x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The ins and outs of Florence

From where I stand Rose Magers was born in Sydney, but she is now the managing director of ArtViva Italy.

Rose Magers was born in Sydney and is now the managing director of ArtViva Italy.
Rose Magers was born in Sydney and is now the managing director of ArtViva Italy.

I'm now the managing director of ArtViva Italy but I was born in Sydney and grew up in the Blue Mountains, a vast wilderness and about as different from Florence as it's possible to get. I first came to Italy in 1996 to do research for my master's degree in law. One day I was invited to a party in a Renaissance palace in Florence and met my future husband. I've lived in the city ever since. I set up ArtViva after discovering most tour guides were more interested in fleecing people than introducing them to Florence's history and art. I was shocked at the way they'd push customers into shops for kickbacks and recommend overpriced restaurants. We were the first company to organise high-quality walking tours of Florence for small groups. Because of my husband's background as a street theatre director we realised guides need to entertain as well as inform. The Uffizi is one of the world's great art galleries but official explanations of the paintings are poor. A guide is a must. Our guides also like to talk about the people in the paintings and the often scandalous lives of the artists. We can arrange a tour with Maurizio Seracini, one of the world's leading art sleuths, who's mentioned in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. I have come to know some really interesting Italians over the years and persuaded them to do "exclusive experiences" for us. They include walking tours with counts from some of Italy's most important aristocratic families in Florence and Venice, a private after-hours visit to the Vatican Museum in Rome and dinner cooked at your villa by a top chef. My favourite view of Florence is from the Boboli Gardens. Looking out over the red tiled roofs of the medieval city to the green Tuscan hills beyond always hits me in the stomach. It's the view in many of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings. For a romantic dinner I would choose the tiny balcony of the Borgo san Jacopo restaurant which overlooks the River Arno near the Ponte Vecchio. There are low rates at many four- and five-star hotels this summer because of the credit crunch. The best offers are non-refundable deals where you pay in advance. What I love most about Florence is the pride of the artisan families: the picture framers, the jewellers, the leather workers who still have workshops all over the city centre. Grandfathers, fathers and sons working alongside each other, caring about doing the job properly, proud of their skills and happy to talk to interested visitors.