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Florence - The San Frediano District
Maureen from Boston
I thought I'd write a bit about 'my' neighborhood in Florence. My sister has lived there for over 20 years, and for me it is truly a second home.
The San Frediano District is on the Oltrarno, and takes it's name from the Porta San Frediano, one of the doors to the city (porta) when it was walled-in. At the porta there is a marble marker showing the height the Arno reached during the 1966 flood. You can find them all over the neighborhood, and it's fun to search for them, especially if you're with kids. This year the porta, and the all of it's beautiful arches, were totally outlined with white lights during Christmas. (I did not take my niece Eugenia up on her suggestion "Ohh - let's count them!!" one night when we were walking to her sister's Christmas pageant at Pzza. S. Felice, but there were a lot of lights!!)
In the December 2000 issue of Gourmet magazine, a chef, currently working the US, but from the San Frediano district of Florence, wrote an article about going home. I made myself a cup of coffee and sat down to read the article, getting ready to work up some nostalgia that would be quickly remedied, as I was headed to Florence the next week. We do not go to ANY of the same places! So people have strong likes and dislikes, often based on long-standing traditions of family and friends.
Santo Spirito area, which includes the San Frediano district
The Best Bar/Caffe
For me, almost no outing begins or ends without a stop at Bar Francesconi, at the corner of via Pisana and via Ponte Sospeso. It is owned by the three Francesconi brothers, Francesco, Antonio and Aldo. Aldo, the eldest, is almost always in the kitchen. I've probably only eaten a meal there three or four times, but have had countless coffees, pastries and panini. (I tend not to eat there only because my sister lives next door, and they serve only lunch, which I'd just make at my sister's if I'm around there at lunchtime). They are always packed at lunchtime with people who work in the area: bankers, shop owners and people from the Esselunga, which is on the same block. It's the center, and heart, of our part of the neighborhood - typically my sister hears of my arrival in Florence from Francesco, and I'm always greeted, when I go in for the first few times in December, with 'Sei tu!! E veramente Natale!! Adesso commincia la festa!!' ('You're here, now we know it's Christmas!!'). I recommend going there for a taste of a neighborhood bar.
Restaurants in San Frediano
There are also some great restaurants in San Frediano, which I'll list in no particular order. And, unfortunately, many are without actual addresses, and one or two probably aren't the exact names, since I mistakenly put the notes I so painstakingly took in December/January in the paper-shredder. But hopefully it will just give a flavor of the neighborhood.
They are all very reasonably priced and none seem to be too fussy about reservations.
Fuor d'acqua is all seafood, all the time (except during lunch, and on Sundays, when it's closed) via Pisana 37/r. It's fairly new and the food is great. The menu has everything from very simply prepared seafood to more complicated dishes with sauces. I had a wonderful risotto frutta del mare and a Dover sole with a simple butter and parsley sauce the last time I ate there.
Another, older and more traditional seafood restaurant is Vittoria, on the corner of via Ponte Sospeso and via della Fonderia. We often go there for special occasions, for no particular reason except that it's a tradition in my brother-in-law's family! Another really good risotto frutta del mare, and I've never had bad grilled swordfish there. And the waiters are old-fashioned professionals. If they don't think you're ordering well they will tell you.
Ashoka is at via Pisana 86/r, and is a sister restaurant to India in Fiesole. India has a larger menu. Ashoka does not have raita - the yogurt and cucumber dish I love - listed on the menu, but made it when I asked about it. Ashoka is also lacking the great, highly decorated carriage that stands out in front of India. But Ashoka does have good Indian food, too!
Near Ashoka, on via Pisana, is a pizzeria called Gianni (I think - it's one of the details I accidentally destroyed). From the front it doesn't look like much, but like so many great restaurants in Italy, you walk into a little entrance and are then brought through a hallway into heaven. A warm inviting room and fantastic pizza and very simple pastas.
Vinesio, at Borgo San Frediano 14/r (tel. 055/223449 - I didn't shred their card, and would recommend making a reservation) is a newer, more trendy place, and has great food and fantastic wines by the glass. I ate a fantastic cinghiale in December (not the entire cinghiale, but some really good piece of it, maybe a chop?). And the waiter was very sweet; I can never remember which type of truffle I like - black or white - he over heard me asking my brother-in-law 'now which truffle do I like?' and he brought both types to the table in a basket for me to look at. Didn't help me at all, but let's not tell him! I had a frittata with some type of truffle on top (the kind I liked!! Yay!)
