Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Winter spaland: Baden-Baden

Baden-Baden has long attracted the European jet set. But it is not for the celebrity sightings that you go to this town in the famous Black Forest region, it is to enjoy the waters of Caracalla and Friedrichsbad spa complexes.

The benefits of taking the waters at Baden-Baden are centuries old, begun by the Romans who understood a thing or two about the pleasurable necessities of bathing. Since then, everyone from Tolstoy to WAGs have enjoyed the region’s mineral springs. So much so, that the name of the town, roughly translated as bath-bath, is said to mean double the bathing pleasure!

Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath is the eldest of the two complexes. It first opened in 1877 and for the last 130 or so years, people have taken enthusiastically to its waters. Famously Mark Twain said of the place: “Here at the Friedrichsbad you lose track of time within 10 minutes and track of the world within 20...”.

It is easy to appreciate his sentiments in this setting of Belle Epoch elegance. The complex of marble stone, pools and painted frescos is a temple to the art of bathing. It is worth visiting just for the architecture but be prepared to go textile free (nude). There are 17 different stages to this spa experience that combine roman bathing culture with Irish hot-air baths. Bathing begins with a preparatory thermal shower and is followed by a soap scrub and massage and a series of steam spring baths. Bathing is segregated for most of the spa experience, with the exception of Sundays, where bathing is mixed.

In contrast, Caracalla Therme Spa offers a more modern experience to those seeking the benefits of taking the waters. Begin with the outdoor pool heated to body temperature. In the winter, the steam rises up from the warm water, lowering visibility to a metre. As you move through the water, bodies seem to appear from nowhere and the effect is almost surreal. Sit in the main spa for a rigorous start to your therapy. Be patient, the spas alternate every six minutes, so just sit back and relax until the spa starts. Cure your aches or pains, by standing beneath one of the waterfalls and be showered by plummeting hot water in this watery grotto. You'll feel like you've just had a deep tissue massage.

Feel relaxed? Move onto the second pool heated to a more temperate 32˚C. The attraction of this spa is the whirlpool that picks you up and carries you around the pool’s edge.

Several options await you when you return inside. You can either relax in the mineral pool or warm up by going for a dip in the 40˚C heated pool. This watery sauna heats the body and readies you for one of the most thrilling of therapeutic pleasures– the cool pool (18˚C). Your limbs with tingle as you plunge from the hot to the cool pool, then back again. This shocking of the body is said to be most therapeutic as it stimulates the body’s circulation.

To regain your composure, visit the inhalation room said to rehydrate the body after these extremes. From there, breathe deeply the rosemary and lavender oils of the steam bath. Patrons are invited to sit quietly, lulled by piped music and the heat. Stand by the fountain to get the most out of this aromatherapy experience. Conclude your spa experience by laying under the sun lamps – an essential for the winter climate. You will need at least three hours to enjoy this experience. Easily done at the very affordable cost of €13 .

Dinner at Gasthaus Löwenbräu in the evening with its winter wonderland of reindeer, santas and christmas trees will provide you with a memorable evening of Christmas kitsch. You’ll find the food hearty – think game goulash and potatoes dumplings. Staff are dressed in traditional German costume: it is all very heimlich. If the indulgence of either Caracalla or Friedrichsbad was not enough, then dine at the Michelin star restaurant, Park Restaurant at Brenners.

Christmas fare at Gasthaus Löwenbräu
From early December, Baden-Baden is home to a Christmas market. Rug up, put on your faux fur (or your real one), and enjoy a mulled wine or a local beer, perfect to wash down some good German fare, like dumplings with speck and sauerkraut. There are some good local delicacies to discover like wild boar salami and wildschweinbockwurst. These treats are the perfect size for your carry-on luggage and you’ll relish them during the northern cold months that are to follow.

Local delicacies from the Baden-Baden Christmas market

Near the market is Rumpelmayer. This is the place to buy your gingerbread house to celebrate the season. If it gets too cold, retire to the café inside the old pump house, The Trinkhalle. Art Deco in style, this café has all the feelings of a traditional coffee house with its hanging newspapers and lustred wood interior. On a sunny winter day, the light seems almost golden. Order a simple platter of cheese and your afternoon will simply pass by. While the interior is warm and inviting, there is always the option to sit outside and be tres European. Don the designer sunglasses, winter coat and gloves, and look chic.

