Ahh, retail therapy. I love to shop. In Italy, I call it research and it turns my seemingly frivolous spree into a hard day’s work. I am always on the lookout, but not for what you would expect. Of course I love window shopping on Via Condotti in Rome and Via Tornabuoni in Florence. The haute couture boutiques are exquisite and drool worthy. But when I am going to purchase something, I look for small, out of the way places. Little local boutiques that can’t also be found on Fifth Avenue in New York. Places where I can purchase something that truly brings Italy back to me when I am home and fully ensconced in my suburban soccer mom life. Yes, I may be inundated with PTO meeting minutes, soccer schedules and meatloaf dinners but I am rocking some kick ass shoes from Tuscany so all is right with the world. What speaks to you will be different and completely personal but believe me, something will speak to you. That being said, here is a short, not so comprehensive and somewhat bizzare list of some of my favorite things that I have brought home over the years. I chose these items because they are must haves every time I return to Italy. I restock, replenish or enhance my collection.
Amalfi Coast – Capri
Canfora – ok, this is hardly off the beaten path and undiscovered but it had to make it on to my list. Handmade sandals in 4 hours. Handmade for you! Meaning they measure your foot and all its “uniqueness”. I for one have very long second toe that has been the topic of conversation with my husband for the better part of our marriage. But with Canfora no problem. My toe is perfectly accommodated and there is no risk of it flopping over the top of my sandals. Color choices, embellishments, heel size. Everything is custom. You can order them online at www.canfora.com. But you won’t get them in four hours. And you won’t be in Capri.
Carthusia – I have thing for scents. There is nothing I love more than walking into a room and being graced with a lovely aroma. I don’t like overly sweet, flowery scents. Something pure and clean is my preference. Enter Carthusia, the perfume maker in Capri who also makes home fragrances. Via Camerelle is my favorite scent. I find it intoxicating and it can even transform a bathroom occupied by three children and a dog who prefers the toilet bowl to her water bowl. Every time I smell Via Camerelle it is like I am transported to the beautiful island.
V. Pinto (Vietri sul Mare)
I think that ceramics are a must have for anyone who would like Italy in her everyday life. I have never been in a position to splurge for an entire sets of dinnerware but a small plate or mug inevitably makes its way into my suitcase on every trip to Italy. They are wonderful memories of where I have been as the designs vary from place to place. You can find fabulous patterns in Tuscany (Deruta), Umbria, Sicily and of course, the Amalfi Coast. The tiny hamlet of Vietri sul Mare is most known for its earthenware and V. Pinto is probably my favorite, and the oldest, shop in town. One simple plate can transform a wall. Or buy a mug with your favorite pattern and every morning coffee will transport you to Italy.
You all know that Florence is known for its jewelry. Gold shops line the Ponte Vecchio and you can find virutally anything you desire in gold. I skip the Ponte Vecchio altogether and head straight for Gabriella Nanni’s workshop. She makes magnificent one of a kind pieces in silver using shells and stone (like the ring shown above). The designs are modern and unique and I love the postage size stamp of a store. You can find Gabriella’s shop on Via Lambertesca, between the Ponte Vecchio and the straw market with the bronze boar statue.
Laura Marcucci (San Casciano Val di Pesa)
This shoe store is located in a small town about 20 minutes outside of Florence. I was staying in a villa nearby and happened upon it while on my way to dinner one evening. They were ten minutes from closing but the saleswoman could not have been more gracious and did not balk when I asked to try on five different pairs of shoes. I settled on a pair of beige flats with dark brown velvet bows and fur lining. They are fabulous as we all of the unique offerings in the store. Everytime I am in the area I go see the latest at Marcucci.
Santa Maria Novella – Via della Scala n. 16
Again, scents. Just walking into this 400 year old building is an experience. Immediately you are met with the most intoxicating aroma that somehow washes away any stress you might have after having dodged mopeds and fought your way through the leather market of Florence. Their face and body products are divine but I am obsessed with the Estate (Summer) room spray. It is not inexpensive but it lasts forever as one short spray will perfume your living space nicely.
Conti Confettiera (Via Pallacorda 12 in Rome and throughout Italy)
I intentionally left foodstuffs off my list because that is a whole other post but I did want to include Conti Confettiera because it is a completely different experience. This is a store dedicated to confetti – the little almonds given at favors at weddings, parties, baptisms etc. Their displays are gorgeous and they have expanded far beyond the almond to all sorts of delightful bite size colored treats. To hold the confections, they have a vast array of brightly hued boxes from simple to absolutely elegant. You can personalize your own box with a selection of treats all wrapped in a gorgeous satin ribbon. It makes a perfect little gift. These almonds are my mom’s absolute favorite so it is an obligatory stop on my itinerary.
Hands down Italy has the best tights in the world. They have shops like Calzedonia and Golden Point dedicated exclusively to foot and leg coverings. They are always ahead of the curve in terms of trends and I stock up each and every time find myself in Italy. But my favorite place to buy tights is at the mom and pop stores that sell socks, bras, underwear, smocks for the school children, aprons and other random things. You do not pick your own goods. Go to the counter, explain what you would like, the saleswoman looks you up and down and then finds a box behind the counter containing what you requested. There are vast selections of socks, patterned knee highs, tights with gorgeous geometric designs, fishnets in every color. If you go to one of these stores (my favorite is on a corner of the Campo dei Fiori) don’t expect fancy. They are often barebones and basic but I find the quality of the products to be exceptional. If you do go and inquire about a bra, be warned. In order to get your bra size, you will be felt up by an old Italian woman. Don’t ask me how I know this.
In November I will be coming out with a comprehensive shopper’s guide to Florence. It will include some off the beaten path stores and a variety of categories – something for everyone. It will be available for download on the website so you can have it in hand for your 2015 trip. If you don’t currently receive our email announcements, sign up now so that you can be one of the first to know when the guide is ready.
If you know someone who loves the Italian lifestyle and culture as much as I do, share this blog with them so they can immerse themselves in la dolce vita. They will thank you for it and so will we!