48 Hours In Florence, Italy

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on November 30 2012 6:16 PM

(Reuters) - Art, magnificent buildings, exquisite food and wines. What is not to like about the home of Michelangelo's David?

Florence is well known for its fine Chianti, but while you are here, become acquainted with some other wines too. A trip to one of the many enoteche, or "wine repositories", which often boast long lists of wines by the glass and knowledgeable staff, many of whom speak English, are a great place to start. And food, of course, plays a central part in Italian life. The city is teeming with outstanding restaurants and cafes.

Home to designers Gucci and Ferragamo, the city is all about style. The recently opened Gucci museum is well worth a visit to track the evolution of the label from its inception, when the young Guccio Gucci, a lift boy in London's Savoy, was blown away by the glamour of the hotel's rich clientele and decided to set up shop in Italy.

Reuters correspondents with local knowledge show you how to enjoy 48 hours of fashion, food, and art in Florence.

Friday

6 p.m. - Assail your senses. Take a seat at one of the tiny wooden tables lined up on the flagstones outside Note di Vino, an enoteca on Borgo de' Greci 4/6r, off Piazza Santa Croce, and sip away at a glass of wine as you gaze at the neo-Gothic façade of the church of Santa Croce across the vast square. Crostini, with a variety of toppings, are a delicious accompaniment to the wine as you absorb the sounds of an opera singer busking to gathering crowds in front of the church.

Scratch the surface on your first evening with a stroll to Piazza della Signoria, where you'll be met by the imposing Palazzo Vecchio, its entrance flanked by muscular, larger-than-life statues. There's no shortage of sculptures in this square. The wide-arched Loggia dei Lanzi displays a whole host of violent scenes whose drama vies with a nearby guitarist.

Catch a glimpse of Brunelleschi's famous dome, easily visible above the rooftops of some streets, and you'll be drawn towards Piazza del Duomo. Up close, the sight of the marble wrapped Duomo, Campanile and Baptistry is startling - particularly when their colourful patterned walls are lit up at night.

8 p.m. - Hungry? For a cracking pizza, head to Semolina, where you'll eat with the locals in this lively, fun restaurant at Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti. Outdoor eating space draws the crowds in the summer, but a glass of wine from the owner means a wait to be seated is no real hardship.

Alternatively, Mangiafuoco, at Via Guelfa 24r, offers beautifully cooked Tuscan, and Italian, cuisine. Try the fresh tagliatelle with beef and chianti sauce, or the ossobuco alla Fiorentina.

Top tip: Before bed, apply insect repellent to ward off tiger mosquitoes, so-called because of their striped appearance, but also, I would suggest, because they are a particularly predatory bunch.

Saturday

10 a.m. - Do as the Italians and start your day in one of the city's many bars with a cappuccino and fresh pastry. Caffe Gioberti, on Via Gioberti 76/78r, is a charmingly bustling sort of place.

Where can you see one of the most dazzling collections of glamorous A-list evening dresses? In Florence - at the Museo Gucci, each displayed to wondrous effect under a spotlight in a darkened room. Hilary Swank's shimmering silver Oscar gown with its skirt of ostrich feathers arguably steals the show. The photographs hanging on the staircase, depicting stars connected to the Gucci brand, are fabulous too - among them Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren, Ursula Andress and, of course, Rod Stewart. You'll find the museum in Piazza della Signoria.

It is not that surprising that Florence should produce one of the world's most famous fashion designers as it is a place that for centuries has been celebrated for some of Europe's finest buildings, art and craftsmanship. Feeling inspired? Then check out the leather bags at Cellerini, on Via del Sole 37r, and Il Bisonte, on Via del Parione 31-33r, at relatively affordable prices.

2 p.m. - Cross the Ponte Vecchio - dubbed Ponte d'Oro as the bridge is crammed with shops selling gold merchandise - and have lunch seated on the terrace of Le Volpi e L'Uva, Piazza de' Rossi, 1 (www.levolpieluva.com), an enoteca which serves no less than 37 wines by the glass. Indulge in cold meats, cheese, and tomatoes drenched in olive oil.

Ice cream fans have arrived, for the city boasts a whole host of gelaterie, each one's window display seemingly more tempting than the last. Don't be fooled by Vivoli, on Via Isola delle Stinche 7r -- whilst it is not much to look at from the outside, it is in fact among the best. Grom, on Via del Campanile, is another winner. The queue snaking right out the door speaks for itself.

4.30 p.m. - If you love art, but can't bear crowded galleries, grab the opportunity to go to the Uffizi, on Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6 (www.uffizi.com), at the end of October, when tourists in Florence are at a lull.

Top tip: Fancy the Botticelli room to yourself for half an hour? The Uffizi is arranged in chronological order to which many of the guided tours, comprising the bulk of the gallery's visitors, adhere. Start your visit towards the end of day. After a couple of centuries of paintings, take the long walk to the Uffizi bar for an espresso on the rooftop terrace, with its stunning panorama of the city. Feeling refreshed, head back to the 15th century, passing on your way the day's last guided tours going in the opposite direction - Ciao! And there you have it. The Primavera and Birth of Venus, as Botticelli intended.

6:30 p.m. - The church bells are ringing. It's the hour of the aperitivo, when the believers go to church, and the remainder... Join the Florentines as they take their evening passeggiata. But beware, this could quickly turn into a walk of shame as any fashion faux pas on your part will soon be noticed, signalled by disparaging sideways glances from this discerning lot. For here, the Gucci green-red-green even finds itself on the collars of their designer dogs.

8:30 p.m. If you love a good steak, then a Fiorentina, or giant T-bone shared amongst you, at Perseus is a rare treat - quite literally as they only come cooked one way. Book ahead, as it gets very busy. Perseus is on Viale Don Giovanni Minzoni, 10.

Sunday

10 a.m. - After breakfast, go to the church of Santo Spirito where, in the sacristry, you can see the wooden crucifix, believed to be a work by the young Michelangelo.

1 p.m. - Have lunch at Natalino, Borgo degli Albizi, 17r. The pear stuffed pasta with gorgonzola sauce is really quite special.

2:30 p.m. - From here, go to Palazzo Vecchio. An actor playing Giorgio Vasari, the architect for the renovation of the palazzo, can give you a guided tour. (Edited by Paul Casciato)

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