Settignano, the Other Florence

We’ve moved again. I’m losing count but I think it’s the seventh move since I started this blog which I began while living in a shabby fifth-floor apartment that I fell in love with for its rooftop views of Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio, never mind that it was freezing in the winter and a sauna in the summer (the bathroom may have been miniscule with no water pressure but who could pass it up when there was a view of the Duomo from its miniature window?).

Settignano kitchen window

Now my window captures this garden view overlooking olive groves on a sloping hill. We are back in Florence, calling the hilltop neighbourhood of Settignano home. It’s a little gem with a sleepy village feel and beautiful views. It’s serene and quiet and feels like you’re in the countryside, even if it’s only a 5 minute drive to Florence’s busy residential neighbourhood of Campo di Marte, and only 10 to the city centre.

The main square, Piazza Tommaseo, houses the essentials: a church, a post office, a bar, a tabacchi, an alimentari (delicatessen that doubles as a sort of mini market), an enoteca. Down the road is a large pizzeria where you can dine al fresco, a butcher and another restaurant. The bar sells newspapers and serves wonderful artisan gelato (the Talentone flavour is my favourite, a wonderfully creamy, comfortingly plain, old fashioned recipe with mascarpone as its base). It’s all you really need.

Settignano streets

Once known for its stone-cutters and Renaissance sculptors, it’s a rather romantic to think we are following in the footsteps of inspiring artists who lived here once too — sculptors like Michelangelo, Buontalenti, Desiderio da Settignano (his name gives his birthplace away), the Italian poet, writer and prince Gabriele D’Annunzio and even Mark Twain, who stayed in Villa Viviani for the good part of a year in 1892-1893 and described Settignano as “affording the most charming view to be found on this planet, and with it the most dreamlike and enchanting sunsets to be found in any planet or even in any solar system.”

If you’ve never visited before, the best thing to do is a wander, perhaps a couple hours before dinner so you can stay for a meal and watch that sunset that Mark Twain is talking about. It doesn’t take long to wander (it’s a very small village) and you can work up an appetite.

If you’ve come by bus from the centre of Florence, you’ll be dropped off right in the piazza next to the post office. Head down via della Capponina, which is to the right of the church entrance. A handsome street with pot plants and high walls, it will take you down to an intersection where you can turn left on via del Pianerottolo and wander another pretty street with views overlooking the hills and Florence’s southern neighbourhoods. It will eventually take you back up to Via di San Romano, right next to la Sosta del Rossellino – a nice little spot for dinner (there’s a table for two with a special view), where you can also turn left back to the Piazza.

Settignano - la sosta del rossellino

Back in the piazza, you can sit on one of the little round tables of the tiny ‘Bar Latteria Tre A’ for a reviving espresso or artisan gelato, or go a few doors down at Caffe Desiderio for a glass of wine (or a wine degustation, if it’s a Thursday afternoon) – this is also a good spot if you don’t feel like moving to another place for dinner as they do lovely food here too.

If you’re the hiking type and escaping central Florence in search of a little nature, you can also get to Settignano by hiking from Fiesole over Montececeri (or vice versa). The Sentiero degli Scalpellini follows in the footsteps of the stone-cutters who carved blocks of pietra serena and pietra forte for Florence’s palazzi and streets. From Settignano’s main square, head down towards the town cemetery, past olive groves and rampant blackberry bushes to the cypress-lined park where you’ll see the sign for the Sentiero. It’s a walk of over 6 km that climbs over Montececeri, where Leonardo da Vinci tested out his flying machine experiments — you might even spot wild asparagus in the spring. Download the route and map information right to your smartphone from here.

And if you want to experience this romantic view of Florence twinkling below that Twain would have seen, head down from the main piazza, on via Simone Mosca, a 2 minute walk away, for a great panoramic spot.

Settignano sunsetSettignano gelato

Eat:

Caffe Desidero is a wonderful enoteca-restaurant where you can get an excellent panino at lunch time (think wood-fired schiacciata, artisan salumi and delicious cheeses) to wash down with one of the selection of wines by the glass or a modern plate of gnocchi. Open for lunch and dinner.

