Contrasts of Italy – Florence

Post 3 of 7

Florence, the Beacon of the Renaissance

Part 4: Contrasts of Italy – Florence & the Cinque Terre

by: Emmy Hermes, Guest Contributor

Florence - city view

Tucked away in the foothills of Tuscany lies the next stop on our “Contrasts of Italy” blog series. Renowned for its unmatched landscape, the region of Tuscany is situated north of Rome and south of Venice in a fairly central area of Italy. Before we fully dive into our observation of one particular city within the Tuscan border, let’s perform a quick interactive exercise so that you can easily form an accurate mental image of the region.

Take a second to open a new page of your browser and type the word “winery” into your search engine. Review the results at your leisure. Once you’ve wholly absorbed the images that are displayed, navigate back to your search engine and type “Tuscany.” Very similar, yes? This is Tuscany in a nutshell – expansive plains, vivid greenery, and rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Of course, with scenic views such as this, it is no wonder that this area is celebrated worldwide for its exquisite cuisine and wine, specifically in Chianti.

Florence Piazza della Signoria

In addition to exceptional wines, Tuscany is home to some of the country’s most unique and picturesque cities. Siena, for instance, is a completely walled town that still retains its medieval identity in the modern world. Pisa, on the other hand, owns one of the most universally recognized architectural wonders (hint: it leans) along with numerous other museums and churches. The largest and most populated city, however, is Florence (Firenze in Italian) – the birthplace of Renaissance art and culture and my personal favorite in all of Italy.

Florence in winter

To the untrained eye, Florence may appear to be a very traditional city, one with roots planted so deep that it has left little room for growth through the ages. Aesthetically, and not unlike the majority of European cities, Florence has kept its classic facade that includes architectural stamps from its past. However, one quickly realizes after only a short period of time that in keeping with its revitalizing ethos of the Renaissance era, Florence continues to be a lively and diverse city with an active community that lives and thrives very much in the present.

The people of Florence are very welcoming. They are romantics who inherently hold a deep appreciation for the arts. Witness it for yourself as you walk hand-in-hand with your loved one on a balmy summer night, absorbing the city lights as a nearby guitarist softly plays his gentle tune.

Florence - Duomo

It’s probably no surprise that the art of Florence alone is worthy of its own four-part blog series. However, for the sake of time, listed below are my personal top must-sees in no particular order.

  1. Basilica di Santa Maria – Known widely as simply “The Duomo,” this iconic landmark aides in giving this city its unique skyline. The historic cathedral is often described by travelers as being built “inside out.” In contrast to most cathedrals, particularly those of the Gothic style, The Duomo’s exterior is intricately decorated while its interior almost pales in comparison. The church’s dome offers stellar birds eye views, but be forewarned that there is no elevator option to avoid the over 400 stairs to the top.
  1. Galleria dell’Accademia – If you are to see only one art museum in all of Florence, in all of Tuscany, in all of Italy, this is it. Michelangelo’s original David sculpture stands tall and proud in the hallways of this gallery and his perfection is simply unmatched. If your visit lands in high tourist season, be sure to wait out the crowds in order to truly soak in the complexity of this art piece. The museum also holds some of the artist’s lesser known pieces along with a top notch exhibit on the entire sculpting process.
  1. Piazzale Michelangelo – After quite a bit of stair climbing, travelers are greeted at the top of this serene elevated park by a Statue of David replica and one of the best panoramic views imaginable, day or night. Artists of all types are commonly seen perched on the hill’s ledge, replicating the scene on their canvases. In addition, there are several rose gardens surrounding the property that act as an idyllic route option as you eventually, albeit reluctantly, trek back down to the city center.
  1. Ponte Vecchio – This covered bridge is one of the oldest to span the Arno River to date. What was once used as a marketplace for butchers and farmers is now used as a space to sell upscale jewelry and the like. Whether or not you are in the market for something shiny, a walk across this bridge is mandatory.

florence ponte vecchio by night

From Florence to the Cinque Terre

Once you’ve marvelled at Florence, you cannot leave Tuscany without taking a trip to the Cinque Terre. Similar to the Amalfi Coast in terms of beauty, the Cinque Terre (pronounced chin-que tear-ea) is composed of five seaside fishing villages along the Italian coast that are connected via local commuter trains, boats and hiking trails. Otherwise, vehicles of any type are nonexistent. The “five lands” and their surrounding hillsides and coastlines are part of the Cinque Terre National Park and are recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to its lack of corporate presence, these villages rely heavily on tourism and farming revenue to fuel their modest economies.

Cinque Terre with quote

The cities listed from north to south are as follows: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Several tour options from Florence are available, mostly day trips that will guide you through the area. I chose a tour that was hiking intensive, but we were also able to take the train at the end so that we could experience some coastal views between cities in addition to the hiking trails. There is absolutely no wrong approach to visiting the Cinque Terre, simply a wrong decision if left out of the travel itinerary completely.

Cinque Terre - seaside town

At this time, we have covered Enchanting Venice, Eternal Rome, Tenacious Naples, Serene Sorrento and Florence, the Beacon of the Renaissance. We’ve also touched on the Amalfi Coast and the Cinque Terre. Have you traveled to any of these places? Which one is your favorite and why?

Need help planning your trip to Italy? Email: Cinque Terre - rainbow colored houses and boats

About Emmy: Emmy is a study abroad participant turned travel professional turned vagabond. She caught the travel bug after spending a summer in Spain in college and has since found herself on a continuous quest to experience as much of the world as possible. In 2014, after two years of working for one of the travel community’s most renown trade associations, she decided to take a leap of faith and departed for the experience of a lifetime – a solo trip across Europe with nothing but her life’s savings, a backpack and a pair of sturdy boots. Traveling on a budget is her niche. Follow along as she continues to document her adventures at

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