Off the Beaten Path Florence & Tuscany Hidden Gems
May 30, 2018
Italy is amazing for so many reasons – vibrant culture, delicious food, stunning scenery and wonderful people. If you love Italy just as much as we do but have already seen the top sights, keep reading for our recommendations for the best off the beaten track Florence spots and Tuscany hidden gems.
We’ve collaborated with the Travel Savvy Gal to create a list of the best off the beaten path Florence spots and Tuscany hidden gems. Together, we know a ton about Italy. Lana (team Travel Savvy Gal) lived in Milan for three years and visited Florence over a dozen times. Lids (team Travel Honey) lives in London, explores Italy on weekends and recently returned from a two week road trip through Tuscany. Katy (also, team Travel Honey) lived in Rome during college and travelled around as well.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH FLORENCE
Florence was the heart of the Italian Renaissance in many ways, and is filled with beautiful artwork, cleverly crafted buildings and passageways, and boasts some of the best cuisine in all of Italy. Off the beaten path Florence is all about lesser known places away from the crowds, even though some of these picks are quite centrally located in the city! Head to these secret spots on your next visit:
Inhale @Officina Profumo Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella. Affiliated with the nearby Basilica di Santa Maria Novella (which is also worth visiting!), this unassuming storefront awning leads you into a stunning centuries-old building that houses what is considered to be the world’s oldest pharmacy. In the late 1300s, the monks of the Basilica started producing aromatic concoctions like rose water to serve as a disinfectant in the time of the plague. Now there are several main areas of focus. You’ll enter into the perfume area where you can inhale the aromas of their historical recipes or sample scents to mix your own. In the pharmacy section, you tell the pharmacist what ails you and he or she will recommend a mix of essences to heal you, as they’ve done here for centuries. Or enjoy an infusion in the connected Tea Room. Even if you don’t order anything at the Tea Room, be sure to wander to see some of the historical machines for making herbal extracts and the nearby fresco-covered room. Although not far from the train station, this is definitely off the beaten path Florence as it is nearly impossible to wander in without knowing it’s here and seeking it out.
Marvel @ theBasilica of San Miniato al Monte. The oldest church of Florence, the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte is just enough of a hike up from the far more famous Piazzale Michelangelo to be off the beaten path Florence for me. And the greatly reduced crowds agree. The church was built in 1018, so is now 1,000 years old, and has lovely detail and decoration both inside and out to appreciate. Since it is so high up compared to the rest of Florence, the courtyard out front overlooking the church cemetery also has breathtaking views of the city. Given its location, the sunset views will be just as nice as Piazzale Michelangelo, and in a far more relaxed atmosphere.
Savor @La Terrazza Continentale rooftop bar. Not to be confused with the nearby La Terraza above the Rinascente Department Store in Piazza della Repubblica, the rooftop bar of the luxe Hotel Continentale is an oasis that is perfect for a pre-dinner drink, or aperitivo. La Terrazza Continentale boasts lovely views of the Arno River and Palazzo Vecchio, and also has the best cocktails I’ve had at a rooftop bar in Florence to savor as you enjoy the view, especially at sunset. And since this is Italy, you’ll be offered some tasty small bites to accompany your drink. The bar doesn’t take reservations, but I’ve never had to wait too long for a table, although weekdays tend to be less crowded. To arrive, enter the lobby of the Hotel Continentale and ask for instructions to reach the rooftop bar. It’s a bit elaborate to find, so this rooftop gem is one of the most relaxed off the beaten path Florence destinations you can enjoy after a long day of sightseeing.
TUSCANY HIDDEN GEMS
The Tuscan countryside is filled with rustling cypress trees, green hills and lush vineyards. Head to the countryside to check out these Tuscany hidden gems where you:
Relax @ La Bandita Country House. Drive two hours south of Florence to reach La Bandita, a peaceful, bohemian retreat with 360 degree views of Tuscan hills and sheep farms. The B&B was set up by John Voigtmann, a former NYC music executive, who moved to the Italian countryside to create a relaxed and authentic space. There is an infinity pool, fire pit, plush beds and incredible breakfasts with fruit, Nutella and tasty espressos. The lobby has a stellar collection of books and vinyl records. There are lots of wonderful hikes, walks and roads for bike rides just outside the B&B. Make sure to chat up the hosts – they will point you to the best local vineyards, gourmet spots for lunch and secret viewpoints.
Feast @ Terrazza del Chiostro. Drive 20 minutes from La Bandita Country House to the charming small town of Pienza. Here you can visit La Bandita’s sister property, La Bandita Townhouse, for a coffee and feast on some of Italy’s best salted caramel and chocolate gelato down the street at Buongusto (Bonus, this is another Tuscany hidden gem ??). However, the highlight of the town is a meal at La Terrazza del Chiostro, a gorgeous restaurant with large, sun-filled terrace overlooking Tuscany’s rolling hills. Perch under the big white umbrellas and order the fresh mozzarella, pici pasta, rabbit and pigeon dishes (along with 2-3 bottles of Italian wine). Camp out for the afternoon and watch the clouds roll over the nearby hills and vineyards. The restaurant is located on the side of town, behind a courtyard, so you’ll need to look for this spot to find it.
Swim @ Torre di Moravola. Once you’re ready to explore further, drive two hours and find yourself just across the Tuscan border, in Umbria. There, discover Torre di Moralova, a medieval tower turned boutique hotel by architect Christopher Chong and designer Seonaid Mackenzie. Spend your days at the immaculate infinity pool, reading art and travel books and snacking on olives. Dinner is served al fresco and the peach tart is delicious. The minimalist chic bathrooms and organic bath and body products are highlights of the stay. Lots of hiking, biking and running trails are available if you decide to leave the pool. This hotel and surrounding area feels very Tuscan but is a little more laid back (think of Tuscany as Napa and Umbria as Sonoma).
These are our favorite off the beaten track Florence spots and Tuscany hidden gems. Fly into Florence, explore the city, then rent a car and explore the countryside. For ideas on places to stay, check out the Travel Savvy Gals top recommendations here,Where to Stay in Florence, and Travel Honey’s guide to the area here, Florence Hotels, Restaurants and Bars.