When I asked if I could take our guide Giulia’s photo, she enthusiastically obliged and hammed it up for the camera.
I got to know the bubbly and tell-it-straight guide Giulia Castelli during a half-day tour of Florence, Italy. By the end of our short time together, I felt as if I was parting with a dear friend.
Giulia isn’t shy to share what she loves about her city, bringing its past and present to life with stories and details that otherwise might go unnoticed.
Before Giulia became a tour guide in 2009, she worked in tourism in other foreign countries. She left Florence at the age of 21 in search of something different and to see the world. She returned with a deeper appreciation for her hometown.
“Every time I came back home, I’d to go to the Michelangelo Square, a beautiful terrace on Florence,” Giulia recalls. “Every time I said, ‘There is not another place like this in the world.’
“I decided to come back and become a tour guide. Now I try to pass on my feelings, my passion and my love for this town to all the visitors who come to Florence for the first time or if they’ve been here before. I really love my town.”
We asked Giulia to share what makes her hometown special – and what to explore to fully appreciate it.
What do you love most about your city?
I love the buildings, the streets, the history and the art, but I also love the curious things about the town.
When I say curious, I mean the secrets of the town: hidden places, stories behind a statue, life of the artist, how the people used to live in the Middle Ages, gossip from the 1400s, strange works of art in the historical center – things that not even the people who live in the town know. I read so many books about all these things and realized people are impressed by these stories.
Giulia introduced us to Porcellino, a bronze piglet reputed to give good luck – for a price. Drop a coin in his mouth for good luck. Even better, rub his snout to ensure a return trip to Florence. I hope it works because I already miss this city.
How would you sum it up in one word and why?
Florence is “wow” because everything is amazing.
What are most people surprised about when visiting your city?
What most impresses people are Florence’s cathedral and David by Michelangelo.
The cathedral is huge and the story about how it was built is very interesting. David is David. It is the most famous statue in the world and is the masterpiece of Michelangelo. When people understand why this statue is so important, they don’t see anymore a statue, but a symbol and what it represented for the city and for the people. They'll even understand the genius of Michelangelo.
Florence’s cathedral, named in honor of Santa Maria del Fiore, is gorgeous. The current structure was built in the 12th century, but its famous dome by Brunelleschi was added in the 15th century. I’m embarrassed to admit we spent five days in Florence and missed seeing the inside of this treasure. Lesson learned: Never put off the best for last and always confirm hours of operation.
What is a common misperception about your city?
I’ve never heard a misperception about Florence. When I say that I’m from Florence, usually people say, “It’s amazing!”
What are the top three things a person must do to get to know and understand your city and why?
- See David by Michelangelo and discover what’s behind the statue – the life of Michelangelo, why this statue is so important, the meaning of this work of art and his beauty.
- Take a nice walking tour around the historical center of the town and get lost in the past. Look for the hidden side of the city.
- Learn the Medici’s family story with a visit to the Uffizi Gallery. You'll understand what these people did for the town and how many beautiful paintings and works of art are inside a building from 1560.
If you could only eat three meals in your city, what would you eat?
- Eat the T-bone steak at the restaurant, La Buchetta.
- Eat a lampredotto sandwich at the New Market (Piazza del Mercato Nuovo) or San Lorenzo’s Market.
- Drink a nice glass of chianti wine at the Pontevecchio wine shop.
Giulia and this butcher chatted it up during a quick tour of one of Florence’s markets. More than happy to proudly pose for a photo, he also doled out heavenly samples of delicious, thinly sliced prosciutto.
What travel tip would you offer to help people get the most from their experience visiting your city?
Read a little bit about Florence before your trip. You should get books about the history of the Medici family, the Renaissance period and the life of Michelangelo. Once you’re here, contact an official tour guide who will explain and show you all the town’s secrets.
What is an interesting fact about your city that most people don’t know?
Many famous people come from Florence. Not only artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli, but also people from the fashion world like Emilio Pucci, Roberto Cavalli and Gucci, and, last but not least, Pinocchio.
What else would you like to share about your city?
Florence is a wonderful city full of art and history. It’s an open-space museum. Once you’re here, you are sure to jump into history and have a deep experience. You’ll love it!