Finding love in Florence

Visiting Italy was never high on my must-travel list. I wanted the fiestas of Spain, the French Michelin stars and the watercolour sunsets of Greek islands much more than Italian sprawl and plain pastas.

That was, of course, until I actually went to Italy. Converted to the disorder, the charm, the food (oh, the food) and the beauty, I’ve been back every year since my long weekend in Verona. Ticking off cities with a cappuccino in one hand and a camera slung round my neck, Venice, Lake Garda, Amalfi and Positano have all dazzled me.

Then, to Florence.

florence view

Initially, I couldn’t warm to Florence. Our AirBnb was a moment away from the Duomo- a seemingly great decision when making the booking that later left bells ringing almost literally in our heads every morning from 7am as the Camanile- belltower- became intimately acquainted with our sleepyfaces. The town was heaving with heavily perspiring tour groups, marching en masse down side streets and main squares, forming human blockades of obnoxiousness everywhere they went. The transport staff were mean, hardened no doubt, by an onslaught of idiot tourists like us. Ripped off by a shoddy tourist trap gelatoria, dismayed by endless queues, unable to escape the bustle of frantic selfie sticks. Perhaps the Italian charm was wearing off.

But then, to the rescue, Jonathan. Armed with his TripAdvisor app and a serious nose for finding the quiet spots, our weekend of plodding round packed galleries with screaming schooltrips turned into something quite beautiful.

florence girl

We dug out the recommendations from friends and hunted down trattorias and pizzerias galore. We made a booking for the best chicken I have ever eaten. We escaped the crowds to the ‘other side of Florence’- Oltrano. We wiled away hours in gardens reading, chatting, eating.

One of the best things we did- ever- was find a little private tours company out in Tuscany- the 500 Touring Club. Once we navigated the bus system out to rural Firenze, we met our date for the day: Topsy.

topsy fiat 500 florence

After a quick driving lesson (Jonathan, not me) and a slick of lippy (me, not Jonathan), we were pootling around the Tuscan hills to our little heart’s content.

We found Florence at a slower pace, by peering round corners and succumbing to revisiting places- a travel sin according to Past Farrah. I went the long way round to falling love with Florence, but I chilled out when I realised that enjoying a city means finding the rhythm that feeds the city, that gives it life-not charging round at full speed with a checklist to dispassionately work through and spending more time being angry with crowds than giggling with your boyfriend.

florence atmostphere

Instead, spending afternoons lounging in our flat, carefully choosing our picnic supplies in supermarkets and revisiting our favourite spots time and time again made this trip special. You soak in beauty, not rush past it.

farrah kelly


Eating Florence

You don’t go to Italy for a salad. I certainly can vouch for that- this is a country where diets come to die.

Rich, deep meat dishes; cheesey, meltingly decadent pastas; crisp, bite-me pizzas. Italy is the land of sexy food and exciting dining, and I am here to take in the throes of Florence’s food, a willing servant.

THAT buttered chicken.

Down a side street- as so often the best restaurants are- you will find a bustling trattoria filled with wise Italians and lipsmacking tourists. As you queue, waiting for your seating session, waiters will shimmy past you with freshly slit Tuscan hams and cheeses, American tourists will call out asking to book a table for the same time next year, and your anxiety about being tantalising late for the last portion of the infamous butter chicken will reach dizzying heights.

Then, breathe, you are seated on a shared table with two bickering elderly Italian men, who spend the entire unaware of the delighted glances you keep shooting them. Order the butter chicken.


Enjoy the table entertainment of other diners arguing with each other over the final bites of shared food, sip in the Tuscan carafe, wave to the chefs through the open partition to the kitchen.

When it arrives, sizzling in the pan, doused liberally in butter, cut a portion off- crisp, crunch of the skin- and take a moment to be grateful for all the life decisions you have ever made leading you to this moment. Bite, make eye contact with your companion, smile. Devour the entire thing in about 6 seconds.

Gusto, gusto!

There’s no real knack for finding the best pizza in an Italian town. Follow your nose down various ambling alleys and sidestreets until you find a place with a queue.

