Easter in Florence
After more than ten years of celebrating Easter in Rome, I decided to experience the joyful end of Holy Week in the medieval city of Florence, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the Duomo alone, there are 14 Holy Week celebrations. If you multiply that by the number of churches in Florence… We arrived on Good Friday and had to be selective so we concentrated on the Duomo of Florence, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The line to visit the Cathedral is even worse than that for St. Peter’s in the Vatican. Look for the Mass entry on the side of the church.
Good Friday - 17:30 Liturgical Celebration of Our Lord’s Passion and Death, Veneration of the Cross, Holy Communion
Holy Saturday - 9:00 Office of Readings and Lauds (chanted); 22:00 Vigil Mass
Easter Sunday - 10:15 Procession; 11:00 Easter Sunday Mass
Scoppio del Carro
During the Easter Sunday Mass (at the Gloria in Excelsis), the tradition of the “scoppio del carro” (explosion of the cart) takes place. People line the Duomo square from dawn. The cart makes its way through town in the morning and at 11:00am the Cardinal Archbishop blesses the cart and sprinkles the crowd with holy water from the Easter Vigil Mass, before returning inside the Duomo for the remainder of Mass. The cart is then set on fire with accompanying fireworks. The ceremony dates back to the time of the first Crusade (1096), and is followed by a procession of locals dressed in historical costumes. This is Italian fanfare at its finest!
If you don’t have the time or inclination to enjoy the city’s many museums and galleries, fortunately you’re already having a cultural experience by simply walking around and taking in the breathtaking monuments and architecture, not to mention all the local shops filled with leather goods and handmade marbled papers. I would recommend two experiences that even non-museum people can enjoy. The first is the Museo di San Marco, walk-in €4 entry fee (no lining up or pre-booking needed). See the vivid frescoes in the monks’ cells painted in the early fifteenth century by artist Fra Angelico. With a pretty cloistered courtyard at its center, it’s a very calming experience before returning to the narrow, busy streets of Florence. A few minutes walk from there is the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s ‘David’, where you need to pre-book tickets. No words can describe Il Davide. He needs to be seen (all 517cm of him carved from a single block of Carrara marble), rather than the replica in Piazza della Signoria.
On Easter Sunday, after enjoying a lovely sleep-in (well-deserved after the three-and-a-half hour Easter Vigil Mass), and an amazing breakfast at Eataly, I wandered across the Arno River to the stunning Villa Bardini (only a five minute stroll from the Ponte Vecchio). Enjoy the fragrant blossoms and a view over the Florentine red rooves and Brunelleschi’s dome, which we stared up at many times during the Easter Vigil Mass (10pm - 1:20am)!
Burrata for breakfast is always a good idea, especially when it is laden on fluffy tomato focaccia, still warm from the oven. There are plenty of sweet options too, from the usual offering of croissants and crostata to freshly filled cannoli by Marchese on Wheels. The coffee is excellent and there’s no extra charge for sitting down. Perfect. Open daily: 10:00-22:30
This busy design concept restaurant imaginatively uses the large open space from the first Florentine household store that opened here in 1896. Whether you’re seeking a cocktail (the espresso martini is perfect), fresh veggie juice, a meal or a floral bouquet, this is the spot! Open daily: 7:00-2:00
I’ve come back to this restaurant on every visit to Florence for over ten years. To start, order the bruschetta with ripe tomatoes and more than a hint of garlic, onion and oregano. Then for the main event, either share the Fiorentina steak (always served rare and minimum serve of 1.2kg) or go for the fresh pasta. I’d recommend it with porcini mushrooms or simple pesto. There is a line outside the door of this tavern-like restaurant when it opens at 7pm but the line moves quickly. Be sure to say ciao to my friend Carmine, the chef from Calabria. Open daily: 12:00-17:00, 19:00-23:00
Buca dell’Orafo, Via dei Girolami, 28R. Tel: 055 213619.
In Florence you’ll eat well at any ‘Buca’ (literally hole, or in this case basement establishment). We tried ‘Buca dell’Orafo’ (of the Goldsmith) – so-named because of its location next to the Ponte Vecchio and traditional artisan goldmaking facilities. The restaurant is tiny and quite hidden, almost under the bridge, and attracts a mix of locals and in-the-know tourists. The menu is heavy on the meat and their Chianina beef comes from select breedings from Bembo farms. Open Tuesday - Saturday: 12:30-14:30, 19:30-22:30
For an elegant meal in a 15th century palace, walk from the Arno River along Florence’s boutique-lined Via de’ Tornabuoni until you reach the Palazzo Antinori. Everything was divine from the seafood starter of prawn and calamari salad served on chickpea toast to our mains of freshly-made pappardelle pasta with rich beef sauce, and roasted seabass on potato crust served with spinach sautéed in olive oil, garlic and chilli. The ground floor restaurant opens up onto an internal courtyard which is perfect for a post-meal cigar. We finished our Easter Sunday lunch in the courtyard with a sumptuous cheese platter and more delicious red wine (Antinori of course). The Tignanello 2013 is a lovely drop! Open Monday - Saturday: 12:00-14.30, 19:00-22:30
Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura, Piazza della Signoria, 10. Tel: 055 75927038.
We had good intentions to only visit the Gucci Garden gallery. However, when walking past the floral wall bordering the osteria’s tables in Piazza della Signoria, it was impossible not to take a glimpse at internationally-famed Massimo Bottura’s menu. Seeing my two favorite words together (lobster roll), we booked a lunchtime slot. The maître d’ gave us two free tickets (usually €8 each) to the Gucci gallery exhibition (photos below) where we spent about half an hour fantasizing over vintage collections before returning for exquisite lobster rolls with a side of asparagus and a calice (glass) of sparkling rosé. When the weather is good, sitting in the piazza is a wonderful experience. Otherwise the inside restaurant is suitably elegant, also with a green wall (made of velvet rather than flowers). Open daily: 12:30-15:00, 19:00-22:00
This four-star palace has the ideal location in Florence, situated only a few minutes’ walk from the central train station (Santa Maria Novella) in one direction and the Duomo in the other. We found the reception team very attentive and friendly, always greeting guests as they pass. We were also kindly upgraded from a standard to a relax room, which spilt out onto a large terrace draped in wisteria. One of the benefits of this refined room with hardwood floors and visible overhead beams is the included mini-bar, replenished daily.
Sales and marketing manager Jaele, who moved here from Rome, gave us a tour of the 186 room property and a preview of their incredible 360-degree-view terrace(s), which open soon for summer. The basic structure of the hotel is from the late 1700’s when horse-drawn carts entered right into the residence. In 1903 it opened as the Grand Hotel Baglioni, the family’s first Baglioni hotel in Italy. The conference center, with nine meeting rooms, was originally a theatre. On every floor there are historical photos of Florence, the hotel and visiting celebrities – from Mahatma Gandhi to the British Royal Family. We’re excited to return to Florence to enjoy the hotel’s terrace throughout the summer. Luckily, it’s only a 90 minute train ride from Rome.