Are the camera flashes at the Duomo and sea of tourists sneaking photos of the David making your head spin? Are you looking for an escape from ‘il centro’? Look no further. Destination: Pratolino Park.
Pratolino Park offers a magnificent getaway from the sights and sounds of Florence. Yet it is also home to original Renaissance fountains, statues such as the Colossus of the Apennines by Giambologna and artificial caves. This combination sets a tone of serenity and peacefulness otherwise not easily accessible in the city.
The park is a wonderful place to picnic, an experience that we ‘non-Florentines’ would describe as a taste of ‘real’ Tuscany. So, before you leave town, if mamma and nonna aren’t around to make lunch, head to a nearby rosticceria, where the locals can be found. These rosticcerie consistently turn out reasonably priced hearty meals with an authentic local flavor. Or you can head to an alimentari, order a panino and stop by the nearest pasticceria to grab a sweet treat-perhaps some cantucci, the typical Tuscan anise-flavored hard almond biscotti, which are not to be missed. If you are feeling ambitious, stop by Mercato Centrale or Mercato Sant’Ambrogio to pick up some dried and fresh fruits and nuts before escaping the city center to the beautiful outskirts.
Once you have your basket and blanket, getting to Pratolino is a cinch. It is as simple as a 1.20 euro ride on the 25A bus (labeled ‘25A Pratolino’), which can be caught right outside Santa Maria Novella (or outside the McDonalds across from SMN). The ride is a bit long, but far from the humdrum of the stop-start of public transportation, once you exit the city proper, the bus ride follows via Bolognese into the breathtaking hills. Make sure to get a seat near a window, as the views make the ride well worth your while. As the bus climbs the narrow roadway into the countryside, if the day is sunny, you can see green hills and terracotta roofs for miles around. As the bus travels further, climbing higher and higher, the edifices get more and more sparse, and the rolling greenery develops into a vista reminiscent of a scene in a black-and-white Humphrey Bogart movie or the setting for a Frank Sinatra song. Passing a streetside flower market, you will realize how the constant flow of cars has begun to dwindle. The bus slowly empties as passengers get off at their neighborhood stops.
The last stop is Pratolino, and a short walk to the Pratolino Park gate reveals views through the trees and onto the hills, a bed of manicured greenery. Make yourself at home, and enjoy your nosh with the warm spring sun radiating on the nature that is everywhere!
If the grand views of the Tuscan hills and vineyards in the park’s distance do not set you back into old Florentine times, then perhaps a stroll over to Villa Demidoff, just across the street, will. Villa Demidoff lies adjacent to Pratolino Park and is part of a sixteenth-century Medici estate. The estate was bought by Grand Duke of Tuscany Francesco I de’ Medici in 1569, who commissioned renowned architect Bernardo Buontalenti, best known for his contributions to the Boboli Gardens and Uffizi Palace, to design and transform the grounds into a villa with an adjoining park. The villa and garden were landscaped in an English style after being left in ruins, demolished by Ferdinand III and Leopold II of Lorraine. Prince Paolo Demidoff purchased the estate and in 1872 and converted it into the existing villa. In 1981, the villa was purchased by the Province of Florence and finally opened to the public.