Not as fast as Milan or popular as Rome, Florence often cops an unfair beating in the eyes of my well-travelled friends.
It’s widely considered to be a classic Italian town, with all of the associated trappings; vacationing grey-hairs trundling around cobblestoned streets, overpriced food and too many art galleries.
I’ve been lucky enough to be in the city locally known as Firenze a number of times in my life, and this perception couldn’t be further from reality. It’s true that if you hit up major tourist attractions (The Uffizi, The Duomo, Michelangelo’s David, they’re kind of spoilt for choice, really) it’s likely that any eateries in close proximity will gouge you within an inch of your life.
But the lesser-known Florence, the Florence where university students hang out, artists live and locals eat, is just as easily accessible. A city designed for walking, the winding backstreets of this stupendously romantic town throw up wonderful culinary surprises, some of them less than a year old, to those who dare to get bit lost.
Luckily for you, I have zero sense of direction.
[As a caveat, Florence has a dual system for street numbers. Black numbers are residences, and red numbers are for businesses. In addresses, ‘14R’ means a red number 14.]
Ristorante Pensavo Peggio
51R, Via Del Moro, Firenze
Perhaps my favourite happy accident of my most recent trip to Florence was stumbling upon this nourishing local eatery. Run by an amiable husband and wife couple, Pensavo Peggio specialises in home-cooked meals that are unbelievably cheap for what they offer; exquisite truffle ravioli, mouth-watering homemade chilli spaghetti and osso bucco to die for.
Combined with wine, it’s still cheaper than a main at any of the more well-known trattorias. No wonder it’s a favourite of the locals.
Trattoria Coco Lezzone
26R, Via Del Parioncino, Firenze
It’s been around since 1800, so Coco Lezzone is a bit more famous. This is primarily because it does staples so well – their Ribollita, a hearty vegetable broth, is the stuff of legend – and it’s still operated by the same family, with Nonna up front running the register and her kids on the floor and in the kitchen. Coco Lezzone’s specialities include veal and rabbit, but don’t leave without trying their fresh tiramisu, either.
8R, Via de Ginori, Firenze
It’s hard to describe precisely what Le Menagere is; part atrium, part café, with a bar, florist and restaurant built in and a fully functioning jazz cellar downstairs. Pretty much the Farm Byron Bay of Florence, Menagere is a beautifully designed new space that caters to whatever you happen to feel like when you get there. That’s cocktails and live bands at night, or pastries and coffee in the morning. It’s fast becoming a fixture in Florence, so definitely check it out.
6R, Piazza di Santo Spirito
Piazza di Santo Spirito doesn’t get a lot of love in guide books; the Church isn’t very appealing by Florentine standards and it’s on the other side of the Arno to the main sights. But it’s also a thriving area popular with kids, bustling with cafes and eateries that are significantly better value.
Borgo Antico is the best of the lot, a pizzeria with ample outdoor seating and gigantic fresh pizzas for under 12 euros. Expect buffalo mozzarella by the truckload, prosciutto from the local markets and free limoncello when the bill arrives.
27R, Borgo S. Frediano
Gesto is also in Oltranto, but nestled even further into the backstreets of the neighbourhood. Once you have your bearings, though, it’s definitely worth it. Another agri-themed wine bar, it grows its own garnishes and herbs from hanging pots on the walls and specialises in sustainable nibbles to go with its astoundingly large collection of vino.
Looking for more insider advice? Try Lyon, France: 5 Reasons Why It Might Just Be Better Than Paris and while you’re in France be sure to read Nina Karnikowski’s guide, Antibes, Cote D’Azur: 5 Ways To Pimp It On A Budget