Standing on the hilltop which is home to the Piazzale Michealango I breathe deeply as I gaze down on the city of Florence below, writes Scott Armstrong.
The Arno River snakes through this jewel of Italy as the sun sets over the stunning sprawl of rich red terracotta roofs perched atop medieval buildings of all shapes and sizes, some washed in white, others summer yellows or burnt oranges.
Even the lofty dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in the Piazza del Duomo, which rises out of a sea of autumnal colours surrounding it, seems small from this height.
One could almost think they were flying, and for a brief instant you understand how a wish to soar and swoop over the majesty below could inspire one of its most famous sons Leonardo da Vinci to conceive of flying.
Soaking in the landscape, oblivious to those around me, I wonder if this view was the fuel behind Leonardo’s elaborate plans for helicopters and ornithopters all those centuries ago. Did he stand in the same spot as I now, centuries ago, formulating plans to make his dreams take flight?
A romantic notion indeed, but then Florence is a city that throughout history has embraced the idea that dreams should be realised, that boundaries should be broken, and that humankind can always be more than it is, in so many diverse and different ways.
Any guide book will tell you that Firenze, as the Italians call it, was the birthplace of the Renaissance. Its leaders (then the wealthy Medici family) supported the arts and scientific endeavor equally, creating the right cultural environment for people such as Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Botticelli to flourish.
What the guide books and websites won’t tell you though is that the spirt of the Renaissance lives on in Florence in a palpable way. It is, of course, steeped in history and culture, as you stroll through the streets you breathe in the past, but somehow, more than anywhere this traveler has been, its legacy resonates into the present.
Having not the genius or poetry of the Great Men of the Renaissance it is perhaps difficult to translate the feeling of Florence into words on a page, but the vibrancy of the city and its residents is akin to a physical force.
If you sit and watch its people pass by, whether young or old, you see that the spark of openness, of curiosity, of simply wanting to be alive and enjoy life, burns brightly still. Florence is a city not defined by the ghosts of its past, but inspired by them.
It is a place to come for all in need of their own personal renaissance, not to escape the bitterness in the world, but to be reminded that hope, beauty, intellect and creativity remain as strong a force today as it was when Leonardo was a 14-year- old just starting out on his apprenticeship in Florence.
Have I tempted you yet? Planning that trip now? So how to make the most of a trip to this beautiful city? Two answers, firstly ask a local and secondly just don’t worry about getting lost, explore.
On point one, rather than book into a hotel my family and I were lucky enough to be connected with Apartments Florence – apartmentsflorence.it – run by young Florentines who love and know every inch of their city and who have hundreds of bespoke luxury properties dotted throughout prime locations.
Our home in Florence was to be Barbadori, a chic modern (recently refurbished) two-bedroom apartment tucked away in a private alley but which was approximately 45 seconds walk to one of Florence’s most prized attractions, the Pont Vecchio.
The ‘Old Bridge’ which has arched over the River Arno since medieval times is lined with jewelry shops. It is also one of the best locations from which to explore the city, with iconic landmarks in every direction.
Visiting during the height of August’s heat the apartment’s air conditioning proved to be a real boon (rather than just a ceiling fan), and it provided the ideal retreat after long days of exploring. Booking with Apartments Florence also proved to be great move.
We were ‘checked in’ by Francesco, one of those passionate Florentines who knows the city like the back of his hand. He sat with us talking through all the locations he felt, as a local, we should go. Forget the tour bus, he said, just walk, search, and get lost. Of course, we could not go too wrong as he circled our location and his top picks on a map.
And so we set off in search of his recommendations, including heading through the medieval gate at the Piazzetta di San Miniato (passing the Fuori Porta restaurant where his girlfriend works), up the ‘Poggi ramps’, stopping halfway up to take in the Poggi rose gardens, before climbing to the top and the Piazzale Michaelango.
Here a bronze cast of Michealangelo’s Statue of David looks down on the city below. It is here newly married couples come to have their wedding pictures taken, as gathered tourists part respectfully to allow them their big day.
Returning to that view you scan the city and your map looking for all the landmarks. Beyond the Pont Vecchio, the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral and its nearby Baptistery of St John, both wait for your visit in the grand Piazza del Duomo.
To the right of the ‘Old Bridge’ the Piazzale degli Uffizi, where statues of Leonardo and Michaelango gaze upon the latest generation of artists selling their creations to passing tourists heading towards the Palazzo Vecchio. These and so many more sights are circled on the map.
Florence is winding, twisting maze of a city where history intermingles with modern shops, urbane bars and sophisticated looking eateries.
It is a place for the young or the young at heart, it’s a place to be inspired, fall in love, or re-affirm love, and simply refresh your soul.
Where to stay: For hundreds of apartments check out apartmentsflorence.it
How to get there: Many airlines fly into Milan, including Oman Air which operates a direct flight from Muscat to Milan. From there the excellent Italian train system connects to Florence.