Currently, there is no other place in the world I would rather shop than Firenze. For years I have been wondering if charming boutiques still exist anywhere- anywhere at all. They certainly did not withstand the rent prices in Manhattan nor most all major cities. They can hardly even be found in suburban towns. I shake my head in scorn when I see big American chains in European towns and cities, taking the place of smaller, local businesses.
Alas, Florence is the savior for boutiques. Not only does the small city house many of its Italian designer brands of which it remains so rightfully proud, it supports countless artisan shops; workshops with craftsmen knee-deep in leather, fur, artwork, antiques, perfume, linens, home furnishing, and more. The prices are fair for the high level of quality; expect to pay a great deal more in NYC for something far inferior. The salespeople are like great friends who welcome you into their home; they give you their undivided attention and offer their Florentine hospitality in spades. We could spend hours chatting with the staff everywhere we went; and many of them were employees, not even the owners themselves, exemplifying their genuine nature and affinity for kindness and patience. One could spend their entire fortune in Florence, and everyday they could find something new and original and meaningful. Not only are the goods of superior quality, the stores aplenty, the choices infinite, but the experience itself could not be more enjoyable if someone had crushed a lithium in our cappuccino at Gilli. After a few recent trips to Firenze, it has been decided that from here on out, I will visit the beautiful city and its lovely, warm salespeople once a year for all shopping needs.
In this post, I take you from the centro, where the molto elegante Via de’Tornabuoni is a work of art in itself, lined with prestigious designer brands and a few choice eateries, to the the characteristic streets of the Oltrarno, the hip side of the river Arno where the term ‘artigianale’ originated. Historically, the Oltrarno was solely for the artisans and their dusty shops. Today, in addition to being the antique center, it is the decidedly more ‘happening’ side of the river, where the locals prefer to be and to reside, surrounded by fantastic restaurants, cafes, clothing stores, furniture, and painters. Both sides of the river have their charms, each has its individual flair and personality, and it is easy enough to cross back and forth throughout the day. Allow yourself time to wander, and spend time getting to know the salespeople. They are truly the most warm, giving, genuine salespeople I have encountered in my travels, and what you think will be a quick stop turns into a two-hour visit- every minute equally enjoyable.
It is perfectly fine to circle round the same blocks more than once- we frequented Via della Vigna Nuova more times than I can count- you may find yourself intrigued by a narrow street and venture off the path. Try not to have a strict shopping itinerary; just let the window displays entice you. As a general starting point, I suggest Via dei Rondinelli at the intersection of Via dei Banchi. This one stretch is home to enough to keep you busy for hours if you fancy the likes of Ginori, Brioni, and a few vintage men’s stores.
Continue onto Via de’ Tornabuoni, Florence’s most elegant, pedestrian-only shopping street. It is exceptionally clean and beautifully maintained. Each building is a jewel: motifs, grand, oversized doors, tasteful potted plants, and the most resplendent window displays. Coming onto Piazza degli Antinori, you will find Hermes, the upscale restaurant Cantinetta Antinori, and the magnificent Chiesa di Santi Michele e Gaetano, whose steps lure you for a few minutes of poised people-watching.
Carry on and you are rewarded with Parenti Firenze, a haven for luxury goods, and a family with a rich history. Marco Parenti was a highly respected, prosperous silk merchant in 15th century Medici Florence. Next to Palazzo Corsi another historic gem and a gastronomic institution, Procacci was founded by Leonardo Procacci in 1885. An institution yes, but it is the size of a small white Italian truffle. The delicatessen is a perfect example of how cose molte chic come in small packages: the narrow cafe is frequented by the most au-courant Florentines, looking effortlessly stylish as they convene at the bar over tiny paninis made with truffles, or rucola and prosciutto. Friends rest their feet at high-top tables, shopping bags at their leather-loafered feet.
