Italy is an amazing destination to visit for so many reasons—history, architecture, cuisine, wine. But, we also love visiting the boot-shaped country for another reason: shopping. Every time we travel to Italy, we pack an extra suitcase (or two), as we know we’ll be returning with more—okay, way more—than we came with.
But, with so many cities and shops to choose from, it’s hard to know where to focus your attention. While you’ll find beautiful, one-of-a-kind, handmade goods in every single city, there are a few items you’ll want to be sure to snag from different areas. Today, then, we’ve rounded up our very own Italian shopping list for you. Get ready to take notes, here are five authentic Italian items to bring back home:
1. Handmade Sandals: Positano & Capri
Topping our list today is one of the Amalfi Coast’s most sought-after items: handmade leather-soled sandals. The Amalfi Coast is home to a ton of designer clothing shops and high-end boutiques boasting beautiful bags. But, if you’re going to focus your dollars on one particular item, it has to be a pair of handmade leather sandals from either Positano or Capri. They truly are an item you’ll find nowhere else in the world, and they’ll last you a lifetime.
It works like this: the shoemaker at the shop you choose measures your foot and starts with a plain leather sole (heel height options are also available). You’ll then choose your sandal design from a plethora of style and color options (we’re talking hundreds) hanging from the shop’s walls. You’ll find designs ranging from blue leather straps encrusted with chunky turquoise gems to simple brown leather wrapped into an understated rope. You can “try on” as many options as you’d like (the shoemaker will simply lay the top piece over your foot with and the leather sole so you can get a feel for what it looks like).
The shoemaker will then determine the perfect height for the top piece and hand sew it to the sole. Depending on wait time (ours was about 15 minutes), you can head to a few other shops or, better yet, grab a gelato while your new pair of favorite sandals is assembled.
In Capri, we recommend visiting Canfora for a pair (the shop famously opened its doors at midnight for Jackie O and, based on the sandals she chose, has now created the “K-Model” in honor of the style icon). In Positano, we recommend trying Safari. Handmade sandals in Capri tend to be more expensive (and of higher quality). You’ll end up spending anywhere from €150-€600, as compared to €45-€75 for a pair in Positano.
2. Limoncello: Capri
Italy is known for its wine, but, if you’re going to go to the trouble to bring home a bottle of alcohol, it should be authentic limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur that’s known for its bright-yellow hue and unmistakable taste. You’ll find great Italian wine in the states, but it’s hard to find limoncello that’s comparable to what you’d find in Italy, which is why it’s number 2 on our list of items to bring back home.
Capri, an island located off of the Amalfi Coast, is known for its lemons and is the spot to imbibe limoncello. On average, Capri lemons are the size of typical American grapefruits or oranges, and you’ll notice lemon trees are growing nearly everywhere on the island.
If you’re going to pick up a bottle of Limoncello, we recommend buying one from Da Paolino (also known as the “Lemon Trees” restaurant), a famous local dining spot covered by a canopy of age-old lemon trees. Their limoncello was the best we had on our entire Amalfi Coast vacation, and they sold small, personal-sized bottles that were easy to travel back with and made for great gifts.
3. Leather Goods: Florence
Number 3 on our list takes us from the country’s southern coastline all the way up to its northern region. Florence is known for its vineyards, sure, but one thing you might not realize until you visit is the fact that Florence is also famous for its leather working. Leather can be found nearly anywhere in the country, but Florence is the absolute mecca for high-quality, authentic, buttery Italian leather.
The Florentine leather-working tradition actually predates the middle ages. Because of the city’s proximity to the Arno River (which provided a seemingly infinite supply of water necessary for the leather tanning process) it became one of the leading producers of high-quality leather. Today, lasting remnants of this age-old tradition are everywhere: the streets of Florence are peppered with stands selling everything from wallets to bags to belts. I recommend purchasing one belt (I have one that I bought ten years ago in Florence that’s still in beautiful condition), one handbag and/or wallet and—as your big splurge—a leather jacket.
Purchase the smaller items (belts, handbags, wallets) from street vendors, but, for the leather jacket, do your research and visit any one of a number of trusted local shops. We’re big fans of Pierotucci, as its factory is open to the general public, so you can watch as artisans handcraft leather goods and can rest easy knowing your jacket is 100%, Florentine.
4. Ceramics: Amalfi Coast
Number 4 on our list lets us revisit the coveted Amalfi Coast, but this time for something that lasts a little longer than limoncello. The entire coast is known for its handcrafted, handpainted ceramic goods and—though you’ll have to take extra care while travelling—they’re definitely worth the work it will take to get them home.
You can purchase everything from pasta bowls to bruschetta trays to spoon rests to decorative signs. Most towns on the coast are swimming in ceramic shops, but you can get a feel for the level of quality each store offers the same way you would in the states—by checking price tags and looking closely at the craftsmanship. A high-quality piece will be easy to spot—the hand painted patterns will be intricate and the piece will be well crafted all around.
Keep in mind that the higher-end shops (as opposed to street vendors or smaller shops) are usually willing to ship your purchases for you, so don’t limit yourself to a small spoon rest if you have your eyes set on something bigger. We had a giant decorative bowl (probably about 3 feet in diameter) shipped to the states from Amalfi for a reasonable cost.
As far as specific shops go, our favorite spot for ceramics in the town of Amalfi is Il Ninfeo. We’re also big fans of L’Artigianato in Sorrento. Vietri sul Mare is a town on the Amalfi Coast that’s been producing ceramics since the 1600’s and, many argue, is the best spot to purchase ceramic goods on the coast.
5. Stationery: Venice
The final item on our list is one you’ll find nowhere else in the world—handmade Venetian paper goods and stationery. When you think of Venice, most people tend to think of water taxis or gondola rides, but the Bride of the Sea is also famous for its paper (though this tends to be a lesser-known fact). In fact, Europe’s oldest paper shop, Legatoria Piazzesi, is in Venice.
Once you see (and feel) the handmade paper (and its intricate designs and mesmerizing color schemes), you’ll understand why it was a shoe-in on our list of items to bring back home. It evokes an old sense of craftsmanship that’s hard to come by in the digital age. The paper is both thick and soft and the designs are breathtaking. We recommend bringing home as much as your suitcase (and budget) allow for and using it to write thank-you notes or letters to friends and family.
Overall, Italy is home to countless boutiques, stores, and street vendors, and it can be hard to know exactly where to spend your time, energy and budget. But, stick to the above five items and work your way out from there. As long as you head some with some handmade sandals, authentic limoncello, leather goods, ceramics and handmade stationery, you’ll be set with the best the country has to offer. Just don’t forget to bring along an extra suitcase (or two).
Have you been shopping Italy lately? Did we miss any must-buy items? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.