GOLDEN DAY TWELVE: FLORENCE ACCORDING TO DIANNE HALES
After devouring Dianne Hales’ book, “La Bella Lingua, My Love Affair With Italian, The World’s Most Enchanting Language,” I finally got a chance to meet the lovely author last week when we were on a panel together at the San Francisco Italian American Museum, talking about what makes Italy especially attractive to females.
Dianne’s book (released last May), is an enticing, entertaining, and passionate story about her adventures studying Italian. Naturally, she’s traveled to Italy often, and when I asked her to describe to me one of her Golden Days, she said…
I would begin my golden day watching the sun climb over Florence and its hills from the rooftop terrazzo of Palazzo Magnani Feroni, across the Arno from il centro in a neighborhood of artisans’ studios, antique shops, and galleries. I stayed there so often when I was researching LA BELLA LINGUA that I came to think of it as “il mio palazzo.” However, this gem of a restored 16th-century family home (with just twelve exquisite suites) and its amiable staff are so welcoming that every guest probably feels the same. (Conde Naste agrees: It just named Palazzo Magnani Feroni the most charming small hotel in Europe.)
Since I studied Italian’s history in the city known as la culla della lingua italiana (the cradle of the Italian language), I can’t resist its literary sites. My first stop would be the Bibliotheca Medicea or Laurentian library, built in the Renaissance to house the Medici family’s vast collection of precious manuscripts. Michelangelo designed the dramatic staircase that leads from the ricetto (reception area) to the reading room. With its vaulted ceilings and paneled walls, this cathedral to books and learning never fails to fill me with awe—and admiration for the beautifully illustrated manuscripts on display.
Every street in Florence is so packed with treasures for the eye that I try to take different routes as I wend myself past the breathtaking Duomo, which Italians call Il Cupolone (the big dome). I head for the via del Proconsolo, lined with several must-see museums, including the Bargello Naitonal Museum, as well as shops selling a Florentine specialty: leather purses, gloves, shoes, jackets and more.
My choice for lunch is a wine bar called Angels, a favorite among locals so you’ll find yourself surrounded by Italians speaking Italian. Right across the street is an elegant upscale restaurant—a good choice for a special dinner: Alla Murate, a restored guild hall with sophisticated cuisine and the oldest known portrait of Dante Alighieri (with a straight rather than hooked nose)
If the sun is shining and the day is warm, I would spend the afternoon strolling through the Boboli gardens , adjacent to the Pitti Palace (which merits a golden day of its own). Don’t miss whimsical sculptures such as the Bacchino (little Bacchus), a fat naked dwarf sitting on a tortoise and the Fontana dei Mostaccini (literally, “Fountain of the Little Ugly Faces”.)
I would then take a short detour to visit one of the supreme masterpieces of Renaissance painting: the fresco cycle in the Brancacci chapel of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. For centuries artists came to sit and stare at these breakthrough paintings by the young artist known as Massacio (a nickname meaning “messy Tom”). I can never take my eyes off the anguished faces of Adam and Eve as they are exiled from the Garden of Eden.
A literally golden part of a day in Florence comes in early evening. Thread your way above the Arno, past the piazza Michelangelo to San Miniato, the oldest church in Florence. My daughter and I once arrived just in time for a concert by a visiting Welsh choir. We walked outside as the sun was turning the Arno and the roofs of Florence to gold. The spectacular sunset continued like a Technicolor slide show as we made our way down the hill.
For dinner I recommend the mouth-watering bistecca at a restaurant called—aptly enough for this post–Golden View on the banks of the Arno. Reserve a window table so you can look out on the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizzi. As an added bonus, you can enjoy live jazz most nights.
I would end the day exactly where I began it: on the rooftop terrazzo of the Palazzo Magnani Foroni. Weather permitting, there is a full bar until midnight. On request, the hotel serves dinner for guests. My husband and I celebrated one of the most romantic anniversaries of our lives there, toasting the magic of a full moon ascending over a truly golden city.
So you see why I depend on savvy women I know for advice!