Bookstores in Florence

Whether it’s to keep you company on a long train ride, or a newly-found interest, or simply token to take back home – shopping for books is part of almost anyone’s itinerary when on holiday.

With Italy having culture and the arts so deeply rooted in its daily life, it comes to no surprise that shopping for books should be a piece of cake (or better, a piece of tiramisu).

Taking Florence as an example, here’s some of our favourite book shops, where you can also get books in English, about pretty much everything:

La Feltrinelli

With it being one of Italy’s leading bookstore chains, it comes to no surprise that La Feltrinelli is one of the best-stocked bookshops in Florence. There are a number of branches spread around the city, including two in the Santa Maria Novella train station, one on Via de’ Cerratani (one of the streets that lead to the Duomo Square), as well as one on Piazza della Repubblica. This one also features a cool café where you can sip on your cappuccino whilst reading your newly purchased read. All branches have a range of books in English, including books about Florence and Italy.

IBS + Libraccio

Another leading chain here in Italy – with its store in Florence being on Via de’ Cerratani. You can find a wide range of books, including a section that sells second-hand books as well.

The store also has convenient seating where you can sit and read your book surrounded by fellow book-lovers, whilst relaxing after a day walking around the city.

Todo Modo

This is the place you want to go to if you’re looking for an experience that goes beyond just buying a book. This independent bookshop houses several events during the week, including readings – and also includes a space where you can have your coffee (or glass of wine). Their only branch is on Via de Fossi, 12/R – just a stone’s throw away from Santa Maria Novella.

The Paperback Exchange

This is the go-to bookstore for books in English – once a small family business, this independent bookshop has grown into one of the most important English-language bookstores in Italy.

This bookshop also stocks second-hand books, aside from new ones, which vary from university textbooks, to books about history, art and literature. You can also sell your paperbacks and use the credit towards more books – hence the “exchange” part in the name. It’s also very centrally-located, with it being a few steps away from the Duomo on Via della Oche 4R.

Artviva Tours: in FlorenceRomeVeniceMilanCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

Photo credit: Alexandre Duret-Lutz on Flickr

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Vasari Corridor shut down

Vasari’s famous corridor, as well as one of Florence’s top attractions has been closed off with immediate action as of Monday, 11th of July 2016.

The news was communicated by museum officials, following a fire department inspection which took place due to security and safety concerns expressed.

As it is, there hasn’t been any communication stating if or when the corridor will be reopening for visits.

Prior to this decision, the corridor was not available to the general public – with the exception of exclusive-entry group visits arranged by tour operators.

The Vasari Corridor connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti - and crosses over the famous Ponte Vecchio

The Vasari Corridor connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti – and crosses  the famous Ponte Vecchio

Renovations addressing these concerns where supposed to take place at the end of this year, for around 18 months. It is now unsure whether these renovations will be done earlier than scheduled. These renovations also include the decision to move the precious artworks housed in this corridor to a new dedicated space within the Uffizi Gallery.

This 16th-century elevated corridor houses more than 700 works of art, and links the Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace. The same corridor joins the Uffizi Gallery and also crosses the well-known Ponte Vecchio.

Built in just five months, following an order of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1565, the Vasari Corridor was built as a result of the Grand Duke’s wish to move freely between his residence and the government palace.

Anyone wishing to visit just the Uffizi Gallery is still able to do so, both individually as well as in groups.

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What to pack for your summer vacation in Italy

Italy – the land of food, culture and fashion.

Packing for your summer vacation in Italy might sound like a headache – you want to look good, but at the same time you need clothes which are comfortable enough for all the walking and sight-seeing there is to do (and also loose enough for all the food there is to eat!)

However there are a couple of things you can bear in mind when packing your suitcase, that will make which clothes to pack and which to leave behind the least of your worries.

Shoes

The keyword here is comfort. One of the best things to do in Italy is to walk around the cities, explore its streets and alleys, and absorb the local life. You will spend time walking around museums, from one attraction to the next. In addition, as most of the historical city centres are closed to cars – your feet will have to be your main form of transport – and in turn, comfortable shoes will be your best friends.

