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Florence Shopping Notes

Colleen Kochman (ColleenK)

I am not much of a shopper at home in the Boston area. However, once my feet touch down on Italian soil I am transformed into a voracious shopper. There is something about the exquisite craftsmanship and style of Italian products that just seem to pull at my heartstrings and compel me to "shop until I drop". The following shopping notes are from my Spring 2004 trip to Florence when I had 17 days to explore some Florentine treasures.

The San Lorenzo Market Stalls

These stalls in the area outside the Central Market are numerous and are open every day from 9:00am to 7:00pm (except Mondays in winter). The vendors sell a great variety of products and you could spend hours roaming through them all. Many of the vendors are aggressive but friendly and most speak English quite well. I had been somewhat leery about buying merchandise from these vendors on past trips to Florence because I was never really sure about the quality of the merchandise or if these talented salesmen and women would be ripping me off. But when I toured the stalls with Judy Witts (Divina Cucina), a long time Florence resident, she pointed out that if you looked closely you would find that the quality was generally quite good and many of the stalls also had stores nearby. It was really just a way to reduce overhead and therefore they could offer lower prices.

The city of Florence (Firenze)

I found this to be especially true for stationery. The prices were very reasonable compared to stores such as Il Papiro with comparable quality, and some items were identical to offerings in the higher priced "name" stores. These beautiful note cards and stationery make fabulous, inexpensive gifts.

Stalls selling scarves and pashminas were numerous and the quality difference between vendors seemed to differ very little. Nice pashminas could be had for 10 euro, with nicer materials such as cashmere and silk blends costing twice as much. These are very popular presents and I always have requests to bring back several for friends.

Leather pocketbooks or purses are sold in great volume all over the city of Florence. I scouted many stores, on expensive streets and out of the way shops. Once I had an idea of the size and type of leather I liked best (soft lambskin), I priced them wherever I went. Although there are some lesser quality purses for sale in the San Lorenzo stalls, I eventually found the one I wanted there. The saleswoman got the color I wanted from her nearby store and I bargained her down 24 euro by paying cash and explaining that the original price was more than I wanted to spend (see my trip report, listed below in Resources, for more details). It is a Tosca bag made in Florence and as Linda Richmond (aka Mike Meyers) on Saturday night Live would say, " it feels like butter".

Ceramics

An avid ceramics collector, I spent a good amount of time comparing different shops for quality and price. I am partial to the ceramics from Montelupo and prefer more classical designs over modern designs. My favorites in order of preference are listed below.

Rampini Ceramics, Borgo Ognissanti, 32/34, tel: 055-219720, www.rampiniceramics.com
Exquisite ceramics in a beautiful showroom right next to the Ognissanti church. This family business started in the 1980's and its main studio is in Radda in Chianti. The Florence store is predominantly a showroom for its products that are custom ordered. However, if you would like to carry them home (which I did), there are many pieces available for purchase. Their styles are a mix of traditional and more contemporary pieces with very original designs. The quality surpassed any I have seen in all my ceramic shopping in Italy. The pieces are marked with two prices; a lower price if you have them shipped or spend more than 150 euros. This allows them to bypass the VAT tax and offer a lower price. You can also order a catalogue online to purchase their lovely products.

Ceramiche San Lorenzo, Via Borgo S. Lorenzo, 29/r, tel: 055-216083
Between the Duomo and the Medici Chapel. Small shop with a lovely selection and helpful staff. Purchased a pretty spoon rest for my mother here.

Ditta Luca della Robbia, Via Del Proconsolo, 19R, tel: 055-283532
In the Bargello neighborhood. Another family run business, established in 1904. A large and beautiful selection of ceramics from Montelupo. Very friendly and helpful owner. Bought several pretty, small decorative pill or jewelry boxes for 10 euro to give as gifts.

Galleria Ponte Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio 104r, tel: 055-2398400, www.ceramichepontevecchio.com
Just over the Ponte Vecchio on the right hand side of the street down an alcove and past another ceramics store in front of it. A fairly large selection of vibrant ceramics with many pieces from Montelupo. I visited this shop on Amy's suggestion from her Slow Travel notes "Ceramics Shops in Florence and Tuscany".

