bright green – two signs that I’ve found one of the good ones. I opt for hazelnut, stracciatella, and pistachio and am pleased with the richness of the texture. While you’re here, you may begin to feel as if you’re eating too much gelato – in which case you need to be reminded that this is the only place you’re going to have it this good.

The primary benefit of utilizing Florencetown for a guided tour becomes glaringly apparent once we reach the Uffizi Gallery. While herds of tourists wait in lines that stretch for what looks like a solid mile, our group of ten is ushered in through a separate entrance with no delay at all. I could go on forever about the gallery itself, and the masterworks that live there, but the one element that most are not familiar with is the Vassari Corridor. Cosmo di Medici commissioned this elevated passageway stretching over Ponte Vecchio so he could freely travel from the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace without worry of assassination attempt, and viewing is only available to exclusive groups at VERY specific times. One of the most amazing elements of the corridor is the array of artist’s self-portraits that span four centuries, getting progressively more modern as you walk the length of the hallways. The tour finishes in the garden outside the Pitti Palace, and I become aware that I have dinner reservations coming up very soon. Amazing how the time gets away from you here.

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