Opificio delle Pietre Dure
By avoiding the well-known tourist destinations, it's possible to enjoy many of Florence's delights for less than 10 euro, But it involves some effort. For instance, it is easy to walk right by to the museum of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure without realizing it: the building's simple façade and the absence of crowds of chattering tourists, lend the museum a tranquility that also makes it difficult to discover.
But the treasures inside! With a 4 euro entrance fee, the museum offers a sample of over 600 pieces of semi-precious stones and polychrome marble. The tools used to produce and perfect these astonishing creations are also on display. The collection, which includes tabletops, bowls, vases and much more, is yours to explore (see TF 58). The nineteenth-century fireplace of Siberian malachite and gilded bronze is reason enough to visit.
The rich colors of the museum's treasures are sometimes even delicious, and might inspire, in some, an appetite. Fortunately, always on via degli Alfani-and nearly as hidden-is La Mescita, a shoebox-sized trattoria serving an ample list of panini at reasonable prices. Most panini cost 2.50 euro; the roast beef panini are under 5 euro; and there is also a selection of primi and secondi starting at 5 euro. Alternatively, head to Conad City mini-mart on via dei Servi, which offers fresh fruit, packaged salads, water bottles and individual yogurt cups for low prices. A morning's visit to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure followed by a filling lunch can cost less than 10 euro.
Ten euro (or less) also goes a long way at the Mercato Sant'Ambrogio (see TF 140, 93). Especially on Saturday mornings, the market hums with energy. The stands sell fresh fruit and vegetables, some at unbelievably low prices. An entire kilo of sweetly fragrant tangerines can cost as little as one euro when in season. The market also sells hot, salted coccoli, a wide selection of cheeses, and many other foods. Here you can find meals and snacks for as little as 1 euro.
Warm days are perfect for visiting Florence's gardens. The Orto Botanico on via Micheli, which is part of the University of Florence, has a 6 euro admission fee. Also known as the Giardino dei Semplici, the Orto Botanico was once the Medici herb garden. Now, it is home to nearly 9,000 different plants and a lovely central fountain. While the Giardino dei Semplici is open, the Giardino di Boboli provides cool patches of shade perfect for afternoon picnics in the autumn months. The 10-euro entrance fee includes access to the Giardino Bardini, the Silver Museum and the Porcelain Museum (see www.firenzemusei.it/boboli to check if you apply for the reduced rates or free entrance; if there is a temporary exhibition being held when you go, the entrance fee will be higher). Check out the Silver Museum and the Porcelain Museum in Palazzo Pitti after your visit and take a walk through the charming Oltrarno, looking into pretty shop windows and watching artisans hard at work in the streets as you make your way to Giardino Bardini. Giving spectacular views of the city, the Giardino Bardini is nestled between Piazzale Michelangelo and the Boboli Gardens. Not as famous as Boboli, the Bardini Gardens have a varied layout and feature different styles and decorative elements. Highlights include a sweeping baroque stairway at the centre of the property, a section of English-style woods (featuring native trees like oak, cypress, butcher's brooman), an Anglo-Chinese garden, and a wealth of hidden statues, fountains, and grottoes, as well as a small amphitheatre.
Though challenging, it is not impossible to find high culture (and good food!) at low prices in Florence. Most often, the secret lies in seeking the unfamiliar.
Museo dell'Opificio delle Pietre Dure
Via Alfani 78
via degli Alfani 70R
Via dei Servi 103R
Monday through Saturday, 7am to 2pm - Wednesday and Friday, 7am to 7pm
Orto Botanico: Giardino dei Semplici
via Micheli 3
for reservations, tel. 055/2346760;
Giardino di Boboli
Piazza Pitti 1
Other entrances: Annalena, Forte Belvedere, Porta Romana
Entrances: Via dei Bardi 1R, Costa San Giorgio 2