Bazaar: Florence Shopping Guide
Even if they haven’t got the money, Florentines have got style, so why spend 2000 euros on a designer outfit? There are many flea markets around Florence, and the Cascine market is probably the best place if you want to get yourself an imitation Gucci, Cavalli or Prada at silly prices. The majority of goods on offer seem to be of poor quality and imitations, but if you have an eye for a bargain there are little treasures to be found. An imitation Gucci purse can cost you €14 if you know how to bargain and a bag around €25.
Fashion: Ermanno Scervino
There are designer flagship stores all over Florence. Via Tornabuoni makes for fabulous window shopping, Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo, they are all here. But one look at the price tags may well have you reaching for a Farmacia for some smelling salts. One interesting Italian designer to watch out for is Ermanno Cervino.
Ermanno Cervino (designer)
Viale Michelangelo 74
Jewellery shops in the Ponte Vecchio
Florence, more than anywhere else in Italy, has a reputation and history of producing exquisite handcraft. Today, most of these craft men are based either in the Oltrano district, over the Arno, on the south bank of the river or in the Ponte Vecchio. This tradition of craftsmen exists thanks to the infamous Medici. They wanted beautiful and ostentatious objects for their palaces, and they made sure the best craftsmen came to town.
The Ponte Vecchio (bridge) is covered in shops and houses that used to be butchers back in the 14th century, so that they could chuck the bits in the river. As the river got so polluted, the Medici rulers who were concerned for the hygiene of the area threw all the butchers out of the shops replacing them with goldsmiths.
Nowadays, the Ponte Vecchio has a reputation for fine jewelry and it’s known by Americans as the Golden Bridge.
The Old Bridge Gallery is one of the many jewellery shops that have been on the bridge for centuries. They specialise in 3 colour gold jewellery, white, gold and red and traditional Florentine designs.
Old Bridge Gallery
Tel: 055 290840
Leather School of Santa Groce
Leather is another of the crafts that this city is most famous for. If you are skin seeking in Florence, you’ll either be spoiled for choice or daunted by the range of styles and the huge differences in quality and price.
The leather school of Santa Croce is at the back of the Gothic church of the Holy Cross, in what once was the monastery of the Franciscan monks. During the Renaissance, the Franciscan monks made leather covers for their prayer books. Since the end of WW2, the school has been training young men in the art of leatherwork. Today, the school continues this traditional Florentine fashion of working with leather. Everything is handmade, from wallets and leather key rings to briefcases and travel bags. Among the famous that buy their products here are Gwyneth Paltrow, Nancy Reagan, Cary Grant and Princess Diana.
They also run courses for people who are interested in learning how to work in leather.
Pza S. Croce 16
Ferragamo museum & store
The Salvatore Ferragamo museum is a real treat if you are into shoes. At the moment the museum exhibits a private collection titled ‘shoes and famous feet’, an exhibition dedicated to one of the world’s most famous shoemaker ever.
This exhibition features the original shoes that Ferragamo made for celebrities such as Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Cecile deMille, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna. His shoes were sought after by every Hollywood star from the 1920s till the 1960s. He became known as ‘the shoemaker of dreams’ – the was the Manolo Blanik of his time.
Ferragamo was the first shoemaker to introduce cork wedge platform heels. Due to the lack of materials during WW2 in Italy he decided to use cork. Celebrities like Carmen Miranda, Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland all wore them. You can also see the very original shoes that Marilyn wore in ‘Some Like It Hot’. The company reintroduced them again as part of their new Millenium line.
In his 40 years as a master shoemaker, Ferragamo has made over 10,000 designs for the rich and famous. Although the shoes in the museum are to die for, it’s worth checking the range of clothes and accessories on display at the Ferragamo store. Nowadays Ferragamo has became an international brand and the family business now expands to perfumes, clothes and all kind of fashion accessories.
Via Tournabuoni 2
Eating & Drinking
Tuscany’s food is rooted in poor or peasant cookery, a rural cuisine based on available natural ingredients: olive oil, unsalted bread, vegetables and pulses, wild leaves and mushrooms, and salt cured or simply cooked meats.
Grotta Guelfa Restaurant
Untouristy outdoor restaurant close to the city centre at the bottom of Via Pellicceria. Good value and the menu includes fish. Grotta Guelfa has a huge selection of dishes, starting with the Tuscan antipasti that includes crostini (canapés topped with chicken livers and vegetables), salumi (salt cured pork meats such as prosciutto and salame) and bruschetta (grilled bread topped with olive oil or tomatoes). Then, the Primi, first courses, like hearty soups and pasta. The Secondi, main courses, include grilled meats, game, country rabbit stewed with olives and fish. La Fiorentina is the Tuscan T-bone steak, served rare and best made from Chianina beef.
