The shops on Ponte Vecchio were originally butchers and vegetable sellers but they now deal in jewelry and souvenirs. Tradition has it that the Medici family objected to the smell of the former tenants as they passed over the bridge to their palace.
Florence – Been There

In the real Florence, they eat cheese

Photo by Ruben Drenth

Florence – Been There In the real Florence, they eat cheese

Getting to know the real Florence can be a tough nut to crack. First of all, you must lose the tourist crowd.

Tara Isabella Burton
Tara Isabella Burton Travel Writer

Coral Lelah, a longtime expat who leads food and wine tours for visitors in Florence, directs me to St. Ambrogio Market in the Santa Croce neighborhood, a mile from Ponte Vecchio, where visitors rarely go. The covered market spills out into the street. Under awnings of corrugated tin, encircled by a ring of dilapidated trucks: stalls for cheap cotton dresses; riotous flowers; porchetta, cut straight from the half-pickled head of a pig.

Two gregarious chefs Sergio and Pier Paolo – share command of a lampredotto truck – elbowing their way into effectiveness in a space built only for one. Sergio deals in traditional lampredotto; his colleague with a version thick with pomodoro. They bark out orders, ladle broth and green spice onto fresh bread, deal out wine in plastic cups for 50 centimes apiece. The line snakes onto the church steps.

Inside the marketplace, a gargantuan butcher beckons me with bellows to his unmarked stall, promising me “the best parmesan in the world!” He cuts two thick slices, then is distracted by the sight of a beautiful woman pushing a stroller. He calls out to her. “This is the most beautiful child in the world!” he pronounces. He winks at the mother. “Born to the very worst mamma in the world.” She laughs as he thrusts a plateful of salami toward her. Then he remembers me. “You must try the best cheese in the world,” he says again, offering me a Tuscan goat pecorino.

I gently remind him that, moments earlier, he said that of the parmesan. He considers for a moment. He furrows his brows; he frowns. At last he smiles. “This is one of the best cheeses in the world,” he says. Thus satisfied, he shoves more salami into my palms.

Our local expert in Florence can go on and on about her favorite city – and about her favorite hotel. Check it out here!

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Florence is the capital of Tuscany and has a population of 380,000, with some 1.5 million people in the metropolitan area. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, which has left a rich legacy of art and architecture, it is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Photo by Jurjen Drenth

Jurjen Drenth

Jurjen Drenth

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Aperture
ƒ/4.5
Exposure
1/45
ISO
640
Focal
90 mm

Florence is the capital of Tuscany and has a population of 380,000, with some 1.5 million people in the metropolitan area. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, which has left a rich legacy of art and architecture, it is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Other stories about Florence

Tourism may be a mainstay of Florence’s economy but it also has a thriving industrial sector based on its history of craftsmanship. Italy’s fashion industry relies on the city for the production of goods such as leather, including shoes, as well as jewelry, embroidery, textiles, ceramics and metalwork.

Peek over the walls and you'll see the real Florence

“Rome is a whore,” says Giambaccio, a ploud Florence native. It has just gone midnight, and we have wandered through the moonstruck streets around Florence’s Piazza San Spirito for hours before winding up here: in a haphazardly cluttered art studio Giambaccio has modeled on a ship’s deck. “She opens her legs for everybody. But Florence...” He mimes chastity – the shutting of two knees – with his fingers. “We are a walled city. We are closed.”