The flower that is Florence

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iol travel june 4 cw Italy1 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Remarkable sculptures and architecture lines the streets of this city Picture: marianne pieterse

There’s something about Florence. Kate Middleton, aka Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Michelangelo both studied here and each one of them carved out a future for themselves that will eternalise their names in history.

Did Florence have something to do with it? I like to think so. The place is like that. It inspires people.

Florence has an almost mystical feel about it. It’s a melting pot of history, art and culture that has so much to offer you’d need at least a week to get a proper taste.

The city is rich in breathtaking moments, with masterful architecture and artwork on display everywhere. The Santa Croce Gothic church is, appropriately, the last resting place for a lot of history’s most famous artists, poets, architects and philosophers, including Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Dante. The piazza in the heart of the city is the best place to start sightseeing. This is the where the marble-dressed “lady” stands – the Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo. An architectural wonder of her time, her double dome resembles that of St Peter’s in Rome.

Just to the east lies the Piazza della Signoria, an open-air gallery which can be visited at no cost. Here you can appreciate beautiful sculptures including Neptune’s Fountain and a replica of the David statue.

As if this al fresco gallery were not enough, its neighbour is the famous Uffizi gallery, which begs you to come and see its treasury of artworks. Be warned – you will need almost a day to get through it. And don’t take anyone with you who is not a fan – it might mark the end of a relationship.

iol travel june 4 cw Italy2 FOREVER YOUNG: A replica of Michelangelo's David. INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Next to the Uffizi snakes the River Arno. It is crossed by several bridges, but the best-known must be the Ponte Vecchio, with its petite shops, now display areas for jewellery stores but in centuries past, owned by butchers. This is also the best place to photograph a Florence sunset.

If you’re feeling fit, the bridge will lead you across the river upwards to Piazza Michelangelo, where you will get a splendid view of the whole city. If you’re not up for a steep walk, there is a lovely, sweet, syrupy hot chocolate waiting right next to the bridge at Caffe delle Carrozze. Summer or winter, you need to try this drink. You should also not leave Florence before tasting its famous gelato (Italian ice-cream) which you can get at any street cafe.

For a last “must see” walk back to the Duomo, cross the piazza and walk up the Via Ricasoli. On your right you get the hidden entrance (I am still surprised how difficult it is to find) to the Galleria dell’ Academia, which looks after the real David. It’s closed on Mondays – something I learnt the hard way. The gallery is filled with other stunning works, many by Michelangelo. Nothing compares to the main attraction though.

David stands in the spot of honour, at the end of a long corridor. For a moment it will feel like time standing still. It is placed in such a way that you can inspect every muscle and toenail in the finest detail and you’ll feel humble when you realise that someone dedicated years of his life to sculpt this perfect replica of a youth.

It’s difficult to see everything if you have little time, so this city should be tackled with good planning and a good map. Don’t forget the less famous spots like Michelangelo’s house and a variety of wonderful churches.

One thing you don’t need to worry about is food. The Italians like to eat and around every corner is a divine restaurant or small cafe. Worry about your diet back at home. Two recommendations are Buca Poldo, with its penne alla casa, and the home-made spaghetti and ravioli of i’Toscana.

While browsing in a flea-market, with unique Florentine souvenirs, at the legendary Fontana del Porcellino or Arno piglet, an old poem popped into my head: “Italy is the garden of Europe, Tuscany is the garden of Italy, Florence is the flower of Tuscany.”

Before leaving the market I toss a coin in the fountain next to the Arno piglet and rub its snout. That means I’ll be back. - Weekend Argus

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