Once a year, for the past 77 years, Florence has been bringing artisans from all over the world to display their wares at the Fortezza da Basso, in 55,000 square meters of space (if you’re trying to convert that to feet, just know that you’ll need comfortable shoes on yours – it’s gigantic). The 2013 fair will showcase arts and crafts from 50 countries, including guest of honor, Vietnam.
In addition to the colossal international exhibition space, Italy’s included in the mix, with an entire floor dedicated to Italian handicrafts and a separate building for modern expressions of traditional Tuscan artisan work.
Then, there’s a whole other floor, a courtyard, outdoor stands, and a complete piazza dedicated solely to FOOD – don’t even pretend that’s not your favorite handmade masterpiece.
That’s a LOT of stuff. And it only costs €5 to get in and have access to it all. You’re going to be overwhelmed. And even if it is with awesomeness, it’s good to have a game plan. You don’t want to end up buying what you think is the greatest thing ever at the right price, only to turn down the next aisle and find the actual greatest thing ever, for less. I already did that for you.
So here’s a map, the program (in Italian), and 10 things to keep on your radar (in no particular order):
1. Vertical Plant & Flower Holders
Italian company, Novotono, produces these little wall-mountable pots (€10-€20), perfect for easy-care succulents like aloe and cactus. The magnetic or adhesive models are interior design saviors for those with apartment restrictions on putting holes in the wall.
These hanging bud vases (€12) are colorful creations by Milanese glass artist, Martino Vertova. They’ll brighten up any space and are perfect for spring – and people who can’t grow plants.
Floral. Polka dot. Paisley. Ombre. Airy cottons and pure silk in every color of the rainbow. Most scarves cost €5-10, but you can find them for as little as €3. Ask for a deal when buying more than one.
3. Moroccan Tent
Drink real Moroccan mint tea (€2.50) with traditional pastries under folds of sheer purple curtains. For €5, you can get a henna tattoo, and for a couple euro more, a guy nearby will write your name in Arabic on a tiny pot he’ll sculpt in front of you.
Yoko Takiri, was born in Japan and has lived, studied, and worked in Tokyo, West Virginia, and Florence – where she opened her own jewelry company, Takiri Design, in 2002. For around €70 euro, one of her stunning rings can dance across your fingers and look like nothing anyone’s ever seen before.
5. Traditional Clothing & Dance
Most participating artisans dress in gorgeous traditional clothing. But the country of honor takes it one step further with native music and dance performances – in costume! For showtimes, look for spettacolo di musica e danza vietnamita in the program.
6. Tibetan Bells
Filling these standing bells with water and running a mallet along their outer edges produces an audible harmonic tone through radiating waves of vibration. Also known as “singing bowls” their calming song is used to help treat cancer, post traumatic stress, attention deficit disorders, and help facilitate meditation, relaxation, and healing. Basically, they’re magic – and we could all use one. The tiniest bells start at €5.
7. Gelato Festival Preview
Florence has a Gelato Festival every year at the end of May. If you won’t be here, or can’t contain yourself till then – you’re in luck! A few select flavors preview here! Chantilly cream with chocolate and ricotta with fig need to hop on your taste buds ASAP.
8. International Food
Being the country of honor, I was expecting more food from Vietnam. But I did find some great spring roles for €5 at Vegitalis Catering (top floor, building 1, in the back) – and they were vegan; I had no idea. Spain had it going on with sangria (€3), seafood paella (€10), and churros (€5) with your choice of milk, dark, or white chocolate. And Italy stepped it up with “Lampione della Verna,” Tuscan Apennines mountain-ripened raspberry liquor.
9. Beaded Purses
These clutch and over-the-shoulder purses from India are intricately beaded – front and back – and somehow cost just €10 each! Styles from hipster Aztec, to wedding appropriate, to traditional Indian.
These incredibly cool bracelets (€5) by Lord Choise are made by restringing the skull bead from original Tibetan rosaries onto a piece of colorful ribbon. (The Tuscan company also makes completely original, hand-stitched leather bags that can be shipped to the U.S.A.!)
Throughout the fair, Indian bracelets were priced at €2-€5! (€1-€4 if you try your hand at haggling) I came home with seven and took this picture to remind myself that – despite believing the exact opposite – I actually do have enough bangles…
until next year.