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Culture capital

Florence in a flash

Italy's famous art capital wows with culture galore and delicious food

Florence is a feast for the eyes, with art and wonders at every turn. And when your brain is full of amazing images, you can find dozens of brilliant places to fill your stomach...

Opening a new gallery in Florence is a bit like adding an extra dish to a banquet. But the Museum of the Opera del Duomo (it opened in October) contains a real wonder. It's the actual-size reconstruction of the original facade of Florence Cathedral. They put back its original statues, in storage for centuries, following details on a 16th Century drawing. The facade was part of architect Arnolfo di Cambio's first, 1294, vision for the cathedral. Never properly finished, it was removed in 1587.

Michelangelo's David in the Galleria dell'Accademia

Michelangelo sculpted the 14ft-high statue of biblical hero David between 1501 and 1504, while in his 20s. It is a supreme creation of the human mind, and hand. The plan had been to set the white marble statue high on the roofline of the cathedral, alongside other figures. Too massive to be lifted there, the colossus stood in Piazza della Signoria for 300 years, before being moved into the Galleria dell'Accademia in 1873 (a copy replaced it). It was restored in 2004.

Mercato Centrale, on the first floor of the iron and glass market built in 1874, is the city's liveliest place to eat. Walk there through the stalls of leather goods traders (Via dell'Ariento), and head to the first floor. Mercato Centrale opened in 2014 to revive this ancient quarter, as one big dining space. There are 12 sections, each serving a speciality Tuscan dish made with ingredients sourced from the market stalls below.

It's almost worth walking around the Uffizi at random, for that extra shiver of thrill when you unexpectedly come across Botticelli's Birth Of Venus and Leonardo's Annunciation. The other, equally majestic collection is in the vast Pitti Palace, on the south side of the Arno. There are many sublime paintings by Raphael, Titian, Lippi, Caravaggio and Rubens. You could spend a day in each.

The Ponte Vecchio spanning the Arno river

We crossed the Arno over the Ponte Vecchio, for the quietest walk in the city. Heading up the Via di San Leonardo, we saw no other pedestrians. After a coffee at the top of the hill, we circled back, down Viale Galileo, to a famous viewpoint of the city that we had all to ourselves. We curled around the Abbazia di San Miniato and the Chiesa di San Salvatore. Only then did we meet other people, puffing up the hill to the Piazzale Michelangelo, with its bronze replica of David.

Florence can be crowded, although new pedestrianisation schemes make walking the central squares much easier. (To avoid the crowds, October to March is a great time to visit.) Fancy a coffee to start the day in Piazza di Santa Maria Novella? Order at a cafe's counter for the lowest prices - pay when you leave. 

First published in the Mail on Sunday - April 2016

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