On the south side of the River Arno, Via Maggio—the street where Florence’s nobles built their residences for its proximity to the Medici palace—is home to a showroom of one of the city’s most talented artisan families. Behind the showroom window, sister and brother Elisabetta and Alessandro Bianchi are bent over one of their latest works. They are masters of a technique called scagliola—the art of using powdered selenite to inlay a design into marble tables and panels. Invented in Florence during the Renaissance, scagliola had mysteriously disappeared until Elisabetta and Alessandro’s father, Bianco, became fascinated with it in the ’50s.
“Driven by passion and curiosity, he started to search for antique recipes for scagliola in old libraries, and then he attempted the craft at home,” says Alessandro. “Luckily he was very good at it.”
Bianco’s meticulous and striking pieces quickly garnered a following, and his scagliola can now be found in some of the world’s most prestigious places—including the Kensington Royal Palace and Four Seasons Hotel Firenze.
The city’s Santa Croce area is the historical home of Italy’s first tanneries and leather workers. Nearby, in the antique dormitory of the Santa Croce Church, today’s students can learn ancient leatherwork skills under master craftsmen at the Scuola del Cuoio, or Leather School.
“Our in-house artisans create the one-of-a-kind bags and leather accessories we sell in our atelier,” says Laura Gori, the school’s co-owner. “We teach leatherwork to students from all over the world.”
As artisans sew and shape leather in the school’s open workshop, Gori pulls a 100-year-old bronze tool from a flame, preparing to personalize an exquisite leather bag with gilded initials. “Gilding is a master craftsman skill, and only the top leather-making artisans are able to work with gold,” she says, taking a sliver of papery 22-carat gold foil and smoothing it over the leather with a sponge. She presses the hot tool into the foil and leather, and then pulls it away to reveal a client’s initials.
“Watching our craftsmen put together their hands, hearts, passions and brains to make beautiful things,” says Gori, “it’s like walking in past centuries.”
Though he may be grouped with the Florentine leather workers at Scuola del Cuoio and other traditional craftsmen of the city—chandelier makers, cobblers and silversmiths—perfumer Lorenzo Villoresi is not a typical artisan. His award-winning olfaction and meticulous techniques are behind his niche fragrance collection and allow him to create personalized scents for private clients.
“It is a different kind of craftsmanship, though it’s still very much artisanal,” says Villoresi in his atelier, a small workshop with a grand view of the River Arno. “The perfumer works with very few instruments—a piece of paper and a pen, a very precise scale, a glass beaker, and a stick—slowly adding extracts drop by drop.”
Villoresi draws from a palette of nearly 1,500 extracts to create his scents and often writes poetry about his creations. Clients ask Villoresi to infuse notes of cherished places into their tailor-made fragrances: A nostalgic Irishman living in America requested a hint of alfalfa, a wild grass from his homeland; another client, the smell of a stable from his family’s country home.
Blending citrus and woody notes, Villoresi creates a heady combination that evokes the blue sea and fragrant lemon trees of Italy’s Amalfi coast—the gentle essence of a memory.
At Dante Cardini jewellery shop on Florence’s famed Ponte Vecchio, glittering jewels in glass cabinets outshine the sun that shimmers over the Arno. Fourth-generation owners and first cousins Elisabetta Gardella and Massimo Del Taglia, whose great-grandfather opened the shop in 1888, know that jewellery is part of the Ponte Vecchio’s history.
“The Ponte Vecchio once had butcher shops, but the Medicis hated the smell,” says Gardella. “They adored beautiful things and wanted to elevate the prestige of the bridge, so they moved out the butchers and summoned the jewellers.”
Although jewellery makers no longer work on the Ponte Vecchio, Dante Cardini sells handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces in collaboration with Florentine jeweller Roberto Poggiali.
Besides the sparkling collection, Dante Cardini houses another rare gem. A narrow staircase at the back of the shop winds to a private fourth-storey rooftop terrace, the only one accessible from the Ponte Vecchio. Here, guests of Four Seasons Hotel Firenze are exclusively invited to reserve an unforgettable private dining experience for two.
As the sun sets over the Arno, take a seat, pour the wine and enjoy a personalized menu created especially for the evening, with elegant golden touches that allude to the bridge’s jewellery tradition. From your place on the terrace, the city glistens in the last light of day, evoking the Florence of the Renaissance, of the Medicis—the Florence that inspired the artisans who captured its creative spirit.