Gingerbread Christmas houses from Rumpelmayer

Baden-Baden is an accessories city, so if you are looking to indulge this is the place to do it. There are numerous boutiques offering designer sunglasses and eye wear, watches and jewellery. But if you are looking for something a little more unique, then explore the two emporiums that specialize in art deco furniture and wares. From bracelets through to lamps and cocktail cabinets, you’ll find what you are looking for.

With its understated elegance, two luxurious spa complexes and boutique hotels, Baden-Baden is the perfect way to warn off the London winter blues.

Sloweater guide to Baden-Baden

Where to stay
Hotels in Baden-Baden are said to the most expensive in Germany. There are many to choose from but these are our favourites:

Brenner’s Park: For an experience that gets the golden nod from Conde Nast Traveler, Brenner’s Park – Hotel & Spa is our number one choice. From the Park-Restaurant to its private spa complex, you will enjoy the attentiveness to detail, the elegant décor and the unrestrained luxury.
Schillerstraße 4/6, 76530 Baden-Baden

Bad Hotel zum Hirsch: The recent makeover of this member of the Heliopark group is one of understated elegance. This hotel is the perfect location from which to explore the town centre and walk to the nearby spas.
Hirschstraße 1, 76530 Baden-Baden

Bad Hotel zum Hirsch

What to do
"There's not a lot to do in Baden-Baden" was the advice that I was given when discussing my holiday destination. "You go there to relax, eat and drink." Never have wiser words been spoken, and so I did.

Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath: You will experience the joys of the Belle Epoch as never before as you move from one spa to the next. Friedrichsbad has welcomed many to its waters: enjoy the experience and return home tranquil, if not comatose.
Römerplatz 1, Baden-Baden

Caracalla Therme Spa: This modern shrine to roman bathing is popular with families. Relax in the aroma steam room and let the hours sip away as you move from one pool to the next. It is very busy on the weekend, so come early or fly in midweek, where you are guaranteed to almost have the baths to yourself.
Römerplatz 1, 76530 Baden-Baden

Other distractions
Casino Baden-Baden Spielbank: Marlene Dietrich described it as the most beautiful casino in the world. See for yourself and while you are there pretend you’re a member of the European jet set and take a gamble.
Kaiserallee 1, 76530 Baden-Baden

Special thanks to LBM, my co-conspirator. Thanks for a wonderful weekend.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

48 hours in Lisbon

Lisbon had never been on my list of places to see before I die.

Buenos Aires, yes.
Sardinia, yes.
Berlin, yes.
Lisbon, ... well, no.

So it was without any great expectations that I arrived there, lured by a very cheap easyjet flight.

Fourty-eight hours later, I can tell you my top 100 needs revising.

Lisbon is a city ideal for people like me who like to travel without fixed itineraries. It is a city to get lost in without the normal tourist crowds and buses.

This is not to say that there isn't any tourism. There is but overall Lisbon is a city that has refused to be lured by the European tourist circuit. This is a city that prefers to be lived in rather than visited.

All good holidays start with food, and mine begins with the Mercado Ribeira. By the time I arrive, the varinas or fish wives have already put out their fish. Of the catch of the day, it is the prehistoric looking peixe espada (scabbard fish) with its silver foil scales and sharp teeth that catchs my attention.

Unlike many markets in Europe, this market is quiet. The normal hordes of tourists are missing and there are no local specialities vacuum-packed waiting to be sent home. There are just locals shopping. Walking from aisle to aisle, I enjoy an impromptu lesson in Portuguese cooking. All the ingredients for caldo verde and pasteis de bacalhau are there ready for the kitchen.

Nearby, on Rua das Flores, is Carvoaria, a workers canteen opens daily from 12 noon to 3.00 pm. I've been told to arrive early as the place fills quickly. I'm not surprised as the the food is good and very cheap. I select my lunch from the prato dos dias, and order sardinhas assadas with a salada mista and then sit and watch my fellow diners. There are university students, local businessmen and locals. No tourists.

My sardines arrive encrusted in rock salt and cooked on an open-grill. They prove to be one of the best meals that I have ever eaten. Not only are they fresh but the smokiness of the grill combined with the salt and crisp skin of the fish is ... words escape me.

I savour each one, almost to the point of drawing attention to myself. I linger over all four of them, eating slowly in appreciation of each mouthful. If I was ever in any doubt, I know why I travel – I travel to eat.

