By Rosh Mahtani, Founder of Alighieri
Firenze, the home of Dante, is at the heart of my imagination, my memories, and indeed, my brand, after his namesake: Alighieri.
Dante Alighieri wrote the “Divina Commedia” in the 1300s, whilst in exile from his beloved home. The first poet to ever write in the Italian language, just one of the reasons that any Tuscan is quick to proudly remind you why their region is the very core of Italian culture.
Whilst desperate to get back to Florence, I am travelling back to Tuscany through my memories of living in this historic and magical city; reminiscing about times spent strolling along the Arno, sitting on the steps of the Chiesa Santo Spirito with an aperitivo, and chasing the spirit of Dante through the cobbled streets and frescoed buildings.
Where to stay?
When I first lived in Florence, I was 19, and lived in a homestay with a wonderful woman called Paola. Paola lived in Piazza Santa Croce, and every morning I was lucky enough to wake up to the sounds and the colours of the Basilica. She owned an enchanting little bookshop, taught me how to make gnocchi and was always patient with my then one-year-old Italian language skills. A few years later, I found myself in a little apartment in the Oltrarno (the other side of the river) in Piazza Santo Spirito. This square, for me, is the beating heart of Florence, with its family trattorias and the ultimate flea market on the weekends, it was the place where I made many of my friends on balmy summer evenings. Whenever I go back, I stay at the Palazzo Guadagni in this very piazza; the terrace looks over the hubbub of the city and is a magical spot to watch the tramonto (sunset).
View from the rooftop terrace of Palazzo Guadagni, photo: Rosh Mahtani @roshmahtani
Where to go/eat?
Every time I am in Firenze, I make a personal pilgrimage to certain restaurants, and paintings. There is a little, lesser-known, church not far from the piazza - Chiesa Santa Felicita, the home of a painting that means a great deal to me: Jacopo Pontormo’s 1528 Desposizione. It lays obscured in the darkness of its musty home, until you offer 20 cents to the slot, when it is illuminated in all its glory. The vivid colours and the overwhelming sense of grief remind me of how Dante might have felt, as he walked the streets, longing for Beatrice, the love of his life.
This ritual is usually followed by dinner at my favourite restaurant: Quattro Leoni. Apt, as the piece of jewellery I never take off is my Leone Medallion, inspired by the moment that Dante encounters a terrifying lion in the dark woods of hell; it’s my daily reminder to be brave in difficult times. At the restaurant of the four lions, I always go for the traditional Tuscan dish - Pappa al Pomodora; I’ll never forget the first time I encountered the Florentine tomato! It felt like a faceted jewel and so much sweeter than tomatoes I’d tasted before!
After dinner, I love to stroll along the River Arno, and cross the Ponte Vecchio, the lights glittering and bouncing off the river remind me of a Giotto fresco. I’ve always been so inspired by the labyrinth of jewellers, perched, higgledy-piggledy on this iconic pastel-coloured bridge. Long before I launched Alighieri jewellery, I would peer into each window, inspired by the medallions and the signet rings, imagining the stories behind each talisman, and indeed the history of the gold merchants, as these shops were passed down from one generation to the next.
Walking the lungarno always conjures up Dante’s description of when he met Beatrice, and is overcome by the fact that she acknowledges him. The scene hasn’t changed and the magic of being able to walk Dante Alighieri’s steps never fails to amaze me.
Dante meets Beatrice on the Ponte Santa Trinita. (Ponte Vecchio in the background), Henry Holiday
Lastly, and most importantly, I find my inspiration on the second Sunday of every month, in the antiques market in Piazza Santo Spirito. This is the ultimate part of my pilgrimage to Tuscany and has been the source of so many ideas for new collections. The treasures from bygone eras keep me occupied all day; meeting the regular vendors and talking to them about Dante, Tuscany’s hero is always electrifying. I count the days until I can return to this masterpiece of a city. Until then, I will be savouring the dishes that bring me back there, from Pappardelle al Cinghiale to Insalata Panzanella…
Photography by Rosh Mahtani @roshmahtani
Enjoy 10% off modern heirlooms from Alighieri with the code Tuscany10. Browse the treasures here.
Come 1st June, we're visiting Tuscany - “Toscana” in Italian - as part of our #ItalyAtHome initiative. We’d love to take you with us, and implore you to ‘visit Italy’ via a curated celebration of this stunning region, available here.
Will you be joining us on our excursion? Be sure to let us know on social media, via hashtags #ItalyAtHome #PastaEvangelists. We can’t wait to see you there.