Florentia, Via dell'ariento, 81r, www.florentiaceramichr.it
Located in the heart of the San Lorenzo Market stalls, this friendly shop has a large selection of ceramics from various regions of Italy. When Judy (Diva) first took me here in 2004, I thought the prices were a bit high. However, when I returned in 2006, I felt the prices were comparable if not less expensive than other shops I have frequented. I loved their selection of ceramics and I bought several beautiful olive dishes for gifts. At 15 euro each, I thought they were a deal and wish I had room to bring back more! (added to page in 2006)

Olive dishes, 15 Euro each, from Florentia

Olive dishes, 15 euro each, from Florentia

Scarves and Pashminas

BIVA s.a.s., Via dell'Ariento, 8/10R, tel: 055-214391
In addition to the San Lorenzo stalls as listed above, this shop that Judy Witts (Divina Cucina), introduced me to, had a large and lovely selection of scarves and pashminas in all price ranges. The staff was very helpful in explaining the differences in the quality and therefore the price of their products. They also graciously exchanged a scarf that I found to have a tiny tear in the first time I wore it. Excellent English spoken here. They also sell their wares at one of the San Lorenzo stalls.

Jewelry

2006 Addendum

The price of gold has risen steeply worldwide and Florence is no exception. However, I was shocked at the price tags on simple gold chains as compared to previous trips, especially on the Ponte Vecchio. Other than a small, simple ring I purchased at a shop in the first group of stores on the right hand side of the Ponte Vecchio for 40 euro and a necklace at Cellini Gold, via Por Santa Maria 37R, for more than I really had in mind to spend, I could not bring myself to pay the prices in Florence on this trip and I am glad I didn't. When I returned to Boston, I searched for the gold-filigreed necklace I had been looking for as a gradation present for my daughter and I found it (in the estate jewelry section), for $120 instead of the 379 euro price on the Ponte Vecchio! So unless the price of gold comes down, or you really want a piece of jewelry from Florence for sentimental reasons, I cannot recommend buying gold jewelry in Florence.

Notes from 2004

I was on a specific mission in my jewelry shopping this trip. I was only searching for delicate, thin bracelets to replace one I had lost. The style could be described as classic 18K gold but I was interested in something a little different with a combination of gold and white gold. Here are some stores that I found a good selection of reasonably priced bracelets.

Gioielleria Marchi, Ponte Vecchio, 44-46-48, tel: 055-211413
I was wary of any of the jewelers on the Ponte Vecchio as being overpriced tourist traps but after much window-shopping, I found the very bracelet I had lost at a price very close to what I had paid two years before. They also gave me a few Euros discount because I needed to have it sized to fit me which they couldn't do.

L. Parenti, via Pisana, 146A/r
Brought to my attention by Maureen's Slow Travel notes on the San Frediano District, this shop was a 20-minute walk from the Ponte S. Trinita. Lucia, the owner is very nice and spent a good amount of time with me helping me decide between two delicate and quite beautiful bracelets. I have no doubt that I would have paid more for this particular combination of 18K and white gold in this style bracelet if her shop was located closer to the center of Florence. Lucia also had a nice selection of watches.

The Gold Corner
I do not have an address for this shop but it directly diagonal to the Santa Croce Church on the right corner of Santa Croce Piazza as you are facing the church. They had a very large selection of bracelets and all kinds of jewelry. The staff was very knowledgeable, spoke excellent English and offer a 20% discount for cash.

I Massai, Via delle Terme, 13, tel: 055-294800, closed Saturday and Sunday
I didn't get a chance to visit this showroom this trip but have been impressed on past trips by the craftsmanship of these jewelers. Via delle Terme is on the right before the Ponte Vecchio. You have to be buzzed into the shop up a flight of stairs. Italian is primarily spoken here. Beautiful pieces; many are works of art!

Gloves

Madova gloves, Via Guicciardini, 1R, tel: 055-2396526, www.madova.com
Claiming to be the only glove factory in Florence, they do seem to have the best selection in town. Many, many styles and colors. Great quality and fit. I have very small hands and this shop's gloves were the only ones where I found a decent fit. I have 5 year old gloves from this store that have worn very well. Their standard leather glove with cashmere lining is 35 euro. A few presents purchased here! Right over the Ponte Vecchio on the left hand side before the Pitti Palace. The only negative about this shop is that they do not offer a VAT discount on purchases over 150 euro.

