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Exclusive | Three Gay Days: Florence

Exclusive | Three Gay Days: Florence

Here's your must-have road map to 72 hours in one of the world's gayest destinations. Where to stay, eat, play and meet in historic Florence.

Florence's ancient art-filled center can be overwhelmingly alive with bodies. The constant hum of multi-lingual chatter -- confused Americans, disdainful Italians, and Japanese tourists clustered around tour leaders' red flags -- seems agelessly embedded in Florentine culture, as if someone next to you could well be gossiping about Michelangelo's sexuality.

LGBT travelers will find that the city has plenty of current queer life to fill up on, especially during the academic semesters. Every fall and spring, swarms of wide-eyed art history students from the world over crowd into the city's gay bars, and just about everywhere else, too.

High art and high luxury has been part of Florentine culture since the Medici family came to power in the 13th century through a fortune made in banking. Over the 400 years, three Popes, and innumerable politicians that constitute their history, the family erected some of Italy's most opulent architecture all over the city, literally building their wealth and power into Florence. This, of course, is a long way of saying that bargains should not be expected here.

Lay of the land
Florence is actually quite manageable geographically, so more To-Do list items are possibly here. That said, vehicles are banned in the center so all the walking can make the city seem a lot bigger.

On the north shore of the Arno River is where you'll find most of the main sights, like The Uffizi Galleries, The Duomo, and The Galleria Dell'Accademia, where the statue of David resides. Most of the LGBT locales are on this side, too.

The south side of the Arno River holds a few notable sights, particularly the Palazzo Pitti and Giardini di Boboli, but is less touristy overall. Taking the time to explore out here, however, might reward with some the best -- and least costly -- dining in Florence.

STAY
Florence's deserved reputation as a top-tier getaway didn't come cheap. Small, gay-owned options around town are particularly tempting not only for the competitive pricing, but for the invaluable advice on gay nightlife and lore you can pick up from the proprietors.

Of course, Florence has also been a center of luxury, indulgence, and style for centuries so, as they say, "When in Rome. . . "

Gay
The alternatives considered, the Dei Mori Bed and Breakfast (Via Dante Alighieri 12; +39-055-211-438; www.deimori.it; 90+ EUR) is a fair price for its offerings: a super-central location in a clean, 19th-century building with original fresco ceilings in some rooms. To boot, there's also a tidy balcony space with some nice views.

Luxury
Lavish accommodations are all too temptingly common in Florence, but The Grand Hotel (Piazza Ognissanti 1; +39-055-271-61; www.starwoodhotels.com; 285+ EUR) is a deserving staple above the rest. Liberal use of marble finishings, tastefully decadent fabrics, and service the Queen of England couldn't find fault with ensure that this classic will remain near the top of luxury lists.

Style
Like a dream from outer space, the UNA Hotel Vittoria (Via Pisana, 59; +1-866-376-7831; www.epoquehotels.com; 111+ EUR) experience only begins with plasma screens in every room and printed lame décor. From there, add doors made to resemble canvas masterpieces, a stable of Pantone's brightest colors boldly deployed on every surface, and a neat bar reminiscent of the spaceport in Blade Runner.

Value
Superbly located for the price and well-kept for any price, the Hotel Dali (Via dell'Oriuolo 17; +39-055-234-0706; www.hoteldali.com; 40+ EUR) unfortunately does not draw its decorative scheme from the surreal imagination of the eponymous artist. It does, however, have some nice views to compensate.

Day 1: Cultural immersion
Even before the first café of the day, call The Uffizi Galleries (+39-055-294-883; www.uffizi.com; closed Mondays) and make a reservation for the third day. This should give you your choice of time slots, but booking even more in advance during high season is not a bad idea.

Have breakfast in one of the local cafes, which populate every corner, and then head up to the Basilica di San Lorenzo (Piazza di San Lorenzo 9; www.sanlorenzo.firenze.it), which is populated by a number of Donatello's sculptures as well as his grave. This monument of the Medici clan, who more or less funded the Italian Renaissance with one hand and shaped Italian politics with the other, is a feat of oldest-money power.

