72 Hours in Firenze: Face Masks, Aperol on Ice & a Green Dress
I’m coming off of 72 hours in Florence, and they are the type of 72 hours where I spill 4+ glasses of champagne on my gown, eat a panino crudo at 6am in the golden light of Firenze-Peretola, try to break into a villa (or at least sit by while it happens) and awake to men doing snail face masks, drinking Aperol on ice. Needless to say, it’s my favorite 72 hours in recent memory.
Why was I in Firenze, God’s gift to mankind? For my dear friend’s wedding at Villa Gamberaia - a seventeenth century villa outside the Centro di Firenze, beloved by Edith Wharton for its epic gardens, grottos, and views of nearby Florence. Hi Duomo. Missed you.
I fly out at 7pm on Thursday evening on Swiss Air (proud to report the flight attendants all spoke to me in French or German), hydrate, eat a Snickers, and watch “Isn’t It Romantic”, admiring Priyanka Chopra’s great (weirdly throaty?) voice and wondering if my Bluetooth headphones are going to die. I am asked to check my bag at the airport (though it’s carry on size, someone kill me) and look the man behind the counter very sternly in the eyes. “Sir, I’m going to a very important - black tie - wedding in Florence and I cannot have you lose this bag. These outfits cannot be fucked with. Do you understand?” He is non-plussed. “Check it all the way to Florence, then?” he says, stamping my paperwork. Off I go.
I arrive in Firenze at about 1pm after a quick pit stop in Zurich, grab my bag and a cab through the winding hills outside the city to Via Doccia 12. My Italian is resurfacing but broken, and I’m chatting with my cab driver who definitely seems confused by the location — does this place exist? “La prima volta qui” he says, gesturing at the map.
I’m headed to a villa in the hills, near the wedding destination where I’m staying with 10 people I haven’t met before.
We wind up some tiny cobblestone streets, with overhanging ivy and dusty bougainvillea, and smashed broken bottles (I will soon find my housemates to be a rowdy crowd) and I spot the tiny tile with a handwritten “12”. We’re there. We arrive just as storm clouds are breaking over the horizon, lightning bolts striking olive trees in the distance.
I walk into the house and find that it’s of course very beautiful — oil paintings and bird wallpaper and floral headboards which are very old school Italian and just my style. The crew is assembled in the living room and they are in varying states of arrival - unbuttoned floral shirts, and navy jackets. We’re a hodge podge - some of us have been on the coast lounging for a week, others have traveled from Philly, NYC, LA. I am skating through the door with 2 hours till the Welcome Dinner — we run down the hill to Villa G where the other guests are hanging, drinking wine, nursing hangovers, having a pregame spritz, as the rain pours down the Tuscan hills.
I see N & T - the bride and groom (and two of my favorite people in the world // best peeps to eat and drink with), Z & G (my roomie in Rome and bestie for life and her hubby) and other carino faces.
From here it’s a quick shower, pin up my hair, put on my crepey blue + gold estate sale dress (@Suzanne - this one is for you), and grab the shuttle into Florence for the welcome din.
N — bride and wedding planner for this event — is a woman who appreciates drama, and the girl has excellent taste. So let me preface by telling you that every moment of this three-day weekend is a Dolce & Gabbana, Medici fantasy. We are pushed down the Arno River along the riverbank and under the Ponte Vecchio as the sun sets. Did I really go to bed in Chicago, and wake up here? N + T arrive in their own boat looking like a Chanel ad, which I 1000% appreciate.
The dinner itself is beautiful, a Tuscan fairy tale — we’re in a clear tent on the riverbank, for Campari and Aperol spritzes, martinis and wine, pesto pasta with crispy bacon, tomatoes with olive oil and salt, local burrata, prosiutto and bread, and white beans in garlic and oil (one of my favorite Tuscan snacks). I’m transported back to living in Rome (where I met N originally, and where we were often drunk, laughing, or hungover nibbling arancini in a back alley) and just the feeling of Italy. That feeling that is equal parts jet lag, perfume, humidity and home. It’s a feeling I always have when I’m there, like I never left, and like the night is kinda ripe with promise. And the food. It’s so fresh and flavorful, natural and sweet. I have god knows how many spritzes, and a few midnight espressos with K - sister of the bridge and a little carina. At this point I’m riding the wave of jet lag, but also fine. I’m in Italy, assholes! There is talk of a night club but we have to save ourselves for the am. So it’s ciao ciao, and heels swinging from our wrists, to bed at 3am.
We wake up on Saturday and head to the pool, splish splash around, and then grab lunch at Villa G as the event crew is setting up for the evening. I’m having flashes of my life in Chicago and working in events — appreciating the effort of 20+ dudes who are laying down the dance floor, stringing the lights, setting up the tables for the evening. Once you have this backstory in your mind, you appreciate the effort and detail it takes to make a fantasy come to life. It doesn’t just happen, and it’s an art to fall into the background so that other people can enjoy their moment while you get organized. I’m almost tempted to help, I’m usually the worker not the guest in this scenario, but I’ll play both sides.
Lunch is heavenly — fresh pineapple and melon, strawberries, salami sandwiches on buttery rolls, stewed tomatoes and fresh bread, sardines, wine, boiled egg sandwiches, tea bites and salad.
Another dip in the pool, a disco nap and it’s time to get ready for the big event.
90 mins later and we’re seated in a grotto, underneath ancient cypress trees and contraposto statues, in our black tie finest. Thank god for Hans, international man of mystery and boarding school attendee, who is excellent with a travel steamer. The music swells and the ceremony begins. The officiant is Italian and is bringing the heat with the speeches, evoking Dante and unrolling a scroll from the 1700s, and we’re laughing, crying, what time is it, what planet are we on? They kiss, we throw rose petals, and it’s onto cocktail hour. Auguri!
