Why You Need To See The Medici Palaces In Florence

For more than 300 years the Medici family ruled or ran the city of Florence.

They were bankers, politicians and the world’s most prolific patrons of the arts. From the architecture of Florence to the art that fills the city everywhere you turn, the Medici’s impact on the city and on the world of art will last for centuries after you and I are gone.

The Medici had numerous cardinals in the family as well as two popes. In 1513 Giovanni de’ Medici became Pope Leo X and in 1523 his cousin Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici became Pope Clement VII. The family came from modest means but elevated themselves to becoming the hereditary Dukes of Florence then in 1569 Pope Pius V made Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany.

With centuries of drama, intrigue, assassinations and slick political maneuvering, this is one fascinating family.

One way to avoid the crowds in Florence is to take yourself on a walking tour of the Medici Palaces. I have found that my Glam Italia tour groups who have watched The Medici on Netflix get a huge thrill out of doing this. The palace we stay in in Florence is opposite the Medici-Riccardi palace, built by Cosimo the Elder and home to all our favorite Medici (Cosimo, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Cosimo I). At night we look across into the Medici palace and see all the frescoes on the ceilings lit up, invisible during the day.

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The Medici-Riccardi Palace

Our story starts with Cosimo de’ Medici, known as Cosimo the Elder. He married the daughter of a noble family, Contessina de’ Bardi. They lived in the Bardi palace across town but when Cosimo came back to Florence from exile in 1444, newly empowered he decided to build his own palace.

At that time you just built onto existing medieval buildings, but Cosimo had a different idea. He acquired the property diagonally opposite the Basilica San Lorenzo and razed the existing building to the ground. His Michelozzo designed Medici Palace was the first true Renaissance building.

The fortress like exterior with its rough hewn blocks on the first level, evolving into smoother stone on the second and third level was considered grand and quite ostentatious at the time but became the prototype for all the Renaissance palaces in Florence from then forward.

The garden at the Medici Palace

The lovely courtyard with its beautiful garden was the original home of Donatello’s controversial statue of David (now in the Bargello). As you walk through the garden to the inner courtyard, imagine more than a hundred years of Popes, foreign dignitaries, important political figures along with the greatest artist and philosophers of the time all walking these same steps as you!

The inner courtyard of the Medici Palace

The palace was home to the Medici until Cosimo I moved to the Palazzo Vecchio. Minor members of the Medici family lived there from then until 1659 when Ferdinando II de’ Medici sold it to the Marquis Gabriello Riccardi.

 It is now a museum. Highlights include the Riccardi family collection of marble, the Magi Chapel and the Giordano Gallery.

The Giordano Gallery in the Medici Palace, Florence

Also of interest, Lorenzo the Magnificent moved the young Michelangelo into the Medici Palace and raised him as his own. For 3 years Michelangelo lived as a brother to the 2 Medici popes, was educated with them, ate meals not only with the family but also the greatest minds of the time. Lorenzo created a world for Michelangelo where he not only benefitted from life at the Medici court but also had freedom and opportunity to rise to his full potential as an artist.

Address: The Medici Palace is on the corner of via dei Ginori and via Cavour, diagonally opposite Basilica San Lorenzo

Visit their website HERE

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Palazzo Vecchio

In 1540 Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici moved his family from the Medici Palace into the Palazzo della Signoria, now called the Palazzo Vecchio. This is the castle-like building in the Piazza della Signoria with the replica statue of David outside.

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

He hired Giorgio Vasari to decorate the inner courtyard and the sumptuous Salon of 500. Cosimo I centralized all the government offices into a new building next door named the Uffizi, or offices. He had Vasari build a passageway that he could walk through from his next home, the Pitti Palace to the Palazzo Vecchio. This is now called the Vasari Corridor.

Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici
This painting is in theStudiolo of Francesco, a secret room in Palazzo Vecchio

The palace is still Florence’s City Hall but is also a museum. I recommend taking a tour of Palazzo Vecchio, my favorite being the Secret Passages Tour which combines seeing the secret rooms and yes, the secret passages, with a visit to the Salon of 500, the rafters above the Salon of 500 and ends at the Medici apartments. The tour is tremendous and gives fascinating insight into the lives of the Medici.

