Ferragosto, or Returning to Florence in August
We have arrived at last. Upon landing in Italy last weekend, we were greeted by deserted Milan streets and unseasonal rainy weather. If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. All is well.
August in Italy is a quiet time for locals even as the tourist season is bustling. Many city dwellers head to the beach to escape the heat. (What heat? I’ll come back to that later). In Florence, where we begin our 3-month stay this week, the streets are teeming with life despite the flight of the locals. In Milan, a less touristy destination, one can feel the quiet of August. We only missed by a week Ferragosto, which is a national holiday celebrated on August 15th each year dedicated to the sole purpose of resting in mid-August. Move over Spain– that’s taking the concept of siesta to the next level.
Returning to Florence for a long-term stay brings a deja vu that is so distinctly delightful, it is difficult to describe. It was almost exactly 5 years ago that my husband and I brought the kids here for a six-week stay. The sights, sounds and smells trigger that part of my brain that stores happy memories. This time, though, the kids are older and there’s no need for a rickety stroller bounding along the cobblestones. This time, we are staying in the country right outside of town, with the luxury and freedom of a parking spot and car for exploring Tuscany. This time, we are shopping for school uniforms and anticipating the start of the semester at the International School of Florence next week.
Before diving head first into the new, my family and I decided we needed to relive the past a little. Our first day in Florence was spent walking the streets of our old neighborhood that we loved so much. The San Niccolo neighborhood is southeast of the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, just across the Arno river in the Oltrarno district (meaning “other side of the Arno”). I prefer the Oltrarno where, within 5-10 minutes walking from the duomo and other city-center attractions, you can find slightly more open space, great boutiques and restaurants and stunning buildings and views. The best views of the city are seen from the touristy but irresistible Piazzale Michelangelo, complete with its souvenir vendors and its replica of the David. Beautiful.
Back to our favorite neighborhood– San Niccolo’s tiny central piazza can be missed in a blink, but it would be a crime to miss the cool vibe and smooth cappuccino at Il Rifrullo cafe, or the mouth-watering bruschetta and stellar wine list at Fuori Porta wine bar.
As if to drive home the point that Florentines really know how to live, a makeshift bar pops up, serving ice cold bottled beer and prosecco in champagne flutes in the middle of a park on the way from San Niccolo to the Ponte Vecchio. We couldn’t resist stopping for a break.
Across the Ponte Vecchio toward the center of town, on the way to the duomo, you stumble into the spacious Piazza della Repubblica. Other than the merry-go-round that pleased my 2 small daughters, I couldn’t quite recall what drew me to this tourist-trap piazza time and again. And now, five years later, I’m still not sure. But I can tell you that the kids beamed from their seats on the merry-go-round as if no time had gone by. The expensive Cafe Gilli next to the piazza still beckons with its unbelievable collection of pastries and other desserts. And the architecture surrounding the piazza still inspires me to grab my camera.
We made our way to Via Tornabuoni, which is “the” shopping district of Florence. Each and every high-end Italian name brand has a sizeable boutique on this street. We resisted the urge to spend by ducking into my new favorite restaurant for dinner. Obika is billed as a mozzarella bar, but that description is deceptively casual. The restaurant is elegant and the menu unique and delicious.
Our younger daughter is sensitive to gluten. Not a problem at Obika.
This one eats gluten.
Now I’m back in my quiet country home just outside of Florence, writing this post as my still jet-lagged family sleeps until noon. Checking into the house last weekend, we were met with many pleasant surprises. The owners are a lovely and helpful couple that live in the house attached to ours. The rooms are simple yet spacious, and this old country house has everything we need and several things we don’t need that make us feel spoiled, such as an olive grove, 2 large lawns, a small pool with views of the surrounding hills and a very generous fig tree.
The resident dog, Freddy, can play catch with the kids for hours without tiring, and the resident horse, whose name I forget, is in fact a stallion that we are advised not to approach. We enjoy him from a distance.
I have alluded to some questionable weather, but let me be clear– we are thrilled to not be roasting in 95-degree Tuscan August heat. It has been a wet Spring and cool summer for the Italians but it feels great. As with the weather anywhere in the world, things could change on a dime. Fall is on its way and, who knows, maybe we will have brought a little bit of California-style Indian summer to Tuscany.