Tucking into a delicious cone or cup of creamy vanilla, crunchy stracciatella or sensual chocolate gelato in glorious historic surroundings is one of Italy's quintessential experiences. And as legend has it that gelato was invented in Renaissance Florence by Bernardo Buontalenti, what better place to try Italy’s famous delicacy than in its birthplace?
Eating Buontalenti and pistachio gelato from Gelateria Santa Trinita beside the river Arno © Nardia Plumridge / Lonely Planet
How to spot authentic gelato
It’s all in the colour
Quality gelato is made using only the finest, freshest ingredients. No artificial colours or additives here, and colour is key. Banana should be white like the fresh fruit (not bright yellow) and pistachio a light brown. Gelato should look authentic to the colour of the original ingredients.
Is it 'artigianale'?
The word 'artigianale’, meaning they make their gelato by hand to traditional recipes, will often be proudly displayed at a gelateria. Keep an eye out for this sign, and if in doubt, ask.
Like many items on food menus across Italy, gelato also follows the seasons. Watch out for fruits like peach or watermelon in the summer, and chestnut or pumpkin come the cooler months. Half the fun is seeing what’s in season, so feel free to be adventurous when deciding on your flavour.
Ricotta, pear and plenty of other delicious flavours at La Carraia © Nardia Plumridge / Lonely Planet
Don’t judge a gelateria by its display
Those large mounds of gelato can be tempting, yet are often a sign the gelato is factory produced and unlikely to be the best quality. Small tubs, often covered with a lid, are what to look out for. Don’t be put off by the lack of display; size isn’t everything.
Florence's top 10 gelaterias
Caparina is the brainchild of Simone Bonini, who launched his first contemporary gelateria in the neighbourhood of Campo di Marte, with this second outlet tucked down a side street by the Uffizi Gallery opening in 2010. It’s all about seasonality, with creative flavours made daily, on-site. Bonini has a penchant for using local ingredients with flair – don’t be surprised to see gelato made with gorgonzola or parmesan cheese.
An innocent lunch break reading a newspaper article about how no one in Italy makes gelato as good as it used to be sparked the idea for friends Guido and Federico to start their first gelateria, Grom, in 2003. Today many ingredients come from their organic farm and, like all good gelato, theirs contains only all-natural ingredients. Try their eponymous flavour, Crema di Grom, a milk-based scoop with corn biscuits and Arriba chocolate chips, or perhaps a refreshing sorbet laced with lemon, raspberry or fresh strawberries.
Queues of hungry customers at Grom © Giorgio Cosulich / Getty Images
In 1929 Serafino Vivoli moved to Florence to become a gelato-making master, opening his gelateria and café in Santa Croce. Local artisans, and a long line of visitors, still travel to this quaint backstreet for the store's daily creations, which use only natural ingredients and include some gluten-free options. They consider their gelato ‘Florentine art’ and now even have an outlet in Macy's department store, New York.
The area of San Lorenzo, just north of the Duomo, has gentrified in recent years with via de’ Ginori lined with some of the city’s most popular eateries including My Sugar. Run by husband and wife team, Alberto and Guilia Bati, in the two years since opening not only have they gathered a loyal band of regular customers they have also taken home the coveted title as winner of the Florence Gelato Awards in 2016. In autumn try the seasonal cinnamon flavour, it’s spicy warmth arriving just in time for the cooler days, and the zesty pineapple and ginger sorbet that makes for the perfect post-meal palate cleanser.
My Sugar, on trendy via de’ Ginori © Nardia Plumridge / Lonely Planet
Il Gelato di FiLo
Enroute to the famed Piazzale Michelangelo viewpoint in the charming San Niccolo district you’ll find Il Gelato di FiLo, a tiny gelateria offering a selection of pots filled with creamy treats. Popular flavours, made daily in small batches, include coconut in the summer and black cherry in the cooler months. It's the perfect way to begin, or finish, the devilish climb to the Piazzale to see the amazing views over Florence.
Tucked just around the corner from the Accademia, Ara is a contemporary-styled food store selling all things inspired by Sicily including gelato, with their pistachio shipped in from the Italian southern isle. Granita and cannoli, piped with ricotta fresh to order, are also on the menu, plus a selection of street food including warm arancini. But it’s the dolce (desserts) that are worth popping in for, with seasonal fruits a sought after choice.
La Cantina del Gelato
Just a skip from Florence’s famed bridge, Ponte Vecchio, by the river Arno, La Cantina del Gelato is a hole-in-the-wall space within a grand old palazzo. Alongside classics like choc-chip or strawberry, it’s the speciality flavours that shine, such as goat’s cheese with nuts or Tuscan sweet wine Vin Santo with crunchy cantuccini biscuits. A second outlet in Sant Ambrogio is on the quaint shopping street of Borgo La Croce (at number 30).
Popular riverside gelateria La Carraia was opened by brothers Massimo and Roberto almost three decades ago, and continues to be a family affair. Join the queue at this local Florentine hotspot as the classic flavours like crème caramel and tiramisu made in their on-site kitchen are worth the wait. On the north side of the Arno river, you'll find their second store just minutes from Piazza Santa Croce on via dei Benci (at number 24r).
La Strega Nocciola
Nestled by the imposing arch of the Duomo, La Strega Nocciola prides itself on all organic ingredients. Their passion for quality takes them all the way to Sicily, where they source their pistachios, and the nearby town of Lucca in central Tuscany, where they source the milk to create delicious scoops of stracciatella (choc-chip) and a dark-chocolate creation that never disappoints.
Gelateria Santa Trinita
Gelateria Santa Trinita is another popular riverside gelato stop, by the elegant bridge of Santa Trinita opposite Palazzo Frescobaldi. With a wide selection of both gelato and sorbet flavours, you’ll find chocolate and nut classics alongside exciting specials such as Buontalenti al mascarpone, a creamy concoction made in honour of the gelato king himself. As well as gelato, the store sells ice-cream cakes, handmade chocolates and a selection of local Tuscan wines.
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