If Florence and its surrounding hill towns were siblings, Florence would be the overachieving eldest chid with a trophy case of accomplishments; Fiesole would be the breezy youngest child with the enigmatic personality that demanded people come to her; and San Domenico would be the middle child, lost in the shuffle and often forgotten about. For all of you middle children out there who were just slightly miffed by my metaphor – I was ABOUT to say, that as we all know, the middle child is typically the best surprise. And that, is exactly what the town, which most consider nothing more than the name of a bus stop, is.
For those of you with better quads than me, San Domenico is merely one good workout from the center of Florence. Only about 4.5 kilometers along Via Vecchia Fiesolana, a road used since Etruscan times, this wouldn’t appear to be a bad hike. But then again, it’s all uphill. My lazy alternative is hopping the number 7 bus from Piazza San Marco. Known to most as the Fiesole bus, bus 7 will take you right to San Domenico, and all those pesky tourists on to Fiesole.
When you hop off the bus, look across the street to the monastery and namesake of the town, San Domenico. Friars from Santa Maria Novella in Florence looked to the pastoral hillside in the early 15th-century and thought, “wouldn’t it be great to just get out of this cluster and get some air.” They did exactly that and started building the Dominican church in 1406.
The monastery’s claim to fame is its former celeb-status residents. St. Antonine, Bishop of Florence during the early 15th-century, stayed here for some time. Moreover, artistic staple of the Florentine Renaissance, painter Fra Angelico, also called the monastery his home. The now Blessed (on the road to sainthood) painter has masterpieces displayed in every prominent museum from the Louvre to the Uffizi, but one of his most famous, the Fiesole Altarpiece, awaits you with no lines and no charge just behind these doors.
With views like this, we are hardly shocked that one of the finest Renaissance painters was groomed in this very spot.
Just north of the church, tempting, winding, stone-walled roads lure you to embark on a lifestyles of the rich and famous villa tour. Placards outside the gates will clue you in on which famous family’s grounds are beyond the grandiose entrances. Unfortunately, entrance is not quite as liberal as the Villa Crawl we took you on last year. But, sometimes peeking is just as fun!
If you’re anything like us, after a few minutes of the uphill climb, the winding roads are much less tempting. Descend back to this one-road town. If you’re ready for a bite to eat, Pizzeria San Domenico (at the bus stop) dishes out the best wood-fired pies in all of the Florentine hills. Across the street from the pizzeria a lone tabbacchi is the town’s all-purpose one-stop shop. Locals swing by for everything from a pack of cigarettes to a glass of wine. With its small terrace facing a knockout view and incredibly friendly (for Italians) owners, this tiny tabbacchi sits near the top of our “most-missed” list when we harken back on our Florence years.
Sporting the staples, Via delle Fontanelle (the main/only drag), is just about the most stereotypical strada you’ll ever see. The line-up: the Latteria (milk shop), the Gastronomia (deli), Antico Ristoro (a restaurant), Maceleria (butcher shop), Pescheria (fish shop), and Frutta e Verdura (fruits and vegetable shop). And that is literally it. But, hey, consider your grocery list done.
The shops look out to an olive grove that lingers into the valley that leads back to Florence.
With open benches and welcoming walls, we encourage taking a moment while in San Domenico, just as those Dominican Friars 600 years ago, to take a breath, refocus, be grateful that (for however long) you can call Florence your home, and maybe even take a sunny catnap.