Cobbled streets make very pretty photos, but also make archenemies to heels. Thick-soled shoes are your safest bet – especially if you are planning on spending entire days walking.

Naturally, pack appropriate shoes if you are going hiking – especially if you intend to go to more authentic and remote towns, where you might not always find somewhere to buy the pair of shoes you accidently forgot to pack.

Clothes

Probably a headache for all genders and ages alike – whether we admit it or not. Packing for the best-dressed country can sometimes be intimidating – especially in summer. If you want to blend in with the locals, go for more classic pieces in neutral colours, which you can easily mix and match during your stay.

If you’re taking tours that enter the Duomo, or any other church – make sure you keep the dress-code required in mind. Both women and men need to have both shoulders and knees covered. It’s always a great idea to pack a scarf which you can use to cover your shoulders, and which easily fits in a handbag. In the case of men, it’s best to pack a pair of longer shorts – just in case.

Most nights anything casual will do – but it’s always best to pack something a little more formal and dressy, especially if you’re planning on dining at a fancier restaurant during your trip.

Bags

Prior to just picking one bag and deciding on wearing it for all of your stay in Italy – make sure that it is apt for all the activities you’ve planned. This means that even though a huge backpack would fit in all of the things you want to carry around during your day – you might not be allowed to enter with that same bag at larger museums such as the Uffizi Gallery or the Academia Museum. At the same time, you might be allowed a small purse in the museums – but you will then find it hard, if not impossible to carry your bottle of water, your money, your camera, and the list goes on.

Make sure every bag you decide to pack closes properly – to avoid things falling out, or also being taken.

Odds and ends

Sunscreen and insect repellent. You will thank us after you’ve spent a whole day walking around the city in the scorching sun. Sunglasses will protect you from the sun, and give you a classier look. It’s always best to keep a copy of your passport around with you at all times – and leaving your passport stored safely at your hotel or accommodation. Spare change is useful, as some of the smaller shops might not allow credit card payments.

Forgot to pack something? Well…that’s always a good enough excuse to go shopping.

You can also take a look at our tips on Youtube on how to pack and how to dress in Italy.

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Photo credit Flickr

 

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Around Italy by train: a quick guide

If you’re travelling to Italy, and you want to see more than one city – then travelling by train is your safest bet. Not only are the main cities well-connected between one another, but they’re also connected to smaller, sometimes more authentic towns close-by.

Travelling by train in a new country might sound pretty daunting – there are numbers to remember, platforms to find, and suitcases to carry. However, here are a couple of tips that will make your journey much smoother and hassle-free!

Booking your train

There are a number of ways to book your train ticket. One way of doing it, even before travelling to Italy, would be through the websites for the two main train companies: Trenitalia, the national rail service, or Italo Treno – a relatively new private company which connects Italy’s main cities. Booking this way also means you can save a digital version of your ticket – which saves you the hassle of carrying (and risking to lose) another sheet of paper. Booking online also means you can book way more in advance – which usually means cheaper tickets.

You could also buy your ticket at the actual train station prior to departure – however this way you either run the risk of not finding a place available on the train you wanted to catch  – or finding just the most expensive seats available.

You can find several machines throughout the train stations where you can buy your ticket, or else you could also buy your tickets from authorized stands found in the train station. If you need help, make sure you ask for help from a member of staff – as in some of the main train stations you might find some individuals who offer their help and then ask (or in some cases, help themselves) for money in return.

One last tip, when booking your train make sure you give yourself more or less 15-30 minutes of allowance from the actual time you want to be in a city – especially if you intend to join a tour or check-in your hotel. Usually trains depart punctually, but delays also happen.

Finding your train

There are a couple of terms you need to know. “Partenze” means departures, “arrivi” means arrivals, “binario” means platform, “carrozza” means carriage, and “posto” means seat number.