We waited patiently outside Gusta Pizza, alongside half of Firenze. A moment away from Santo Spirito, the Shoreditch of Florence, we were in a queue that acted as a cross section of Florence on a warm, April day: Lonely Planet clutching Americans, hungover students, beautiful Italian girls calling to their friends on the passing Vespas, a gaggle of schooltrippers; and us- a couple hunting for romantic moments via pizza.

gusta pizza

Once we snaked round the door ordered in terrible Italian (they responded in English), we were handed a slip of paper. Jonathan slipped off to the shop round the corner for a beer to go. I stood and watched pizzas kneaded, flung into ovens and scooped out for a few minutes clutching my slip until- hurrah!- my number was up.

Gleefully prepared with pizza box and drink in hand, we squatted down on the steps of the Basilica di Santo Spirito and fished out a pizza slice each. Mine, a Calabrese (spicy salami, mozzarella, tomatoes), Jonathan’s a Gustsapizza (rocket, parmesan, mozzerlla), both topped with a beautiful tomato base and finished with perfectly crisp crusts. Hoovering up any melted cheese and joyously feeding each other mouthfuls, we surveyed the Santo Spirito square livening up for the evening and checked off ‘Romantic Pizza’ off our to do list.


A Florence foodie’s worst kept secret.

Mercato Centrale is an edible treasure wonderland. While the system isn’t particularly clear- not least to two hangry tourists- I can quickly forgive any misgivings. Split over two floors, the Mercato brings together producers and kitchens into one beautiful hall. Light refracts into colourful soft sheets covering the dining tables, with ample people-watching spots going.

We toured once, then doubled back to our selections. Aranci was excellently executed (and novel to Jonathan; ‘deep fried pasta- this is a fucking genius idea‘), wine was sharp and clean, sandwiches so wonderful they felt decadent, cannolo sweet and messy.

Mercato wine

Pasta la vista…

In a stroke of genius, Italy invented the four course meal (don’t fact check that).

As someone with intense food envy problems, primi and secondi are an answer to all my restaurant prayers: antipasti to warm things up, primi to satisfy cravings, secondi to seem a touch more elegant and dolci to get the sweet spot.

The best course- I think everyone agrees- is primi a.k.a. your chance to also eat pasta tonight. God bless Italians for finding a way to elbow in a good old bowl of the good stuff into even the finest of dining experiences.

I can recommend the Osteria Antica Mescita San Niccolò for their excellent value, bustling vibe and sweet waitresses, but truly, this is a glory Florence-wide.


Fresh, al dente, surrounded by warming and deep meaty sauces- and, naturally, topped in a mountain of parmesan cheese. Now, if I can come up with a way of incorporating this into a daily routine…

Diets a long forgotten misery, settle into a scoop of gelato and wander off into the playful Florence streets, looking for your next meal.


A day in Positano, Italy

I’ve been dreaming about a holiday to the Amalfi coast for years. It all started with some typical Facebook-envy; girls I knew from way back when were uploading photo after photo of dreamy Italian coastline, and I was all a flutter with trying to plan a trip. I collated Pinterest boards, bought calendars with AMALFI written all over it, and set about drawing up a perfect itinerary.

Obviously, as so many travel plans do, things got waylaid and it wasn’t until a few years later, when I received some mega compensation from EasyJet (my story here), that I actually got around to booking this trip. It was a long time coming, and had a lot of built up expectation to meet.


And guess what? Positano beat those expectations. For years I had been idly wondering how the breeze would feel on those precipitous coastal roads, how the colours of little houses built up a rockface would pop against the blue sky, and of course, of how much pasta I would eat. Positano fulfilled all of those little daydreams- most importantly the one about pasta.


We were staying in nearby Sorrento, so woke up early to grab the coach. The coach is an entire experience in itself, so instead of feeling sleepy or bored from the hour long winding journey, we were buzzed and giddy like two kids who knew exactly how much gelato was waiting for them on the other side.


Positano is not built for the weak kneed. Everything is up or down a hill, with long winding roads to connect you, or monstrous flights of stairs. We spent all of our exploring time puffing and panting, stopping to rest our weary legs or pick up a congratulations cocktail after a particularly steep flight. Round every corner is a little gem, pastel painted houses, coffe bars, sweet pottery stores or private gardens you can just about peer into.

