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In Florence, la vita é bella (life is beautiful). Secure in its place as one of the most atmospheric cities in the world, the central Italian city is for some, the jewel in the country’s crown. With its stunning Renaissance art and architecture on view in well-proportioned squares and in world-class museums, there is a sense of elegance and permanence that helps root all who live here. Where else could riding a puttering scooter in traffic-clogged streets look so incredibly stylish?

What is it known for?
The ancient city centre, with its Roman, Gothic and Renaissance slices, is a Unesco World Heritage site, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to its narrow streets. And it can feel as if all roads lead to the octagonal-sided Duomo, the 15th-century cathedral that dominates the cityscape of red and umber roofs. Florence was a wealthy medieval city that became the birthplace of the Renaissance, fostered by patrons like the Medici family and flowered by artists such as Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli and Brunelleschi. The city’s nameless artisans, who worked in leather, silver, silks and textiles, also created a wealthy tradition of craft that exists today.

Florence is now one of the most visited cities in the world, with tourists thronging the square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, the Romanesque town hall and fortress; the Ponte Vecchio, the famous medieval bridge; and the hillside paths of the Boboli Gardens -- but it is also a vibrant urban capital. Fashion houses such as Ferragamo and Gucci are headquartered here, and traditional industries such as shoemaking, glass making and jewellery are going strong. Many internationals come to study, work and even retire here, adding a zest to this already cosmopolitan metropolis. Recently, hip denizens have been flocking to the districts along both banks of the River Arno, where new osterias (a casual eatery), restaurants and rooftop bars with views of the river and cityscape attract a good-looking crowd.

Where do you want to live?
The areas near the city centre are always popular, such as Oltrarno, south of the Arno, and the Piazzale Michelangiolo, with its spectacular views of the iconic skyline and proximity to the International School of Florence. Properties in the streets near the hill of Bellosguardo are also highly sought after. According to Rima Stubbs, a real estate agent with Knight Frank, foreign buyers include retiring couples with an interest in art and history, people looking for a city pied-à-terre, and ex-pat families.

The city is surrounded by hills and close-in suburbs are attractive for families looking for villas with more space and greenery. Popular areas include the Pian dei Giullari, beyond the Piazzale Michelangiolo, and the suburb of Bagno a Ripoli, just southeast of the city.

Side trips
As the Tuscan capital, it is easy to get to charming villages and seaside towns, such as Castiglione della Pescaia and San Vincenzo on the south coast and the luxe resort town of Forte dei Marmi in the north. The hot springs of Saturnia and Bagno Vignoni are also popular, and many Florentines have family homes in the countryside where they spend summers and holidays. In the winter, many head to the Dolomites for skiing in towns such as Cortina.

Galileo Galilei International Airport in Pisa serves Florence and has direct flights to many European cities and capitals, and direct to New York. It is about an hour and a half flight to London or Paris. Tren Italia has frequent rail service to other Italian cities and towns, and overnight trains to the rest of Europe.

Practical info
While interest is high and viewings of properties are up, sales are actually low. “Prices are not low enough for buyers to be convinced they are getting a good deal,” said Stubbs. Premium properties, such as villas in and around the city, cost anywhere from six million to 10 million euros, and a two-bedroom flat or townhouse costs from 700,000 euros to 1.2 million.

Rentals in the city centre are in demand from students, international workers and other ex-pats. A two-bed flat near the Ponte Vecchio rents for 1,100 euros a month.  

Further information
The Florentine: bi-weekly English-language newspaper covering the city and Tuscany
The Florence Newspaper
: English-language news, features and reviews
La vita é bella
: an American couple blogs about the best of Florence and city life

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