The small town of Fiesole is the most popular short excursion from Florence . Cradled in the cypress-scattered hills above the city, its roots date back to Etruscan times (around 600 b.c.), predating Florence by several centuries. It fell to its more famous neighbor in 1125, since when it has been a favored rural retreat for Florentines and visitors alike.
Fiesole’s Duomo, or Cathedral, founded in 1028, has a plain 19th-century facade masking an interior enlivened by Bicci di Lorenzo’s dazzling high altarpiece (1450); the Cappella Salutati (right of the choir) contains an altar frontal and tomb (1466) by Mino da Fiesole.
A steep lane, Via San Francesco, leads from the town’s edge to the churches of Sant’Alessandro and San Francesco. Both are worth a look, although the main reason for the climb is to enjoy the fine views of Florence below. Back in the square, another street leads to the pretty archaeological zone, home to the remains of a Roman theater, bath complex, temples, Etruscan walls, and an archaeological museum. Nearby stands the Museo Bandini, closed for restoration), devoted mainly to ivories, ceramics, and Florentine paintings.
If you can take a 1.5-mile (2.5 km) round-trip walk, follow Via Vecchia Fiesolana from the southern side of Piazza Mino. Dropping steeply, the lane passes the Villa Medici (Gardens closed p.m. & Sun.), built for Cosimo de’ Medici, before arriving at the church and convent of San Domenico. Once the home of painter and monk Fra Angelico, it contains his “Madonna with Saints and Angels” (1430). Via della Badia then leads to the Badia Fiesolana, the town’s cathedral until 1028. The lovely Romanesque facade survives, enclosed by a later 15th-century frontage.