High-speed trains (Frecce Rosse, Frecce Argento and  Frecce Bianche as well as Italo Treni) usually come with a fixed seat and departure time. Tickets for these trains will also usually tell you which exact train you’re meant to catch, its code – which you can then find on the screens spread throughout the cities.

When purchasing tickets to slower trains (Intercity or Regional), which connect smaller towns and cities, you might find that the ticket has no departure time, no train code, or no seat assigned. This usually means that it’s an open ticket – so you can find which train you can take to your destination using the schedules spread throughout the train stations, or by asking a member of staff.

Make sure you always validate your ticket – as you might incur a huge fine if you don’t.

Then?

After finding your assigned seat, or a seat in case of unassigned seats – there’s not much to do aside from enjoying your trip and the panoramas. Most trains also have power outlets so you can also use that to charge any electronics.

As always, keep your belongings safe and make sure you get off the right train station. When in doubt, ask – more often than not, locals are more than happy to help!

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Vasari Corridor Closing – last chance to experience this unique space in Florence

Uffizi Vasari Corridor tour After much uncertainly about the future of the Vasari Corridor in Florence, it has now been confirmed that access to the passageway as it stands today will only be possible until the end of October 2016.

Presently, the Vasari Corridor hosts a unique collection of portraits and self-portraits that has lined the corridor for many decades. With the nature of the Vasari’s famous passageway not conducive to temperate control, the collection is to be moved to a new dedicated space within the Uffizi Gallery so as to better protect these precious works.

The Vasari Corridor will then be transformed into a walkway connecting the Uffizi Gallery to another museum in the city, with a new doorway to be created for access. While there is talk that some statues or frescoes may line the passageway, for the most part the Vasari Corridor will be left empty to accommodate its newly-determined function as, well, a corridor.

Works are scheduled to take around 18 months to complete, meaning it will likely be a good way into 2018 before visitors can step into this architectural wonder.

It also means there is only a short window of opportunity to have exclusive access to the Vasari Corridor as it is today, which occurs on our Vasari Corridor tour when the doors open just for us.

Vasari Corridor tour

Being that an Uffizi Gallery ticket is required to access the Vasari Corridor, we commence our Vasari Corridor visit with a guided exploration of the Uffizi as a marvellous introduction to the artists and artworks.

Our small-group Uffizi Gallery and Vasari Corridor tour runs each Tuesday and Saturday, with private visits available upon request. The Uffizi Gallery tour (sans Vasari visit) is also offered Tuesdays-Sundays.

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Top Tuber – Truffle Risotto Recipe

cooking in italy

Delicious truffle risotto recipe

As avid foodies in Florence, nothing excites us more than finding fresh truffles.

In Italy, truffles are regularly sold from fool stalls at markets and fairs. Some grocers will sometimes have them, as may certain delicatessens (“gastronomia” or “alimentari”). If you’re truly lucky, you may have a truffle-hunting friend or neighbour who that can keep you in good supply.

Highly prized, truffles are of the Tuber genus in the fungi family. They are also likely one of the ugliest of foodstuffs that humans consume!

Misshapen lumps that grow in relation to tree roots, truffles have a pungent flavour that has a petrol-like smell.

Indeed, some products peddled as “truffle oil” can contain chemical aromas deriving from petroleum. Generally, however, real truffles are not preserved in oil as they present the risk of c. botulinum toxin poisoning.  As fun as free Botox may sound, it’s best to stick to the real and rare thing.

If you cannot avail of true truffles, the next-best option is truffle salt flavoured with real pieces of truffle. It is the ultimate way to pimp up your popcorn, sass up your steak, make elegant eggs or marvellous mash potatoes.

The secret to using truffles is to let them be the star. Italians mostly use truffles on simple bases, with the truffles grated atop at the end of the cooking process. Some examples include pasta coated with a light amount of butter or fried/scrambled eggs (which, incidentally, Italians eat for lunch or dinner, being that breakfast is usually something light and sweet like a pastry).

