The mid-afternoon hour is burning hot, and the busy streets of Florence are stifling, even in the shade. We seek a late lunch, a light bite washed down with something cool. So we slide into the seats of a sheltered café terrace tucked to the side of Borgo degli Albizi.
We are alone.
Because we are naive, and think it romantically Italian to sit outside, despite the heat. None of the locals are daft enough to do that – within the café, tables are crammed with friends filling the place with lively chat under the cool of spinning fans. We abandon ship before we melt and go inside.
La Loggia degli Albizi is a relaxed eatery offering panini, bruschette, salads and sweet pastries. And a beautifully refreshing bicchiere di vino bianco.
An elegant lone luncher at a neighbouring table looks up from her newspaper, leans across, and remarks that my husband’s wine ordering skills are top-notch. I confess that our collective Italian language skills amount to not much more than … requesting wine. She laughs, commenting that perhaps it is because we love vino so much. Certo.
Giovanna sips her beer languidly, and explains that she eats here because her husband is on business in Rome – why should she sit solo in her flat opposite? Her English is impeccable (she once studied at Oxford, and now she’s established that our Italian isn’t actually top-notch, she makes a seamless linguistic switch).
We show Giovanna a well-travelled, fondly annotated copy of Baedeker’s Italy (1909). She unfolds the map of Florence and observes how the street names have altered with political change. “Of course, Piazza Cavour is now Piazza della Libertà and Viale Principessa Margherita is now Viale Spartaco Lavagnini.”
But Giovanna says that the historic centre of Florence remains much the same, because it declared itself an ‘open city‘ at the end of World War Two, thereby avoiding devastation. And the German officer then in charge, Gerhard Wolf, couldn’t bear to destroy the iconic Ponte Vecchio, although other bridges were blown up to stall the allied advance.
Giovanna tells us that she adores London, but last year she paid the city a visit for the first time in 20 years, and was shocked by its crowds and dirt and modern architecture. “Not the same city!” she exclaims with a frown, before softening with a smile as she describes how happy she was to return to the National Gallery just to see her favourite paintings by Turner. “I love art.” she says with true Italian passion.
And then it’s time for her to leave – she has to take care of her old mother. We catch her before she goes, to ask for a restaurant recommendation for the following day. Without hesitation, she grabs my husband’s hand and leads him out of La Loggia degli Albizi. I watch through the window as she points at a place down the cobbled road and gesticulates about its wonderful food. My husband smiles, then it’s Ciao and goodbye.
Giovanna is right – we go to Ristorante Natalino the next day, enjoy a sublime Florentine feast, and are treated like royalty – especially when we mention the name ‘Giovanna’.
Not that we are surprised – Giovanna has excellent taste – her favoured lunchtime spot when her husband is out of town has been just the ticket.
La Loggia degli Albizi