Positano village

After several hours of lounging around on the beach and working up an appetite by scaling every flight of stairs we came across, Jonathan consulted TripAdvisor and we wound our way to probably the best restaurant in Positano: Saraceno d’Oro. We loaded up on linguini con vongole, and homemade pasta with fresh-off-the-boat seafood.




The service was fabulous, and we sat in a glorious little bit of sunshine. I honestly think that this was one of the best meals of my life- maybe because the carafe of wine was so delicious, the waiter was singing loudly to Italian music, because we’d spent so long hunting down the perfect restaurant, or just because the food was so damn good. It might even have something to do with the shot of limoncello we rounded up the meal with. Who cares- if I could spend every lunchtime here, I would.


In a happy, light mood, we tottered off down the hill to lie on the beach and treat ourselves to some more gelato and vino, still professing how great Italian food was. Seriously guys, I don’t know if you knew already, but the Italians, they got this food thing down.

As we were there in early April, people-watching was especially rewarding as Positano prepared for tourist high season. Crates of lemons were ferried between stores, flowers ready to bloom being planted along roadsides, signs and hotel walls being painted anew.


Positano in April was just stirring up to life, with a handful of places closed (most notably none of the pools were open for business), but the quiet and the charm of watching the town get ready, as though for a big party, makes visiting slightly pre-season all the more worthwhile.


Once the sun had started to set, we packed up our books and made the ascent to the bus stop. Tip for you- it’s almost completely unmarked, so take note of where you hop off the bus when you arrive.

I fell in love with Positano, and I’ll definitely be back for round two. Though it’s small enough to feel satisfied you’ve ‘done’ it in a single day, it’s got that Italian habit of leaving you wanting more.


Sirmione, Lake Garda.

The last time I looked at visiting Lake Garda, having seen brochures filled with stunning vistas, and jaw dropping price tags, I nearly choked on my Ribena and decided to park that idea for a time where I was earning approximately three times as much as I am now. I would have to wait a long time before I could afford a trip like that…

And then my lovely boyfriend and I set off for Verona. I’d read somewhere that Lake Garda was spitting distance from the Veronese centre, so I made it our collective mission to see this place- and on a tight budget.

Deciding which town surrounding the enormous lake to visit was our first task. After deliberating over the pros of each location, we couldn’t decide and ended up dip-dip-do-ing our way to Sirmione. A small town on the end of a peninsula, it seemed as good a place as any to get to know the lago, so first thing in the morning we hopped on a bus and sped on over.

The bus dropped us off at the very bottom of the town, leaving us with a twenty minute walk before we actually saw any sign of the lake. The streets before the tip of the peninsula are your bog-standard gated-hotel affair, which, only on reflection, made arriving at the Sirmione drawbridge all the quainter.


To enter the town, you must cross a hand-pulled drawbridge. This means there are no cars- just concessional obligatory Italian Vespa, whipping round the cobbled streets. The town is guarded by the Rocca Scaligera, which for the low low price of 2 euros, will give you a stunning overview of the Sirmione town’s rooftops, complete with world famous mountain/lake combo backdrop for added jaw-drops. If you’re in Sirmione, go up it. That’s an order.

We poked around Grotte di Calutto, the gorgeous Roman ruins named after a local poet, which was pretty cheap and gave amazing views of the Garda mountains. We spent a good portion of the day slowly wandering around and trying to guess what all the room ruins would have been once and resisting the temptation to make poppy-daisy-chains. We nosed out the best gelato in the area (seriously, I think about the pistachio cone every couple of days still), and spent the majority of the day at the bottom of the Sirmione cliff paddling about in the water.

I’d read that restaurants tended to be pricey, so we packed a picnic to save on costs here. I’d strongly recommend this- there are loads of beautiful places to eat alfresco in Sirmione. We had ours on the marbled rocks on the lake edge- picking through olives and tearing up bits of cured ham. I’m sure the restaurants are fantastic, but this was a budget day out and nothing beats having your lunch while dipping your tootsies into one of the most famous lakes in the world…


The most noticeable and beautiful thing about Sirmione (and Italy all over, really) is the colour. Little splashes of orange and rose pinks in the flowers and on the houses, the glaring blue of the lake, and, of course, the deep red of the glasses of Bardolino to bring it all together (well, it wouldn’t be Italy without the wine). I loved Sirmione, and the whole day had barely cost anything. Mission accomplished.