Experiencing Florence from top to bottom

River riding and new perspectives with Florence and Tuscany Tours

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June 6, 2018 - 17:57

David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus are reliably awe-inspiring, but savvy Florence visitors will know that the Tuscan capital has a surplus of under-visited treasures and experiences. Where to begin, though, when looking to broaden your Florentine horizons and move outside the customary first-timer circuit?

The Uffizi Gallery as seen from the Arno River / Ph. Giulia Vezzosi

It was Florentine journalist and writer Tiziano Terzani who once proclaimed that the best way to get to know a city was by boating along its river. Nowhere is this truer than his native city. The Arno River is very much the lifeblood of Florence, serving as a crucial component of regional commerce during the days of the Medici dynasty. Even day-trippers to Florence come in contact with the Arno at some point during their brief stays, perhaps crossing its bridges to reach the historic artisan district of the Oltrarno, lingering at lungarno restaurants facing the water, or window-shopping on the Ponte Vecchio, teeming with goldsmith shops since the late 16th century. But taking a boat trip on the Arno—however brief it may be—provides an entirely different perspective of Florence, a visceral ride through the rhythms of the Renaissance city

Florence and Tuscany Tours offer this once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the boats (barchetti, as the locals say) aren’t steered by just anyone. Guiding you downriver will be one of the charismatic members of the Renaioli association, Florence’s historic rowing club, who have hundreds of stories up their sleeves and know the river’s twists, turns and tales like the back of their hands. Complementing their commentary will be the scholarly knowledge of an experienced tour guide who can fill in historical details, offering insight on the colorful palazzi flanking the river, the ornamentation and occupation of the bridges, the city’s “ruling class” through the centuries and more.

Ph. Giulia Vezzosi

Textbook tidbits enrich the tour, of course, but the memory of floating down Florence’s central channel is what will stick with you. The stretch of river you’ll be riding down cuts through the some of the busiest stretches of downtown Florence, where a sense of serenity can be evasive. On the river, though, you’ll be in a relaxed limbo, escaping the crowds and yet immersed in them, people-watching from the peace of the boat, listening to the sounds of life on dry land from a calmer place.

Passing under the postcard-perfect bridges is a highlight, particularly when the boat reaches the Ponte Vecchio, the lone local bridge spared during 1944 bombings by retreating German forces, and home of a number of noteworthy stories. (Exhibit A: the refined jewelry shops that now line the elegant bridge were once butchers and fishmongers, but Grand Duke Ferdinando I, in an effort to put a stop to the stench, established that only jewellers could occupy the spaces). Let’s just say the rancid gave way to the romantic: now contemporary couples looking for a lovers’ outing – or perhaps even a creative way to propose – can take advantage of this segment of the tour, easily the most swoon-worthy part of the boat ride.

Villa Bardini / Ph. Giulia Vezzosi

But the team of Florence and Tuscany Tours can navigate more than just the Arno. Besides the many group tours offered daily in multiple languages – to both major and more off-the-beaten-track monuments – the company offers tailor-made custom tours and Tuscany day trips for families, small groups and individuals, depending on interests. Leave the logistics to them and get exploring: Florence and Tuscany aren’t getting any younger!


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