After finding a couple of “Scorzone” black summer truffles recently, we prepared a simple risotto by chopping an onion that was then cooked in a dash of extra-virgin olive oil until soft and clear. Next, we added carnaroli rice to the pot, stirring it into the oil and letting it toast for a minute. Next, in went a glass of white wine (following the “one for the pot, one for the chef” rule, of course).  Once that had evaporated, fresh vegetable stock was scooped in until the rice was just covered. Additional ladles were added until the rice was cooked, but still quite firm. At this point, a good grating of fresh Parmesan cheese* was stirred in before the heat was turned off. Finally, the truffle was grated then folded into the risotto, with some shavings spared to decorate the plate.

Risotto is served in Italy as a “primo piatto” (first course). As our “secondo” (main course), we kept in theme, preparing grilled chicken breast served with a “contorno” (side) of steamed asparagus coated in truffle and creamy goats cheese.

cooking in italy

Italian recipe: asparagus with truffle and creamy cheese

Discover more about Italian recipes in one of our hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

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* If real Parmesan cheese (“Parmigiano-Reggiano”) cannot be found, it would be better to skip the cheese altogether than use a fake version which may be labelled as “Parmesan” or something similar. The real deal will have only three ingredients –  milk, salt and rennet. You only need a small amount so it’s best to splurge on a small chunk of this cheese gold than use a poor imitation. If you cannot find real Parmigiano-Reggiano, there is the cheaper and somewhat similar Grana Padano. At a stretch, you could also use Pecorino Romano.

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Of pantaloons and cow – The Calcio Storico Fiorentino

The most awaited Calcio Storico Fiorentino is back in town – one of Florence’s most major events, dating back to 16th century Tuscany. Florence’s Santa Croce Square will be hosting, once again, what is thought to be one of the earliest forms of football – providing an exciting event to locals and visitors alike here in Florence.

So what is the Calcio Storico exactly? Firstly, it is important to note that the word “calcio” translates itself to “kick” in Italian, which is an understatement to how “physical” these matches can get – even though there were some slight changes to the rules to make these games slightly less violent.

Some of these adjustments include a no chocking rule as well as that all confrontations need to be one-on-one. However, the aim of the game remains the same: that to get the ball across the lines, in any possible way, as many times as possible.

Calcio Storico Florence

Matches last 50 minutes – and are played in a field that is similar to their modern-day counterparts. The pitch, which measures approximately 80 x 40 meters, is divided into two squares by a white line. On either side of the pitch is a goal net that runs along its width.

There are some other differences from football as we know it today – each team has 27 players and no substitutions are allowed – even if players are injured. Each team has four goalkeepers (known as Datori indietro), five halfbacks (known as Sconciatori), three fullbacks (Datori innanzi), and 15 forwards (known as either innanzi or corridori).

There are four teams, representing each “neighborhood” (known as “Quartieri” in Italian): Santa Croce is represented by the Azzuri (Blues), Santa Maria Novella is represented by the Rossi (Reds), Santo Spirito is represented by the Bianchi (whites) and finally San Giovanni is represented by the Verdi (Greens).

Players play bare chested, however sport brightly-colored pantaloons – which make you feel as though you’ve been taken back straight into the Renaissance.

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Calcio Storico Florence

The prize for the winners? A cow. That’s right – the winning team gets a Chianina – a type of cow. That, and of course knowing they’re Florence’s toughest. For this year at least.

This year’s Calcio Storico kicks off on June 11th, where the Greens (San Giovanni) will be playing the Whites (Santo Spirito). The second semi-final takes place on the following day, the 12th of June, where the Reds (Santa Maria Novella) play the Blues (Santa Croce). Both games will take place in Piazza Santa Croce at 5pm.

The finalists will then play against each other on June the 24th, preceded by a parade that starts at around 4pm. The final starts playing at around 5pm, again in Piazza Santa Croce.

Artviva Tours: in Florence, RomeVenice, Milan, Cinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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FERRAGAMO: Fashion and Footwear in Florence

 

Florence is arguably one of the most fashionable locations in Italy, a hub of artisanship and design that dates back to Renaissance times.

