Well, where is it? Italy is one of those places where the shopper has only a few things in mind: clothes, cars, shoes and leather in general, food.
Bad news: most food is off-limits and most cars are too heavy for the overhead compartment. I have seen desperate men eating entire salami on their way back, since fresh food is taboo. And I have seen helpless men roam around at their hometown DMV, trying to get their imported Ferraris through inspection.
Nope, leave Italy with clothes, leather, and jewelry. You will be happy about your choices, you won’t be hassled by customs and no matter what, you’ll always look fabulous in that Armani dress/suit.
First odd thing: you heard me rant at lengths about the terrors of spending money in the tourist headquarters. Well, shopping there is ok, if you have the money. I just can’t do without visiting Armani once in a lifetime and think to myself that I am spending less than I would at Macy’s.
Of course, off the beaten track is cheaper and the service is usually better. I know Rome well enough to tell you that there are at least a dozen areas where you can buy wonderful objects without spending and arm and a leg. Try the beginning of the via Appia, just outside the city gates (that’s still in the middle of town, as you’ll see). Or try viale Libia in the North. You can get an Italian suit for $100, and a Valentino beauty for $400.
Italy is proud of its leather, and you should look for everything made of it. Shoes come from Varese, which is close to Milan. Look out for the best deals on this planet if you happen to hit town. Bags and purses are tres chic, as well.
If you are looking for antiques and art… Everyone else is. IKEA sells a lot in Italy, but can you imagine living in a XVI century palazzo and own furniture with names like Brit and Hoeglund? My though exactly. So there are no good deals on antiques, but at least you’ll find what you are looking for. The selection is great, and the prices are huge. Ditto for modern art. And don’t forget to stop in Murano and buy overpriced and gaudy glassware!
Jewelry is quite the thing in Florence. The traditional jewelers on the Arno bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, may have been there for centuries, but they must have been abusing tourists for about as long. Go there, by all means, but take an Italian friend with you that knows how to haggle! And by all means, do not open your mouth while the haggling is going on!