Why You’ll Want to Visit Florence in the Off-Season
Visiting Florence in the summer brings the delights of warm weather, evenings strolling along the Arno eating artisanal gelato, and, sadly, crowds filling the streets, piazzas, museums and osterias.
Now imagine strolling across the Ponte Vecchio and actually seeing the beauty of the ancient bridge instead of carefully navigating your way through the crowds. Not only is this possible – it is actually something Florentines look forward to as the cooling days of autumn change towards the winter.
As the days shorten, you can watch the sunrise over the Arno at a reasonable time of day – you can experience the joy of standing in the middle of the Ponte Vecchio and seeing only one or two others, like a cyclist on her way to work.
Living the life
Florentines – Italians – love to escape the routine of the year and spend as much time as possible on the coast or in the mountains during July and August. Through September and October, life returns to normal as work, school and university begin again.
The off-season in Florence is filled with delights not possible during the peak of the summer heat. The streets are less crowded so it is easier to stroll quietly and enjoy the history as it unfolds around you.
Airfares are lower, accommodation more available at reasonable rates, and the ease of finding a quiet corner in a favorite caffé becomes a reality.
It is hard to know which is the top benefit of non-summer season travel. Many discover it each year – many already know it and celebrate the difference, their savings and time seeming to stretch further with fewer people around. It might sound obvious but why not avoid the summer heat and crowds? Airfares are lower, accommodation more available at reasonable rates, and the ease of finding a quiet corner in a favorite caffé becomes a reality.
A quick aperitivo with friends in March last year introduced me to what has become a favored osteria to frequent with visitors and locals. On that first visit, staff were more relaxed as they had time to talk with diners and offer suggestions of favorite places to see. Over the months of returning, with one friend or ten, the welcome grew and the hospitality was shared.
Thankfully and delightfully, Italians are very hospitable and it only takes a visit or two before they start to welcome you as a friend. Without the constant buzz of the summer crowds it is easier to feel relaxed and remember a face – they are happy to see you again.
A first experience of off-season travel
One of my fondest travel memories was also one of my first off-season adventures.
Many years ago, I was in London for a few days before heading home to Australia. I’d been travelling for almost five months, and it was a cold wintery February day. The works of British painters Turner and Constable had only delighted me from books through high school art, but nevertheless, I’d loved their artistry for years. One important stop I’d promised myself before leaving London was a visit to the Tate Gallery to see the collection in person.
As I strolled and wandered around that wonderful place, I truly discovered the joy of slowing down, selecting less and looking more.
On that blustery day, there were about 20 visitors in the museum, and 12 were in a school group. Leaning in and stepping back with no one to move around or wait for, it was almost as if we each had the gallery to ourselves. The guards did their rounds, keeping an eye on us as we moved from room to wing, but also smiled as we enjoyed the masterpieces and the space.
As I strolled and wandered around that wonderful place, I truly discovered the joy of slowing down, selecting less and looking more. It was a feast for the eyes with time to take it in!
One’s cold day is another’s mild reprieve
In early 2014, moving back to Florence from Milan, I met a Danish artist seeking three weeks reprieve from her northern winter. Leaving home for a short time broke the worst of her homeland winter and presented opportunities to see a different culture through fresh eyes. For both of us, the joys of experiencing Italy in the winter meant discovering quiet corners and warming food, and the chance to share the delights of a day’s adventures.
Returning March this year, we met to once again enjoy the peace of the cooler days. We enjoyed the winter delights of warming meals with a glass of chianti in an uncrowded osteria, and a piano recital in a beautiful teatro.
And in the mild climate of Florence, the hellebores flower through late winter, brightening window boxes beside the cyclamen. Nearby, cherry trees start to bloom and potted mimosa trees burst with tiny yellow balls of fluff.
Why You Want to Visit Florence in the Off-Season
Days of winter celebration
Just like at home, Florence celebrates the changing of the seasons and adds many celebrations drawn from the church calendar.
Christmas in Italy starts officially on December 8 and finishes with Epiphany on January 6, and then the Christmas sales start, offering 30 to 70 percent off as the month progresses. Imagine buying Italian designer clothes of all levels at fabulous discounts – it is something we can all enjoy.
Throughout the weeks before Lent, Carnevale celebrations happen throughout Italy. While the festivities in Venice are probably the most well-known internationally, many Florentines travel to the Mediterranean coast to see the celebrations in nearby Viareggio. On a clear winter’s day, the fresh sea air is perfect for blowing any winter blues away as the parade passes by.
On International Women’s Day – March 8 – Italians celebrate the women in their lives with small bunches of golden mimosa blooms, and many state museums open their doors to women of all ages.
And through it all, the lustrous winter sky shows the Brunalleschi’s dome to exquisite advantage.
Why You’ll Want to Visit Florence in the Off-Season
Have you traveled to Florence, Italy? How was your trip? Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.
Why You’ll Want to Visit Florence in the Off-Season photo credits: Sandy Swanton