“Every city, let me teach you, has its own smell." So Miss Lavish, one of the eccentric guests at the Pensione Bartolini explains enthusiastically to the inexperienced Lucy on her first visit to Florence. Certainly the streets of the Tuscan capital have a special ambience where the thread of an impressive history of art is woven with the art of life itself, of which the Italians have always been masters.
Lucy Honeychurch may be the heroine of Forster's novel, but on screen, the city of Florence shares the limelight. The award-winning film surrenders itself to the grand dame of the Renaissance, and the footage is dotted with glorious panoramic views and detailed close ups of the city's historic centre. This is the setting where the innocent English girl, newly arrived from the countryside of Kent – played by Helena Bonham Carter in her first collaboration with James Ivory and the first of many corseted costume drama roles for the talented actress – breaks free from Victorian social norms and niceties and awakes to love and to life itself.
The sights of Florence are many: first, there's the 'view' of the title – the views of the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio seen from the rooms that Emerson and his son give up to Lucy and Miss Bartlett, her spinster cousin; then Dante's tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce where a Florentine offers to accompany Lucy to view the Giotto frescoes, and the Piazza della Signoria, where she faints after witnessing a fight and is rescued by the handsome George Emerson. The flowered hills of Fiesole with the city spread below, are the scene of the first kiss, and the serene dome of the Duomo appears as a recurring witness to the unfolding love story.
The room that lies at the root of the story was actually room 22 of the former Pension Quisisana, which has now become room 414 of the Hotel degli Orafi. This magnificent four-star hotel, which serves as the Pensione Bartolini, the nucleus where all the characters meet, is located in a former Augustinian convent, dating from the thirteenth century. Other interior scenes were shot in the eighteenth-century Villa di Maiano, a magnificent residence between Fiesole and Settignano available for private hire.
Florence and the surrounding area boast plenty of other settings that may not appear on screen, but that the young Emerson and Lucy would have found ideal settings for their awakening feelings for each other: a romantic walk among the fountains and sculptures that adorn the gardens of Boboli; an exploration of the art collections at the Palazzo Pitti, the Galleria dell'Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery; a relaxing glass of Chianti - the internationally-famous local red wine - with the locals at one of the many traditional taverns; maybe they strolled arm-in-arm admiring one of the glorious red sunsets over the River Arno, or went looking for a keepsake, or even an engagement ring, in one of the jewellers to be found on that most famous of bridges, the Ponte Vecchio.
Despite the hordes of tourists, there's no doubt that Florence remains one of the most romantic cities in the world. In the old town, pretty squares are threaded like gems along the medieval streets; most are the sites of churches and basilicas, and all offer romantic backdrops for your own love story: the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, named for the church established in the thirteenth century; the Piazza della Signoria, a veritable outdoor museum presided over by the Palazzo Vecchio, the city's Town Hall, and the replica of Michelangelo's David, which stands on the spot occupied by the original until it was rehoused in the Accademia in 1873; the Piazza del Duomo, centre of religious life in the city for many centuries, with the Cathedral just a few steps away from the imposing Baptistery and the Campanile. Explore the diamond-shaped area held between the the Piazza della Repubblica and the Basilica of San Lorenzo – at the centre of the city's main market district – Piazza della Santa Maria Novella and Santa Trinita, alongside Via de Tornabuoni, home to luxury boutiques.
This is the city where patrons such as the Medicis financed great artists – Giotto, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo – allowing them to leave behind uncountable proofs of their talent spread through the network of palazzos, piazzas, churches and mansions. Their legacy is plentiful in the centre, but more treasures are to be found across on the other side of the Arno: delights such as the churches of Carmine and the Santo Spirito, more traditional taverns and craft workshops that seem to step out of the past. And set up above the Boboli Gardens and the Porta San Niccolo, there's the Piazzale Michelangelo viewpoint, which affords a panoramic across the whole of Florence, making clear just how much there is to see, and just how difficult the choice is when you ask at the hotel for 'a room with a view'.
Best time to visit
Florence is delightful all year round, although in midsummer there will be even more tourists than at other times.
With almost all the main sights close at hand, Florence is a city to discover on foot.
Where to stay
The Pensione Bertolini of the film is today the Annalena retains all the charm and tranquility of a traditional Florentine pensione. Away from the centre, in the hills of Fiesole, there are few options to match the Villa San Michele.
The movie trail
Lucy, of course, discovered the city with the help of her trusty Baedeker; modern visitors will find most of the Florentine scenes that appear in the film simply by walking around the centre of the historic old town and taking a short excursion to the hills of Fiesole around eight kilometres from the city.
Palazzo dell'Arte dei Giudici e Notai: a museum by day and an elegant restaurant by night, this restored medieval building houses some impressive frescoes including the oldest known portrait of Dante.