Post lunch, I head toward Chiado famed for its elegant shopping and A Brasileira. On Rua Garrett, this café has been a favourite with intellectuals and writers since it opened. There is a faint smell of cigar tobacco and its wooden panelled interior has lost none of its lustre. The original painted panels overhead are unmistakable in their Art Nouveau style. This is the perfect place to rest and sample one of many patesis de nata.

Beyond Baixa with its elegance streets is Alfama. During the day it is an uneventful neighbourhood. Off the well worn path of Rua de Sao Joao da Praca near the cathedral , the streets become even quieter. There are very few tourists walking these paved streets of Lisbon. There is only the sound of your own footsteps and of families lunching and dishes being washed behind closed doors. Each corner offers a new sight, such as this grafitti near San Miguel.

The streets are deserted and it’s an opportunity for me to simply meander. Alfama is a labyrinthine of streets, of neighbourhoods within neighbourhoods.

My destination in Alfama is Castelo de Sāo Jorge, a 11th century fort that is a reminder of the presence of Moors in Portugal. On this Sunday afternoon the fort has welcomed some contemporary invaders in the form of mercado mundo mix, a fair of contemporary design from the local college. A DJ mixes the sounds of flamenco and salsa and store holders happily look on despite the inclement weather.

It is easy to spend several hours here, walking through the streets that line the fort.

Beyond some tourist shops selling the famed Lisbon cockerel and titles, the neighbour belongs to its inhabitants rather than tourists. A rooftop café made up of what looks like a make-shift bar and deckchairs belies the contemporary life of Lisbon. This café with no name offers one of the best views of this city.

The neighbourhood of Alfama is perhaps the best neighbourhood for fado and it is worth finding one of the smaller houses to spend an evening discovering this music. At A Baiuca, a small restaurant off Rua de Sao Pedro, I experience this rich heritage. To hear fado is to be told a story. The translation of fado is fate and it is a celebration of what has been lost and what has never been attained. Its poignancy comes from this.

In this small and very overcrowded fado house, these songs of melancholic yearnings are shared. The man who greets us at the door joins with another two men to sing Teiquei rinrha. There are no professional singers and there is no tourist menu.

Late in the evening, our hostess sings and I’m told one of the kitchen-hands sang the night before. It is a local place and during the night more singers will appear at the door and sing fado before leaving again. They greet one another, old friends.

A young woman in her early twenties is encouraged to sing. She does somewhat nervously at first, before she gains confidence and her voice rings out mournful and sad. There is no translation and the depth of the music touches the heart as her voice reaches out across the room and into the small square outside.

Perhaps our best journeys are the unexpected ones. It is those wrong turns, closed signs and misread maps that take us to places beyond familiar guide books into local neighbourhoods. Having never been a great map reader, I find myself lost and in Estrella, a neighbourhood that doesn’t even rate a mention in some guidebooks.

Thinking the fort is behind me, I head south hoping that I will find the centre of town. What I find instead is the religious celebrations of Corpus Christi (the Catholic feast of Pentecost).

In the houses overhead, locals have hung blankets from their balconies. Families line the small streets holding lit candles and lavender. Rose petals are thrown when one of the many religious statues are paraded by, escorted by local bands and lead by local religious fraternities and orders.

The statue of Mary is carried by pall-bearers. Her mount is a bed of orchids and roses. The smell of these blush blooms is lost in the more pungent smell of ripe lavender that has become more intoxicating as it is dropped by the faithful and crushed underfoot.

The statue of Mary moves slowly by, slowed prematurely by the band ahead of her. Her encrusted mantle of sky blue cloth is richly embroidered and on her face, an expression of serenity that has remained the same for centuries. She is followed by Saint Steven, his torso pierced by the arrows of his tormentors. He too looks ahead, beyond the crowd.

The parade will last for several more hours. The faithful will join the line and follow the crowd through the winding streets further into the heart of the city.

In a city famed for its patesis de nata, the word Antiga Confeitaria dé Belem has become synonymous with the pastries known more commonly as portuguese tarts.

Take train 15 to this cafe. The best way to eat a pastéis is with uma bica (strong black express coffee). This bakery has the reputation for being Lisbon’s best. The bakery now makes 16,000 tarts a day based on a recipe that is 170 years old.

