Want to do some shopping in Tuscany? You’re in the right place. Insiders know that Tuscany—a region filled with talented artisans and craftsmen who take pride in their work—is one of the best places in Italy to shop for gifts or souvenirs.
Seeking out these artisans and their handcrafted goods as a tourist, though, can be a little tricky, especially with all of the made-in-China knickknacks flooding tourist sites. Here are some tips for finding the best shopping in Tuscany!
1. Stick to Tuscany’s larger towns and villages
In my quest to find an “authentic” artisan in some forgotten village untouched by tourism, I made the mistake of looking too far off the grid. After driving up a winding road to a near abandoned village (population: 8) with vertigo-inducing views, crumbling buildings and a scary-looking wasps’ nest, I admitted defeat: There were no shops here.
I later realized I disregarded a key rule of commerce—artisans need customers to make a living! For better or for worse, you are far more likely to find working artisans in well-trafficked towns like Florence and Siena than in very small villages with few visitors.
2. Pay attention to shop hours
Planning to hit a hill town for lunch, then spend the afternoon touring the village and browsing the shops? Bad idea. Most of the shops in Tuscany’s smaller towns completely shut down between 1pm and 3pm, or even 4 pm. To avoid the disappointment, hit the smaller hill towns in the morning or in the very late afternoon instead.
3. Make shopping part of your cultural experience: Buy directly from the source.
While many artisans set up workshops in town, cheesemakers and vintners often sell directly from their farm or vineyard.
Visiting a cheesemaker onsite is a lot more memorable (and fun) than just buying a wheel in a shop. As you enter the farm, you’ll be treated to views of the farm’s sheep grazing along the hillsides.
Depending on the time of year, you might even get a peek at the production process. Come hungry, because the cheesemaker will dole out generous samples while providing tips on storing and serving your cheese. Most wheels of cheese keep for a few weeks without refrigeration, so they’re great to throw in your suitcase at any point in your trip.
4. Know which Tuscan souvenirs to look for
Some crafts are especially time-honored in Tuscany, meaning the artisans are even more practiced at turning out their goods. Particular gifts or souvenirs to look for include:
While Florence has the largest selection of leather goods like handbags and wallets, you’ll find small shops all over Tuscany. Stick with simple, classic designs that won’t go out of style so you can enjoy your souvenir for years to come. Prices will vary according to the quality of the leather (and the handwork of the craftsman).
Housewares like serving plates, trays and coasters make great souvenirs: After all, you can use them (and be reminded of your trip!) every day.
You can never have enough cutting boards—especially beautiful ones, like these made from olive wood. (You’ll want to leave these out on your counter instead of hiding them away!). For less bulky olive wood options, look for kitchen utensils like salad servers and wooden spoons. You can find olive wood products everywhere in Tuscany, but Montepulciano has an especially nice selection.
A hand-woven cotton scarf is the perfect accessory for anytime of year; throw it on with a t-shirt for instant chic.
Ever bought one of those tiny paintings from the artists who congregate in popular Italian piazzas? I’ve bought several over the years, brought them home… then, having no idea what to do with them, placed them in a box for “safekeeping.”
But then I saw how my friend Amy made her Florentine painting hang-worthy by popping it into an oversize, gilded frame. I’m stealing her idea, unpacking my paintings and creating my own gallery!
Tuscan towns like Florence and Arezzo are well-known for their gold jewelry. But with the price of gold skyrocketing in recent years, it may be out of your vacation budget.
Great design doesn’t have to cost a lot, though, so why not go for a fabulous piece of costume jewelry instead? This necklace was handmade in Florence.
If you aren’t an expert on Italian ceramics, it can be confusing to delve into the ceramics market. Different regions like Deruta and Montelupo command premium prices, making it tricky for a casual shopper to know what to buy or how much to spend. I recommend leaving high-end ceramics shopping to the collectors and instead look for a small shop run by a local ceramics artist (no famous name required). Then follow this simple rule and you can never go wrong: Buy what you love.
What are your favorite Tuscan souvenirs? Share in the comments below.
Kristin Francis is a writer based in New York City, frequent traveler and obsessed shopper. For more tips on finding great souvenirs in Italy, including what villages and shops to visit, check out Kristin’s shopping and travel site, Souvenir Finder.