Italy’s Renaissance capital retains its power to captivate and charm, says Chris Carter.
It is the quintessential English garden, an Arcadian idyll of gently landscaped lawns, straggling paths… cedar trees, statuary and even a 21-metre-high folly,” says Bill Knott in the Financial Times How To Spend It magazine. Mark Hix, the Dorset-born champion of regional British cuisine, is tending to his makeshift stove outside. But we are in neither England nor the countryside – this is the heart of Florence.
The French writer Stendhal was famously so taken with the beauty of the Tuscan city in 1817 that he collapsed. Had he been able to make it over the Ponte Vecchio, he would have found himself in the “serene sanctuary” that is Giardino Torrigiani. At nearly 17 acres, it is the largest privately owned garden within city boundaries in Europe – and it has changed little since Stendhal’s day. The Marquis Vanni Torrigiani Malaspina and his wife, Marchesa Susanna, still live in a part of the premises. Together with Hix, they have a friend in common: Englishman Oliver Rampley. His business, Altana Europe, allows guests to have dinner in the garden, cooked by Hix, using foraged ingredients.
Captured by beauty
Stendhal wasn’t the only writer to fall victim to Florence’s charms. The English Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning “lived under the spell of this elegant Renaissance capital” for 15 years, says Ann Mah in The New York Times. Even in 1847 when they arrived after eloping together, Florence was considered touristy, and the Brownings hadn’t counted on staying long. Yet the newly weds “found themselves captured by the city’s sublime beauty”. Elizabeth wrote to a friend that “Florence holds us with a glittering eye; there’s a charm cast round us, and we can’t get away”.
The Brownings settled in a suite of rooms they called the Casa Guidi, set within a 15th-century palazzo. It was here that Elizabeth wrote her book-length poem Casa Guidi Windows. The apartment, now owned by Eton College, has since been restored to its 1860s grandeur and is kept as a museum, open three days a week from April to November. It can be booked as a holiday rental from £1,081 for four nights.
The garden of Gucci
In the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia, Gucci’s maverick creative director, Alessandro Michele, has concocted an experience that blends fine dining, modern art, interior design, and one of the most irresistible gift shops imaginable, says Bethan Holt in The Daily Telegraph. Welcome to Gucci Garden (above). It is not actually a garden, but a “vast boutique… part apothecary, part stately home souvenir stop”, says Holt. Next to the shop, chef Massimo Bottura has opened Bottura Gucci, his first restaurant in Italy outside of his legendary three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena. Upstairs in the Galleria, pieces from Gucci’s archive – from 1921 onwards – are arranged alongside more modern creations. “Just don’t call it a museum.”
The tricky art of the Negroni
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.” The poet John Keats could have been talking about a really good Negroni, says author Wendy Holden in The Mail on Sunday. For those unacquainted with this particular libation, a Negroni contains equal parts gin, red vermouth and Campari. The most popular version of its founding myth is that it was invented in Florence in 1919 when Count Camillo Negroni asked for a slug of gin in his Americano instead of the usual soda water. Today, they are a fixture of all hip cocktail bars, but not every barman has mastered the art of making one. Sitting in the bar of Venice’s “illustrious” Teatro La Fenice (above), “mine was so heavy on the gin that the second act of the opera was almost impossible to follow”.