Don’t be deterred by the crowd. Wait until they bring a fresh tray of tarts from the ovens. A patesis still warm is wonderful. The custard is rich as is the flakly pastry. Sprinkle with icing sugar and cinnamon.

While you are in Belem, visit the Monument of the Discoveries, a public statue erected in 1960 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator. The 150 metre high monument is an epic statement about Portugal‘s rich maritime past as is the mosaic behind it showing the Portuguese discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries.

A further walk along the coast time will bring you to Torres de Belem built in the 1500s. Now it sits strangely close to the shoreline, the result of reclaimed land. This famous landmark is a fortress made in the Gothic style and is a grand statement of the legacy of Manuel I. Stop off at Mosteiro dos Jerōnimos on your way back to the centre of town. This monastery built using taxes from pepper money is another celebrated example of Manueline architecture.

Before you leave Lisbon, go to O Bacalhoeiro a Licorista, just off the Rua Augusta in Baixa. I have strange suspicion that this is a local fraternity devoted to all things bacalhau. This is the place to order bacalhau cozido.

Your dish will arrive rather unceremoniously – a piece of cod, boiled potatoes, chickpeas and a single egg. Watch the locals turn these uninviting ingredients into a celebration of this wonderous fish. Flake the cod, removing all the skin and any bones. Mix in the chickpeas, potatoes and parsley and dress with olive oil. As for the egg, that is left on the side. Order a Super Bock beer and you’ve become a member.

SLOWEATER guide to Lisbon

Where to drink
Bar with no name
Travessa do Chao do Loureiro, Alfama
This place was closing just as I was arriving but the view, however shortlived, was perfect. The sun had come out and reclined on one of the modernist deckchairs I looked across the skyline of Lisbon. Perfect.

Solar do Vinho (Port Wine Institute)
Rua de Sao Pedro de Alcantara 45
For an advanced study in port of all vintages and varieties, this is the place for some serious study, including the famous Grahams, bottled by the Symington family!

Where to eat
6 Rua des Flores
The first time I turned up, I reasoned it was another traveller’s experience of the lunch that got away. Informamos os nossos estimados clientes que … or so read the sign. Never being one to give up or lose sight of the opportunity to eat a good lunch, I persisted and returned the next day. The result, one of the most fabulous meals I have ever eaten.

O Bacalhoeiro a Licorista
Rua dos Sapateiros,Baixa
Your meal will begin with pasteis de bacalhau, fried bacalhau and potato patties. This unpretentious restaurant is always busy. Order the bacalahau coido and watch the locals to turn this into an appetizing dish. If you can try to the Pudim de Oros. It is the portugese equivalent of a crème caramel only with port and sugar. The question is who or what is Campanhia Portuguezza de Licoreis?

Café de Sapa, Sintra
There are many imitators on the road side, so beware. Instead enjoy your first taste of a queijadas, a local speciality made with either cheese or an almond meal. From the inside of this café I first sited the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, immediately recognisable by its famed conical chimneys. This place is easy to find as it is the only café, once you are on the road to the old town from the train station.

Where to shop
Rua do Carmo 87a, Chiado
Lisbon is not famed for its shopping but it is worth finding this specialist glove shop. It is little more than an entry and there is only room for one customer at a time. The gloves are all hand-made.

Fabrica Sant’ Anna
Rua do Alecrim 95, Chiado
Portugal is famed for its cermaics and this shop is one of many through the city where you can purchase that must-have bowl or platter to take home. My advice: take your credit card.

In memory of Bill McLennan, my grandfather, a man who liked to travel and tell stories.

Monday, January 07, 2008

In search of a good lunch

I’m not one to argue with an Italian who is passionate about his food, especially one who has had lunch at the same place for the last thirty-five years.

I was just getting ready to order when Angelo grabbed my arm. Leaning in, he stated, ‘It’s the only place left in Florence. You eat anywhere else and you’ll pay seven times as much and the food will be … and then you’ll die. I kid you not.’

I had turned up early as I was in desperate need of some good food. Tuscany had been a disappointment. Places were either closed for the holidays or overpriced. So it was with a sigh of relief that I was lead to the last available seat looking out onto the piazza di mercato centrale at Da Mario. It was here that I found Angelo, already in residence and holding court. He was clearly a regular as well known as this local osteria with its successive slow food awards.