One of the biggest names is undoubtedly Ferragamo, who have their store, headquarters and museum in their stunning historical palace in the city centre of Florence.

With our ArtViva Tours office just around the corner, we regularly visit the Ferragamo store and museum, being one of our favourite fashion locations in town.

On the ground floor is the extensive shop, vending exquisite footwear, stylish clothing and superb accessories. Wandering through these spaces is almost magical, with its perfect combination between top fashion and the historic charm and elegance of the Ferragamo palace.

Downstairs rather is the stunning Ferragamo Museum.

Stepping into this unique space, you find a range of wooden cobbler shoe forms of some of the biggest stars of all times – from Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Lauren Bacall through to more modern times with the likes of Drew Barrymore.

Then there is the assortment of shoes dating back through the history of Ferragamo, with his unique and visionary use of different materials, textures, colours and styles coming together in an exquisite collection.

Another area houses avant-garde outfits from various eras.

Wandering through the different spaces, we even had the privilege of meeting the charming and remarkably elegant Mrs Wanda Miletti Ferragamo, who married Salvatore in 1940.

Salvatore Ferragamo was born in 1898 near Naples, where he began an apprenticeship with a cobbler at the age of just 11 years. Moving to California and then Hollywood in the early 1920s, he quickly got his foot (and shoes) in the door of the film industry, rapidly establishing himself as “Shoemaker to the Stars”.

At the same time, he undertook studies in human anatomy and chemical engineering to better understand the mechanics behind the creation of the perfect footwear.

Despite his success, he shut up (shoe) shop to return to Italy in 1927. He chose Florence, with its long history in fashion and artisanship, for his new home.

Ferragamo quickly created a great export business, shipping his carefully created wares back to America to great success.

With the economic crisis causing him to have to close his stores, Ferragamo found a new market domestically. He eventually built his business back up and bought Palazzo Spini Feroni, which remains to this day the Ferragamo headquarters.

Salvatore Ferragamo passed away in 1960. Since that time, his family has stroven (and succeeded) in building up the business to create the international fashion brand that it is today.

Join our most stylish tour guides on our My Exclusive Florence Fashion Museum Tour

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Think Tank – A conference discussing the latest on the travel industry

Tourism as we know it has come a long way from its roots. Once solely exclusive to the wealthy, academics, or those seeking health or spiritual improvement, travelling is now one of the most popular activities internationally – accessible to most, desired by almost all.

With the rapid increase of popularity in the tourism industry, we have also seen a change in the way people travel. There was an obvious shift from mass, large group tourism, to more personalized and intimate travelling. People want to take back home with them a memory, a smile, a life lesson – more than they want to take home memorabilia as a souvenir.

That being said, some things remain the same over the years – people still seek recommendations and they still want to make the best out of their time somewhere. The thing that has changed is the medium through which they do this.

What was previously a recommendation from a friend by word of mouth is now a like or a check-in on Facebook; or a photo of a scrumptious meal on Instagram. TripAdvisor has almost replaced asking a local for the closest or best restaurant in the area – and blogs and online platforms have almost entirely taken the place of guidebooks, as the former give a face and name, and not solely a multinational company’s logo.

This shift in attitude, together with today’s ever-changing world has led all those involved in the industry around the world, both on a local as well as on a national level to make sure they are adapting to the change – including here in Italy, where tourism is one of the industries that define the country today. Legislation has been changed, service providers have been adapting and re-shaping their product, and all to make sure that travelers get what they have originally sought in the first place – instants, moments and memories to take back home.

Whether you are in the industry as a blogger, or whether you are in the industry as a service provider – if you are interested in learning more about how tourism has been changing here in Italy, particularly in Tuscany make sure to join Think Tank, a seminar that will take place on the 27th May 2016. Speakers include Paul Richer, founder of GENESYS Digital Transformation; and Federico Lucarelli – expertise as a lawyer will outline what is going on in the tourism industry terms of regional, national as well as European levels. For more information as well as to register as a participant, contact FIAVET on 055 2345460 or segreteria@fiavettoscana.it. The conference starts at 9.00am, at the Auditorium della Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze in Via Folco Portinari n. 5. 

