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Shopping and Dining in Florence

Shopping and Dining in Florence

Watch this space for shopping and dining tips for your visit to Florence. We'll be covering restaurants like Cibreo and Don Chisciotte as well as trattorias, and we'll tell you where to find the best buys on leather gloves, men's and women's clothes, olive oil, wine and regional specialties.

When in Rome do as the Romans, when in Florence shop like the Florentines.

For your best selection and best buys in leather glove shop Madova, ViaGuicciardini, 1R, Tel: 055-2396526 for shop hours.

Florence is moving rapidly to the top of the list of most popular tourist destinations, number four in a recent survey. And justifiably so, we can assure you, based on a recent visit. The cultural sites are magnificent to extraordinary, but any travel book will tell you that. This was our third visit - and yet, on previous sojourns, we had missed some incredible viewings.

First, some basic tips. Book your hotel well in advance. The city is busy year round, both as a fashion capital and an unsurpassed cultural legacy. Try to find a hotel in or around the city center. You'll be walking from morning till night. Bring comfortable shoes. And if it's summer, be sure to carry a bottle of water. Florence does get very hot in July and August. When you make hotel reservations, insist upon the concierge making reservations for you at the Uffizi Gallery, Florence's premier museum. If you don't have a reservation, you may wind up waiting on line for up to three hours, most uncomfortable. There is a reservation service, the hotel will do it, and the cost of admission is the same, except for whatever you decide to tip the hotel manager or concierge.

We stayed for two nights at the Savoy Hotel, piazza della Repubblica, 7. Service was excellent, public rooms attractive, location superb, rooms a bit seedy, but acceptable. It's not cheap. Tel: 50123, fax: 284840.

We decided to splurge and try the Villa San Michele, a splendid hotel with facade and loggia designed by Michelangelo. It is set in a Tuscan gardenin Fiesole, in the hills overlooking Florence, outdoor pool. A good bet if you've got a big bankroll and you're visiting in summer - and need relief from the heat. There's a car service from the hotel into Florence (15 minutes), with scheduled pickups in the late-afternoon. The food is very good, but very expensive. Tel: 59451, fax: 598734.

On our final night in Florence, we discovered the Helvetia & Bristol. This 4-star hotel, at via dei Pescioni 2, is perfectly situated and tastefully appointed. A 19th century hotel, recently restored and refurbished, it has a quiet elegance and accommodated the likes of d'Annunzio, de Chirico, Stravinsky, Chaplin etc. Service is first-rate, accommodations pleasant. Prices like the Savoy. This is where we'd go back. Tel: 287814, fax: 288353.

Now, to some of the sights some of us miss. Don't! Check opening and closing hours with the concierge of your hotel.

Museum of the History of Science, right off the Arno on the ViaCastellani, behind the Uffizi. It houses Galileo's instruments, with which he made his amazing and at the time, controversial findings, which got him into trouble with religious authorities. Those instruments and other medieval scientific instruments will dazzle you.

The Brancacci Chapel, in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, has been restored. Across the Ponte Vecchio, turn right for a long walk to the piazza. The chapel frescoes, the work of Masolino, Masaccio and Filippino Lippi, from 1424 into the 1480's contributed greatly to the revolution in painting that took place in 15th century Italy. The Expulsion of Adam and Eve, the Tribute Money and scenes from the life of Saint Peter, done by Masaccio, are masterpieces which will take your breath away. Run, do not walk, to see the Brancacci Chapel.

In the opposite direction from the Duomo, visit Fra Angelico's Sanmarco. From 1436 until his death in 1455, this man lived and painted the simple cloister and the cells of the monk's dormitory. But above all else, you will find his masterpiece, the Annunciation, at the head of the staircase to the dormitory. The history is fascinating, and the works of art deeply moving. There is also a small museum of his paintings on the first floor. In terms of location, combine this visit with one to the Accademia, where you will stare with wondrous disbelief at Michelangelo's David, possibly for hours, as we did the first time.

One of Florence's best kept secrets: when you visit the Medici Chapel, which everyone does, you may miss the small sign in Italian which announces that some drawings by Michelangelo were recently discovered and can be viewed. You'll need a reservation. Ten persons per half hour, from 9:30-12:30. Have your concierge call. It's something special. In a small alcove off the Medici Chapel sits a guard. We presented her with our reservation slip. We were the only ones there at 9:30 A.M. She lifted a floorboard to a cellar, said "No flash," and down the eight or ten steps we went. We found ourselves ina well-lighted space, about six feet wide by 18 feet long. On the walls on both sides and at the opposite end were amazing charcoal studies that Michelangelo had executed as studies for his sculptures, found upstairs in the Medici Chapel. Alone, standing in the footsteps of the great master, we took in these beautiful works, grateful for their discovery and that the passage of time had favored them.

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