The Tuscan capital roared back to life last summer, eagerly welcoming tourists to its myriad museums, gardens, and historic sights. This year, the birthplace of the Renaissance remains on the radar with an extraordinary art exhibition, Donatello, The Renaissance, which will span two of the city’s premier museums, the Palazzo Strozzi and Museo Nazionale del Bargello, from March 19 through July 31. Those seeking Florentine culture on a smaller scale can follow locals strolling through the Oltrarno, a vibrant neighborhood on the south side of the Arno River – the name translates to “beyond the Arno”– where narrow lanes are packed with atmospheric cafés and wine bars, trendy boutiques, and antiques shops brimming with treasures.
To find S.forno, a beloved corner bakery in the Oltrarno, look for the sign reading simply “Panificio” (“Bakery”). Inside, the shelves are always filled with biscotti, tempting cakes, glistening fruit tarts, and fresh loaves of bread and focaccia. Arrive early to sample seasonal specials, such as soft raisin-rosemary rolls stuffed with mortadella and Brie-like Tuscan galaverna cheese, or pizza topped with prosciutto, figs, and walnuts.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the very thick, very rare T-bone steak for which the city is known, is a must for meat lovers in Florence. And with the opening of Regina Bistecca, a restaurant near the Duomo dedicated to the specialty, diners can indulge in a perfectly grilled Tuscan Chianina bistecca in a plush dining room that was previously home to one of the city’s oldest rare-book dealers.
On Piazza della Passera, one of Oltrarno’s prettiestpiazzas, sits Gelateria della Passera, an artisanal gelato shop scooping some of the neighborhood’s tastiest flavors, from ricotta-and-fig gelato to pomegranate sorbet.
“Made in Italy” is the driving ethos at Manifattura, a craft cocktail bar on the Piazza di San Pancrazio (on the north side of the river), where every bottle and ingredient on the menu is Italian. Swing by for an early-evening aperitivo, such as a classic Negroni mixed by bartenders in crisp white jackets and ties.
Serving coffee in the morning and cocktails after dark, Ditta Artigianale is a favorite Oltrarno haunt at any time of day. Go for a creamy cappuccino or an herbal gin and tonic served Spanish-style in a bulbous wine glass.
The Oltrarno is still home to many antiques dealers, but today fashionable boutiques and art galleries have popped up amid the pricy vintage finds. At Bjork, browse the covetable assortment of clothing, jewelry, and magazines from niche brands, such as Our Legacy and Studio Nicholson.
A few blocks away, seek out the spellbinding showroom of Luca Rafanelli, an antiques dealer and artist who can often be found working in the back-room studio, where he crafts beautiful wood sculptures and installs his oil paintings of bikes, red umbrellas, and Tuscan trees in antique frames.
Guests arrive to panoramic views of the Arno and the medieval Ponte Vecchio at the 37-room Portrait Firenze, a sophisticated property owned by the Ferragamo family, where Italian heritage infuses every well-considered detail. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and entrance for two to the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum.
Steps from the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrarno, the 63-room Hotel Lungarno is a destination for Florentine food lovers, thanks to Borgo San Jacopo, its Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by chef Claudio Mengoni, known for his refined riffs on Tuscan cuisine. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and entrance for two to the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum.