This walk is designed to inspire the foodies among you, which is not hard in Florence, a food and wine-lovers' dream where opportunities to shop for edible and drinkable goodies lurk on every corner.
Begin in front of the huge 1874 cast iron and glass building that houses the bustling Mercato Centrale (Via dell’Ariento, open Mon-Sat 7.30am-2pm). The Florentines tend to do their shopping first thing in the morning, so the earlier you get there, the more authentic the atmosphere will be. Step inside the main entrance and you will be immediately assailed by the vivid sights, smells and sounds of a busy working market.
The upper level is occupied by colourful ranks of stalls laden with seasonal fruit and veg, fresh herbs, dried pulses and spices and baskets brimming with dried fruit and nuts. Downstairs is more of a challenge and vegetarians may want to turn back when they see the likes of Oreste’s 1920s carved wood and wrought iron offal stall where the marble counter is always piled with lampredotto (cow’s intestines), tripe, zampa (pig’s trotter) and poppa (udder).
Much safer territory is to be found among the deli stalls and grocers. From the main entrance, turn right along the first aisle to the Perini Brothers’ spectacular gastronomia where, under ranks of hanging haunches of prosciutto, and strings of garlic and dried chillies, the glass counters are packed with cheeses, salami, olives, marinated vegetables, pasta sauces and toppings for crostini. There’s always a queue but you’ll be offered a plate of nibbles while you wait and if you want to take your purchases home, they’ll vacuum pack.
Other delis I use regularly include Stefano Conti’s stall (on the other side of the main entrance) selling a marvellous range of balsamic vinegars (aged from 10 to 100 years), olive oils, home-produced honeys, dried porcini mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes and the excellent Baroni's cheese stall just across the aisle.
Time to move on, but I would suggest a quick visit to the Casa del Vino, a wine bar that’s preserved its period carved wood, marble and glass interior, at Via dell’Ariento 16r (055 215609; www.casadelvino.it). There’s an excellent selection of wines here from all over Italy and prices are very reasonable. If you need refreshment, there’s a good choice by the glass and a selection of snacks.
A 10-minute walk will bring you to Via Tornabuoni and, at number 64r, Procacci (055 211656), a wonderfully atmospheric old grocer’s shop and bar, which is famous for being a purveyor of truffles. One of these earthy, musty tubers is the ultimate foodie gift; take it to someone you REALLY like or buy one for yourself and shave it over a plate of buttery, egg-y fresh taglierini.
From the stelle (stars) to the stalle (stables) as they say here; next stop is Orazio Nencioni’s tripe stand behind the Loggia del Porcellino in Via Por Santa Maria. Trippa and lampredotto is Florentine fast food, and these stands are popular local stop-offs for a snack or quick lunch. Stalls are laden with a series of bubbling cauldrons of unidentifiable cow’s innards; be brave and try a panino al lampredotto or a dish of Florentine-style tripe, which comes in a spicy tomato sauce.
Hidden away on a backstreet across Piazza della Signoria, ‘Ino (Via de’Georgofili 3-7r; 055 219208; www.ino-firenze.com) is another good place for foodie gifts. The shelves of this contemporary sandwich bar/deli are laden with jars, tins, bottles and packets of goodies while the fresh food counter displays the makings of a great picnic. Cross the Ponte Vecchio and turn right into Borgo San Jacopo. Oenophiles will love Obsequium (Borgo San Jacopo 17; 055 216849); the selection of wines is by no means the best in town and prices are quite steep but the shop is a treasure trove of drink-themed gadgets and gizmos.
Five minutes walk west from here, in Via Santo Spirito, is another excellent gastronomia where you can also eat in. Elegant Olio e Convivium (Via Santo Spirito 4; 055 2658198; www.conviviumfirenze.com) sells all sorts of tempting sweet and savoury goodies and has a fresh food takeaway counter but is particularly well-known for its wide selection of olive oils from all over Italy which you can taste before you buy.
Where to stay
For suggestions on where to stay in Florence, see my Florence Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Florence page.