Nardia Plumridge, the Australian travel journalist behind the popular website Lost In Florence, promises to help intrepid travelers do just that with her new guidebook of the same name. Plumridge’s love affair with Florence began when she was just 15 and lured her back in 2012 when she set off to discover the most unique places in the Renaissance city.
“Often, the best travel experiences we have are when we take that unexpected turn and get lost… in the most adventurous sense, ” she says. Her guidebook, Lost In Florence (Hardie Grant, 2019), shines a light on boutique shops, young artisans and hole-in-the-wall eateries that can only be found away from the crowds.
Here, she shares her insights on the best places to explore in Florence.
From leather-made goods and artisan jewelry to find foods and wines, Florence and Tuscany are well-known for promoting Italian excellence. What has living in Florence taught you about the importance of artisanship?
I love Italy, and Florence in particular, for its artisan heritage. I appreciate that you can still visit artisan workshops and see handicraft being created with real passion and precision. In a world where everything is so fast – fast fashion, fast food – it’s refreshing to see businesses putting real time and dedication into their products. In Florence, it’s easy to be lured into a tourist trap for a souvenir or a meal but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll be surprised at what stores you’ll find that are unique and independent, and still affordable. It makes the city very special and supporting local businesses is key for a more sustainable form of tourism.
People often say Florence is an outdoor museum and the city, like others in Italy, is struggling to manage increasing tourism. How do you think your guidebook, along with an overall philosophy of slow travel and supporting independent businesses, can help preserve the city?
Most people think that because Florence is a historical city, it is only filled with old Renaissance offerings. They visit the three main squares, the two most popular museums then leave, even after just a day. While there are incredible venues for classic art and culture, the past few years have seen a growing trend towards concept stores, contemporary art galleries, and eateries creating Tuscan plates with a twist.
With my guidebook, I hope to encourage travelers to step away from the crowds and wander the backstreets in order to have a true adventure of discovery in Florence. It’s incredible how you can literally be one street away from the main thoroughfares and it feels like another world. Take it a little slower, discover a little deeper, and your travel experience will be so much more rewarding for you. If you have the curiosity to explore the lesser-traveled streets, you’ll be amazed at the adventure that awaits.
Your guidebook shares wonderful tips about boutique workshops and where to shop for local products. Tell me about a few of your favorite artisans in Florence.
I adore Clara Soto at Digerolamo for her handbag designs and her passion in making her products – I always pop in to see what she is working on in her studio in the basement of her shop. I have also always liked the concept of Viajiyu, a shoe brand with a made-to-order philosophy where you can choose your style, color and trim that are then made just for you. I have pairs from five years ago that I still wear all the time in the city to run around its cobbled streets.
The bespoke perfume experience at Aquaflor is, quite literally, intoxicating. During a private session with a sensory master you can even create your own bottle. And the newly opened Florence Factory is a store dedicated to selling artisan pieces by a variety of Italian makers, mainly from Tuscany with owners, Jacopo and Lorenzo, curating its shelves with fashion, jewelery, and home wears.
What new trends have you encountered in Florence since starting your website? How are businesses adapting to contemporary trends while still preserving their historic traditions?
Florence has seen an explosion of new dining venues in recent years that balance seasonal Tuscan produce with international flair. The region is well-known for its meat-based diet but there has been a move towards more plant-based options, and green dining has become more acceptable and fashionable in Florence. Venues like L’OV, RAW and Carduccio serve inspired vegetable dishes that go beyond meat.
Boutique Italian gin brands, like Peter in Florence and Sabatini Gin, have also popped up in recent years. Many of the herbs like juniper used by big name brands are sourced for their bottles from Tuscany and I’ve seen a growing trend for gin cocktail bars. Galleries like the Casamonti Collection for modern art and the theatre designs at Fondazione Zeffirelli dedicated to the Italian filmmaker are more modern 20th century cultural hubs to explore. And in terms of quirky boutique hotels, the newly opened Oltrarno Splendid run by design duo, Betty Soldi and Matteo Perduca, offer a very modern, and magical, Florence experience.
A lot of your recommendations highlight the people behind the business. Tell me about how showcasing the markers, and putting a face to a brand, can help give it more personality and dimension.
This is really important to me – to share the story of the people behind the places. Starting a business anywhere, and especially in Italy, is a challenge so to have the passion and dedication to create something from the ground up is impressive and something I like to support. From talented designers who create pieces by hand and from the heart, to cocktail bars run by 20-something mixologists with a passion to create something of quality, these entrepreneurs should be celebrated and their story shared. Lost In Florence is dedicated to the people that make the city such a unique and magical place to visit.
Where are your favorite places to get lost in Florence?
Dining in the leafy surrounds of Floret for a lunch with girlfriends. It’s a quiet respite from the madness of the shopping crowds below on via Roma. Sneaking to newly refurbished Amblé, tucked in a quiet courtyard a block from the Arno near Ponte Vecchio, for a fresh juice and securing one of their sun loungers the best seat in the summer. Villa Bardini Gardens, especially in spring: people go wild for the wisteria when in bloom and the gardens are more ornate than nearby Boboli Garden. And come night time, the basement of La Ménagere for their free jazz nights is always a treat.
Lost in Florence: An insider’s guide to the best places to eat, drink, and explore by Nardia Plumridge is out now (Hardie Grant).