Archive for the ‘Shopping in Italy’ Category

San Lorenzo Church and Market

San Lorenzo, the church of the Medici family, stands a few blocks from the city’s cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori. The large dome of the Chapel of the Princes (burial place of the Dukes of Tuscany and final resting place of the Duke of Urbino and Lorenzo de Medici) is second only to that of the cathedral.

Surrounding San Lorenzo are hundreds of stalls where goods of every description and quality are sold. These are the infamous ‘shops’ of the San Lorenzo Straw Market. Mercato Nuovo, a huge modern building that houses the freshest of Italian products, stands in sharp architectural contrast to the stark facade of the nearby church.

Travelers are often curious about all the rumors, numerous and rampant, that have surrounded the ‘mystery’ of shopping at the straw market. My advice for anything you might wish to buy from any of the vendors? Start your bargaining at 50 percent of the asking price. While it may seem a steep discount, rest assured that these sellers do just fine.

Unlike the vendors who sell jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio, where you cannot bargain or negotiate, the Market at San Lorenzo is a bargain shoppers paradise.

Once the bargaining begins you at least have the attention of the vendor. Over the past six years, people selling goods are increasingly from Russia, Poland, Hungary . . . so accents change even in the center of Florence. What all of them want, however, is a sale. Some examples of what you will find in the market: Leather Goods, Scarves, silk ties, ceramic pieces (many made in China, by the way), used pants and shirts (clean, surplus goods), shoes and a plethora of other items.

An example of a successful transaction, made on behalf of a client who was traveling with me last year.

The item desired? A deep lavender colored handbag. I began.

“What? You offer me half what I want? No way.”

I begin to walk away. The man picks up the leather bag and follows me.

“Wait, Mister! You give me 75, I agree.” I wave behind me and  continue to walk away. He’s next to me. “Okay, Mister. Okay. You offer 60, I take 65. Deal?”

I smile and shake his hand. We walk back to the stall, seek shade from the blistering July sun, and close the deal.Some other tips to help you

San Lorenzo Stalls

along the way as you shop in this area of Florence:

  • Look along the sidewalks behind the stalls. There are many shops offering products from silk Italian fabric to leather coats. Since these shops are out of the view of most shoppers, the owners are often more flexible in negotiating a great price for you.
  • Go late in the day. If you can arrange to be in the market at the hottest part of the day, after 5:ooPM or so, you will find the vendors more willing to negotiate. It is the end of their selling day and they want to move product.
  • WATCH YOUR STUFF! This is a very crowded and confusing area of Florence. Often, people lose focus on their personal items when fascinated with a particular article. This is a reminder to be careful.
  • Customs Duty: This is only a concern if you buy one item at any shop that has a value in excess of $168.00 US equivalent. You must ask for a VAT refund form – to make sure that the vendor is legitimate. If they refuse to give you the VAT form? Walk. No need to further complicate your departure from Italy while trying to explain an expensive item you purchased while visiting.

Shoes along Borgo San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo Market


San Lorenzo Market

Vicinity of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in the center of Florence

Hours – generally – 9:00AM to 7:00PM (Summer), 9:30AM – 6:00PM (Winter)

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The region of Emilia-Romagna is one of only a few provinces in Italy that does not touch the sea.What the region may lack in that access, it more than makes up for in the diversity and quality of its artisan products and meals. This is the heart of Italy’s very best food.  The centrally located provincial capital, Bologna, is easily reached in only forty-fives minutes by train from Florence. In addition to being home to the oldest university in Italy, the city also offers unforgettable architecture, fascinating history and the most delicious food in all of Italy.

If you wish to understand the production of this region’s best products, you need look no further than Emilia-Delizia. (http://www.guided-tours-italy.com/). Gabriele Monti and his staff provide exceptional service and offer a wide array of tours and tastings to satisfy the most demanding ‘foodies’ in the world.

Our clients have enjoyed spending the day with Sabrina, one of the guides who works with Gabriele, on several tours to this region. Sabrina arranged the following schedule, one which you can easily follow on your own. I do highly recommend, however, arranging for a private guide and car. Your insured and bonded guide from Emilia-Delizia will also offer to join you in your rental car to assist in getting around to these various locations.

We drove to the city of Parma about a forty-five minute drive north west of Bologna. After meeting Sabrina, we visited one of the finest producers of Parmigiano Reggiano in Italy-Consorzio produttori latte (C.p.l. Parma) (www.cplparma.it), located on the outskirts of that city. Sabrina easily explained the initial process of creating the cheese. It was not, however, until we entered the aging storage shelves in the rear of the building that we came to truly understand both the time involved in the aging of the cheese, but also the immense value of the product. Each wheel is valued at over Euro 800 and there were more than 800 such wheels in the warehouse. We followed our visit with a tasting of their cheeses. The true Reggiano had a sharp, almost vinegar ‘tang’, on the palate. The texture was dense but not heavy at all.

