Florence has been guide-booked more times than most, yet there still seems to be an ever evolving list of medieval shops and centuries old craftsmen to see. Perhaps that’s the nature of somewhere beautiful: it continues to unveil itself as time continues to age it. Florence wasn’t the birthplace of revolutionary thought in science and art for nothing. This is a city that elevates beauty for the sake of beauty, but does so with intellect and care.
We visited Florence with the hope of finding something fresh, of discovering where the global conversation on design, craft and sustainability had landed. We were so wonderfully surprised. We knew we’d stumble upon that special kind of light, that unique pace of life, and that sort of age-old artisanship only Europe seems to know, but we didn’t know if our challenge to uncover what’s new and what’s purposeful would be very fruitful. So we asked: what’s brimming on the edge? Who are the new kids on the scene looking to make a noise?
What we discovered: young Florentines are vibrant with a reverence and pride for their past, but they’re making their mark with an unmistakable global perspective. They’re aware of their place as curators of their future. Here’s a snapshot of a Florence that’s both medieval and modern — also, far more hip than any guidebook has yet let on.
A guide for one day (or maybe a few) spent exploring and looking for sustainably minded shops, artisans, and local fare.
BJØRK Florence – Via dello Sprone 25/R: An independent retail store with the best selection of print publications in town. Carrier of international contemporary brands, photography, design, print, and fashion.
AcquaFLOR – Borgo Santa Croce, 6: An artisan perfumery that creates personal perfumes in their historic atelier. Only three years old, but already they’re creating quite a stir for their delicate hand with a craft Florence has always been known for. Their most desired scent is the namesake, Aquaflor.
Giuditta Blandini Stile Biologico – Piazza Pitti 6/R: Europe’s first organic textile company, Giuditta Blandini is an eco-fashion brand committed to a “made in Italy” aesthetic rooted in the fresh ideal of holistic sustainability. With a triple bottom line mentality of care for the consumer, quality of production and genuine concern for the environment, Giuditta Blandini is a beautiful example of a continued commitment to ancient methods while evolving as part of the contemporary discussion on quality, craft and sustainability.
I Visionari – Piazza Sauro Nazario, 14/R: An independent eyeglass store with cheeky style and a visionary mission to bring the best eyewear from around the world to Florence.
Coffee and Culture
Biblioteca delle Oblate – Via dell’Oriuolo, 26: The upstairs café offers one of the most unique views of the Duomo you’ll see. Red brick roofs stack atop themselves as you sip fair trade coffee among a young, intellectual crowd discussing organic food, sustainable methods and lingering academics.
La Cité Libreriacafé – Borgo San Frediano, 20: A unique nightspot with books, music, and a funky-art vibe that feels a little like the Italian version of Friends’ Central Perk.
Caffe Letteraria – Piazza delle Murate: A café inside the restored Le Murate prison. Meet up here for a drink, admire the architecture, listen to live music, view art exhibitions, attend readings and watch selectively curated small release films.
Amblé – Chiasso dei del Bene: Here you’ll find fresh sandwiches, juice, fruit, coffee, wine and beer prepared with quality ingredients, excellent music, and a completely unique décor of post-industrial 1950’s style. The best part? Everything’s for sale (prices marked) and there are three different seating areas: the far back, centered amid all the action, and al fresco. (A small bonus – it’s very close to the Ponte Vecchio if you need a midday break from the city center.)
Vivanda Gastronomia – Via Santa Monaca, 7: A beautiful experience of fresh, organic, simple Tuscan fare with a uniquely Portland-meets-Europe flare. Enjoy their well-designed space with delicious coffee and excellent take-away or sit-and-stay options.
Bacco Nudo Vini Sfusi – Via dei Macci, 59: “Sfusi” means “loose” in Italian and the most vibrant trio of wonderful Italian folk you’ll ever meet run this cask style wine shop. Bring a bottle or pay for one of theirs and enjoy the experience of tasting some of the best wines in the region (and the rest of Italy) for cents to the euro. Top pick: Rossa di Montalcino da Barriché (they call it their fiore dell’occhiello).
Ganzo Florence – via dei Macci 85r: They call themselves a “creative learning lab” and are part of the Florence University of the Arts, a collection of seven campuses that bring together the voices, talents and inspirations of students and professors from all over the world looking to have a conversation about culture, space, community and time. Ganzo is part art gallery and part working restaurant. Stop in for aperitivo (like happy hour, tapas or appetizers and drinks) every Wednesday, or check their revolving schedule of artists and exhibits before coming in for a meal featuring traditional and innovative fare.
Sant’Ambrogio Market – near Via dei Macci and Via Andrea del Verrocchio: A locals-only daily market that’s one third outdoor fresh produce, one third indoor meat/seafood/cheese vendors, and one third flea market. It’s wild, weird, alive and exceptional. Greatly preferred to the tourist heavy Mercato Centrale.
Le Murate – Piazza delle Murate: One of the city’s newest architectural projects, this renovated prison has been turned into a cultural hub of shops, housing, restaurants, bars and open space. The cells were modified to house resident artisans, galleries and craftsmen.
Oltrarno: The artisan side of the river. Stop into nearly any shop or café to pick up “Unusual Florence” – a guide to seventeen unusual places in the center of the city.
Images via Olga Makarova and Lindsey Bro