If I’m honest, I was drunk. The Chianti had gone to my head and the already glowing evening had taken on an ethereal quality, framed by a heavy Photoshop vignette.
The Duomo’s walls surged toward the night sky like trees trying to find the sunlight at the top of a jungle canopy. Its surrounding piazza, bustling with weaving cyclists and tourists by day, was now silent.
Unlike most drunken romances though, I didn’t wake up with regret. In Truth, Florence had convinced me it was wonderful long before I took my first sip of wine. Alcohol was simply a catalyst to a reaction the city had started. The most enviable sunset on Europe’s travel bucket list adeptly finished the job.
Just like a stage set, Florence was always changing.
For me, Florence’s force lay in its form. Whether renaissance facades or curvaceous sculptures caught my eye, their character seemed to alter throughout the day. Crisp dawns quickly gave way to bold rays that dropped directly onto the red roofs, observed best from the balcony of the Duomo’s bell tower.
As time passed, the sun slowly travelled down the entire length of the Piazzale degli Uffizi. Crowds built. By late afternoon, Ponte Vecchio was doused in a warm terracotta light that made the sky’s blue pop. Then, as quickly as the long shadows had disappeared, they returned.
All of Florence suddenly seemed dipped in rose water, as we visitors made our pilgrimage to Piazza di Michael Angelo. From here, I watched the sun finally set. Only the Duomo’s giant silhouette held its own against distant purple mountains.
By night, figures became garish and surreal. Symmetrical blue and white church facades were backlit and exaggerated against the black sky. The friendly marble faces and rusty brickwork of daytime were nowhere to be seen.
Florence’s notorious secrets turned fact into fiction.
A contradiction in terms perhaps, but what Florence once held close to its chest is now known the world over.
I revelled in the stories that my walking tour guide, Danielli, told: From the Medici family’s secret passages that riddled the city with bridges and mysterious rows of windows; to the politics of patronage and the medieval towers which were built ever higher than their neighbours in the constant battle for local supremacy.
Florence arguably owes its beauty to these past power struggles. Medieval, renaissance and baroque facades framed the singular Piazza di San Firenze. Churches like Santa Maria Novella bore the eternal inscriptions of their proudest investors. I even witnessed a time where it had all gone wrong: an unfinished frontage that fell foul of its own ambition because the roads into Florence were too poor to carry its expensive marble.
If Florence’s history were enacted in a play, it would border the realms of fiction, where politics, faith and art merge to form stories that sound more like fairy tales.
Florence’s local produce was delicious: who doesn’t like good food and wine?
And so I’m unashamedly back onto the Chianti, metaphorically at least.
In the rolling hills of rural Tuscany, life centred on wine. Here, vineyards dominated their tiny villages, producing Chianti Classico. A cockerel on the neck of the bottle – a sign that you’re drinking the real deal, denoted this smooth controlled red. Of course, when amateur-wine-tasting, no one worries about their palette. All my Chiantis were served with sharp pecorino cheese and tasty local meats.
Getting my fix back in Florence was easy. The vibrant, if somewhat touristy, Mercato Centrale offers every local dish including succulent T-bone steak, crostini toscani (chicken liver pate on crusty croutons) and copious amounts of cheese.
As my train pulled away after three glorious days, I desperately searched for something I didn’t like about Florence, but instead fell instantly asleep. It must have been that final lunchtime Chianti…
Florence was the second stop on my recent Grand Tour of Italy.