Check out the adjoining Biblioteca Laurenziana (Piazza di San Lorenzo 9; +39-055-211-590; www.bml.firenze.sbn.it), which was ordered by Pope Clement VII, who was also a Medici. Don't miss the Mannerist staircase by Michelangelo, maybe the best-known queer artist in history.

Grab a bite to eat at the Mercato Centrale along the way, or wait until you get to the Piazza del Duomo, near the center of Florence. Snacks are pricey here, but people-watching from on outdoor café in the shadow of Brunelleschi's Duomo (Piazza Duomo 17; www.duomofirenze.it) is as breathtaking as the architectural wonder. When sated, explore beyond the somewhat ostentatious exterior and climb the nearby Campanile for unbeatable city overviews.

A short wander south toward the river will lead you near the Mercato Nuovo, a fun market of trinkets in open-air medieval streets. In the market, gain good luck by getting a coin to drop from the mouth of the Il Porcellino, a big, bronze boar, through the grate at its feet.

Walking west, you'll pass the impressive Piazza Della Signoria, littered with replica statues. The Palazzo Vecchio is east of here and the stunning Uffizi Galleries are to the south. This is the most impressive way to first see the Uffizi Galleries.

Circle eastward around the Palazzo Vecchio and up to the Enoteca Pinchiorri (Via Ghibellina 87; +39-055-242-757; www.enotecapinchiorri.com; 80-200 EUR). In a city where extravagance could have been invented, this dining experience excels above the rest. Dress to the tens, reserve well in advance, and let your budget beware.

Just slighter further on, catch up with Yag Bar (Via de'Dacci 8r; +39-55-246-9022; www.yagbar.com), one of Florence's newest gay bars, daytime cafes, and general info point for all things LGBT about town. It can get quite crowded, what with the dancing and merriment and all, but at least their bar is in the right place: the center.

Also nearby, the more relaxed Piccolo Caffe (Borgo Santa Croce 23r) is also gay, but closes earlier.

For a slightly naughtier time (think dark room!) Crisco (Via Sant' Egidio 43r; +39-55-248-0580), with its suggestive name can become steam but it depends on how crowded it is. A recent Friday night visit was surprisingly quiet. It's men only.

Day 2: Oh, David, you're so fine
Get off to an early start to see everyone's favorite model of manhood, Michelangelo's David, at the Galleria Dell'Accademia (Via Ricasoli 58-60; +39-055-294-883; www.polomuseale.firenze.it/musei/accademia; closed Mondays and holidays) since he tends to inspire long lines later in the day. Surrounded by medieval religious triptychs, David is the main attraction here, so take a second to appreciate his peculiarly large feet and hands.

On the way to the Ponte Vecchio, the only ancient Florentine bridge undamaged by Nazis, stop into the Perche No! (Via dei Tavolini 19; 2-5 EUR) gelateria for some of city's best gelato. Midway across the Ponte Vecchio, which is encrusted with jewelry shops, you will probably stumble upon an inexplicable heap of locks. Lovers, despite the addition of security cameras, have continued inscribing and fastening them together, creating long chains of passionate words.

From the Ponte Vecchio, run the gauntlet of tourist traps selling closet clutter on Via Giucciardini until confronted by a sprawling stone slope, the entrance to the Palazzo Pitti (Piazza Pitti; +39-055-265-4321; www.palazzopitti.it; closed Mondays and holidays). Once the crown jewel of Medici properties, this 16th century palace now houses eight museums.

Often overlooked, the Appartamenti Reali are a treat of furnished State rooms decorated in the 19th century by King Vittorio Emanuelle, who first ruled over a united Italy. A different sort of historical luxury is housed next door, at the Palazzo's Galleria del Costume, or fashion costume gallery.

In warmer weather Florentines flock to the massive palace gardens, the Giardino di Boboli (Palazzo Pitti 1; +39-055-238-8786; www.firenzemusei.it/boboli; closed 1st and last Mondays), just around back.

