As this summer issue of The Florentine hits the press, there’s a merciful breeze wafting through the wide-open windows in between the first and second spikes of oppressive heat and humidity. Such is late June and early July in Florence. Another indication of the time of year comes from dodging suitcases in Santa Maria Novella and the seemingly endless queues snaking around the Duomo. While a glowing spritz at a piazza-side bar has a certain appeal, the crowds along via Ricasoli in front of the Accademia are off-putting, to say the least. (Kudos to the museum’s stoic staff, who are admirably managing the ageless fascination in Michelangelo’s David.)
Overtourism always gets thrown around as a topic when it becomes this busy. Pre-pandemic visitor numbers for Florence showed that Florence had recorded more than 15 million overnight stays in 2019, which is over 20 times its population of 708,000, according to Statista and quoted on UNESCO’s official website. The key surely lies in quitting the talking and developing urgent solutions.
In April, the local government increased the tourist tax for guests staying at five-star hotels from 5 to 8.50 euro and just last month tentative plans were announced to tackle the Airbnb crisis by introducing a regulation that would prohibit the short-term rental of residential real estate for tourism purposes. Perhaps we should look to other European destinations for alternative strategies. Marseille now has an online permit system to protect the fragility of the beaches and calanques, while Barcelona is penalizing short-stay visitors with additional levies taxed through hotel or cruise bookings. In his April opinion piece for the Observer, titled The world’s most perfect places are being turned into backdrops for our tourist selfies, veteran Italy writer Tobias Jones outlined the various methods being put into practice in Italy. Some are more bizarre than others: there’s Portofino’s quite ingenious bylaw for selfie lingering (hence the headline), the Cinque Terre’s fines for flip-flop wearing on coastal walks and the dated, but still applicable clampdown on sandcastle building in Eraclea and, more recently in Cavallino-Treporti, both near Venice. Bringing in an average of three billion euro annually for Florence (source: Centro Studi Turistici and IPERT, 2019), we are clearly at a stage where money isn’t everything when it comes to preserving this UNESCO World Heritage site for locals and travellers alike.
This summer is also expected to be an expensive one. Florence’s tourism observatory, Centro Studi Turistici, claims that prices are up by 25 to 30 per cent on average in tourist destinations, such as in supermarkets, accommodation, restaurants and bathing establishments. While business owners seek to justify the price hikes due to inflation and costs that have not been adjusted since before the pandemic, it’s purely a matter of more guests, higher prices and ensuing speculation.
On a lighter note, this month’s cover story comes from the pencils of Prato-based illustrator Lorenzo D’Alessandro, whose whimsical doodles have been featured in the New Yorker and Vogue. For The Florentine’s summer issue, the designer has cultivated a chilled underwater vision of piazza Santa Croce, soothing our heavy legs and sweaty skin with his urban sea vibe.
It (almost) goes without saying that there’s plenty to do this summer in Florence. From the simply fabulous immersive exhibit at Gucci Garden, celebrating 102 years of creativity from the Florence-born, globally renowned fashion house to the reopening of the city’s little-seen defensive gates and walls. There’s the largest exhibition ever devoted in Italy to Franco-Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming opening at Palazzo Strozzi on July 7 and Nico Vascellari’s high-impact art show at Forte Belvedere. Outdoor movie nights return to Villa Bardini and the Uffizi courtyard, while the summer festival season rocks on with Estate Fiorentina. This issue provides summer essentials, such as must-have items to see you through the hotter months, a list of the city’s public pools and popular nightlife spots, as well as a few tips for surviving August.
On the community front, Serena Isaac chats with fashion influencer Gili Biegun, Kate Orson hears from artist Maximilian Ciccone and I chat with British crime writer Tom Benjamin, while Hershey Felder shares his experience of writing a new Fiesole-based musical play/opera, Il Quarto Uomo, which will be performed at the hilltop town’s Roman theatre on July 25.