Inside the Medici apartmentss in Palazzo Vecchio

Address: Piazza della Signoria

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The Pitti Palace

Cosimo I was very happily married to a Spanish blue-blood, Eleanora of Toledo. To Eleanora the palace seemed small and provincial, nowhere near grand enough for someone of her stature to be raising her family, so she bought the biggest private palace, the Pitti Palace, and moved the family in there.

Eleanora of Toldeo, wife of Cosimo I

The story of the Pitti Palace actually starts with the Medici Palace. Luca Pitti was a wealthy Florentine banker who loathed the Medici. When Cosimo (the Elder) built the Medici Palace Luca Pitti decided to outdo him and in 1458 built a bigger palace on the south side of the river. He wanted his windows to be larger than the doorway of the Medici Palace, and he wanted his courtyard to be so big you could fit the entire Medici Palace inside it. That courtyard is now the Piazza Pitti, in front of the palace.

The Pitti Palace. When Eleanora bought the palace it was only the center section. She and Cosimo tripled it in size.

At the time the Pitti Palace was only the center section of the current structure. Luca Pitti ran out of money and died in 1472 before construction was finished. In 1459 Eleanora bought the Pitti Palace and expanded it to its current size. The gardens behind the palace, the Boboli Gardens, were the inspiration for the gardens at Versailles.

The back view of the Pitti Palace.
From this side it looks out over the Boboli Gardens.

The Pitti Palace became the Medici family home until the dynasty ran out of heirs. It was then the home of the new rulers of Florence, the Lorraine-Habsburgs.

Inside the Pitti Palace

The Pitti Palace is now Florence’s largest museum. It is actually a series of museums, with the Medici private art collection, the History of Costume Museum, Porcelain Museum and Silver Museum. Unlike the Uffizi across the river which is perpetually packed with tourists the Pitti gets vastly fewer and is wonderful to explore.

Check out their website HERE

Address: Piazza Pitti

Are you planing a trip to Florence? My free Secret Florence PDF tells you my favorite restaurants, bars, shops and under the radar secrets of fabulous things to do in the Renaissance city, Download your copy HERE

Discover the three Medici Palaces in Florence

Why Manifattura Is The Best Cocktail Bar In Florence

I can’t wait to get back to Florence. I think about it all the time.

If we are cleared to travel later this summer and my Glam Italia Tours are able to go, the first stop is Florence. I always arrive a couple of days before my first tour group, to get the final touches ready and to make sure I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed when the ladies arrive.

So I’ve been thinking about the evening I arrive back in Florence and what I want to do first.

APERITIVO TIME

My favorite time of day in Italy is aperitivo time, that glorious spell between late afternoon and evening when everyone congregates for an after-work or pre-dinner drink with snacks. This glorious combination of drink, snack and human interaction feels like the glue that holds everything together.

When you watch Italians doing aperitivo the first thing you notice is the interaction. No one is scanning the bar to see if there’s someone better to chat up, they’re not buried in their phones, instead they make eye contact, engage one another, participate in life. It’s just fantastic.

Are you planning a trip to Florence? Get my free Secret Florence pdf for insider secrets you won’t want to miss! Get your pdf HERE.

I have my favorite places to enjoy an aperitivo in Florence. Sometimes I want a drink with a sunset view of the Arno. Sometimes I want a glass of wine from a boutique winery. Sometimes I want a spritz Campari looking out over the Duomo. Once in a while I want a cocktail, and when I do there is only one place I want to go.

MANIFATTURA

Manifattura is an incredibly chic, old school yet modern cocktail bar.

These days wherever you are in the world cocktail bars seem to be the same. They either go for a faux international theme or a faux American theme. It’s all very homogenized, you could be anywhere – there’s nothing about the experience that specifically dictates which country you are in. You could be in Boise or you could be in Berlin.

Florence, like any city suffering from mass tourism, has lost some of its bar integrity, some of the national identity given away to tourist demand for Long Island Ice Tea.

When I’m traveling I crave authentic experiences specific to the place I’m in, which is no doubt why I love Manifattura.

