If Paris is just too clichéd, then why not consider the beautiful city of Florence for a Valentine’s Day surprise for your significant other?
The Italians could make eating pizza out of a cardboard box feel romantic, so put your love life in their capable hands and head to one of Tuscany’s most captivating spots with your special someone.
Get your bearings with a tour of the historic centre of Florence by horse and carriage. In winter, you’ll be tucked up under a blanket as you gently clip clop your way round some of the city’s most iconic sights. Ask to stop at the most impressive, the exquisite Duomo. Admire the ornamental inlaid marble exterior which makes it one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world before stepping inside to marvel at Brunelleschi’s gravity-defying dome, constructed in the 15th century without the use of scaffolding. You’ll need pre-booked tickets and a head for heights if you want to wow your love with a closer look.
At any time of year, the Uffizi Gallery is a must-see, but if St Valentine has brought you here, then focus your attention on those works of art dedicated to love. The exquisite Botticelli’s Venus, the painting by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, Titian’s Venus of Urbino and more are waiting to wow you in this world class museum. Reserve your ticket in advance – there’s nothing romantic about having to wait in line. Or instead book a themed Valentine’s Day tour and let a guide play Cupid.
Florence was where Dante met Beatrice, in one of history’s most fabled tales of unrequited love. Dante was the mediaeval author of The Divine Comedy – you’ll know at least part of it, Dante’s Inferno. He first clapped eyes on the delectable Beatrice when he was nine and she eight, at the Church of Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi. It was love at first sight. They met again, nine years later, but by then Dante had married someone else. Despite this, he was overcome with affection for his childhood crush and featured her in his most famous work. The tiny church, one of the oldest in Florence, is tucked away down a narrow lane, earning extra romance points for those who make the effort to find it. And if your love affair has hit a rocky patch, tradition has it that you can leave a letter for Beatrice in a basket by her shrine asking her to help sort out your mess.
If you’re hoping to take your relationship to the next level, you’ll need a ring. The Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most iconic bridge, is perhaps the place to find it. Spanning the River Arno, it was once home to the city’s butchers, who would throw their leftover meat down into the water. These days, jewellers occupy the tiny shops that stretch the length of the bridge. The views – not to mention the smell – are sweet. But don’t be tempted to attach a padlock on the bridge as a sign of your enduring affection for each other – the Florentines don’t appreciate the sentiment and will levy a hefty fine.
Once you’re done with the Ponte Vecchio, stroll along the lugarni, the local name for the riverside promenades and duck down the Piazzale degli Uffizi to the Palazzo Vecchio. You’ll need to climb around 400 steps to the top of the Arnolfo Tower, from which you’ll enjoy what’s held by many to be the most magnificent vista across the city. Pace yourself, though, as you’ll need some breath left for any declarations of love. On Valentine’s Day, can also arrange for a glass of champagne 95 feet above the pavement and toast to lasting love.
At sunset, there’s one place that stands out for atmosphere and views and that’s Piazzale Michelangelo. You’re unlikely to have the view to yourself, but nevertheless it’s worth sharing for the incredible sight of Florence laid out beneath a setting sun. On Valentine’s Day, time your visit for about 5.45pm to hit the magical blue hour, perfect for capturing a souvenir snap of the moment.
Florence is awash with great restaurants so you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to that special romantic dinner. Try the creative and experimental food at Ora d'Aria or rooftop dining at SE-STO overlooking the River Arno. For fine dining in a historic setting, you’d be hard pushed to beat the three Michelin-starred Enoteca Pinchiorri.
An evening at the theatre is a good way to round off a perfect day in Florence and in February, the theatres usually offer the Pass Per Due, which literally translates as Pass For Two. If you’re not fluent in Italian, try the Comunale, Verdi, Pergola or Goldoni theatres, which more commonly host classical music concerts or opera. Shostakovich is on the bill for Valentine’s Day 2018.
Where to stay
The Brunelleschi Hotel is one of the most elegant hotels in the city, but all that luxury comes at a price. Two night breaks in February cost from 664 euros, but you’ll pay significantly more to snag a room with the hotel’s signature view of the Duomo. Instead, try the Palazzo Ruspoli. This B&B has a special two night Valentine’s Day package that includes drinks at the nearby Brunelleschi, for just 263 euros for the pair of you.