He barked his lunch order, gave instructions on what to eat and drink. His conversation was rapid as he shifted between Italian and impressive English, talking with everyone and to anyone around him. People stopped to say hello and I was introduced to all, including a member of the New York Mafia at the next table who assured me that next time I came to New York I would get a table at his restaurant.

Lunch was simple fare. There was a menu somewhere but Angelo found it easier just to say what was on offer. I was told to order papppardelle alla lepre (a wild hare sauce) with the peposo (a slow cooked beef stew) to follow. He would also have the pasta but had it on good authority that the bistecca was exceptional (better than normal, which was always exceptional). A piece of bread was unceremoniously dropped on the table with a small carafe of house red. I was familiar with the bread – a regional speciality made without salt, the perfect way to soak up any leftover sauce. The wine was warming and spicy and would prove the perfect beginning to an afternoon of slow eating.

The lepre arrived shortly after the first carafe of red wine had been emptied. My lesson on regional Tuscan food now started with a bottle of Chianti Classico from Montepulciano served from an ottovino (a small serving glass, one eighth of a litre of wine). This now curiosity was found in the cellar to illustrate to me the importance of the award recently won by Da Mario (the award for best trattoria in Italy was in the shape of a ottovino). Much later we would leave the subject of food and wine and turn to that other great Italian subject, love.

The sugo had clearly been cooking for hours, so succulent and pronounced was it in taste. It was rich without being overpowering, each mouthful revealing a further depth of flavour that made you want more. I savoured the sauce like a wine detecting a note of cinnamon among the tomato, wine and hare. The pasta was a papparelle, wide sinuous ribbons, perfect to pick up the juices. It was uncomplicated, served as is, a simple statement of good food.

The peposo followed: mine a mezzo (half serve) and another bottle of Chianti opened. The noise of the osteria quietened as the crowd settled into the ritual of lunch. This was a dish worthy of veneration. It was hot, spicy, astonishing. The meat fell away with the slightest touch of my fork. The sauce had a rich lustre and a contentment and happiness came with each mouthful. No wonder it was the favoured dish of the tilemakers who worked on Bruneschilli’s Il Duomo. Supposed they cooked the dish for hours in a kiln before breaking for lunch.

Romeo came to the table for a small glass of wine. ‘He is my friend, a real friend’, said Angelo of the chef. I noted the snail on the lapel of his whites, the symbol of the slow food movement. He had started cooking the peposo at seven that morning and six hours later I was eating it. Its flavour was robust, developed. ‘Not like those restaurants where the cooking starts ten minutes before they open’, was Angelo’s response to my rapturous appreciation of the dish.

The afternoon became progressively hazy as you would expect from a three hour lunch. Sometime later, after vino santo (dessert wine) and almond biscotti, we left: I to the airport and Angelo for an expresso.

‘Next time you are in Florence, come back. I’m always here from twelve at the same table’.

Da Mario, Via Rosina 2r, Florence (opposite the central market), Open 12.00 – 15.30 Tel: 055 218550 Special thanks to my dining companion, Angelo - he with the name of an angel and the surname of war. See you next time I'm in Firenze.
Recipe for Peposo
1 kg of lean beef stew meat
10 cloves of garlic
2 tbs of freshly ground black pepper
1 can of diced tomatoes
2-3 cups of Chianti red wine

Place everything into the one pot and cook slowly, very slowly. Five to six hours is just enough and then allow another three for lunch.

Quick guide to Florence

Even in Florence, the most tourist of Italian cities, you can find yourself a little dolce vita.

Head to areas such as Oltrarno and San Marco and you’ll discover a city that belongs to the Italians rather than tourists. Eat at the local osterias, shop at the markets and stores that Italians frequent and walk through a city that is remarking unchanged since its Renaissance.

Where to eat
The much awarded Da Mario is one of the last authentic osterias in Florence. Open for lunch only, this is the place to eat and savour seasonal Tuscan food such as lepre fagiano and the famed bistella served with a wedge of lemon. Come at 12 o’clock to avoid queuing and look out for Angelo. He will be seated at the table by the front window. Via Rosina 2r, Florence (opposite the central market)

Go hungry was the recommendation that came from two strangers on a train back from Pisa when I asked them to tell me their favourite restaurant in Florence. I Latini is a much loved favourite, with its generous servings and hospitality. Some say it’s a little overpriced but in a city of expensive and often very poor food, it deserves its reputation as a place for good food. Don't be deterred if you can't find the street on your map of Florence. Most of the smaller streets aren't listed. Just head in the general area and keep on walking. If you really get lost, just ask Dove I Latini and someone will point you in the right direction or give you directions in English!! Via dei Palchetti 6r, Florence Tel: 055 210916