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MADE IN FLORENCE

The décor is modern Italian meets 50’s retro bar. The bartenders wear crisp white shirts, the waiters wear suits. The drinks are old school, classic cocktails, all ingredients are strictly Italian. The underlying message here is Made In Italy. (Hence the name) It is fabulous.

The brainchild of co-owner Fabiano Buffolino, Manifattura is a celebration of Italy’s legacy of alcoholic drinks. Don’t expect to see bottles of Jack Daniels or Grey Goose on the shelves, every bottle is an Italian made product. Every drink is a classic Italian. And every drink is under 10 euros.

The bartenders and waiters are all extremely knowledgeable and will expertly guide you through ordering something specific to your taste as well as which foods to pair with it. Manifattura is not just a cocktail bar, it is an experience.

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The drinks are named for famous Italians

A relative newcomer to the scene Manifattura only opened in 2017, but Fabiano has been mixing high end drinks in Florence for years. His pedigree drew the attention of major publications around the world, all of whom have written rave reviews.

For local Florentines it is a connection to their heritage. For travelers looking for a window into Italian drink culture and craving a non-tourist, totally authentic experience, you cannot get better than this!

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Manifattura is located at Piazza di San Pacrazio, 1. This is about 5 minutes walk from Piazza Santa Maria Novella heading toward the river

Do you belong to my Private Members Newsletter? Twice each month it tells you about special foods to try, festivals happening in Italy and under the radar places to visit, both within the big cities as well as villages around the country. You can get on the list and become a member (for free) here.

How To Plan Amazing Travel With Pinterest

During this time of Coronavirus pandemic it is hard to imagine we will ever be able to travel again. But we will. After 9/11 it seemed as though international travel was over forever, but it wasn’t. We just had new restrictions that in no time at all became our new normal. SARS 1 back in 2002-2003 looked like it would stop travel forever too, but it didn’t.

There is no knowing when we will be able to travel again, whether it will be months or years from now, but when that window opens we need to be prepped and planned and ready to go. It may only be a matter of time before another epidemic / pandemic /major world event occurs, so we may only have a short time to see the world and experience the magic of international travel before it all closes back down again. Or maybe once this is over the world will adjust to the new normal, and we will be back to traveling freely. Regardless, there will be a time when we can travel again. So let’s get ready.

Most people think of Pinterest as a social media place for recipes and DIY/Craft ideas. Although both are prevalent they make up only a tiny fraction of what is on Pinterest. Pinterest is not a social media platform, it is one of the largest search engines in the world. And it has pictures. So whatever it is you want to know you can pretty much find it on Pinterest, the difference is that when you enter your search terms you don’t get a typed list of options to click on, you get a series of pictures with text. These are called pins.

This is a pin that links to a blog post about Civita di Bagnoregio near Orvieto

When you click on one of these pictures or pins it will take you into a website, magazine article or blog, the same way as clicking on an item on a google list does.

This is an example of a pinterest travel board.
I can keep adding as many pins as I want to each board,
keeping all the pertinent information in one place,
with pictures for quick reference.

When you set up a Pinterest account (they are free) you create a series of boards which function like a cork board. When you find a pin that has information relevant to your search and that you want to keep for later reference you then pin it to the board it goes with.

If you eat a paleo diet you might create a board for Paleo Recipes, search them and then pin the recipes you like or want to try to your Paleo Recipes board.

The same works with travel and planning travel. You create boards for things that apply to your future travel plans and dreams, and then wherever you might be on the internet, whatever article you may read in any publication, you can save to its appropriate board. Almost every article will have either the pinterest symbol at the bottom of it, or if you hover over one of the pictures in the article will offer you an option to save it to your pinterest. If you take that option it will bring up your Pinterest boards and ask you which one to save it to, so all your pins are saved to their corresponding boards.

My Morocco travel board

I use this for all travel I am planning or just dreaming about. For example, I have a board for Morocco Travel and another for Jordan Travel Tips. I may never end up going to either, but both places are fascinating to me. These boards have a collection of pins with all kinds of interesting things to see and do and eat and drink in these countries, as well as information about unusual things to do there, random little towns and villages I otherwise wouldn’t know to visit.

