The popular song proclaims “I love Paris in the springtime.” You’ll get no arguments from me for I, too, love Paris in the springtime. But I really, really love Italy in the spring. And not just Italy—Florence.
Thankfully, our yearly travel schedule takes us to Italy each spring. This is the time when Suzy and I host week-long Umbrian Food and Wine tours, each one an opportunity for eight lucky foodies to experience the special world we have discovered and nurtured in Italy. Our guests join a community of food and wine producers who are eager to share their passion. For the past several years we’ve concluded our spring trips in Verona to participate in VinItaly, the largest annual expo of Italian wine producers. There, we sip, spit and schmooze, learning about Italy’s hundreds (if not thousands!) of indigenous grapes and meeting the incredible producers who work with them.
And so each spring—on the way from Umbria to Verona, or Verona to Umbria—we stop in Florence. It was where we got our first taste of Italy, and it was here that we fell helplessly in love with her. Now, it’s where we renew our vows with Italy. Short as they are, our Florentine pilgrimages remind us of so many aspects of this incredible country that we originally fell in love with as we stroll the historic streets of this birthplace of humanism, bathed in golden sunshine and cooled by the soft, crisp springtime air that wraps itself around us like a cool down comforter on a chilly winter night. In this birthplace of the renaissance, where civilization was reborn six centuries ago we are lifted by a different kind of rebirth, the annual rebirth of life as the languorous rhythm of spring softly delivers us from the cold, bleak winter and reminds us of the joys and beauty of nature. We taste it in the fresh, spring peas that play the starring role in a spaghetti ai piselli we always enjoy at lunch at Buca dell’Orafo upon our arrival in Florence.
We feel it against our skin as we meander along ancient vias, oblivious to the crowds of tourists that do not hear the voices that are speaking to us. We experience it from a rooftop bar in the late afternoon, enjoying an aperol spritz as we take in roman, medieval and renaissance Florence.
It’s there as we seat ourselves at a table set atop the ruins of an ancient amphitheatre, where we tuck into an enormous bistecca alla fiorentina and wash it down with a wine that proves that the whole can indeed be greater than the sum of its parts.
It was in Florence where we were first overcome by all the beauty and contentment that Italy has to offer. And what a place to start, because all of Italy can be found there. Art. Food. Weather. Pace of life. Warmth. Style. Humanity.
Those on a mission can charge right past it, oblivious to all. Not see the marker halfway up the exterior wall of a palazzo announcing “here is where the waters arrived during the great flood of 1966. Yes, here!” Not hear the opera music drifting from an apartment window, echoing off the walls of the medieval streets. Not smell the baking of bread or roasting of meat.
It was here that we learned not just how to taste but how to enjoy the act of tasting. What we have tasted, and what we taste every time we visit Italy is not just food and wine, but life. For Italy is comfort food for the soul, engaging not just the senses but satisfying all of our basic human urges—aesthetic, artistic and intellectual—as well as those of sight, sound, smell, hearing and taste. To enjoy it fully you must slow down, you must breathe deeply and allow Italy to come to you. When you do, you will feel her wrap herself around you, envelope you, become you, as you become it. Transforming you and transporting you, protecting you and providing for you just as Daphne was when she was transformed into a tree.
On our earliest trips to Florence we always made a stop at the Madova glove store, a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop at the end of the Ponte Vecchio. There, animal hides have been being transformed into works of art and style for generations and we always felt the urge to bring home some pairs for us and to give as gifts. On this spring return visit, this pilgrimage, it felt only right to cross the bridge and to take another look at this icon of Florence. Not to buy anything, but just to look and say thank you. For just as Madova gloves transform the quotidian and create something that wraps itself around you with beauty, comfort and style, making your life momentarily better, so does Florence. So does Italy. During our brief visit to Florence we slipped on Italy and the fit was perfect.
Bill and Suzy