A few ideas of places to visit just beyond Florence's city walls
In Castello, not far from Florence going towards Sesto Fiorentino, are two Medici Villas called Villa di Castello and Villa della Petraia. Villa di Castello was restored for Cosimo 1st de' Medici who commissioned Tribolo to design the beautiful Italian Gardens. The interior of the Villa, headquarters of the Accademia della Crusca, is not open to the public. Just a short distance away is the Villa della Petraia. The Medici ordered Buontalenti to remodel it in the 16th century. The villa, frescoed by Cosimo Daddi (1591-94) and Volterrano (1636-48), was the residence of Vittorio Emanuele II, King of Italy. The villa has a large Italian garden and a huge romantic park behind it.
Settignano is a small village that grew up on the hillside north east of Florence. It can be reached after a panoramic drive through the hills from Fiesole. Gabriele D'Annunzio lived here in the Villa La Capponcina. Not far is the well-known Villa Gamberaia and its gardens which are considered among the loveliest in Europe – from here there are unforgettable views of Florence. Just 2kms south of Florence rises the austere, fortress-like Certosa del Galluzzo. Founded by Niccolò Acciaiuoli in the 14th century to host young Florentines wanting to study the liberal arts, today it is inhabited by a community of Cistercian Benedectine monks. It contains several important artworks including five lunettes with ‘Scenes from the Passion’ frescoed by Pontormo (1523-25).
On the Via Bolognese, in a place called Pratolino, is the Villa Demidoff Park. Little remains of the splendid villa that Buontalenti built for Francesco I de' Medici in 1575. The park, that has been completely restored, is opened from April to October and is a wonderful place to visit outside the city. Giambologna's monumental statue of the ‘Appennines’ (1579-89) is an outstanding example of Florentine Mannerism. Very near the city but with a character all of its own is Fiesole, high on the hill overlooking Florence and with a wonderful panoramic view.
Unlike Florence, Fiesole was founded by the Etruscans and preserves both Etruscan and Roman remains in its huge Archaeological Area. Also of great historical interest are the Romanesque cathedral of San Romolo, with its typical tower-shaped campanile, the Palazzo Vescovile (Bishops’ Palace) founded in the 11th century and reconstructed in the 17th, and the very ancient church of Santa Maria Primerana, built on Etruscan foundations. A classic walk to take is to the ancient acropolis. En route you will find the Basilica of Sant’Alessandro, which now houses exhibitions, together with its church and monastery, and the Missionary Museum of San Francesco. The natural beauty of its surroundings make Fiesole the starting point for excursions on foot towards Monte Ceceri or the Caldine hills.