La Capponcina Pizzeria has a very large, picturesque terrace out the back where you can dine al fresco over a view of twinkling Florence below. Pizza is their specialty here — a thick, pizza base made with stone-ground ’0′ flour and fior di latte mozzarella from Puglia and a variety of interesting toppings. They even make their own gluten free pizza bases and gluten-free dining options are all clearly marked on the menu. A family friendly spot too, they also have a children’s menu with children sized pizzas. Only open for dinner except Sundays when they are open for lunch too (Summer time weekends they are very popular — it’s a good idea to book a table).

La Sosta del Rossellino — Run by a father-daughter team, this enoteca-restaurant has a warm, romantic atmosphere and well-chosen ingredients on their Florentine-Sicilian inspired menu. A main stay are their potato gnocchi, made without eggs or flour.

Ristorante Tullio — if you have a car, you’ll be able to visit this fantastic restaurant situated between Fiesole and Settignano. They do all the Florentine specialties and is particularly well-known (with good reason) for their bistecca alla fiorentina and their fritto misto of seasonal battered and fried vegetables, chicken and rabbit.

Getting there: Take the number 10 bus from Piazza San Marco – you’ll notice “SETTIGNANO” on the front of the bus. The ticket can be bought at any tabaccheria for 1.20 euro (you may as well get one back too, if you plan on taking the bus back – validate the ticket when you get on). It takes 25 minutes to reach Settignano and buses leave every 20 minutes or so between 6am and 10pm. Once here all the restaurants and cafes are in walking distance. You can also take a taxi from the centre of Florence in about 15 minutes (or even less than 10 if you’re on the east side of the city).

settignano-viewssettignano

 

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Comments

13 Responses to “Settignano, the Other Florence”
  1. regula says:

    It looks like you found the perfect spot, the best of both worlds. Very near to a city with a village feel to it. Hopefully no move in the near future! Enjoy exploring the new home!

  2. Paweł says:

    Congratulations, beautiful place :)

  3. Francesca says:

    LOVE Settignano! Have very close friends who have lived up there since the great flood of the 60′s. Sleepy charming town with many beautiful villa’s. Over The years we have spent many beautiful afternoons in Settignano. Osvaldo’s prepares a very good Bistecca complete with a Glad of Chianti !

  4. georgette says:

    I’m so happy that you guys are closer and I am still dying to try that restaurant with a view near your home. Good choice my friend, with or without the noisy neighbor.

  5. I visited Settignano two years ago doing a bit of research for my father. What a lovely town and the view from there is truly spectacular. We enjoyed a coffee at one of the few coffee bars in town too. Our family moved from Settignano about 600 years ago to a town near Lucca to work on a church there. They are stonecutters still. I’m trying to find out the name of Michelangelo’s wetnurse/stepmother or stepfather. All the Michelangelo biographies mention them but I can’t seem to find a name. I was wondering since you live in the town if you might have any ideas or know anyone who may know the lore. My father passed away at the end of July and I would like to complete the research if I can in his memory. We visited the church there to see if they had any records, and I also visited the OPA at the Duomo in Florence because someone suggested that but both were dead ends. Thank you!

    • Emiko Davies says:

      How absolutely fascinating! I’m currently researching my husband’s family history, so I understand the frustration of dead ends! I haven’t seen any reference to a name — I think partly because this story is the one that is taken from Vasari’s account/biography of Michelangelo and he doesn’t specify the name. There is a villa Michelangelo here in Settignano which is the property where he lived while he was here, did you visit? It’s in Via Buonarroti Simoni.

  6. m miller says:

    I just discovered your wonderful blog and was thrilled to see where you live!
    We visited last spring, mainly to see Villa Gamberaia, and had a lovely time and meal in your village. So charming!

    I live in Jacksonville, Florida, and our Cummer Museum gardens here are patterned after those at the villa. Ellen Biddle Shipman, an American landscape architect, designed them in the 1920′s for the Cummer family.
    My grandparents were from Bologna and Compobasso, and I grew up with the best Italian food–as they both loved to cook.
    I look forward to discovering more about Italian cooking and Settignano.

  7. I won’t have time to wander this far. Such a shame but I have to make the most of what I have- just 4 nights, 3 full days.

    • Emiko Davies says:

      It doesn’t take long to get up here, maybe keep it in the back of your mind in case you find yourself craving a bit of peace — and if you want to have a lovely lunch or dinner while here, check out Caffe Desiderio in the main piazza!

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