Tucked away in the corner next to Porta San Frediano is Trattoria Sabatino. It's brightly lit, with a resident border collie type dog. They don't take credit cards, but there are at least six Bancomats within a three minute walk. My sister does not like the food, but I do. She thought the lasagna 'tastes like something I'd get at an Autogrill.' I liked it because it was lasagna Bolognese - not heavy, just a meat sauce with a besciamella, which is hard to get in the US.
And across via Pisana from Sabatino, also next to la Porta is a new place called Birreria Artigiana. I haven't been there yet, from what I've seen of menu it looks good, and I love boutique beers (ok- almost any beer that's not really dark or 'lite'). It's the site of a small protest in the neighborhood, as it took over the site of a hardware/homeware store that sold everything you'd ever want, or need.
Also on via Pisana are 3 of my favorite shops.
Baccini - wonderful clothes that are almost like an outlet in terms of prices - not cheap, but very reasonable. Baccini produces the clothes for Gucci, Pucci, some of Versace's clothes. If you want a beautiful jacket or skirt, I think it's the place to go (and if you can shop the sales in January or at the end of summer - the sales are great).
There's also my favorite jewelry store - L. Parenti on via Pisana 146A/r. Full disclosure time - Lucia is my sister's best friend, and she's married to my brother-in-law's cousin. (Could I be more Italian?) So many people like to buy jewelry in Italy, which I get because it's such better quality, but what you can get away from the Ponte Vecchio is a lot more reasonable. So Lucia's shop is a great deal.
Elettra Casini Ceramiche D'Arte at via Pisana 70r. Elettra is almost always in the shop, painting her beautiful works.
Branching Out a Bit - Other Things to Do in the Neighborhood
Added October 2005
Tuesdays there is a huge market at the Cascine, along the Arno, near Ponte Vittoria. The hours are about 8am - 1pm. Almost everything one could want is sold there - housewares, food, plants, clothes, shoes. You may have to sift through some junky stuff, but some great bargains can be found. There is usually a market on a few Sundays before Christmas, too. It is accessible by the 17C bus from SMN; get off at the Piazzale Cascine/Faculta di Scienza stop. This will leave you almost at the end of the market. The "B" bussino, the little electric bus, is also a good connection. Get off at the Piazzale V. Veneto stop, just after you've crossed the Arno on the Ponte alla Vittoria. You'll backtrack a bit, go across an ugly parking lot, and come to a crosswalk. You'll see the ponte on your left. Follow the crowd, heading a bit to the left, to the mercato. Enjoy!
There are some nice public swimming pools, easily accessible. My favorite is at the Cascine, Le Pavioniere. (Same stop on the #17C bus as above.) If you are driving there is free street parking; it's usually easy to grab a spot within a 3 minute walk- except on Tuesdays (il mercato). Admission is quite reasonable, you can pay pay 2 euro more for a lettino (lounge chair). Bring the ticket to one of the pool guys/girls and they'll put the chair where you want it. I strongly suggest scoping out the noise, if you arrive early enough to have a choice. Stay away from the stereo speakers. Trust me on this one. Le Pavionere has a great bar/restaurant. The tacchino e funghi panino, not always on the menu, is to die for. There is also a nice pool, Bellariva, at Lungarno Aldo Moro, but I've only been there a few times. I don't like Costoli so much; lots of kids without adult supervision, and it gets a bit hectic.
Another great summertime activity is an outdoor movie. Chiardiluna, on the Oltrarno at Monte Uliveto 1, is open from early June to early August. Films start about 10pm, and the small restaurant there has good snacks, ice cream, and beer. It is always a few degrees cooler at Chiardiluna than anyplace else in the neighborhood.
The roof deck at the Rinascente department store in Piazza della Repubblica is a great place to stop off for a coffee and get a different view of the centro. There is a conveniently located bathroom on the 5th floor across from the down escalator (go to the men's room if there is a waiting line for the women's bathroom - the door locks).
There is an ice skating rink in the winter. It used to be set up in Piazza Santa Croce, but in recent years has been at the Parterre in Piazza della Liberta. It is often open until 11pm or so. You can rent skates, but need to leave some type of ID. I use my work ID, since I don't want to leave my passport or drivers license.
The site www.washedry.it - Wash e Dry shows 15 laundromats in Florence.
The www.comune.fi.it - Comune di Firenze website is a wealth of information. There are some nice self-guided walks in beautiful areas of the city, as well as a guide to the "Cenacole", paintings of the Last Supper, around the city. Make sure you click on "Diladdarno- Oltre il Fiume" on the left of the screen to see more great sites in San Frediano and the rest of the neighborhood.
Map from Venere - our hotel booking affiliate. Used with permission.
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