Leather Goods

NOI, Via delle Terme, 8, tel: 055-210319
This trip I was in the market for a pocketbook (which I found in the San Lorenzo stalls mentioned above), a leather case for my glasses and leather bound scrapbook. On a previous trip I had bought a leather jacket at NOI that I still love four years later. Ask for Romano, he's quite the salesman!

Lilivm, Via del Proconsolo, 77R, tel: 055-284136, www.liliumflorence.it
Located between the Duomo and the Bargello, I passed this shop every day on my way back and forth from school. Articles in this store are handmade by the owner's father's cousin and most of the material used is sheepskin. Once I glimpsed the leather bound scrapbook with the hand painted watercolor of the Duomo on the cover, I was smitten. I dutifully checked out many other shops that sold leather bound books but never found one that could compare in quality and beauty to the one I eventually purchased here. I held out until my very last day because I didn't want to spend quite that much but I couldn't resist and now it's one of my favorite purchases of the trip. They also sell some of their products in stall/stand 47 in the San Lorenzo Outdoor Market but I think their better quality items are in this store.

A fior di pelle, Via Guicciardini, 6r, tel: 055-294563, www.afiordipelle.biz
This small store over the Ponte Vecchio on the right hand side towards the Pitti Palace specializes in small leather goods and handbags. I liked their collection of eyeglass cases and bought a pretty tan leather case with the Florence Coat of Arms so that I can think of Florence every time I reach for my glasses!

Pharmacy

Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Via Della Scala, 16n, tel: 055-288658, www.smnovella.it
Opened to the public in 1612, this pharmacy was established in 1221 by the Dominican fathers who grew herbs for medications and balms for their infirmary. Located a few blocks from the Santa Maria Novella Church, this is not an ordinary pharmacy. The building itself is a work of art and worth visiting even if you are not in the market for soaps, lotions, essences, creams, perfumes, or potpourri. Wonderful fragrances greet you upon entry where you can pick up a "menu" of products. There is a second room where you can test out different products and mixtures. Their products are expensive but one of a kind. Lovely frescoes and sculptures decorate this unusual pharmacy. They now have locations worldwide including New York and Los Angeles.

Street Art

I love to bring home small watercolors to remind me of the spectacular scenery of Italy. In Florence, street artists set up their wares in three main areas: on the south side of the Piazza Del Duomo (towards the Arno), In the Uffizi Courtyard and in front of the Pitti Palace. Weather affects how many artists will exhibit their wares and on rainy days only the covered Uffizzi area has a number of artists' work to choose from. Prices depend on the size of the piece but nice small watercolors can be bought for 10 to 20 euro. My favorite watercolor of the Duomo with some Cypress trees and countryside in the background was purchased from a very talented Japanese artist, Hiko Nagahama, near the Pitti Palace. I later wished I had bought more of his work because I couldn't find him again.

Wine

Casa Del Vino, Via Dell'Ariento, 16r, tel: 055-215609
This enoteca is located behind a stall in San Lorenzo, right next to my favorite scarf store, near the Central Market. Nice selection of wines with a friendly owner who will help you decide on what to buy in your price range. I bought a 1997 Altesino Brunello and a 2001 Il Poggione Rosso Di Montalcino here. This is where Judy (Divina Cucina) takes her cooking classes to pick out wine for their various courses.

By the time I found another wine shop that had excellent prices for Brunellos and Rossos, I had already purchased too many to take home comfortably. I don't have the name of this shop but it was located on the right side of Via S. Antonino as you head towards Santa Maria Novella. A definite stop next trip to Florence!

Resources

Colleen Kochman's Member Page: The articles and trip reports that Colleen has published on Slow Travel.

Trip Report 679: A Student in Florence, by ColleenK from MA

www.divinacucina.com: Divina Cucina, Diva's cooking school in Florence

Slow Travel Italy - Travel Notes - Ceramics Shops in Florence and Tuscany, by Amy from MA

Slow Travel Italy - Travel Notes - Florence - The San Frediano District, by Maureen from MA


Colleen Kochman lives in Cambridge, MA, is a pediatric nurse practitioner who loves all aspects of travel.

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