If only you could sniff this blog and smell the signature scent of Santa Maria Novella pot-pouri currently filling Miladys Boudoir!
Just over a year ago I was one of the lucky winners of a prize draw on another (now no longer in existence) blog “The Old fashioned Girls“. One half of the duo, Miranda, no longer an old-fashioned girl, now blogs as “Miranda’s Notebook.” The prize was a year’s free subscription to The Perfume Society. As I love perfume I was very happy and after the first year renewed my subscription and was pleased to have the opportunity to choose more boxes of scents to try. In addition to the discovery boxes the Society organise events and send out a weekly newsletter. It was here that I discovered a section “The World’s Best Scent Shopping Cities” and one of these is Florence.
So I printed off the itinerary and on the Thursday morning as we had decided to do our own thing I set off on my Scent Trail of Florence.
Perfume shopping in Florence
Welcome to fragrant heaven. For a small city, Florence supports an extraordinarily large number of world-class independent perfumeries. Maybe it’s not that surprising: Florence played an important role in the history of perfumery, a destination for traders – of spices, resins and other precious fragrance elements – and its sophisticated population was constantly seeking ways to outdo each other, status-wise. Scent played a part in that.
Because the city centre’s small, you could probably cover most of these in a single day. (And if you wear out your shoe leather in the process? There’s surely nowhere better on the planet to buy a new pair.) You’ll find extraordinary artisan perfume creators, interesting ‘concepts’, perfume shops housed in old palazzos – and much, much more to delight your sense of smell. Plenty of places, too, to stop for a recaffeination. (Our favourite pitstop: Rivoire, on Piazza della Signoria. (It’s closed, like quite a bit of Florence, on Mondays. Do check ahead with all the following locations, to ensure they’re open.)
Well-worth knowing about if you are ever looking for a particular address in Florence :
One important fact about shopping for anything in Florence: the numbering of the buildings is the most fiendish we’ve found anywhere. (Except maybe Tokyo.) At some point, streets have been renumbered – so No. 32 may also now be No. 68, and so on. The old blue-and-white ceramic plaques have been left on the buildings, and new, smaller stone ones added. So if you get to the street number for a perfumery listed below and it appears not to be there, don’t take it at face value: keep going, because you’ll probably find that yes, there are actually two Number 88s. (Pass the cold flannel, please.)
So here goes… (NB If you follow the order these are listed in, it’s like a mini-tour, rather than dashing hither and thither.)
Farmacia Santa Maria Novella
This was by far and away my favourite of all. It’s grand and historic but the staff are friendly, welcoming and helpful and it smells just divine as soon as you step inside. There’s a pretty little cafe tea room where Caroline and I had our final coffee and cake before heading for the nearby station on Friday morning. I bought the pot-pourri for myself and scented wax tablets for drawers and a candle as gifts. Apparently, I found out when I returned home, there is a shop in London. The experience just wouldn’t be the same, though.
Even if you’re not on a perfume quest, no visit to Florence is complete without popping into this gilded, mosaic-floored temple to fragrance. Dominican monks opened a pharmacy to the public here in 1612; there’s still a beautiful grey-painted working pharmacy here. So: you can buy the ‘patented’ herbal remedies – balms, lotions, tonics, tisanes, honeys – alongside more modern creations, including haircare, skincare and Santa Maria Novella’s beautifully-bottled and packaged range of perfumes.
Entrance to Santa Maria Novella on Via Della Scala
Wander through the three high-ceilinged, fresco-ed rooms and drink it all in. Either explore the fragrances (there are now over 30) at your own pace at the glass cabinets, or tap into the experience of knowledgeable assistants, first checking out the upliftingly citrusy Santa Maria Novella perfume – the first the monks created – for none other than local noblewoman Catherine de Medici, who became Queen of France. It’s based on the famous Queen of Hungary’s Water (an early eau de Cologne).
Can you believe it in a shop? Formerly the Sacristy of the Chapel of San Niccolo. The Passion of Christ by Mariotto di Nardo (1385-1405)
Other famous bestsellers include Melograno (based on pomegranate), and Iris (Florence traditionally provides iris to the world’s perfume trade), and earthily Patchouli. You may want to treat yourself, meanwhile, to a box of the Farmacia’s signature, so-distinctive pot pourri: a mixture of leaves, buds and flowers harvested from the Florentine hills and left to macerate in terracotta jars for over 30 days. We’ve got dishes of SMN’s pot pourri which are still pumping out their spiciness two years after we first put them out. (Just give a good shake, occasionally, to reinvigorate.) Fabulous hand-pressed soaps, too.
PS We slightly wish they hadn’t done the touristy thing of putting in large touch-screens that let you scroll through the history of the place, by the way: it feels very out of place somewhere you can look through the grilled gate and soak up the peace of the cloistered private garden. (There are other locations around Florence now – including at the train station, which dents the romance somewhat – but this is the one to head for.)
The Cloistered Private Garden
Via della Scala, 16, 50123 Firenze
+ 39 055 216276
Everything here smelled gorgeous but I wasn’t to be tempted to buy any liquids as I only brought a carry-on bag with me. The assistant assured me that Dr Vranjes is now available in the UK online with maybe a physical presence soon. I did buy a tiny bottle and was given a further free sample.
A teeny cupboard-like boutique just bursting with scents for the home, right in the heart of town. This line of scents is apparently created by a doctor on the outskirts of town; there are now three boutiques around the city but this is the only one we stumbled on. (Other locations are larger. Well, they couldn’t be tinier than this!)
