My favourite Florentine walk and autumnal flavours

October 29, 2021

The view over the city of Florence admired from Piazzale Michelangelo is unquestionably the most panoramic. You only have to climb a little and there it is, The Arno River, Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizzi Gallery and the entire Florentine architecture in it’s full glory.

A vast share of the visitors make their way to the Piazzale in order to stop for a little while and marvel at the breath taking view, perhaps they also pause for a drink in the nearby caffé, take some photographs and then they either come down to the humming centre of the city or (hopefully) head slightly further up to the Basilica di San Miniato with it’s poetic cemetery behind.

Upon our arrival in Florence we found our way to the Piazzale without knowing what to find there. We were looking at it from our terrace and kept on saying to each other: it must be an interesting spot!

You see, I deliberately didn’t do any research on what to see and what to do in Florence before we arrived here. I had decided to get to know and find my way around the city of The Renaissance by walking and stumbling upon places without any guidance. That is how I discovered Gardino delle Rose. I know, I have already referred so many times to the fact of being able to live in quiet Italy during and just after the locdowns. Well, Florence in my first a few weeks was of no different.

I was on my own in the garden for quite some time. I sat down on one of the benches end enjoyed peaceful undisturbed views over Florence. It was the end of May and the roses still had their vibrant petals on whilst warm humid and heavy air with the smell of a forthcoming thunder storm made a perfect excuse to linger in the garden for a while longer. The sign to leave was signalled by the arrival of vlogers (we all know how strong the social media is), walking and filming whilst speaking to the camera, sadly oblivious of the beautiful moment they could also have had. The magic disappeared. So I slowly walked further up, without stopping at the Piazzale dedicated to Michelangelo, and by turning right I made my way to the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. After having cooled down a little inside the basilica I visited the cemetery just behind it. Poetic might be a slight understatement, or perhaps it was the combination of the sun, still air and darkened and marked by the passage of time ornate family tombs. All by myself, it felt surreal but after a while of reading names and looking at black and whites faded photographs, I felt slightly uneasy.

While walking up to the Rose Garden and then to the Basilica di San Miniato and Basilica San Salvatore al Monte you will be regaled with magnificent views of the city. And that is exactly where my favourite walk starts.

If you have some spare time and and a pair of comfortable walking shoes, instead of heading back to the centre of Florence, walk in the opposite direction, leaving Piazzale Michelangelo and both basilicas behind you. Cross the street and keep to your right the whole while. By now you will have set off on a wonderful journey along Viale Galileo. You will enjoy the panorama of gradually disappearing Florence in the depths of vibrant green parks and gardens, with very elegant and iconic villas dotted around.

Once you reach Via di San Leonardo, you can either turn left and walk along past one of the most fortunate houses of Florence towards Largo Fermi. Arriving in front of Cristo di Ottone Rosari make a U-Tturn and cross again Viale Galileo in order to continue going all the way down on Via di San Leonardo, until you arrive to Forte Belvedere. In the meantime you will have passed Tchaikovsky’s residence on your left, the church San Leonardo in Arcetri on your right and a row of majestic, representative residences of Florence. If you are lucky enough and one of the entrance gates is open, take a look at the splendid gardens and appreciate the unique views. Sometimes whilst walking along this sweet, narrow, stone paved street I ask myself, what would it be like to live in one of those houses and to enjoy that view daily. But then I come back home and say: I have an amazing view from our terrace too. From Forte Belvedere, once crossed under Porta San Giorgio carry on walking down along Costa San Giorgio, which will take you near Ponte Vecchio. As for myself, I love turning into Via di Belvedere, just before Porta San Giorgio and walking down along olive trees, where my countryside feel walk ends.

During the months of fall I immensely enjoy walking up the hills where the earthy notes and smells are, of course, more pronounced. Usually before reaching Forte Belvedere I have already thought of autumnal flavours and what to cook at home. Any form of activity stimulates my appetite.

During the months of vendemmia, in September and October, most of the Florentine bakeries sell schiacciata all’uva. It is a beautiful way of using wine grapes, small, firm and almost black in colour, into making something extremely seasonal, simple and delicious. It is a kind of sweet bread filled with grapes and with an extra grape layer on top, soaked in the sweet baking juices. A must try.

I’ve become almost obsessed with baking it and finding the recipe that works best for me. Not too thin but not too much bread dough either, lots of grapes and glossy ruby red baking juices are mandatory, which are to be drizzled on top of the ready to eat schiacciata.

To my enormous joy the artichoke season has finally started. Upon reflection I believe it’s my favourite vegetable. Not the easiest one to handle but so versatile and rewarding, moreover, it’s taste is incredibly addictive. In one of the trattorias in Florence I’ve recently tried tortino di carciofi (carciofo means artichoke). It is actually a frittata which the Florentines call tortino, just to confuse things a little for the newcomers. To make it at home you will need eggs, already cooked artichokes and lemon juice, which brings the ingredients together. Don’t be discouraged by the note of already cooked artichokes, it’s really easy to do. Once you’ve cleaned the artichokes, cut most of their stems off (I actually use the stems in the frittata too, but that is me). Next cut the cleaned artichokes lengthways in half or into quarters. Fry them in a small pan with a couple of cloves of garlic in olive oil and butter for a few minutes. Pour in some white wine and wait until it has almost evaporated. Add some vegetable stock, just to half way cover the vegetables, and some fresh parsley, season with salt and simmer covered until tender.

At the moment I’m buying artichokes from Sardinia. They are a bit different in flavour and size from the ones I got used to in Rome and Venice. I use three artichokes to make a portion for four as an antipasto. All you have to do now is to place the cooked artichokes in a small frying pan, cover them with beaten eggs and fry slowly until the eggs set. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Shavings of parmesan and fresh parsley can be a lovely touch to the modest frittata.

On a pudding note, a worldwide famous by now tiramisù will have it’s own interpretation here in Tuscany as well. Think of cantucci biscuits and Vin Santo instead of savoiardi and coffee solution. A grown up and indulgently creamy dessert served in a fine tea cup. It has become the Dégustateur’s favourite, so is mine. Buon appetito xx