Monday 10 December 2012

The Mercato Centrale in Florence is not the same as the San Lorenzo Market!

Today we have a post of interest to visitors to Florence. I want to demonstrate emphatically that the Mercato Centrale in Florence is not the same as the San Lorenzo Market! They may be right next to one another, but that's all they have in common.

Here's the take-home message right at the start. The Mercato Centrale is a marvellous meat, seafood, charcuterie, fruit and vegetable market patronised by Florentines. It's housed in a beautiful 1874 Art Deco iron and glass structure and is one of the most interesting and colourful markets in Europe. In contrast, the outdoor San Lorenzo market is a crowded cluster of booths and barrows populated by aggressive touts selling overpriced tourist tat, mainly of Chinese and Indian origin.

Let's go first at the Mercato Centrale of Firenze. Here's how it looks, outside and in.

The Mercato Centrale in Florence is not the same as the San Lorenzo Market
The exterior of the Mercato Centrale in Florence.

Mercato Centrale Firenze
Just one of dozens of produce stands in the Mercato Centrale.
The Mercato Centrale is not only a wonderful place to buy your fresh produce, meat, salumi, fish, cheese, olive oil, sweets, herbs and spices, but it is also so colourful and full of life with great opportunities for some very creative photoshoots. You can also eat well at the little restaurants and food stalls inside the Mercato where you will find Tuscan home cooking, including (BUT NOT LIMITED TO!) favorite Florentine dishes such as lampredotto (tripe). (Avoid Gastronomia Perini's meat and cheese counter. They have a reputation for cheating tourists on the grand scale.)

The Mercato opens Monday through Saturday early in the morning (7 am) and closes at 2 pm. By 1.30 pm many of the stalls are already closed or closing. The Mercato Centrale is an easy stroll from the Duomo.

Mercato San Lorenzo a Firenze
Tourist souvenirs on sale at the Mercato San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo market in Florence

Almost outside the door of the Mercato Centrale is the open air Mercato San Lorenzo. Many years ago, San Lorenzo was a local market that specialised in high quality, Italian-made leather articles ranging from hand bags through jackets to leather coats. The market has long since changed into an area catering solely to tourists and manned mostly by non-Italians. The goods are largely of Chinese and Indian origin, and, despite a reputation for allowing haggling, the prices are very uniform for the same item. Those labelled 'Made in Italy', when not outright fakes, are made in Chinese sweatshops in Prato. In addition to the endless hats, T shirts and scarves, there are leather goods (and plenty of vinyl goods masquerading as leather goods) but generally of very poor quality. The mismatched pieces of leather fade badly and fade at different rates, and often rip under the slightest tension. The vendors are extremely aggressive and the place is a haven for pickpockets. The shops associated with the stalls and to which customers are often lead are not better in the quality that they offer but ARE better adapted to the hard sell. In summary, unless you want to pick up a few inexpensive gifts for friends back home, there is no good reason to come to San Lorenzo Market.

Note: a classic scam practised by some vendors at this market works as follows.  You order a couple of high quality leather jackets in a size currently out of stock, to be send to you by post. What arrives is a rubbishy item nothing like what you ordered, but your credit card is charged for two expensive jackets. You contest this with your card company but the vendor has a shipping receipt. The card company says there's nothing they can do.

Today's top links: For everything you need to know about what to do and where to stay in Tuscany: The Chianti Travel Guide and The Greve in Chianti Tuscany Blog.

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