Shopping in Florence: Souvenirs you will actually love
When I recently visited Florence, I had 48 hours, a friends reunion, and travelled with a day pack. Did I have time and room for souvenirs? Oh, yes, of course! Shopping in Florence, or shopping in general, is always part of my travels. As I work full-time, my travel time is limited, and usually, a souvenir or two must be brought back, but I am usually happy with a trip to the local market, delicatessen, and fabric shop. If that “bare necessities” shopping can be extended, then good! And shopping in Florence is such an experience that you should give a little thought to, and you’ll find some treasures that you’ll either enjoy for a long time to come, or that make you want to cook every day for the next few weeks!
Florence is famous for its paper art and leather. Paper marbling, originally thought to have come from France, is a craft long associated with Florentine artisans. It remains one of the few centres in Europe where small manufacture paper marbling is still alive. As for leather, the century-old craft of tanning and shoe-making has been settled along the Arno since the 1300’s, but thanks to the Gucci Family in the 1920’s, Florentine leather experienced something of a renaissance, and nowadays “Made in Italy” generally stands for quality and excellent craftmanship.
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But let’s start with the simpler things. When in Italy, you find wonderful produce in its markets and delicatessens. I always buy sun-dried tomatoes.
They usually are of a quality that you cannot find outside Italy Even in other Southern European countries, although they grow tomatoes, you never really find sun-dried ones. They keep for a year in the dark in an airtight container and are great in pasta, tomato sauce, on sandwiches, as a snack – the possibilities are endless.
Also, look out for dried porcini mushrooms, pine nuts and herbs. Local markets are best for these. In Florence, that great market in walking distance to the centre is Sant’ Ambrogio, hailed as the best produce market in Florence. It’s easy to find, compact, and even has a flea market section! I used to buy Parmesan by the kilo, too, but didn’t this time because it was high summer. But usually delicatessens will vacuum pack the cheese so it will even survive a few un-chilled hours.
What else should you bring from Italy?
Another great buy is pasta if you have room for it. Here in Europe you get DeCecco pretty much anywhere now, which is a great supermarket brand. Last time, I bought some Pasta Faella, which is a producer of dried pasta from Gragnano near Napoli. It is made the traditional bronze-pulled way and tastes superb with even the simplest of sauces.
And then, coffee was always high on the shopping list. Sure, you can buy some brands in some supermarkets throughout Europe, but wait until you discover the local roast! Mokaflor is the traditional Florentine roaster and makes good espresso – also in organic and fairtrade versions. I found Southern Italy and Sicily especially strong on great espresso roasts, and my absolute favourite is Passalacqua from Napoli. For cheaper beans (also sold in some supermarkets) Ionia is my favourite, with Pellini’s Vivace coming a close second, and for Fairtrade+organic, try Moak. You can now buy them online in many countries. You can visit the Mokaflor Roastery in Florence and try their many roasts.
Because we go through a couple kg’s of coffee every few months, I now tend to buy online, too – from a German shop called Aromatico which conveniently sells great olive oil, too, and always has pretty freshly roasted beans. I’m a traditional coffee girl and third wave roasters do nothing for me, so I couldn’t advise you. Give me a decent espresso machine and a kg of vacuum-packed Italian beans and I’m happy.
Let’s not forget wine. Tuscany produces some great wines, and it’s hard to suggest a good one! I would consider a wine tasting in a good bar, or visiting a vineyard to pick out something you really like.
Sant’Ambrogio Market: Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy. Open 7.00-14.00 every day except Sunday
Torrefazione Mokaflor, Via delle Torri, 55, 50142 Firenze. Open daily 08.30-17.00 (close for lunch)
When marbled paper became all the rage in medieval Europe, it stuck in Florence where there is still a small artisanal production to this day. We found two great traditional shops, Giulio Giannini and Il Papiro. Both are conveniently located in the tourist malstrom that leads from Ponte Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti. Shopping in Florence doesn’t get much easier than that.
Giannini is now in 6th generation and very proud of its heritage and traditions but we found the shop a tad sterile and the shopkeeper… well, maybe she had a bad day. I didn’t expect too much advice and for just popping in and buying a few bits and bobs, it was okay. Still, they had a good selection of fleur-de-lys printed stationary, albums, and the Florentine marbled paper.
Il Papiro is a Florentine business that has branched out as far as the USA, and looks more generic initially. However, they have a full workshop set-up in their shop where they marble paper for all who car to see it, and a back room full of amazing one-off sheets of marbled and block-printed paper.
Dare I say I spent nearly 70EURO on paper in one weekend? But then, personalised stationary or factory-made stuff for your diary costs a bomb, so I’d rather spend it on a beautiful hand-made paper. Ther eis only a limited amount of time I can spend in a paper shop, though. Amalfi is another dangerous place, and you better keep me from the famous paper shops in Tokyo, too.
