If Bacchus were a graffiti artist, you'd find his name sprayed on every street corner in Florence. Wine and this famous Tuscan city are so well integrated that you wonder how one could ever function without the other.
Florence (Firenze in Italian) is located in the center of Italy and has a romantic allure that doesn't translate well into words. Let's just say that history has treated it very well. In fact, there's a certain type of seamless transition between the ages of the Renaissance and modernity that's so striking and, in some ways, downright whimsical.
Vino is ultra fashionable here. And why shouldn't it be? This city serves as the worldwide ambassador for Tuscan-style wines. And there's nothing more famous to this region than the sangiovese grape. While the common $5 wicker-wrapped bottle of red Chianti wine still exists there, Florence is more of a showcase for premium, upscale wines that make connoisseurs drool. We're talking Supertuscan blends, Chianti Classico Riservas, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino red wines; Vernacci, Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianco whites; and the famed Vin Santo dessert wine -- all of which can be found lining the windows of wine shops on every street.
Wine bars are abundant. Boccadama, located at Piazza S. Croce, features regional cheeses, fine meats and nearly 400 wines -- many of which are served by the glass. The historic Enoteca de' Giraldi, located in the middle of the city, features vaulted ceilings, stone columns and Tuscan wines from the coast. Try a glass of Morellino di Scansano, a fabulous red grown around the coastal hills of Maremma, along with one of Giraldi's fantastic savory pies! I Fratellini (across from Palazzo Vecchio) showcases Classico and Brunello wines by the glass. Procacci, on Via Tornabuoni, highlights regional wines and offers small, yet lavish sandwiches to accompany them. Try chasing one of their white truffle-oil-coated sandwiches with a sip of the Badia di Passignano (Antinori) 1996 Chianti Classico Riserva -- a wine that radiates an intensive berry sensation while whipping you upside the head with a black licorice stick. I'll take that form of submission any day!
Restaurants here love to flaunt their wine and food pairings. Lo Strettoio, located in the hills overlooking the city, features fresh local fare and an entire room dedicated to grappa. Trattoria da Za-Za (Piazza del Mercato Centrale) is the place to go for soups that equal a meal. Make sure to make reservations. La Cantinetta Antinori (near Piazza Santa Maria Novella) gives you options: snacks with cheese and specialized meat plates (salami, ham, mortadella), lunch or dinner. No matter what you chose here, you'll be able to enjoy the food with fine wines. After all, the Antinori family is one of the most well known winemaking families in the country.
Then there's the more traditional, family-style places to which your nose leads you. In Oltrarno, Trattoria Caslinga (located across the Arno River on your way to the Boboli Gardens), is one such restaurant. The menu changes daily, and darn it, Mama wouldn't have it any other way! Believe me, after you sit down with the locals and enjoy a meal of hand-made pasta with red wine sauce and fresh basil, a large salad dripping with regional Balsamic vinegar and local olive oil, a bottle of Nozzole 1995 Chianti Classico Riserva, double espresso and chocolate torte for dessert -- you start questioning the injustice behind not eating that way every day of your life!
Granted, everyone's not chiseled out as replicas of Michelangelo's statue of David. Yet Florence natives do remain very shapely despite such rich foods. The solution is quite clear: ages 14 to 84 merely work it off on the dance floors.
Music is very hip throughout the city. Nightclubs abound, and dancing is certainly an honorable practice. Meccano is the most popular disco, with DJs spinning house, techno and pop hits until the wee hours of the morning. Tenax is the best place to see a real eclectic assortment of live bands -- everything from Radiohead, Ben Harper, Public Enemy and Alanis Morrissette to ska, metal and alternative. The dress code says it all: "cool and smart." The club features an assortment of dance floors and even provides bus service from Piazza Indipendenza every 20 minutes all night long. If you're lookin' for something smoother, Jazz chimes from cafes and wine bars throughout the city, and the amphitheater in Cascine Park offers local bands, free of charge, every night (weather permitting).