Escaping the Heat During Your Florence Vacation
Anyone who’s traveled to Italy during the summer can attest to the fact that it can get a little warm. Temperatures in Tuscany can approach 100 degrees. Throw in a dash of humidity and some thirsty mosquitos, and unless you plan carefully, your dream vacation could become less than a dream. So, what’s an eager Italophile to do?
Of course, you can plan around the heat and visit during spring or fall. Those are both incredibly beautiful times to take in the culture and surroundings in more temperate conditions. In particular, fall is really fun. The wine and truffles are being harvested, the crowds have thinned, the locals are feeling festive and throwing harvest parties, and the foliage is turning fantastically orange and red. Late October into November is a great time to go.
But many of us live in the reality that family trips take place in July and August. Well, those are also lovely times to visit Tuscany. If you follow our tips below, you can enjoy the vacation of a lifetime without melting:
1. Choose the right place to stay.
Even if you plan to spend every day of your trip in Florence, consider staying in a villa outside of town but not far away, such as Casa Agnese or Casa dell’Arte. They are located in the breezy countryside, a mere 20-minute drive to Florence. You can spend your days exploring the city, and then escape the crowds and heat for a swim in your own pool. If you decide to stay in town, be sure that your hotel room or apartment is air conditioned. Out in the countryside, in a large old stone villa, this is not as important.
2. Choose your activities wisely.
There’s so much to do in this vibrant city. A walk during the cooler morning hours is a great way to start the day. Check out the food market at Sant’Ambroggio on the east side of town, where you can shop for the season’s best fresh vegetables and fruits alongside the locals. The Mercato Centrale caters more to the tourist crowd, but is a beautiful place to visit and shop. The vast San Lorenzo street market is where you can haggle for souvenirs and leather gifts.
As the mid-day heat starts to set in, it’s time to move indoors. There are many lesser-known museums in Florence that are less crowded during the summer but still truly amazing. One not to miss it the Stibbert, located a little north of the center of town. This 57-room villa is bursting with beautiful paintings and tapestries, not to mention the main attraction for kids— a 12,000-piece armor collection from the 15th-19th centuries. Another great place to bring the kids is the new Museo degli Innocenti.
If it’s the big name museums and masterpieces you seek, you can do that too. The way to skip the lines is to hire a guide. There are many tour companies to choose from, but I really like Freya’s Florence. Freya is an Aussie ex-pat with an art history background and a ton of knowledge. Her guides are equally knowledgeable and great at customizing the tour for any age and interest. A great tour itinerary would begin at the Galleria dell’Accademia where you can see some of Michelangelo’s best work (including David), and then the nearby Medici Chapels, where you can marvel at the splendor that was built by the Renaissance’s most powerful Florentine family. If you have time and energy, the Florence cathedral (the famous Duomo) is not far from there and would be great to see with a guide. In particular, I love the most nondescript building in the complex— the 12th century baptistery. Its mosaic walls and ceiling tell the compelling story of the Last Judgement, complete with angels ascending to heaven and demonic monsters devouring sinners. Amazing.
3. Catch the breeze.
As afternoon sets in, it may be time for some fresh air or even a dip in a pool. Believe it or not, there are breezy open spaces to be found in Florence. My favorite is Cascine park, which is a huge expanse of green, open space along the Arno river, several blocks west of the Ponte Vecchio. You can stroll along, sit in the shade, let the kids play and enjoy a gelato. The park also houses a lovely public pool, which feels much more like a resort pool than a public pool because it sits next to an ancient villa, poolside bar, restaurant and pizzeria. There is a small admission fee.
Florence also has its very own “urban beach” on the banks of the Arno river, organized by a company called Easy Living. They have various activities during the day and evenings, and a restaurant with local fresh fare. The river is not for swimming, but there are shady spots to relax, enjoy a cool drink and the breeze that runs along the river.
4. Catch the train.
Another great option is to head to the train station and embark on a day trip to the beach. Tuscany has miles and miles of beautiful coast, some of which is very accessible by train. Livorno is easiest to reach, about an hour and a half by train. Its downtown is understated but has perhaps the best seafood of Tuscany. Its pebbly beaches stretch south from its seafront port. Viareggio is a bit over 2 hours by train, but once you arrive, you are greeted with vast, sandy beaches and lots of shallow water perfect for kids. It’s best to plan ahead and reserve a spot at a private beach club, as public beaches are a bit harder to find.
I love Florence, any time of year. Heat, humidity, rain or sleet- doesn’t matter. It’s always the right time to go. Let us know when you’re ready to plan your trip!