There’s a small town near Florence, called Montelupo, boasting a pottery tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. Handmade reproductions of robbiane (Renaissance-style glazed terracotta) from Florence, making for a wonderful present with a touch of Italian artistic charm, can be found at La Botteghina (Via Guelfa, 5/R). This very small shop carries a stock of plates, jars, pots, bowls, carafes and other lead-free, dishwasher-proof earthenware, some of which are also usable in the oven, made by several local artists specialized either in contemporary design or reproducing 13th century patterns.
Montelupo’s design is particularly traditional and rustic, while Deruta’s patterns (also displayed at La Botteghina’s) are more geometric, elaborate and extremely colored. Prices for a medium size pot start at 12 euros (35 euros for a larger one), while the biggest Montelupo or Deruta plate can cost up to 250 euros, and a mediums-size jar - between 50 and 90 euros, depending on the design. La Botteghina is open on Mondays from 3 to 7 pm and Tue-Sat, 9 am-7 pm.
Ceramics jars are also the gifts worth considering. Check out the Ceramiche d’Arte gallery, located in Galleria Ponte Vecchio (entrance from Via De’ Guicciardini, 104/R), whose beautiful hand-painted jars are true masterpieces. Featuring Tuscan landscapes, Chianti hills and their cypresses, fruits and flowers, these jars are ideally designed for storing biscuits, flour, pasta or rice, whilst giving your kitchen the traditional Italian flavor. Prices vary between 45 and 250 euros, depending on the jar designs and sizes. The gallery is open daily from 9 am to 7 pm.
2. Leather Gloves
The clothes you wear reveal details about your personality, accessories give hints on your character, but gloves speak volumes about your style. Madova leather gloves are synonymous with elegance. Style, quality and craftsmanship distinguish this very well-known Florentine glove brand all over the world. The Madova gloves are made of kidskin, lambskin, nubuck calf leather, lined in cashmere, silk, rabbit, lamb or merino sheep wool, or unlined and come in a wide variety of colors. Designed both for men and women, these gloves are made to perfectly fit everyone’s hand. When new, they must be tight and perfect in length, but not to worry - at Madova, they can find an ideal fit after just a single glance at one's hand. Prices start at 35 euros for the most plain models, and reach up to 200 euros for the most sophisticated and elaborate ones.
The Madova store is located at Via De’ Guicciardini 1/R. It is open Mon, Tue, and Sat from 9.30 am to 7.30 pm, and Wed, Thu, Fri from 10.30 am to 7 pm; it is closed on Sundays.
3. Jewels and Gold
Fine Italian handcrafted gold jewelry is, without doubt, amongst the most exclusive and sought-after articles purchased on trips to the Tuscan capital. Gold in Italy (and most of Europe) is 18 K, versus 10 to 14 K found elsewhere, which justifies a relatively higher price for these lifetime souvenirs. High quality and one-of-a-kind items are especially sold in the most famous gold district in town, Ponte Vecchio, which is literally the oldest bridge over the Arno river, where historic gold shops have been operating since the 12th century. Rings, necklaces, bracelets, pendants, earrings and wedding bands bought here will always remind you of this priceless experience through a truly unique precious object. Depending on the stones, the amount of gold used and the design, prices vary considerably, but be aware that for about 100 euros you can buy a nice ring or a cute pendant and, should you buy two (or more) articles, some retailers may offer you a special discount. Shops on Ponte Vecchio open daily from 9 am to 7 pm. A few close on Sunday, but it depends on variable work shifts.
4. Decorative Plates
Since the 1950s, Ceramiche Ricceri has been the name directly associated with handmade pottery, especially, the art of creating wonderful pots and plates, depicting Florentine Renaissance art, dating back to the 16th century. Pursuant to the Florentine artistic tradition and taste, the company has been continuously conducting creativity research, always looking for humidity and shock-resistant materials. Holders, lamp bases, jugs, umbrella stands and centerpieces are just the few examples of the pottery they make, but ornamental plates are certainly their true masterpieces. Painted with fruits or flowers, immediately recalling Tuscany (e.g. sunflowers), these plates stand out for their artistic splendor, a result of collaboration between Ricceri and many expert decorators. Entirely painted and shaped by hand, these decorated ceramics reveal the quality and taste of Florentine “master potters”. The Ricceri plates can cost up to 350 euros each, depending on the painted motif. The Ceramiche Ricceri store is located at Via Dei Conti, 14/R and operates Mon 3-7 pm and Tue-Sat 9.30 am-7.00 pm.