Heading back on the Via Maggio leads you to the Ponte Santa Trinita, and just across can be found a unique treat at Il Latini restaurant (Via del Palchetti 6r; +39-055-210-916; www.illatini.com; closed Mondays; 15-25 EUR). Carefully concocted from ingredients that, at first glance, shouldn't go together, the Wild Boar "Dolceforte" might make you a believer that chocolate is indeed good with everything.

If you want to dance off the boar, head toward Piazza della Signoria, where you'll find the Tabasco Gay Discoclub (Piazza S.Cecilia 3/r; +39-055-213-000; www.tabascogay.eu). By its own reckoning, it is the first gay club in Italy, established in 1974.

Day 3: Gay art history lessons
Before or after visiting The Uffizi Galleries, lunch at the Caffe Rivoire (Via Vacchereccia, 4R; +39-055-214-412; www.rivoire.it; 5-10 EUR), just on the corner of Piazza degli Signori, and indulge in both the prime-people watching and the perfectly sinful artisanal chocolate concoctions.

Stopping by rooftop café of The Uffizi Galleries, however, might be worth the outlandish price of a coffee for the picture-perfect views. Housed in -- of course -- another delightful former Medici palace, the grandeur of The Uffizi Galleries stands out enormously. Approaching from the north, you'll get the U-shaped mammoth's full, sucker-punching effect. If you can manage it, courting this sight when no one else is around is a singular experience.

Inside, The Uffizi's 45 rooms are stuffed with Italy's finest, and perhaps gayest, art collection. Pick and choose your art appreciation battles, though; no one can absorb it all in one go. The Botticelli collection is a world-best, including masterworks like the Primavera and The Birth of Venus. This Renaissance favorite of the Medici was already in artistic decline when he was accused of sodomy shortly before his death.

Michelangelo's only completed easel painting resides in The Uffizi, as does a nice collection of drawings by another queer master, Leonardo da Vinci.

Fine clusters of work by Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Titian, and Goya can also be found here, but remember that there are almost 50 rooms to explore and even the sizeable number of pieces by the eight masters mentioned here are paltry compared to the enormous volume of art at The Uffizi Galleries.

Heading north and east, make the short trek out of the city center to La Giostra (Via Borgo Pinti 12r; +39-055-241-341; www.ristorantelagiostra.com; 20-30 EUR). The restaurant caused quite a stir when some Hapsburg princes opened it, but the dishes these kitchen-savvy nobles turned out quickly smoothed that over. It's difficult to focus, after all, when confronted with homemade ravioli stuffed with goat's milk ricotta, spinach, butter, and salvia. Or whiskey-baked giant shrimp, for that matter.

A day away
Medici Villas

An easy city bus ride north lies a nest of opulent Medici castles, mansions, and spectacular gardens -- picnic perfect escapes from the frenetic Florentine pace. The Villa Medicea la Petraia (Via della Petraia, 40; +39-055-294-883; www.polomuseale.firenze.it/musei/petraia) and the Baroque Villa di Castello (Via di Castello, 47; +39-055-294-883; www.polomuseale.firenze.it/musei/villacastello; closed Mondays) are near each other and among the best of the clutch.

Easily forgotten amid the high art on Florence's walls is the wearable art on the mannequins just outside the city. Departing daily, a handful of buses operate quick excursions to the designer outlets that dot the nearby areas.

A fair number of travelers return to Florence time and again just to use it as a base for scavenging trips to the Prada outlet (Strada Statale 69, Levanella Spacceo, Montevarchi), where everyone is a winner and price tags are often slashed to 50 or 75 percent off retail. By car, it's about an hour from the city, but the train to Montevarchi (www.trenitalia.it) followed by a taxi is a good option for non-drivers.

The most faithful, however, stop just short of pitching tents in The Mall (Via Europa 8, Leccio, Reggello; +39-055-865-7775; www.outlet-firenze.com/the_mall.htm), an infamous collection of top tier designer outlets including Alexander McQueen, YSL, Gucci, and Fendi. The Mall runs a convenient round-trip shuttle bus (+39-055-8657-775; 25 EUR) departing thremes a day from cenra Flec and will make pick-ups by request.

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