There’s only one guidebook you need to take on a trip to Florence, said Adam Begley in The New York Times. It’s E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View. His book “reminds us that though Florence is a capital of art,” you can’t understand it simply by bouncing from one congested museum to the next. Don’t limit yourself just to the usual sites, and let yourself wander. After all, it wasn’t until the book’s heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, lost her Handbook to Northern Italy that she began to discover the city’s hidden allure. Without a “cultural authority to tell her what to think, she thinks for herself.” So while everyone “in the ill-bred crowd is snapping photos” with their cell phones, find out why traveling with “no cultural agenda” can be liberating.
Though Forster captured the city as it was 100 years ago, the “pernicious Florentine charm” remains just as seductive today. The city’s “vast cultural riches” are visible with every step. “An intensely urban town,” Florence requires time and a fair amount of effort to see. Tourists flock to the Uffizi Gallery; the town’s central cathedral, known as the Duomo; and its smaller baptistery, whose bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti were named the “Gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo. But a true art connoisseur also won’t miss the Basilica di Santa Croce, which houses the tombs of Michelangelo and Ghiberti, as well as those of Galileo and Machiavelli. Just outside Santa Croce is Filippo Brunelleschi’s Pazzi Chapel, a “perfectly proportioned Renaissance gem” best enjoyed once the tourists have cleared.
Keep on strolling and you’ll come upon another Brunelleschi creation, the cloister of San Lorenzo. It’s a “place of great beauty and calm” that you’d fall for even if you didn’t know a thing about it. The “simple, elegant” two-story structure offers the “tranquil harmony of the Renaissance without pomp or grandeur.” It’s also a great place to gather the strength to confront the masses and the “immortal works of art remaining on your list.” Then again, so is Il Latini, one of the several splendid restaurants in the city. Pour a glass from the table’s “big bottle of red wine” while you enjoy a long, late lunch. By the time you’ve finished, the crowds will have thinned to reveal the gentler Florence known by true cognoscenti.