5. Florentine Chocolate
Chocolate in Florence is synonymous with Andrea Bianchini. His chocolate workshop (La Bottega del Cioccolato, at Via De’ Macci, 50) makes some of the finest chocolate seductions in town. Amongst his pralines, the “dark chocolate and saffron” one has literally conquered the most delicate palates: just give it a single bite and you’ll immediately find yourself addicted. Other specialties include the “olive oil and vanilla” praline and the coming “marshmallow”, testifying to Bianchini’s passion for always experimenting with new tastes. The cost for an 80-praline box is about 80 euros. Chocolate bars are also a must at Bianchini’s. Made with equatorial cacao, paprika, cardamom, allspice and Norman salt, the dark chocolate is a true flavor explosion, while the white chocolate - flavored with matcha green tea - is an authentic mixture of cultures. Pricing for a single bar varies between 3.80 and 4.50 euros. Cocoa powder is another possible present you may want to get and share with your family back home, transformed into steaming-hot chocolate cups. You can buy it at 7 euros. La Bottega del Cioccolato is open Mon to Sat (9 am-1 pm), but you can also find Bianchini products at Galanti’s (in Piazza della Libertà), Mon-Sat from 8.30 am to 8 pm (closed Sat afternoon, May through October).
6. GABS Leather Variable-Shape Bags
GABS means color, transformation, versatility and lots of fun. Suppose you need a bag for your daily shopping, but would very much like to take it with you to a romantic dinner afterwards. Thanks to these variable-shape Florentine bags, which can be big enough to contain the items you buy during the day and small enough to be taken to a restaurant, size is not a matter anymore. But GABS is not only synonymous with practicality. Behind the GABS bags is a philosophy: people buying a GABS bag smile, they perceive the positive feeling derived from the motto of their inventor, Franco Gabbrielli, which says “don’t worry, be Gabs”. These handbags’ quality stems from the ancient Florentine passion for detail and handy leather craftsmanship, while their trendy neo-traditional changing shapes draw the attention of the most avid fashion addicts. What’s more, at GABS you can also buy a “do-it-yourself” bag, that is a complete set of ready fabric and leather pieces, including pockets, thread and needle, lining and studs, to make your own personal and unique bag. GABS shops are located at Via Sant’Egidio, 9/R and Via del Parione 35a/R, and are open Mon 3-7.30 pm, and Tue-Sat from 10.30 am to 1.30 pm and from 2.30 to 7.30 pm. Pricing starts at 90 euros, with a medium-size bag costing around 130 euros; the prices vary according to the size and the number of shapes a bag can be turned into).
7. Bemer’s Shoes
Bemer’s brochure states, “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.” After you exit Stefano Bemer’s shop, having spent there at least 1,000 euros on your brand new shoes, you will feel like having purchased an eternal present. Prototypes for the ready-to-wear models cost between 1,000 and 2,500 euros, depending on skin and stitching, but when it comes to bespoke shoes, prices vary considerably. It takes up to 45 hours of work and at least two fittings to produce a bespoke pair of Bemer shoes, with the price being about 3,000 euros for the first pair and almost 2,800 euros for the subsequent ones. Men’s made-to-measure and prêt-à-porter footwear, combining classic designs with a modern flair, have made Bemer’s small workshop (at Borgo San Frediano, 69) a very well-patronized boutique and Stefano Bemer’s name widely recognized as one of the five main shoemakers in Europe, known for their quality and expertise in manufacturing real made-to-measure footwear. Bemer selects only top quality leather obtained from the animals died from natural causes or culled to reduce population (e.g. in African natural reserves). All materials he uses are anti-allergenic and non-synthetic.
Shoes made this way need to be carefully preserved and Stefano Bemer provides his customers with exclusive shoe wax, customized wooden shoe trees to keep the shoes shape unaltered, and special bags to protect the shoes when not in use. His showroom is found at Via di S. Niccolò, 2, and is open Mon from 3 to 7 pm and Tue-Sat, from 9.30 am to 7 pm.
8. Refined Scents, Exquisite Liquers, Soap Bars
In Italy, we’re used to thinking that pharmacy is a place to buy medicine. Well, in Florence it's a different kind of institution, well worth visiting, especially if you’re not ill. Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella (aka Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella) is the oldest continuously-operating pharmacy in Europe. Throughout history, it has made great perfumes, delicious and rare home-distilled liqueurs, beauty creams, soaps, satchels of potpourri and even a remedy for fainting, all of which come in Art-Deco, Gothic-lettered packaging. Refined scents include one for women, called “Angels of Florence” (80 euros the 100 ml bottle). This fragrance was launched in 2006 to honor the 40th anniversary of the Arno river flood that destroyed numerous cultural works in Florence, including close to a million books in the Biblioteca Nazionale. This perfume’s name was kept in English as dedicated to the so-called “angels of mud”, hundreds of young foreigners who came to Florence to help rescue victims and save the city’s cultural heritage. Should you be looking for some exquisite liqueurs, try instead “Elisir di rose”, whose original rose flavor makes its taste extremely delicate, as well as “Alkermes”, a highly alcoholic Florentine liqueur, red in color and reputed to have been a secret recipe of the Medici family, which is nowadays specifically used to make “zuppa inglese”, a very typical Italian dessert. Pricing starts at 17.50 euros for the smallest bottle (100 ml). If you’re intended to buy soap bars, you will be spoiled for choice, as they come in tens of possible scents and packagings. Pomegranate or milk single bars (200 gr. each) cost 12 euros. The Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella’s products are amongst the most wanted original presents you may bring home from Florence. Open daily from 9.30 am to 7.30 pm, the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella is found at Via Della Scala, 16.
