GETTING THERE: There are no direct flights from D.C. to Florence, and many connect in Paris (Air France, Delta) or Amsterdam (KLM, US Airways). For the summer, fares can rise to $980 or more, and drop a couple hundred come fall.
WHERE TO STAY: Hotel Botticelli (Via Taddea 8, 011-39-055-290905), on a quiet street off the central market, is small and very comfortable, with a gracious staff. Extensive continental breakfast in a delightful dining room is included. Spacious doubles run about $160 per night. If you want to splurge, Hotel Monna Lisa (Borgo Pinti 27, 011-39-055-2479751, www.monnalisa.it) is a former Florentine palace dating from 1300, filled with art and antiques. Doubles start at $250.
WHERE TO EAT: Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco (Borgo S. Jacopo 43r) is the place to eat one of Florentine cuisine's triumphs, wild boar. Try the antipasto di cinghiale (wild boar cold cuts) for $12 or a main course of cinghiale con polenta (wild boar with polenta in a rich brown sauce) for $18. At Trattoria da Garibardi (Piazza del Mercato Centrale 38r), a dinner for two can include white Tuscan beans and pasta lightly dressed with rosemary and oil, pizza, bistecca alla Firenze (thinly pounded strip steak grilled with olive oil), two green salads, a liter of house wine, espresso and chocolates, all for less than $50. Mariano's (Via Parione 19r) is the place for lunch or a snack featuring sensational Italian sandwiches, fresh and made to order, at about $3 each. A glass of wine adds another $3. For two, the piatti assortiti (assorted platters) -- such as a selection of Tuscan cold cuts, pecorino cheese, a hunk of bread and a glass of wine -- will run about $15.
* Toro, Stand No. 5, Piazza San Lorenzo. Since the Middle Ages, one of Florence's signature commodities has been fine, handmade leather goods. The market around San Lorenzo is the spot for coats, jackets, pants, bags, wallets, etc. Toro has an extensive collection at great prices, and never the hard sell.
* Abacus, Via dei Ginori 28/30r. Another Florence specialty: exceptional handmade paper and books. This elegant, welcoming shop offers stationery of all description and hand-tooled leather-bound books with blank pages, some with dried wildflowers pressed into the paper.
* Mercato dei Ciompi, Piazza dei Ciompi. A flea market with everything from eccentric junk to fine antique furniture, clothing, jewelry, books and records.
MUSIC: St. Mark's English Church (Via Maggio 16/18), founded in 1877 by the English community of Florence, is set in a 15th-century palazzo. You could be in a prosperous church in the Shires of England at the end of the 19th century. Wonderful classical music, with concerts at least three nights a week.
ART: Some would say the city offers the greatest collection of Renaissance masterpieces in one place. To find out how it was made and to get a sense of the spirit of the classically trained young artist, visit the Florence Academy of Art (Via delle Casine, 21r, 011-39-055-245444, www.florenceacademyofart.com; by appointment only).
INFORMATION: Florence Tourism Agency, www.firenzeturismo.it, or Italian Government Tourist Board, 212) 245-5618 , www.italiantourism.com.
-- Ambrose Clancy