Vegetarians can find stewed or sautéed vegetables, salads and egg dishes like frittata. Desserts are simple: Vin Santo with Cantucci cookies is a classic, but there are often rather dry cakes, ice cream and the ubiquitous tiramisu.
La Grotta Guelfa Restaurant
Caprrella Michele Rocco
Via Pellicceria 5 R
Il Latini restaurant and wine cellar
“Simple” Tuscan food. Always crowded, large refectory tables, hams hanging from the ceiling. A fun full of Italians place, often full so book or arrive early. Closed Monday. The ever packed restaurant has an age-old, inimitable style: the large sprawling dining room is filled with refectory tables that hold at least eight. Diners are seated whererver there is a space, and often find themselves in conversation with their neighbours, part of the charm of the place. There is a mad mixture of stuff including prosciutto hams hanging from the ceiling, bottles of the Latini’s wines, and flasks of Chianti. The half-panelled walls are thick with photographs of literary figures; the family offers an annual literary award to writers whose lives have been dedicated to their art. The prize consists of a convivial dinner at the restaurant and a prosciutto.
The menu is Tuscan in a hurry: the hearty soups are simple but good, pasta dishes arrive in seconds and tend to be soft, and there are hand-cut salumi, ready-cooked meats, and stews. So go for the fun of it.
It’s not only food that the Latini family are mad about. Underneath the restaurant they’ve got their very own cellar with some of the most amazing wines in Italy. Unfortunately for the customers, collecting good bottles of wine is a hobby for the Latini, so don’t expect to drink them with your dinner. If you are very lucky you’ll get a tour of the cellar.
Tel: 055 210916
Fax: 055 289794
Via dei Palchetti, 6R
Ice cream – Café Perseo (Perseus)
Italian gelato is the smoothest ice cream in the world and one of Italy’s most popular exports. It’s made with milk not cream so is lower in fat than the American one. One thing is for certain – Italians love their ice cream. It’s quite common to go out at night for an ice cream just as you might go out for a drink.
Bar Perseus (ice cream palour)
Piazza signoria 16 rosso
Circo-lo Teatro del Sale
Located amid the hustle and bustle of the Sant’Ambrogio market place, CIBREO is Florence’s most compelling restaurant. Larger than life character Fabio Picchi has enriched the whole neighbourhood with his elegant, fully serviced restaurant and at the same time managed to pick up the title for the best chef of 2003 in Italy.
Apart from Il Cibreo restaurant, Fabio owes a trattoria, a café and food shop. Go to the trattoria rather than the restaurant and get to know other diners at your table over the same food as the restaurant but much more reasonably priced.
His dream for the last 24 years has been to give the people of Florence a theatre experience where you can wine, dine, shop and see a play or maybe catch a concert all under one roof. And this dream has just come true. Fabio Picchi’s new venture, circo-lo teatro del Sale is one of Florence’s best kept secrets. The atmosphere is akin to a private party where special guests enjoy a relaxed alternative to the main stream clubs and restaurants.
Circo-lo Teatro del Sale
Tel: 055 200 1492
Via de Macci, 107R
Galleries & other attractions
The main reason to visit the Accademia is to see Michelangelo’s David in all its glory. The 17ft colossal nude of the Goliath biblical hero confirmed the 29 year old Michelangelo as the best artist in Florence. He worked under the premise that the image of David was already in the block of stone he was working on and that he just had to extract it from it.
The head and the upper body are larger than the proportions of the lower body. The most accepted explanation is that the statue was supposed to be placed on a church facade or high pedestal, and that the proportions would appear correct when the statue was viewed from below.
Galleria dell’Accademia (Florence)
Via Ricasoli 58 – 60
Tel:0039 055 238 8609
Open 8.15am – 6.50pm Tue – Sun
The exterior of the cathedral was designed with intricate patters of pink, white and green marble to attract pilgrims to the mass. Nowadays visitors circle the cathedral in awe of its magnitude.
In contrast to its lavish exterior, the inside of the cathedral is modest and sober since the Gothic philosophy believed that people should come to church to pray and not to distracted. The real attraction of Brunelleschi’s Duomo is its dominating red tiled dome, which can be seen from every corner of the nearby streets.