9. Passamaneria Toscana Textiles
Specializing in brocade textiles with a classical Florentine style, this one-of-a-kind shop is heavily laden with tassels, pillowcases, trimmings, bed covers, wall hangings, table runners and other original luxury goods of elaborate designs. Generally made of silk and woven with gold and silver threads, or ornamented with raised flowers and foliage, the Florentine brocade specifically carries the Florentine Lily, a distinctive image, particularly appreciated on pillowcases, bags and glass cases made at Passamaneria Toscana’s and inevitably adding some “bourgeois” touch to the interior.
Medium-size pillowcases are about 40 euros, bags cost around 35-40 euros and glass cases - 20 euros.
Passamaneria Toscana is found in Piazza San Lorenzo and open Mon 3-7 pm and Tue-Sat from 9.30 am to 7.30 pm.
10. Fashion Raincoats
Being stylish, even in bad weather, is not a problem thanks to the most elegant Italian-made Allegri raincoats. This Florentine brand is synonymous with quality and original trends, combining elegance with a high-level technical content. Their hi-tech fabrics are, in fact, the latest result of a research in and experimentation with new waterproof materials that have been conducted for years, putting technology at the service of fashion which, together with their attention to detail, contributed to making Allegri a very innovative brand, fit to redefine the very concept of a “raincoat”. Men’s raincoats cost around 400 euros, while female models are up to 550-600 euros apiece. The shop, located at Via Tornabuoni 72/R, is open Mon from 3 to 7 pm and Tue-Sat 10 am-7 pm. It is closed on Sunday.
11. Panerai Watches
Swiss are known for their precision, but when it comes to design, Italians are unbeatable. Styled in Italian tradition, paired with Swiss technology, Panerai wristwatches are simply perfect. They have been referred to as "art in motion", a definitely apt quotation, as they’re known for their precision, quality and the luxury they literally radiate, which makes them unique. Panerai’s precious lines are the “classic” Radiomir, which became famous thanks to its clock-face, whose underwater clearness made it perfect for divers of the Italian Navy, and the “alternative” Luminor, generally chosen by younger and sporting customers, sometimes even ladies. Retailers may only receive a few limited edition pieces per year each and there are long waiting lists for popular models. In store pricing hardly starts below 3,000 euros and these top-quality watches include models costing up to 15 or even 20 thousand euros, depending on the metals and stones used; sometimes, especially for ancient masterpieces, price is based on collectors’ evaluations, but as a matter of fact, if you want to be noticed, Panerai is the key. Panerai’s boutique in Florence (their very first boutique) is called “Bottega Panerai” and located at Piazza San Giovanni 16/R, in the historic building of Palazzo Arcivescovile; open Mon 3-7 pm and Tue-Sat 9.30 am to 7 pm.
12. Florence Leather Gifts
In Florence, leather manufacture has a centuries-long tradition and, at Frizzoni’s, leather is still tanned the old Florentine way, putting wet leather on special wooden molds until it gets dry, then manually coloring it and treating it with pure bee wax. Many original items are manufactured as special gifts at Frizzoni’s, from caskets to frames to pillboxes to jewelry cases. Leather pillboxes, coming in different shapes, have an average cost of 25 euros (40 euros, if decorated in silver), while jewelry cases, another most wanted present at Frizzoni’s, cost up to 550 euros; but the price can vary, according to dimensions and refinement (e.g. suede lining and inside removable trays contribute to the price rise). The Frizzoni store is located at Via Por Santa Maria, 62/R and open daily from 9 am to 7 pm.
13. Mosaic Tiles
Florentine mosaic history is fascinating and the Lastrucci family is part of it. Usually, when you think of a mosaic, a combination of tiles of various colors, generally square, forming a figure, comes to mind.