My Jordan Travel board

You can check out my Pinterest boards here and click around to see what I have saved.

If you want a travel experience beyond the big bus tours, or if you want to get information on things to do when your cruise ship comes into port, Pinterest is a phenomenal resource.

Even better, although the regular travel agencies have a presence on Pinterest you will find vastly more incredible information from professional travel bloggers. This can save you a small fortune by giving you better and much more affordable excursion options from your cruise. This is also where you find great information about towns you had never heard of, great places you can reach easily and not be overwhelmed with tourists.

The mass travel organizations like cruise lines and big bus tours are not in the business of showing you random, interesting things. They are about whipping you round the main sites and then getting you back on the bus or the boat. This isn’t always a bad thing, but maybe you want more, or maybe you want more information about the options they are offering. You can find all of this on Pinterest.

Chances are after the coronavirus pandemic mass tourism will disappear or take a long time to come back. This will mean smaller, more sustainable travel will take the lead. There will be more small tour providers like me with my Glam Italia Tours, as well as travelers wanting to just go it alone and have the big experience but without the crowds.

If you are thinking about planning some travel on your own or doing some small tour travel, this list of The 30 Best Travel Bloggers gives you lots of great reading. It’s fun to read the stories of really interesting people heading out there in the world, discovering fantastic places to travel and telling you all the ins and outs of how to get there, where to stay and what you mustn’t miss!

Pinterest is a genius tool for planning your own travel. If you want to go to Paris but aren’t sure what to do there you can ask the Pinterest search bar What to do in Paris or Things to do in Paris and hundreds of pins will populate for you to scroll through and look at. There will be some dingbats telling you to visit the Eiffel Tower, eat a croissant and walk the Champs Elysees. But there will also be lots of travel bloggers who tell you about unusual things to do in Paris or cool things to do in Paris that take you away from the tourist crowds and show you something really special.

There are always pins linking to blog posts that tell you how to do things in any city, from which events you need to book in advance to how to use public transport. You can find out how to use the metro to get around (it’s super easy) and how to see some of the famous sites without booking a tour. Why pay extra to do a package tour of Versailles when you can buzz out there on the train, pick up an audio guide and make your own way around the palace and its gardens?

If planning a trip to Italy (my specialty) set up a variety of boards for different regions and/or cities you are interested in seeing. You may also what to set up a travel packing board. Just type What To Wear in Italy in April into the search bar and endless pins will pop up with outfit ideas and packing tips.

This is my travel packing board.
I’m pretty much set for what to pack for any country ant any time of year!

One of my favorites is to search Unusual Things To Do In (add city or country). This will vary from simple things to do that are not on the mass tourist radar, to really offbeat and unusual things.

Type in What To Do In Rome and you will see endless pins about the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. Type in Unusual Things To Do In Rome and you will discover fascinating things to see such as Domus Transitoria, the Porticus of Octavia and the Pyramid of Cestius. Even better, when you actually go to these places you will not only find them amazing, but there will be very few tourists there so you won’t be squashed in with crowds and will actually be able to see and experience these amazing places. For more fabulous things to do in Rome check out my international best seller Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome, available world wide on Amazon

It is always good to be planning your next trip, even if it doesn’t happen for years. It gives you something interesting to do (especially while on quarantine!) and gives you something new to dream about and look forward to. Pinterest makes it much easier.

You can get really specific too, so maybe you want information on camping in national parks in the US, or travel with small children, youth hostels in Europe or 5 star hotels in Singapore, hiking tips in Peru or ski trips in New Zealand – it’s all there. No matter what your travel style or travel dream is, there is something here for you, with pictures.

So even if it feels like a fantasy right now, and you can’t see how you could ever pull it off, have some fun exploring the world on Pinterest.

Happy pinning!

Not sure where to start with planning travel either for now or for the future? Download my Free Resources pdfs to help you get started building your perfect trip. You are welcome to print off as many copies as you need. Get your Free Resources HERE

Want more help planning a trip to Italy? My book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy (Secrets To Glamorous Travel On A Not So Glamorous Budget) is an international best seller, available world wide on Amazon.com