Uniquely Italian Souvenir Shopping Bargains
Don’t ask me how to navigate streets or from monument to monument, but just ask about my landmarks: boutiques, market stalls, factory outlets and department stores; I can navigate just about anywhere with those as my points of reference. When I'm in Italy I don't have much time to shop nor do I need high fashion, and in this global economy some items, like Italian luxury shoes, handbags, fashion, can be purchased at the same price, or for less, outside of Italy. My shopping is often limited to window shopping, admiring the gorgeous displays and the Italian's elegant sense of style and color, but I'm always on the lookout for inexpensive, lightweight gifts, so here are my bargain shopping tips for easy-to-find souvenirs and gifts that won't break the bank.
For the Cook
- Aprons sold at the market stalls and tourist trinket shops.
- Sale al Tartufo - salt with little pieces of truffle. Get the fine salt, not coarse salt. Sold at gourmet food purveyors such as Castroni in Rome or at Pegna on Via dello Studio by the Duomo in Florence. If you have to ask what to use truffle salt for, you're most likely not a truffle enthusiast.
- Tuscan spices "Spezie Regina" for seasoning ragu (meat sauce) also from Pegna in Florence. A small bag will last for months and is less than €2.
- Dry unseasoned, soup starters with white beans, lentils, farro, and other interesting dried legumes in small cellophane bags at the supermarket.
- Unusual pasta shapes for as little as €1 a package.
- Notecards from museum gift shops. In Rome: Villa Borghese, Vatican Museums. Florence: Uffizi Gallery.
- Florentine stationary with beautiful designs and monograms from the Florence market stalls.
- Fake pashmina scarves at market stalls. These are synthetic so not for the discerning fashionista. If you buy in multiples, price is as low as €5 each.
- Florentine leather gloves in delicious colors at the market stalls.
- Ferrero Pocket Coffee. Chocolates with liquid espresso inside. Jet lag remedy!
- Baci chocolates and Torrone nougat (I don't particularly like nougat so this is one item I'm sure not to eat if desperate), biscotti -- pack carefully otherwise you'll arrive home with a suitcase full of cookie crumbs, spoken from experience. Prices are about the same everywhere, easy to pick up in the airport duty-free shops on departure.
- MARVIS toothpaste in department store toiletry section or any pharmacy. Packaging is beautiful. Looks like something for which you'd pay 5 times more at Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella.
- Labello "chapstick" Classic in the blue tube, my favorite lip balm ever since I was a little kid. At pharmacies or department stores in the toiletries section.
- Interesting bound blank or lined notebooks at cartolerie (paper goods shops) or the school supply section of department stores.
- Florentine leather waste paper baskets from the Florence market stalls - they pack flat!
- Florentine leather book mark €1 each.
- Venetian glass jewelry, key chains. Venice: Murano Island and in the stalls and markets in popular tourist sights near Piazza San Marco and the Rialto bridge.
Kids & Teens
- Lanyard key chains that say Roma, Firenze or Italia. Bargain at €1 or €2 each.
- Carved wooden Pinocchio key chains, tree ornaments are classic, timeless.
- Earrings from street vendors for as low as €2. Venetian glass earrings too are always a good value, too.
- Narrow leather bracelets €2/each from the Florence market stalls.
- Leather and other keychains.
- Florentine-paper covered pencils & pencil holder from the market stalls.
- Miniature deck of playing cards in a tiny leather case.
- Italian brands of chewing gum, interesting to see the different packaging.
Dog Lovers Dried pasta for dogs in the pet food section of supermarkets.
Favorite weird gift "Priests of Rome" calendar with photos of handsome priests. Odd! Sold at newsstands, trinket shops in Rome. €10.
My family's favorites As much as I would love to bring back extra virgin olive oil, my family's #1 request, it's just too tricky what with the restrictions on carry-on liquids and the worry of it breaking in my suitcase, but I can manage a small bottle of Vin Santo, sweet wine, bought last minute duty free to carry on board and a bag of cantucci (biscotti for dipping in the Vin Santo) for my husband. For my son I seek out unusual regional dried pasta shapes; his favorite is pastini in any shape, tiny pasta for pastini in brodo, broth with little pasta, his 'go to' comfort food. Believe or not, my daughter's favorite gift is Kellogg's Special K cereal! She swears that the Italian Special K Classic is better than the North American type. We conducted a side-by-side comparison; she's right, it's toasted darker and tastes better. Not that this is a good souvenir recommendation as it's so unique to her Italy memories.
Happy bargain shopping!