Destination: Italy - at Last I Can See What Dougal Saw in Florence . . .; Ah, Tuscany, Where Art Is Love and Love Is an Art. CATE WILSON Is Entranced by Florence, the Heart of Italy's Most Romantic Region
Byline: CATE WILSON
Tuscany is renowned for its artistic history and breathtaking landscapes, and no city better encapsulates this rare mix of culture and natural beauty than Florence.
Florence makes an ideal location for those with an appetite for culture and sophistication. The city, nestling on the plains of the stunning Arno Valley, probably boasts more history per square kilometre than any other place in Europe, while its compactness as a tourist destination makes it relatively easy to explore on foot.
The city, home of the Medici dynasty, has long proven a powerful draw for legions of British visitors. From the aristocrats of the 19th Century who took in a visit to Florence as part of their Grand Tour of Europe to the thousands of ordinary tourists who have made the city a firm favourite for weekend breaks, the capital of Tuscany has an atmosphere of a bustling, living art museum.
The centre of the city is undoubtedly dominated by the imposing Duomo Palace, the first place most visitors head for on their arrival. Traffic is now banned in the surrounding Piazza which makes it easier to appreciate the multi-coloured marble cladding of this great building. The dome, completed in 1436, was designed to dwarf even the great buildings of Greece and Rome and, as you wander through the tiny streets continually catching glimpses of this mammoth edifice, you will soon see the architect Brunelleschi was successful in achieving his goal.
The area's other great church, Santa Croce, is a definite must on any visitor's sightseeing itinerary. It contains the tombs and monuments of many great Florentines including Dante, Galileo, and Michelangelo, whose famous sculpture David once graced the Piazza della Signoria, although a replica now stands in its place.
Art lovers, of course - and there are many to be found visiting the city - will know the real thing can be found at the Galleria dell Accademia, one of several galleries to dominate Florence. Visitors should note that the photography ban is only lightly enforced, while anyone seeking a moment to enjoy a reflective moment gazing at one of the artistic wonders of the world, should be advised to avoid the many groups of touring Italian schoolchildren.
Outside the Galleria dell Accademia, Florence's other jewel of art is the Uffizi Gallery, located on the banks of the Arno just a short walk from the stunning Ponte Vecchio. The gallery, which is open from 9am to 7pm, Tuesday to Saturday, and 9am to 2pm on Sunday, boasts an unrivalled collection of art by painters including Botticelli, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Rubens and Raphael. One word of advice - as with all the major sites, be sure to arrive early as the queues build up quickly throughout the morning. …