If you’re looking for a personal tour guide when you’re in Florence, Siena or the surrounding area, here’s the contact info of the woman we hired. She’s very knowledgable, laid out a good itinerary based on our wants and needs, and is relatively affordable. Obviously, there are hundreds of tour guides in Italy, so if you find another one who you think will give you a good tour for a better price, I won’t sit here and tell you that you HAVE to hire this woman. But we were perfectly happy with the service she provided.
Elisa Camporeale, Ph.D.
Art Historian — Tourist Guide
Florence, Siena & Provinces
For 10 people, she charged 30 euros per person for the day. I’m sure you can negotiate a price depending on your group size and the season you visit.
First of all, I’m going to put this out there and say there probably isn’t a bad place to eat in Florence. My best guess is even the worst place to dine in Florence is probably still better than going to Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill or Carrabba’s. So that being said, here’s a quick list of some good spots to check out:
All’Antico Vinaio da Tommaso/Osteria all’ Antico Vinaio
Via De’Neri 65/74 Firenze 50122
This suggestion came from several different friends, and it’s hard to argue with them that this place has the best cheap eats in the city (or actually in the world in general). Split into two locations, there’s a sit down restaurant and a take-out storefront across the street from one another. My buddy and I opted for the take-out, which around lunch time had a line that was about a 10-15 minute wait. It was worth it despite having to avoid all the pigeons hanging out above shitting on everyone. For 5 euros, you can get an incredibly good sandwich. The great ciabatta bread, delicious meats, and really fresh tasting vegetables and cheese practically had my eyes popping out of my head on the first bite. You can order the sandwich however you want, but for the sake of not being that annoying customer, I opted for one of the Top 5 sandwiches they have on the chalkboard. Stop in here for lunch.
Via Maggio, 46R, 50125 Firenze
Obviously you have to stop into a place for pizza when in Italy, and again, you probably can’t go wrong with most places. We came here at the suggestion of a friend (this will be a common theme), and it was perfectly good. Would I say walk out of your way to find it? I wouldn’t go across the city to do it, but if you’re in the vicinity you should stop in. The pizza was as solid a pie as I’ve gotten anywhere, but didn’t go beyond. The menu is simple, there’s not a whole lot of fancy pizzas to order, but the price is nice and it will definitely hit that pizza craving spot.
Ristorante Mastro Ciliegia
Piazza di San Pier Maggiore, 4R, 50122 Firenze
Another good pizza stop, one that was not suggested by anyone but rather we just stumbled upon because we were hungry (and hungover). Its rather pleasant setting in Piazza di San Pier Maggiore actually made it one of the more relaxing parts of the trip; we got to people watch in a piazza that wasn’t huge so the low noise level was enjoyably peaceful. Try the truffle and prosciutto pizza — it’s excellent there.
Osteria Vini e Vecchi
Via dei Magazzini, 3, Firenze
From the outside you might mistake this place for a tourist trap, especially since it’s super close to the Uffizi. Don’t be fooled. This great mom and pop restaurant had one of THE best Osso Buco’s I’ve ever had. Add a Pappardelle with duck and you’ve got yourself one helluva meal. It’s a perfect spot for a low-key meal after the museums. And if you’re so inclined, we got a tip from a friend to ask the waiter for some of their homemade limoncello that wasn’t on the menu. When we did that, the waiter gave us a little grin, a wink, and brought out a bottle with two shot glasses and a pat on the back that felt like he was saying, “If you know this exists, then you’re in the club”.
Ristorante Osteria Zio Gigi
Via Folco Portinari, 7-r, 50122 Firenze
Here’s another place we just stumbled into, and again it was a big score on our parts. This restaurant had a great local vibe, and boisterous atmosphere. The staff really makes you feel like you’re part of an Italian family, like you’re their kids. The chef, who by my best guess was maybe the father, came out of the kitchen frequently to loudly serenade us with Italian opera, much to the embarrassment of his female wait staff who had the faces of “Dad, stop it!” written all over them. As for the food, it was excellent (like everything on this list), but we did a number on ourselves in this place. Since this was our last dinner of the trip, we decided to go all out, and all out we did. We each ordered a 500 gram florentine steak, which was already more than enough. But on top of that we each had a plate of tortellini. The food was amazing, but you know what they say, “Too much of a good thing…” Even our waitress acknowledged the fat shits we were and gave us complimentary digestifs at the end of the meal with a hearty laugh telling us “This will help with your” while rubbing her belly.
Just eat it. Everywhere. It doesn’t matter what place you go to. We went to everyone’s suggestions and they were all amazing. But if you HAVE to be directed somewhere, Gelateria Dei Neri is as famous and popular as gelato places get.
After our long weekend in Amsterdam, we hopped on our flight to Italy and began that segment of the trip in the Loro Ciuffenna region. Located about an hour south of Florence, Loro Ciuffenna is a nice Tuscany getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Our group rented out a giant villa via AirBnB near the small town of Arezzo, which is easily accessible by train from Florence. The villa itself however requires a car, so if you want to stay there, renting one is a must.
There’s not a whole lot to do in Loro Ciuffenna, which is perfect if you’re looking to just relax and enjoy the rolling hills and vineyards. However, with your car you’re within driving distance of Siena, Florence and several other Italian cities that make for good day trips.
We spent only a few days in Loro Ciuffenna, and most of it consisted of getting good and drunk off of delicious Chianti wine. Our group also hired a chef to come to the villa a couple times and cook us some Italian meals (they clean up too). But here are some other highlights from Loro Ciuffenna before I get into the ins and outs of Florence in the next post.
This was A LOT of fun. I would highly recommend this cooking class, especially if you’re in a group and want to experience Italian cooking in a local’s home. It’s a bit far outside of Florence, so you’ll really need to either be in the Loro Ciuffenna area or in Italy for a while and can afford to spend a whole day doing this activity. The standard menu that they’ll teach consists of Bruschetta, Mushroom Tagliatelle, Tuscan Chicken, and Panna Cotta (and of course plenty of Chianti is provided throughout). Though when booking the class you can request any particular Italian fare you want to learn how to make.
The family run cooking school isn’t as “individual” as I had hoped; I thought that each person would have a station and everyone would be able to make their own individual meals. However, there was plenty of food to be made for the whole group, so everyone had ample opportunities to help cook each segment of the meal. This class is great fun for any group, family, or couple looking to get a little messy and enjoy a fantastic meal that you can say you helped create.
This is one of the best meals I had the entire trip (if not the best). Ristorante La Cantinella is a fantastic restaurant to go to if you end up staying in that villa. I’ll be honest, the food was amazing, but not amazing enough to travel far to try, so if you’re staying in Florence, I’ll have recommendations in the city for you in a few posts. But regardless, the meal was truly wonderful, and the ambiance was classy, but relaxing at the same time. If you’re able to get a table on the patio, you can watch the sunset over the Tuscan hills. And this place was very affordable – for the type of food we were getting, the price was probably half of what you would pay at a nice Italian restaurant in the States. Even the good bottle of wine we had was only about 16 euros. My recommendations: try the Pici with Duck Ragu and the Rabbit with Spinach.
If you do go to the cooking school, stop by the nearby town of Greve. Within the main piazza is Italy’s oldest butcher shop. Packed with wall to wall meats, this place is every vegan’s nightmare, but certainly is a sight to see. Be sure not to miss the cheese cellar downstairs as well.