Giulio Giannini e Figlio, Piazza de’ Pitti 37. Open daily 10.00 – 19.00 with shorter hours on Sunday
Il Papiro, Via de’ Guicciardini, 47, 50125 Firenze (plus three further Florence locations). Open daily 10.00 – 19.30
Leather is perhaps the Number One product that Florence is famous for. It has been since the Middle Ages, and experiencing its own renaissance with the foundation of the House of Gucci, originally a high-end luggage producer. A lot can be said about the necessity of leather to clothe you and hold your stuff, and personally, I prefer cruelty-free alternatives but have allowed myself to buy one leather item a year for the past five years usually shoes. With leather, I prefer the best quality I can afford, and make it last a long time, and I still have shoes that are over ten years old and in good nick (I live in vegetarian Birkenstocks and usually wear a good textile walking shoes). So, shopping in Florence can be all about leather, given the plethora of leather shops in the centre.
Naturally, I gave the leather souvenir stalls you find absolutely everywhere and the markets of Mercato Nuovo and San Lorenzo a wide berth. Same goes for most leather shops in town. Did you know that a lot of the leather goods are made under sweatshop conditions either overseas or in industrial estates surrounding Florence? So, not only unsustainable, but possibly made in a sweat shop.
I was in the market for a belt and a wallet and perhaps a small handbag, so after being led into too many leather shops by my friend and feeling somewhat dizzy from the leather smell and a bewildering array of colour, I visited a couple upmarket leather shops. Starting with Benheart. Here, you will find unique pieces made in Florence. Most are aimed at men of about 25 years of age, and if you are the rockin’ motorbike type, this might be your shop. I couldn’t find a belt slimmer than 5cm without studs, so I walked out again. Nice shop though if your style is young, masculine and rock ‘n roll.
As it was Sunday and a few of the more local shops were shut, I eventually went to the Scuola di Cuio. Here, the styles might be more sedate, but exactly the pieces I was looking for to last at least a century. Classic styles, extremely well made, well priced. I bought the wallet and a small purse and as for the handbag… the one I liked cost 300 EURO. So I settled on a gold clutch – a bit of an extravagant purchase, but an excellent bag for the opera that we intend of visiting again regularly once work and home life are going more settled ways.
Benheart, Via dei Cimatori, 25r, 50122 Firenze (and one other location in Florence). Open daily 10.00 – 20.00
Scuola di Cuio, Via S. Giuseppe, 5R, 50122 Firenze. Open daily 10.00 – 18.00
I’m fond of all citrus scents. I have written about my search for a cruelty-free scent here, and Florence has not just one, but two traditional producers of fine cruelty-free scent and toiletries. One is Oficina Profumo di Santa Maria Novella, world-famous, with a beautiful ancient pharmacy-salesroom to match. Even if you don’t want to buy here, it is worth visiting the beautiful showroom alone. At about 90 EURO for 100ml of Cologne, I find their scents quite expensive. The colognes I tried did not really last long on my skin, and I did find them a bit fusty – I did buy one years ago, which I haven’t used much, so I didn’t buy this time. They are certainly worth trying if you are into old-fashioned, natural scents, though.
Their less famous neighbour, Farmacia Santissima Annunziata, is a small traditional family business, and they make at least thirty different fragrances. Sadly (or, perhaps better for my wallet) I missed out because I only discovered their shop on a Sunday. I bought their “Agrumi” years ago. A bottle of Eau de Toilette retails at about 85EURO, and like Santa Maria Novella, they use natural ingredients.
I also used to bring back lots of Roberts Rose Water, which costs about 3 EURO per bottle and can be found in most supermarkets. Made by Manetti Roberts in Italy, it is somewhat doubtful whether or not the company and its owner, the Bolton Group, are cruelty-free, so I try to find out a bit more before stocking up again.
Santa Maria Novella: Via della Scala, 16, 50123 Firenze. Open daily 09.00 – 20.00
Farmacia Santissima Annunziata: Via dei Servi, 80r, 50122 Firenze. Open 09.30 – 19.30, slightly different hours Saturday, closed Sunday. Also has a smaller shop in Via Porta Rossa
This time… I stayed well away from jewellery. There are good reasons for it! One of them was spending 70 EURO on paper products alone. But with Florence being such a romantic city, and with quite a few nice jewellery shops, there is not much to stop you.
Lets stop with the most exquisite: If you like ornate, Renaissance-style jewellery, look no further than Alessandro Dari. All pieces are handmade, so they are somewhat on the pricey side. But the showroom is quite a sight in itself. I did not visit this time, but it is on top of my list for the return trip.
In Casa Orafo you can watch the goldsmiths at work and be sure what you buy doesn’t come from a factory. Again, nothing cheap, but it will be beautifully crafted.
For something suitable for all budgets, I like Giovanni Raspini. They are a relatively young brand for homeware and silver, and make pleasing naturalistic sterling silver charms, bracelets and necklaces. What greater luxury than to have a silver keyring with an appropriate lucky charm (the cornicello or manu cornuto, along with the horn of plenty, do well Italy) all yours for under 50 EURO.
Ponte Vecchio is traditionally the jewellers quarter, but a lot of the shops offer international brands you would find in any big city. The bridge is also jammed with tourists, very little you find for sale there is locally made, and prices can be very high.
Alessandro Dari, Via San Niccolò, 115/r, 50125, Firenze. Open Daily 10.30 – 19.30
Casa Orafo, Vicolo Marzio, 2, 50122 Firenze. Open Monday to Friday 09.00 -18.00
Giovanni Raspini, Via Porta Rossa, 82, 50123 Firenze. Open Monday-Saturday 10.00 – 19.00
In order to avoid duplication, find my practical advice for your Florence trip here.
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