You may prefer to sit outside at the Roberto Cavalli cafe, although I find this just a bit too touristy. If you make a sharp right at this intersection, you will find yourself on Via della Spada. On your left, there is a fantastic pasticceria called Forno Top. They make classic Tuscan dolcezzi, panini, pizza, focaccia, and bread, and once a week they bake a special Sicilian sweet. A hop further is one of my favorite scent brands, often found in the luxury hotels all over Tuscany: Vranjes.
Back-track to the intersection and make a sharp right onto Via della Vigna Nuova. Where do I begin? This street is a shopper’s paradise. The ladies at Paola Tonali are incredibly buoyant and friendly, and they helped us tailor a classic jacket and everyday pants in less than two days. When we got to talking restaurants, one of le donne called her childhood friend in Fiesole, and later we found ourselves being treated like royalty at the romantic hilltop restaurant overlooking the hills: La Reggia degli Etruschi.
Down the street, Woolwich has a large location where we found merchandise not sold in the states. There are infinite men’s stores- both designer and boutiques found only in Florence, including local favorite Sartoria Rossi, recommended by Four Seasons Firenze Concierge, Marzio. Take Via della Vigna Nuova all the way to the end, where you will intersect Via di Parione to the left.Pop into ultra cool leather store, Benheart, where everything is unisex and the selection of men’s leather jackets in the tiny angular shop is clearly more upscale than others you will find elsewhere.There are a few other notable shops in this intersection, but if you like, you can take Via di Parione back to Via de’ Tornabuoni, or you can backtrack on Via della Vigna Nuova back to Via de’ Tornabuoni and carry on.
Via de’ Tornabuoni is worth una passeggiata at all times of day. In the morning, before the stores open, to have it to yourself and to be able to take in the incredible facades, the balconies, the wooden doors, and the characters on the door handles; during the day, to be a part of the daily shopping experience, and in the evening, when the streetlights set the smooth stones aglow and the windows light up to tell their elegant fairy tales.
After the joyous Piazza di Santa Trinita, a small, beautiful piazza surrounded by astounding architecture and beautiful designer boutiques, you will come to the Ferragamo museum and its prime location at the corner of one of Italy’s most elegant shopping streets. Stand back and take in the building itself; it is worth a moment of appreciation before crossing over the bridge.
If you’d rather remain on this side, explore the streets towards the left, such as Borgo SS Apostoli. The shops along the river are also infinitely chic. On the other side of Piazza della Republicca, towards Santa Croce, you will find a scattering of boutiques worth the slow crawl through less appealing, touristy streets. A favorite is Bramada on Via del Proconsolo, a bellissima boutique with a high, wood-beamed ceiling, handmade pottery, clothing, home items, and Chianti cashmere. The staff is positively lovely. After a September visit, I went back in November on an awful rainy day. I was looking as dreary as the weather, but the darling saleswoman remembered me at first glance and greeted me with a warm hug. This is the place for one-off finds: each article of clothing is hand-sewn. There are beautiful cashmere items, jewelry, lamps, and decor items. Nearby Bramada, Sbigoli Terrecotte on Via san Egidio is an absolute find for handmade ceramics. The large space is divided between store and artisan workshop: there is no doubt that the pottery you see here is made in Florence. We picked out a collection of mugs, bowls, and espresso cups and had them shipped to the states.
As if you will be hard-pressed to find upscale men’s boutiques, here is another suggestion: Bernardo on Via Porta Rossa. It is a small store that packs a punch: from elegant sweaters and button down shirts to both dress and casual pants, the lovely man and woman who helped us find a whole new wardrobe were incredibly helpful and patient. They had fantastic taste and put countless outfits together in less than 30 minutes, no sweat involved. Their upscale clientele hails from both Firenze and Manhattan, but there is only one Bernardo in the world, and it is worth seeking out. After your man’s wardrobe is satisfactorily Florentine, head towards the river and walk along Lungarno Acciaiuoli, between Ponte Vecchio and Ponte Santa Trinita. There are quite a few vintage shops and beautiful leather stores.