(Remember that you cannot bring food products back to the United States unless they are plastic sealed and have the commercial designation of the product on the container. Unless you wish to enjoy the cheese while you are in Italy, I recommend buying your Parmigiano at home.)

From the producer of cheeses, Sabrina brought us up into the hills above Parma to Salumificio “La Perla”(The Pearl).  (www.salumificiolaperla.it ). For over twenty years, brothers Carlo and Fabrizio Lanfranchi have been producing what is acknowledged as the finest dried Parma ham (prosciutto) in the region. Our drive from the cheese producer took about forty minutes.

Located near the top of a lovely hill, the family’s estate consists of a ham aging warehouse below a large restaurant. After an introduction to the receiving, preparation and aging of the hams, we were lead upstairs for lunch. The food was unforgettable:  a selection of their best prosciutto di Parma followed by several dishes of Tortellini in Brodo (freshly made pasts lightly covered in a broth of butter and sage). Dessert was a tray with various types of sweets produced in their immaculately clean kitchen. Wines, both white and red, along with ample fresh water, accompanied our meal. Coffee was available as desserts were presented.

Well satiated, we left La Perla behind and headed to one of the finest producers of Balsamic vinegar in Italy, Medici. (www.acetaiamedici.it). An acetaia, in Italian, is where balsamic vinegar is aged. As with all artisan products produced in Italy, the quality control of the process for producing aged balsamic is tightly controlled.

All vinegars that carry the Balsamico di Modena certification are aged a minimum of twelve years. In the case of the Medici acetaia, there are three levels of production: Red (18 years), Silver (25 years) and Gold (30 years). Signora Medici introduced us to the initial process of creating the vinegar. We visited the upstairs  room where the barrels rested. As with all such acetaias, this was located in a high room where heat can rise and keep the room at a reasonably warm temperature, even in the coldest months of the year.

All barrels have a small opening at the top. Across each opening is a simple linen cloth cover. This is a labor intensive, and loving, process. Each year, product is moved from barrel to barrel as the liquid evaporates. As the product ages, the level of liquid is reduced to a precious small amount. Different types of wood (cherry, oak, juniper, apple to chestnut) provide unique flavors and aromas to the balsamic.

Signora Medici offered everyone a sample of their products. The dark vinegar is as thick as syrup, luscious on the tongue,  further supplemented by sweet aromas. As we savored the “Red” level to “Gold”, the flavors became richer, more diverse and extraordinarily more complex. Once you have the original, you can never go back.

The Medici family also produce an array of wonderful wines and, for those interested, tastings can be arranged.

After bidding farewell to Sabrina, we headed back to our hotel in Bologna, the Hotel Porta San Mamolo (www.hotel-portasanmamolo.it/). This property is consistently rated one of the best hotels in the city. Located on the south perimieter of the medieval city walls  at the San Mamolo gate (hence the property’s name) the staff are extraordinarily courteous and accommodating. The rooms are comfortably spacious and the breakfast buffet each morning more than adequate.

All told, our day in Emilia Romagna barely even began to satisfy our craving for the incredible produce of the region. Yet, all was easily accomplished with the guidance of Sabrina and the support of the staff at Emilia-Delizia. If you are headed from Florence to Venice, or vice-verse, give yourself the gift of visiting this extraordinary, and little known, region of Italia.

As we headed north to Vicenza, the next stop on our tour, we vowed to return – and soon!



Contact: Gabriele Monti



Hotel Porta San Mamolo, Bologna:

Vicolo del Falcone, 6/8

40124 Bologna, Italia

Telefono. +39 051.583056

Fax +39 051.331739


 Consorzio Produttori Latte Parma: (C.p.l. Parma)

 Call ahead for open hours for visits


Spaccio baganzolino: Via Puppiola,15 43122 Parma – Tel. 0521.601313 Fax.0521.603742

Spaccio orario continuato: Via Casello Poldi, 7- Tel. 0521.272965

Salumificio La Perla:

Call head for lunch reservations to assure you of a table and guided visit.

SALUMIFICIO “LA PERLA” di Lanfranchi Carlo e Fabrizio S.n.c.

Localita’ Quinzano sotto, 3 – 43013 Langhirano (PARMA)

E-mail: info@salumificiolaperla.it

Telephone and Fax: +39 0521 853572

 Acetaia Medici, Tenuta Rampata:

 Call ahead for hours:


Strada per S.Ilario, 68

42027 Montecchio Emilia (RE) – Italia

Tel. 0522/942135

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Welcome to the world of Private Italy Tours LTD

The goal of our journeys is to expose travelers to the exceptional heart of this stunning country. Clients have time to explore and relax on their own; in Florence and the hill towns of Tuscany, afloat on the canals and lagoons in Venice, along the narrow streets of villages in Umbria, amidst the Roman ruins in and around Rome, while driving along the spectacular Amalfi Coast, or exploring the beautiful remains of Greek and Roman civilizations in Sicily.

Most importantly you will meet the people of Italy – the true heart of the country. We bring Italy to YOU!

We know you love Italy; come see it through our eyes.

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