Never let it be said that distance is an obstacle to getting a good lunch. A day trip to Lucca is the perfect excuse (if you needed one) to dine at I Santi Vineria, a small wine bar off the main piazza. Order i testaroli con pesto, a dish typical of the north-eastern area of Tuscany. The pasta is made from flour and water and then baked in a large heavy dish. The texture is like a foccacia and goes perfectly with the pesto made from famed basil from Lunigiana. Via dell'Anfiteatro, 20A, Lucca Tel: 0583 316116

This is the story of the lunch that got away. At 13.00, Osteria Il Carroccio was full and it was still full an hour and half later when I returned desperately hungry. The food would have been worth the wait as opposed to the very expensive and so so meal I had at a nearby trattoria. But yes, back to the osteria, this is the lunch that I would have ordered. For primo piatti, risotto al radicchio rosso porcini (risotto with red chicory and porcini mushrooms) and for secondo, pappardelle al cinghiale (large ribbon noodles with wild board sauce). The moral of this story is always book a table on a Sunday in Italy! Via del Casato di Sotto 32, Siena Tel:0577 271255

Where to drink
In a city full of bars, you will never be short of a drink but I Fratellini is unique. This is one of the last hole-in-the-walls left in Florence. Place your order at the counter and then stand around like every else enjoying one of the local chiantis. If you are game, try panino no. 22 lardo di colonnata (pig lard, another Tuscan favourite) but failing that no 22, pecorino tartufo e rucola (pecorino chesse with truffle) with a drizzling of fresh olive oil is very very good. Via ei Cimatori 38r, Firenze. Mon–Sat. Tel:055 2396096.

For another neighbourhood favourite, go to All’antico Vinaio. Most evenings it is standing room only but don’t worry the wait for a seat tends to be short. Locals meet at this bar for a quick chat before heading home or out for their main meal. There is a limited but excellent selection of crostini. Try the gorgonzola. It’s self-serve and relaxed like the bar itself. This is a place to enjoy and listen to the locals. Via de’Neri, 65, Firenze. Tues – Sunday. No telephone.

The view from Forte di Belvedere is definitely worth the climb, as is the wine bar, Enoteca Fuori Porta, that you reach after a steep walk along the old city walls. A glass of 2004 Belguardo comes highly recommended as does the crostini con proscutto crudo e crema di tartufo e gorgonzola. The selection of wine is impressive, the atmosphere is warming. This is the perfect place for a memorable lunch. Via Monte alle Croci, 10r 50125 Firenze Tel : 055 23 42 483

Where to shop
Florence is the city of leather. Along the streets lining the Mercato Centrale and at the Mercato Nuovo, you will find leather as far as the eye can see as well as other tourist essentials – marbled paper, miniature statues of David, painted ceramics and italia t-shirts. For better quality and more expensive leather, walk around the small shopping district near the Ponte Vecchio walking towards Santa Trinita. For high end designer products, go straight to Via Strozzi.

If bling is more your thing, then the Ponte Vecchio is your destination. This famous landmark was once the home to the tanners of the city, before one of the Medicis took offence to the smell. This is the place to spend serious money but the artistry of the jewellery is obvious, if not somewhat gaudy.

No trip to Florence would be complete without a trip to Santa Maria Novella Farmacia. Established in 1527 by Dominican monks, it still sells herbal remedies as well as its famous soaps said to be the finest in the world. Via della Scala 16, Santa Maria Novella Tel: 055 216 276

Mercato Centrale is the place to stock up on all those essentials that are incredibly overpriced elsewhere. This is the main market of Florence, so it is wonderfully noisy and overcrowded with locals just doing their own thing.
You'll see Italian food at its best here - seasonal hams encrusted with peppercorns, rosemary and garlic; mustard fruits; pestos and fresh pastas; enough truffle products to satisfy any foodie or truffle pig. The ground floor is dedicated to small goods, cheeses, meats; upstairs, to fruit and vegetables.
Follow your nose to the porcini mushroom stall – the prices range from €8 - € 10 per 100 grams, the most expensive being for the larger ceps.