If you are crossing over Ponte Santa Trinita, my favorite bridge, you are now in the Oltrarno, where the young local Florentines have aperitivi and find fabulous new restaurants, and where real estate is rapidly increasing in value. This is the age old left bank vs. right bank, downtown vs. uptown juxtaposition. It is not entirely black and white, but there is a distinctively different vibe in the Oltrarno, and I have to say that although I find many pockets of the centro magnificently chic, the Oltrarno has an energy and authenticity not as easily found on the other side of the river.
One of my favorite streets is Via di Santo Spirito. If you have just crossed over Ponte Santa Trinita, walk one short block to the intersection at via Maggio, the main street for antique shopping. Make a right on Via di Santo Spirito, a stretch of authenticita complete with painters at work at L’Ippogrifo, print artists at Studio Puck. Fiorile, the exceptional florist on the street, has a window display beautiful enough to photograph and hang in your home. A few steps forward on the right is one of my favorite restaurants: Olio & Convivium. They also have a small shop that sells gourmet foods. The perfect spot for an aperitivo is Il Santino, a warm and tiny Florentine eatery with incredible Florentine ambience thanks to its wood beam ceilings, beautiful marble countertop, salumi machine, trendy staff, and even trendier clientele. Next door, fashionable Il Santo Bevitore serves modern twists on Florentine classics.
Continue on Borgo San Jacopo for more Oltrarno-esque home decor stores until you start to feel you are reaching tourist-land. Via de’ Guicciardini is often absolutely loaded with tourists, but wait- a fabulous women’s clothing store is just at the start, closest to Palazzo Pitti. Tucked into the corner, this shop has some of the most stylish winter coats, as well as elegant printed wool and cashmere scarves, a few shoes mixed in, and a complete head to toe offering. The staff are, di solito, il migliore! (The best.) The prices are, di solito, far, far better for the high quality goods than one would find in the states. A few stores closer to Ponte Vecchio on the same side of the street is a phenomenal bag store hiding under a white awning: Umberto. It is very deep and has a wide selection of goods. Umberto has been in the same family for decades (we had the great pleasure of meeting Umberto himself), and the gentlemen who work there have incredible patience for the amount of tourists they interact with. Locals know that this is an excellent choice for beautiful Italian merchandise. Cut into a side street on the left to avoid the throngs,(you might come upon an atelier like the one seen below, where a gentleman was cutting and sewing vintage furs), and pop back out when you reach the Ponte Vecchio. You can’t leave Florence without cashmere lined gloves at Madova.
If you are feeling faint, continue on the street that runs parallel to the river to a small, local cafe on nearby Via de Bardi, next door to the Golden View restaurant. It has large glass windows and a white bar where locals grab their cafe in the morning, a panini or a salad in the afternoon, and a sweet treat when they need a pick-me-up. It is undoubtedly local, and if you would rather sit for a meal, you can take a seat looking out over the river in the back of the restaurant. At the end of this block, you will be back on the river Arno, where you can take a breather and enjoy the view from a far quieter vantage point.
*Addresses at the end
Parenti- Via dè Tornabuoni, 93
Procacci – Via dè Tornabuoni, 64r
Forno Top- Via della Spada, 23
Vranjes- Via della Spada, 9
Paola Tonali- Via della Vigna Nuova, 18
Sartoria Rossa- Via della Vigna Nuova, 51
Angela Caputi- Borgo Santi Apostoli, 42r
Benheart 2- Via della Vigna Nuova 97
Bramada- Via del Proconsolo, 12
Sbigoli Terrecotte- via San Egidio, 4/r
Bernardo- Via Porta Rossa
L’Ippogrifo- Via di Santo Spirito, 5r
Studio Puck- Via di Santo Spirito, 28r
Frame & Bust store at Via di Santo Spirito 32
Olio & Convivium- Via di Santo Spirito, 4
Madova- Via Dè Guicciardini, 1
Women’s clothing store with fabulous coats- Via De Guicciardini, 128
Umberto- Via Dè Guicciardini, 114
Il Santino – Via di Santo Spirito
Fiorile- Via di Santo Spirito, 26r