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Tuscany's Top 40: The Ultimate Shoppers' Guide

It's hard to live in Italy for 15 years without fine-tuning your shopping antennae. And for true hunter-gatherers (like me), Tuscany is the country's most irresistible destination. Over the years, memorable purchases have included a loosely woven fishing basket, created by an old man who had collected the reeds that morning on the shore, and a hand-stitched leather clutch that was finished while I watched. There have also been disasters, like the to-die-for designer sandals sitting in my closet (even a glance gives me blisters) and the discounted, vintage leather Prada briefcase I didn't buy (I still harbor the deepest regrets). Whether your guiding light is gluttony or glamour, Tuscany is a happy hunting ground, where a plethora of craftspeople and food producers—and some of Italy's top fashion houses—are based. After years of extensive research (hitting every boutique and workshop, convincing my friends to spill their secrets), my little black book is brimming with addresses. Most of the essential stores are in the provinces of Firenze, Siena, and Arezzo, though other destinations (Lucca for antiques, Bolgheri for wine) are well worth a visit. Below, 40 of my favorite places to shop for everything from freshly pressed olive oil to "Where-did-you-get-that?" jewelry and hand-glazed ceramics.

CERAMICS AND TERRA-COTTA

The towns of Montelupo Fiorentino, Impruneta, and the industrial suburb of Sesto Fiorentino are the centers for Tuscany's several-thousand-year-old pottery trade. The undisputed master of Tuscan ceramics is Florence-based Bruno Gambone (9 Via Benedetto Marcello; 39-055/355-358; www.brunogambone.com; by appointment), whose stoneware artworks are displayed in museums around the world as well as in his overcrowded studio. Don't be put off by Gambone's lofty reputation: his signature flat bottles, plates, jugs, and vases with organic designs in beige, cream, gray, or aqua-green are within reach (from $20).

• Among the best of Tuscany's new-generation ceramists is Claudio Maccari (30 Via del Poggiarello, Monteroni d'Arbia; 39-0577/372-092; by appointment); his pine-clad workshop south of Siena is stacked with terra-cotta, porcelain, and ceramic vases and floral plates in tasteful, neutral tones.

• The main streets in the pottery town of Montelupo Fiorentino are lined with stores selling traditional ceramics. For a more varied selection, drive two miles north of town to Ceramica ND Dolfi (1 Via Romagnola N., Località Antinoro, Montelupo Fiorentino; 39-0571/51264). You'll find classic blue-and-white Zaffera vases with stylized floral designs and striped bowls and abstract plates created by owner Silvano Dolfi and his daughters, Natalia and Daria.

• For terra-cotta urns, stop by M.I.T.A.L. (31 Via di Cappello; 39-055/201-1414; www.mital.rtd.it), in the clay-rich town of Impruneta; it's the most charming of the numerous terra-cotta workshops in the hills south of Florence. Queen Beatrice of Holland bought vases for her Tuscan villa here.

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