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Italian Recipes: the art of artichokes

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Native to Mediterranean areas, culinary use of artichokes dates back to Roman times. It was in Sicily however that they are said to have first been cultivated. These grown artichokes then travelled up the coast of the Italian peninsula, going to Naples from where Filippo Strozzi bought the spikey vegetable to Florence. The Venetians found it quite curious when it arrives to their shores in approximately 1480. From there, it is said to have been taken to France, the Netherlands and then England throughout the 1500s, before heading on to the United States in the 1800s, taken over by both French and Spanish immigrants.

Italians have thus had several centuries to perfect the art of cooking artichokes, and perfect it they have!

Today, artichokes are featured on ‘antipasto’ dishes, in first courses (risotto, pasta, lasagne…), stuffed and served as mains or as a side dish (either on their own or in salads). They can also be served on pizza.

As artichokes oxidise quickly, it is best to have a bowl of water with a good squeeze of lemon juice in which to keep the cut artichokes whilst prepping the other pieces. This will stop them turning black whilst preparing other parts.

To prepare artichokes requires firstly chopping off the woodiest part of the stem. There is then to remove the more fibrous outer leaves. The spiky tips (thorns) of the top of the artichoke are usually cut off also.

Once the harder outer shells have been removed, it is important to discard the ‘fuzzy’ choke in the centre.  If wanting to keep the artichoke whole, this can be done opening up the leaves (making sure you’ve already trimmed the thorns off first!), before using a teaspoon to scoop out the furry centre. Be aware though, it’s trickier than it sounds! Otherwise, cut the artichoke in half long ways for easy access to scrape out the choke.

To cook artichokes, they can be steamed, cooked on the grill, or even eaten raw. It is quite common to preserve them in oil to have this delicious thistle year-round.

A yummy artichoke salad recipe sees the artichokes prepared with the hard outer leaves removed until the layer of light yellowy-green leaves. Once you think you’ve removed enough leaves, you’ll usually have to remove another layer or two! Next, cut the artichoke in half long-ways and remove the choke, trying to keep the rest of the leaves attached. With a sharp knife and steady hand, thinly slice the artichokes into lengths. Once cut, keep in lemony water so the leaves don’t oxidise. When all are cut, remove the artichokes from the water and pat dry. Place in a bowl then quickly coat with a good dose of extra virgin olive oil, another squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Shave some good quality parmesan atop before mixing. Make it even more special with a drizzle of high-quality, aged balsamic vinegar. Garnish with some more parmesan and serve as a refreshing starter or side dish.

You can also prepare the raw artichokes in the same way then mix with a good amount of rocket leaves for a unique summer salad recipe. In this case, even a regular balsamic will suffice, although it is also delicious without.

Artichokes can be cooked in a pot with a generous splash of olive oil. Left covered for around 30 minutes over a low heat, they will become nice and soft. Once cooked, they can be garnished and eaten as is or let to cook, placed in sterilised jars, then covered with olive oil to preserve. Some people prefer to cook with lemon juice and/or vinegar. These are delicious chopped up and served in salads, on a hors d’oeuvres platter, on bread as a ‘crostini’… or eaten straight out of the jar when no-one is looking!

To stuff the whole artichokes, once the raw artichokes have been prepared as above, open up the heart and stuff it. One of our favourites is to stuff the artichokes with a mix of grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or parmesan), breadcrumbs, Italian parsley, chopped garlic and a pinch of salt. You can pimp it up with the addition of crumbed Italian sausage or pancetta added in also. Mix together, stuff the artichoke (using a teaspoon to pump the mix into all the ‘nooks and crannies’) then top with some more cheese. In a large pot, place a small amount of water then the artichoke hearts, cover the pot and steam for around 30 minutes until nice and soft, with gooey cheese on top. Enjoy hot!

Discover more about Italian recipes in one of our hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

Artviva Tours: in FlorenceRomeVeniceMilanCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

 

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