BEST INDEPENDENT SHOPS & CAFES

Arno River in Florence, Italy.  2 Perfect Days in Florence by Ciel & Lune Travel.

2 PERFECT DAYS IN FLORENCE

Everywhere I go, I search for the best independent shops and cafes. In this 2 Perfect Days in Florence mini guide, this is my focus.

Although I had been to Florence twice before, it was my third trip to this Renaissance city when I became enchanted. I discovered a city that over the centuries had beguiled many an artist, writer & traveler. A small, walkable city that after centuries is still bursting with chic independent shops, well-designed restaurants and inspiring design.

RECOGNIZING THE BEAUTY

My first two trips to Florence were the basic tourist trips, a few days to see and check off all of the beautiful sites on my list; the Duomo- check. The Pitti Palace- check. The Ponte Vecchio- check. And while most people I know absolutely love the city, I didn’t see the allure. To me, Rome was spectacular and had the beguiling classical architecture and vibrant personality that I loved and Venice was, well, Venice. Florence seemed to pale by comparison.

But on this latest two-day jaunt, I searched for independent shops– both old Italy and chic newcomers, and met some lovely people in the process. Yes, like on any trip one should see the architectural and artistic marvels, but once that’s done, there is another more personal side to explore: A city filled with inspiring and inspired artists, designers and restaurateurs. Now, I’m in love…

CONCEPT SHOPS

Yes, Florence has all of the usual luxury shops (YSL, Chloe, Celine, etc…), but it also has a small, but burgeoning selection of independently owned shops featuring local artists and artisans.

BJORK

It sounds Scandinavian, and does carry some Scandy brands, but this small concept store specializes in Florentine clothing and jewelry brands. It has a lovely curated selection of fashion books and magazines upstairs- don’t miss it!

* Art and fashion books, tasseled slides, classic, but edgy jewelry.

BRAC

It’s a bookstore, a wine shop and a café all set around a lovely courtyard tucked in a passageway near the Ufizzi Gallery. This is a nice place to stop for a coffee, snack or book when you’ve seen one too many beautiful works of art. This café has a hip, slightly alternative vibe to it.

* The best spot is through the colorful streamer bedecked courtyard and in the back bookroom where old books (for sale) line the walls floor to ceiling.

AQUAFLOR

(in Santa Croce, near Ufizzi Gallery)

Dark, moody and beautiful apothecary with subtly elegant scents. 1500 to choose from here, but nothing too strong or cloying. Everything here is artfully packaged- perfect as a nice gift for a friend- or a luxurious treat for yourself.

*After indulging in some shopping here, why not keep the party going? Walk a few steps down the alley for decadent gelato at Gelateria dei Neri (see a full review below).

IL PAPIRO

This Italian stationary and pen store has been an institution in Italy for decades. The store sells hand decorated paper inspired by traditional Tuscan artisans. It reintroduced the art of marbleizing paper and, if you are lucky, you just might see someone demonstrating how to make it in this studio/shop. The artists drop colors of ink in a tray of water. They swirl and twist the ink droplets until they make a beautiful, one-of-a-kind design and then gently place the paper on top. The paper absorbs the ink design. Each one is different and it’s awe-inspiring to witness the process. The paper can then be used to cover journals, books or other small paper goods.

*Hand-blown glass calligraphy pens & leather bound journals.

FOOD

IL SANTO BEVITORE

I wandered by this place and knew immediately it would be good. Little did I know it would become my favorite restaurant in Florence. Il Santo Bevitore is chic, but warm with home-style food and attentive service (we fell in love with our waiter, Michel).

  • For dinner: a nice, but not overwhelming selection of salads, freshly made pastas, and a few entrees topped off with delicious desserts. We shared:
  • Romaine salad with onions & raisins in a light vinaigrette
  • Pumpkin gnocchi that was the most delicate, soft, flavorful gnocchi of my life. I would eat this every single day, if I could.
  • Sea bream with leeks that had been braised to perfection.
  • Mascarpone with berries. Perfectly light and delicious.

For lunch: Again we shared our selections, which is the best way to get a taste of quite a few dishes… Spinach salad, spaghetti with mussels, swordfish & broccolini, and for dessert, a crisp biscotti with a frothy cappuccino. All of it delicious.

*Il Santo Bevitore encourages sharing dishes, this way you can taste a little of everything.

4 LEONI

This restaurant was a nostalgic choice- I had eaten here 2 trips before and loved it. This time the food was good, but not the caliber of Il Santo Bevitore. Traditional, home-style food. The outdoor seating is best- sometimes local musicians will play in the adjacent triangular patio. On a previous trip, a Peruvian band was playing and singing festive music. It made for a fun, lively night.

*4 Leoni (meaning 4 lions) sells a house brand olive oil.

IL SANTINO

The dimly lit little sister to Il Santo Bevitore is jam-packed with locals and a few tourists in the know. This is a great place for a sip of wine, a generous cheese and meat platter to share, or, as in our case, a lasagnetto (lasagna in the shape of a quiche) filled with mild cheese, rich bolognese sauce (a specialty of this region), and ribbons of delicate hand-made pasta. We had good intentions of having dinner afterwards, but were pleasantly full. Well, stuffed really, AND we had to save a tiny bit of room for another gelato, of course!

*This is considered to be the best aperitivo wine bar in Florence, so the wait is sometimes long. Go a little early to get a table or seat.

PROCACCI

A nice wine bar/gourmet shop, this is the place to see and be seen on exclusive Via Tornabuoni (neighbors of Chloe, YSL and the like).
A much sought-after high-top table is the prize to watch the well-heeled locals wind down. Known for its wine & meat/cheese/truffle honey platter.

*Buy high-quality gifts for your foodie friends here. The balsamic vinegar in vintage-style ink bottles is stunning.

CAFE MAIOLI

If we hadn’t been starving and in need of a break from the throngs of tourists that we had crossed the Ponte Vecchio with, we wouldn’t have stopped in this cafe. The chocolate-dipped biscotti and frazzled nerves called us in and we are so glad. This place is touristy, but it’s a great place for a snack.

Either get the biscotti and a coffee “to go” or go upstairs by the window and watch the herds of travelers below while you happily munch on chocolatey biscotti and/or Nutella-filled cookies. The treats here are so good, we made the trek both days.

*The chocolate-dipped biscotti is A+ here.

GELATO, OF COURSE

We wanted to try every gelato shop in Florence, but we only had two days, so we suffered and only tried the two that everyone rants and raves about and claims are “the best.” Here is what we thought of both…

LA CARRAIA

A pastel-hued shop with huge servings of creamy gelato in a choice of pastel-colored cones (or if you are a traditionalist, regular cones). This gelato is often touted as “the best” gelato in Florence. My daughter agreed, but as is the case in most families, we were a house divided…

GELATERIA DEI NERI

“The best” for me was this old school gelateria. The scoops here are smaller, the lines frustratingly crowded, and the décor not too special, but the gelato was stupendous. The Nocciola (Nutella) gelato and Creme Caramel were so decadently rich, I was in gelato heaven- a stupor, bliss, sugar coma. This gelato felt and tasted sinful- in the best way possible.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Gelato, of course, helps make 2 Perfect Days in Florence well, perfect. In fact, it makes any place perfect, don’t you think? If you love gelato and are traveling to Venice, don’t miss this post.

Please let me know your thoughts about our 2 Perfect Days in Florence mini guide. For more mini guides see our Rome Guide and Venice Guide.

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