How do you discover insider tips about the places you travel to? In recent years, I think I’ve become a better traveler thanks to the world of social media. I ask friends on Facebook if they’ve been where I’m headed, I look for local blogs and contact their writers on Twitter, and I use Yelp for reviews. In this way, I find out about chic shops, good restaurants, and yes, occasionally about more cultural things. When delving into a topic I don’t know well, I take a tour with Context Travel (like this tour of Jewish food in New York). Today, I tried a new concept tour in Florence. But it didn’t feel like playing tourist for a day… it felt like a day out with funky, knowledgeable friends – which is basically the concept behind Conquibus, the brainchild of a young Florentine couple who wishes to share their (extremely cool) lifestyle with visitors.
Claudia and Leonardo are the kind of people you’d want to hit up for advice if you’re visiting Florence, which is why they have wisely turned their awesome lifestyle into a business. He’s a successful startupper slash communications consultant, she’s a food blogger who focuses on sustainable, vegetarian options. They live with their adorable toddler in a huge, spotless yet so funky apartment with a view of the Duomo, where they’ve gotten over the inconvenience of walking up four flights of stairs because the place is such a great find. They eat home-made food cooked with ingredients from producers they know personally, set up amongst artisan-made accessories and recycled furniture. They’re like the cooler version of you, me and anyone we know.
Ask Claudia where to go to buy a unique gift and she has a bunch of artist and artisan friends she’d be happy to introduce to you. Ask Leo where to find a special flour or what vegetable is in season, he can tell you (and she can cook it). A day with Conquibus combines a number of the things that are great about life in Italy – the access to creative people who still make things with their hands, the abundance of fresh, local foods, and people who are connected to all of this and more. The full day out runs from 9:30am to 4:30pm, into which you squeeze a lot of activities! Spend a day with these two and you come out richer (theoretically speaking – you actually do have to pay for their tour).
After a bit of breakfast, you head into the Oltrarno, where most of the city’s artisans are located. We visited the workshop of Ratafià, open only by appointment, where they dye and paint on natural and often recycled fabrics. This family business is the evolution of sisters Laura and Valentina’s father’s life-long experience developing fabric dyes and paints in Prato. When Dad retired, the sisters and their mother decided to put the paint and experience to good use, developing their own line of whimsical products. From soft socks painted with the tip of a chopstick to kid-sized aprons and sturdy linen tote bags, everything has a distinct style and excellent quality. We had the chance to try our hand at painting and printing – they mentioned that they can organize short workshops in which you make one of their products, which I think would be a great way to spend an afternoon some time soon!
Each Conquibus experience is different, depending on the availability of the artisans and on other factors. There are food artisans, including a guy who makes fresh pasta, or an ex-architect who makes high-tech jam in a low-temperature machine. Or you might meet a potter, painter or jeweler, in home studios and places you’d never find on your own.
The visit proceeds with a market visit so that you can talk food with Claudia, although our group spent too long talking in general, so we skipped this part and found a gorgeous box of local produce waiting for us back at the couple’s apartment, where we not so promptly started preparing it (after a few Spritzs).
I took charge of making tagliatelle, while my friends chopped vegetables for the most delicious tempura ever. Claudia pulled together a delicious meal and soon we were seated at a beautifully laid table – with a tablecloth from Ratafià of course – eating what we’d helped prepare.
Waddling out rather full around 4pm, I can’t help but think this would be a good way to spend most of my days, not just one special day in Florence.