More than any other landmark in the city, Brunelleschi’s dome symbolises Florence itself. Not only did he build the biggest and most beautiful dome of the time but he did it without using any scaffolding while work was in process. He used a cantilevered system of bricks that could support themselves while it ascended. Nobody thought this would be possible, but Brunelleschi proved his critics wrong. The real treat here is to climb up 463 steps that sandwich you between Brunelleschi’s ingenious double shell construction. Vasari’s fresco of the Last Judgement is pretty amazing, and very up close.
Staggeringly, they even had kitchens installed up here to cut meal breaks for the workers. The view from the lantern at the top is the best in all of Florence.
Ufficio del Duomo
Tel: 0039 230 2885
Open: Church 10am – 5pm Mon – Fri
10am – 4.45pm Sat
1.30 – 4.45pm Sun
10am – 5pm Mon – Sat
The art of working in marble is still very much alive in Florence. Artists are commissioned from all over the world to produce reproductions of old masterpieces. At the famous Romanelli gallery, they’ve been sculpting in marble for five generations. Founded in 1860, Pasquale Romanelli opened the Gallery in response of the great demand by the Imperial Courts of Europe for marble copies of classical statues.
Folco Romanelli has followed the family tradition of sculpturing making statues for celebrities, aristocrats and royal families from all over the world. One of the earliest commissions for famous antique statues was by Elisa Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister. The Tsarist princes and the English aristocracy also ordered works from the Romanelli family.
You don’t have to be a millionaire to come to Romanelli, you can always get a marble copy of a banana for 12 euros.
Tel: 055 239 6662
Lungarno Acciaioli, 72-78R
Terme di Montecatini spa
Shopping and sight seeing got too much for your poor, tired feet? Relax in style at this luxurious health spa.
Terme di Montecatini spa
Viale Verdi 41
51016 Montecatini Terme
Fax: 0572 778444
Accommodation, tour guides & books
The Continentale is one of Florence boutique hotels. Italians have gained a reputation as being at the forefront of contemporary design and this hotel offers the perfect alternative to the traditional Renaissance Florence.
The Florentine tradition of nurturing the arts continued long after the Renaissance. And today, artisans and businessmen that have made their money thanks to Florence’s reputation for quality products still plough back their money into the arts. Continuing this tradition is the Ferragamo family. They made their money designing beautiful shoes and now they’ve invested their money in creating the funkiest hotels in Florence.
The Continentale is their latest adventure and offers a sophisticated alternative to the cosmopolitan traveller. This contemporary and modern hotel even has a sitting room in the lift. The only problem is that it only goes up two floors, so when do you get time to enjoy it? As for the rooms, they have a minimalist look and all the decoration is white. And they also have the best views in town of the Arno river.
When the hotel opened, some guests staying were so impressed by the design that they wanted to purchase some of the wonderful items from the hotel. So the owners decided to open a shop where you can buy anything that you see in their hotels.
2 Lungarno Acciaioli
Hotel Atlantic Palace
In the heart of Florence, this mid range hotel is a great location to explore Florence on foot. And believe me, you don’t want to have a car in Florence, parking costs around €20 a day and none of the hotels include this in their price. Rooms are nice and the staff are used to dealing with tourists. It’s also two minutes walk from the train and the bus station, so it’s perfect if you want to do some trips outside the city.
Hotel Atlantic Palace
Via Nazionale, 12
Tel: 055 213031
Fax: 055 268353
Antonella M Laurenca
Antonella knows Tuscany inside out and she’ll show you some of the most unspoilt places in Tuscany so that you can get a real flavour of the place, from olive farms and wine states to restaurants and local festivals.
If by any chance you are into food, she’ll probably offer to cook a proper Tuscan meal at her place in the Historic Center of Florence. The Bazaar crew spent an great evening with her and her three dogs: Winnie, Pepita and Lolita who although a bit loud are great fun! Antonella is obsessed with ice cream, so be prepared to tour the best ice cream parlours in Tuscany. It will be worth it. And if she is too busy to look after you, she’ll leave you in the capable hands of her boyfriend Guido, who also knows everything you may want to know about Tuscany.
la M Laurenca (tour guide)
Cell: 328 8641429
Via por S. Maria, 6
email: bubu *at* fionline.it
Time Out guide: Florence and the best of Tuscany (Penguin books)
Perfect companion for your trip to Florence
Lonely Planet Florence by Damien Simonis
Good for practical information such as accommodation, transport.
Guide by Silvia Santamar