Dr. Vranjes is especially big on ‘bastoncini’ (scent sticks), with fragrances like fig and sage, lime and ginger, pomegranate and mint, rose petal, tuberose and lily and more. A bestseller is the warm and wonderful amber scent (and we’re not surprised). There are alcohol-free car perfumes, too, designed to go with the leather, wood and textiles of car interiors – and they sure beat those dangly little Christmas trees.
Via della Spada 9, 50123 Firenze
+ 39 055 288796
This beautiful shop on Florence’s equivalent of Bond Street the Via di Tournabuoni was a big disappointment. The sales assistant just smiled at me and spent my entire visit (which, of course, was not very long) talking on her mobile phone. Everything on sale is available in the UK so no great loss.
Imposing Entrance to Olfatorrio
The arched doorway here gives an idea of just why perfume-shopping in Florence is so exciting: the contrast of old and new is everywhere. So here you have a stunning Renaisssance entrance to a boutique selling completely contemporary creations, including The Different Company‘s scents (from Paris), which you sniff not from blotters or sprays but from wine glasses. You could also find Annick Goutal, Diptyque, Honoré des Près, Les Parfums de Rosine, Penhaligon’s and L’Artisan Parfumeur. Looks a bit scarily imposing, from the entrance – but it’s really not.
Via di Tornabuoni, 6, 50123
Views of the Via di Tournabuoni
The next shop listed on the itinerary has been taken over by Officina di Tournabuoni where a really keen assistant and pharmacist or herbalist explained the products and advised the best ones for me. I came away with a lovely Regno di Iris roll-on perfume just 12ml.
And the next shop on the trail has also now disappeared and is a shop selling jumpers but next door is :
I Profumi di Firenzi
Quirky, maybe, but I liked it a lot. It was friendly and helpful and not pushy at all (none of the shops were actually). I bought several bottles of the bath-salts as gifts. I tried the Catherine of Medici but preferred in the end the typical Iris scent. I’d have loved to have stopped at Rivoire as suggested below but I had a different lunch venue in mind and another shop to visit first.
I Profumi di Firenzi, yes, more frescoes
Right next door to Aline [the one that’s closed], another decidedly quirky perfume destination. Allegedly, Florentine perfumer Dr. Giovanni di Massimo stumbled upon Catherine de Medici’s ‘secret perfume recipes’ in a treasure trove of Medici fragrance formulas, back in 1966, after the famous Florentine flood, while sorting through the soggy mess in his basement. (The Medici Palace was just across the square.)
I Profumi di Firenzi is also (allegedly) all-natural, and there are almost 30 scents to try. It’s far from the most glamorous fragrance-shopping destination in Florence (they’re definitely Magic Marker-mad), but the fragrances aren’t luxe-priced at all so we’ll definitely forgive them that. Fab bath salts, too. (Hard to resist buying Catherine de Medici’s bath salts, we find, for a queenly bathing experience – with hints of lily or the valley and iris, if you’re interested. Sniffing the bath salts themselves gives nothing away.) Can we make a little recommendation, when you leave the perfumery? Turn right into the big square and treat yourself to a chocolate ice cream and/or a hot chocolate at Rivoire (just on the left), one of our favourite Florence pit-stop, offering spectacular people-watching.
Via Vecchereccia 9, Piazza Signoria, 50122 Firencze
+39 055 2396055
Avery Perfume Gallery
Before I arrived at the shop/gallery the heavens opened and by the time I arrived was soaked to the skin. I hadn’t brought my brolly out with me but it was pretty windy anyway so may have made no difference. The owner was just locking the door, saw me arrive, unlocked the door, switched the lights back on and welcomed me inside. Obviously, no relation to the woman at L’Olfatorrio! Such a beautiful little shop. After many many sniffings I finally chose a special gift: a candle by Lorenzo Villoresi.
The ceiling of this store is straight out of the Renaissance: a stunning chequerboard floor, grey-painted cabinets, cherubs and doves… Scent-shopping at its most romantic, this. But if anything, the selection of fragrances is even more beguiling. Think: Bond No. 9, Agonist, Blood Concept, By Kilian, SoOud, By Kilian, Andrée Puttman, Six Scents, Carthusia, Creed, Eight & Bob – oh, we could go on, but be sure to carve out an hour or two to dip and delve, here. And take advantage of the very pleasant service from the extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff. (Well, who wouldn’t spring out of bed to come and work in a boutique this gorgeous?)
Of particular interest – since we are, after all, in Florence – is the Lorenzo Villoresi collection. Villoresi is an award-winning Florentine perfumer with a nearby atelier; it’s not open to the public, but Avery Perfume Gallery showcases his ‘ready-to-wear’ line, including bath and body treats, and fragrances for the home (as well as people). Piper Nigrum, with its nose-tingling grind of black pepper, is one of the best-known (and bestselling), along with Teint de Neige (a talcum powder-y, rosy creation which is as feminine and flirty as Piper Nigrum is masculine and powerful. Having said that, Piper Nigrum‘s the one we sprung for; make of that what you will…)
Borgo degli Albizi, 70, 50122 Firenze
+39 055 2466733
(We can’t find a website for this store anywhere! Very Italian…)
This was my final shop of the trail. I missed out the last one. We’d passed it the day before and it looked good but in the pouring rain I could only think of getting to my lunch destination Il Caffe Pitti opposite the Palace of the same name and very near our very dear Casa Guidi.