We’re overlooking all of Florence, and it’s golden hour — which really should be its own Instagram filter. Waiters are passing fried sage leaves and fiori di zucca, little cheese squares and salmon puffs. Everything has just emerged from the fryer and is just warm enough, without being greasy. The fried sage leaves are unbelievable; these are the simple pleasures of life we just don’t have in America. Why are the Italians so brilliant, when we are so mass produced?
A few more spritzes (if you’re wondering — yes, it was a constant flow upon arrival to Italy, and yes — I enjoyed each one) and then we’re lead into the tent per la cena. The room is divine — two long tables for 150 of us and I’m at Table 2. I’m a stone’s throw away from the bride and groom (major honor) and seated between Domenico and Nicola — two friends from my Rome days who have traveled from Calabria (my grandparents’ homeland!) for this party. The place settings are all liquid and floral greens, deep and watery. There’s a handwritten menu card at my seat announcing the feast ahead: mezzeleune ripienne (salad with cheese, pear, toasted pine nuts), paccheri di pasta fresca (duck ragu with porcini mushrooms and rosemary), branzino, eggplant parmigiana and millefoglie wedding cake. The Italians don’t dine and dance — the meal itself is sacred and so we’re seated for a few hours for speeches (equal parts roast, open mic and adoration — best I’ve heard at a wedding, tbh), cibo and wine. The food is delicious, with the freshness you’d expect of pasta that’s been made a few hundred feet away.
Soon it’s onto dancing which is in another grotto (how many are there in this magical place?) and homemade millefoglie cake. A pastry chef is spreading whipped cream over enormous circular cake tiers — before laying down strawberries and raspberries, in what is basically an ancient cave before fireworks shoot overhead. This is DRAMA and we are loving it. At this point, I’m obviously crying, have spilled 3+ glasses of champagne on my gown (it’s quick dry, never fear) and am wondering how to inch closer to the action to get my piece. I think I end up eating a bite from a stranger’s plate, but the details are hazy. The rest of the evening is dancing and gin & tonics and men smoking cigars on the veranda and throwing my shoes in a garbage can because they are wrecked from mud and roses and foreign cocktails.
At the end of the evening, circa 5am, we realize we are locked out of our villa. This sounds like a charming issue, but at this point we’re all toast and screaming at various levels. I hear voices from the roof. “What are you doing up there?!” I yell, “are you inside?” They are not inside - but have tried breaking into every lock, window and door of this place. Eventually D goes back down to the Villa, charms someone with a spare key, and we’re golden. Bed time.
I wake up and it’s Sunday, and dead quiet. We have smashed wine bottles, ruined clothes, jumped into pools and snapped 42,000 photos and we are tired. I wake up before everyone and putter around, sipping bubbly water in the garden, packing up my room, and grabbing a few more photos of the light through my 1950s curtains.
We take a shuttle back into Florence, bouncing over ancient cobblestones and watching all of Tuscany roll by our open window. It’s my last day in this beautiful country before a 6am flight.
We have one last lunch together as an Italian fam — potato, mushroom, and salami pizza, piping hot, oily and delicious — pitchers of beer, wine, and bubbly water. No salad in sight, no problem.
After lunch Z+G and I stroll around Firenze, grabbing a pistachio gelato, meandering past the Uffizi and around the Ponte Vecchio, before G stubs his toe and we’re sidelined for a few hours with leftover prosecco and then a quick nap.
We meet up with C + A for dinner — and pregame our beautiful meal with paninos from All’Antico Vinaio, a very famous curbside sandwich in Florence. I’m wearing white pants and happily spilling buffala mozzarella, prosciutto and mushroom on my ankles. These sandwiches are delicious. The best part is the red and white checkered paper they’re wrapped in — and the very unhappy dudes behind the counter who are the very picture of Italian insouciance. They let me order in Italian, but I get a raised eyebrow.
We walk around the city — my last sunset! — have a last round of cocktails at Gosh Bar (great ambiance, and a+ flamingo wallpaper) and then head to the restaurant, Il Santo Bevitore, for dinner. C got a rec from a coworker who travels to Italy frequently, and this place is just what the doctor ordered. Low lighting, locals, beautiful wood banquettes, racks of wine, and melted-over candles. We have spinach and kale salad with apple and cheese (the waiter apologizes for the apple, the pear just wasn’t delicious enough to serve, mi dispiace), burrata with tomatoes and pesto, nduja garganelli that’s spicy as hell, rigatoni with truffles (in Italy, truffles are not a delicacy but a locality, fck yeah), and fresh spaghetti with basilico. And organic red wine, a blend. Delish. Dessert is the real knockout — upon the waiter’s rec we have the creme brulee with fresh berries and strawberries with mascarpone. The mascarpone is unreal, the kind of sweetness and heft you’ll never get with anything store-bought, deepened by the strawberries. Deceptively simple, stunningly tasty.
We wave goodbye to our waiter, and then head to a nearby hilltop for one last hang all together at Flo, a nightclub. It’s about 40 of us — the last of the Villa G wedding gang. Most of us are traveling for the next week or two (Santorini, Elba, Sardinia) and I’m sad to be leaving in the am but know I’ve maxed out this trip. It’s been the best possible, the kinda cinematic, savory film reel that won’t leave your brain for moons to come.
Z and I break it down to Sean Paul and Pitbull (old habits die hard), kisses for the bride and groom, and then we’re speeding down the hilltop in a cab back to our Palazzo, someone’s cig out the window and do I have any euros left?
I wake up two hours later, and roll myself down the streets of Florence. No one is out yet — the cobblestone streets are empty. I manage to hail the only cab for miles, and lay back as the River slides by my window.
72 hours, and a green dress.