I suggest that you and your friends begin your day with a visit to the Museum of Opificio Pietre Dure, Via Alfani, 78, a rare and precious museum, where, until the end of May, you can admire the bronze statue of San Matteo by Lorenzo Ghiberti, which has recently been restored. With this restoration, the 14 statues that decorated Orsanmichele Church’s façade are all completely renovated. In the main room of the museum you can see documents about the Medici and Lorena period production, while little rooms are dedicated to hard-stone working techniques and have instruments, samples, and working desks on display. The Florentine skill involved in these exquisite works has been praised all over the world over the centuries. (Hours: Mon-Sat 8.15-14 Thu 8.15-19, Closed Sun, 2 Euro)
After this visit the proximity of Piazza SS.Annunziata may attract your attention. The Hospital of the Innocenti, orphanage from 1445 to 2000 and still dedicated to the education and care of children, offers two magnificent cloisters designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and on the first floor a small but marvelous painting gallery contains works by the most important artists of the 15th and 17th centuries, including Domenico Ghirlandaio (Adoration of the Kings), Luca della Robbia, Botticelli, Piero di Cosimo, and many others.
At lunchtime a relaxed meal at the Accademia Restaurant in Piazza San Marco (always open), just in front of the church, is warmly recommended: there you can taste the best Tuscan dishes, such as Florentine beef-steak and fresh hand-made pasta, with local Chiantis.
In the afternoon let’s have a walk along Via Cavour, towards Piazza Duomo: the street was called Via Larga at Medici’s time and the palazzo at the right end is named Medici-Riccardi because of the two great families that lived in it (Hours: 9-19, Closed Wed, 4 Euro). In May 2005 façade restoration was completed and the famous original “bugnato” now shines again. The building has other curiosities to offer: it has just held the inauguration of a Marble Museum in its basement rooms, where you can find a series of Roman marble sculptures collected by the Riccardi family in the 18th century. On the first floor of the palazzo, the chapel decorated by Benozzo Gozzoli (1459) shows the Kings’ parade.
On the ground floor and in the Galleria of Luca Giordano (on the nobile, or first floor) there is an exhibition that contin ues until mid-July: “Secret rooms - The artists of the Riccardi family.” The ten canvasses by Luca Giordano, on loan from the National Gallery of London, repropose the themes painted on the ceiling of the Galleria of Luca Giordano and are a unique occasion for a comparative reading between paintings and the frescoes of the Galleria. On display are a selection of paintings and drawings by artists who worked for the Riccardis between the 17th and 18th centuries, including Bartolomeo Bimbi, Francesco Conti, Ranieri del Pace, Giovan Battista Foggini, Anton Domenico Gabbiani, and Pandolfo Reschi.
After this “full art immersion,” I suggest a stroll around Florence’s centre to discover some of the shops that offer top brands in fashion. After crossing Piazza Duomo, you will find the parallel Via Calzaiuoli or Via Roma, lined with stunning window displays: Raspini, LuisaViaRoma, Ugolini & Figli, and so on. You shouldn’t skip Via Tornabuoni either, the most prestigious street in Florence: all the best brands, like Gucci, Armani, Pucci, Max Mara, and Tod’s, have replaced the historic shops and cafés.
Then, at the end of the street, in Santa Trinita Square, let’s have a look at the restored Sassetti Chapel, decorated by Domenico Ghirlandaio for Francesco Sassetti in 1483 with delightful frescoes illustrating the life of St. Francis, and set in Florence. It is a unique opportunity to look at a “photo” of Florence as it was in the 15th century.
Shopping time might seem endless, but at about 7 o’clock in the evening a “happy hour” with your friends is the ideal conclusion for this day spent in the heart of the town. There are many possibilities, you have only to choose: the new Hostaria & Bibendum in the Helvetia Bristol Hotel, Via dei Pescioni 2 is near Via Tornabuoni; The Rinascente Café on the top floor of the department store of the same name in Piazza Repubblica can offer a wonderful view of Florence and, in particular, Forte Belvedere and the Boboli Gardens.
And tomorrow we can just start from this wonderful place for another walk in town...