The most classic examples of this are the floors of Roman villas and Byzantine mosaics. Florentine mosaic differs greatly from these beautiful forms of decoration, taking on the characteristics of a “painting in stone”. This is a composition of pieces whose shape is mainly determined by the natural hues of the stones themselves and finding the nuances that every stone offers is the most difficult part in artistic mosaic production. “Florentine commesso” is a particular kind of mosaic, made of pietra dura (literally, “hard stone”) and semi-precious stones, developed in Florence during the 16th century. The Medici family were great supporters of this new form of art, combining characteristics of the traditional Romanesque mosaic (distinguishing itself by the use of micro-tiles) and the difficulty and beauty of inlaying stones to create works of art similar to paintings. Masters Bruno and Jacopo Lastrucci were able to maximize the realism in mosaic art by taking the human form in stone to perfection, thus filling a long-standing gap in the evolution of mosaic art. One of Bruno’s most charismatic masterpieces, the portrait of J.F. Lizzadro, is exhibited at the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, in Elmhurst, near Chicago. Their workshop, located at Via De’ Macci, 9, is also a museum with a private collection in which some of the authentic unique masterworks are priceless. Besides the creation of “stone paintings”, Lastrucci’s “Florentine commesso” is also used in jewelry (to make pendants or earrings, for example), in table or other furniture decorations, and can be applied to precious jewels cases. Its perfection, requiring several months of work, comes from the use of original Tuscan stones and the ability of the masters to put them together, as if they were all part of a unique rock, and then polish to create masterpieces so much resistant to be eternal. Pricing for a small Lastrucci mosaic starts at around 300 euros (wall tiles depicting contemporary subjects). Their workshop museum is open Tue-Sat from 10 am to 6 pm, but call first (tel. 055 241653) if you want to take advantage of an exclusive guided tour.
14. Florentine Olive Oil
Considered an Italian gastronomic excellence, Tuscan olive oil is a gift not to be missed, when visiting Florence. Try and see for yourself. Reach Stefano Conti’s stand in San Lorenzo Market (Via Signa, 300), where you can find a number of olive oil types of different prices, and spot the one you want to buy! Stefano Conti’s products are wholesome and, every season, the produced oil changes, depending on the olives harvested: inland cultivations follow different cycles, compared to the coastal ones, and, of course, tastes are completely different. Do not hesitate to ask for suggestions directly to the Conti family; they’ll be more than happy to transfer all their knowledge on how to use olive oil in cookery, providing you with original recipes from the Tuscan and Italian tradition. A 75 ml can costs around 7.50 euros, while an “extra vergine” oil starts at 9 euros a bottle. Stefano Conti’s stand follows the Mercato di San Lorenzo opening times and is, therefore, closed on Sundays and Mondays. Tue-Sat it is open from 9 am to 7 pm.
15. Fiorentina FC Merchandise
Florentine people are very fond of their city and its traditions, amongst which Fiorentina football club holds a privileged place. Therefore, when in Florence, don’t forget to buy Fiorentina’s merchandise to show affection that you feel (if you feel it, of course) for the club and wear something “purple” to demonstrate you perfectly got into the Florentine spirit. To afford an original T-shirt of one of Fiorentina’s football players, you’ll need 60 to 90 euros, but you can also choose an “anonymous”, but still official, T-Shirt at 75 euros. Other items you may want to consider as original Fiorentina gifts are umbrellas (15 to 23 euros, depending on size), scarves (15 euros), flags (11 euros), mugs (8 euros), hats (13 to 15 euros) or key rings (11 euros). You can find them all at Alé Viola (Via del Corso, 58/R) or at Viola Point (Via Mameli 2b). The stores are open Mon 3-7.30 pm, and Tue-Sat from 10.30 am to 1.30 pm and from 2.30 to 7.30 pm.
The world’s oldest photographic firm, Archivio Alinari, since founded in 1852, has amassed an archive of some 3.5 million photographs, ranging from daguerreotypes to digital images. The archives are open to the public (all days but Wed, from 10 am to 7.30 pm), and you can still order prints of the original photographs whose subjects vary from ancient Italian views to children and toys representations, from fashion history to art and architecture, from sports to the evolution of jobs. The Alinari photographs are contact-printed or enlarged from the original glassplate negatives, housed in the historic archive, through the same manual technique of reproduction used during the 19th century, allowing the realization of remarkably sharp images of any size. Prints sizes can reach 70 x 100 cm (27.56' x 39.37') or, upon request, can be realized in mural size. All prints are black and white, or turned to sepia, and come on special photographic paper, framed in elegant passepartout, or mounted on wooden frames, to make them absolutely prestigious presents. Medium-size reproductions of Italian ancient views cost around 33 euros, but larger prints, coming from famous photographers whose glassplate negatives belong to the archive, can cost up to 250 euros.