Italians take their food seriously—surprise!—and food markets are one of their longest-standing traditions. Tuscan markets are still at the heart of many small towns and offer a wonderful opportunity to live like a local in Italy. Some are seasonal, and some operate all-year-round, but all will give you a real taste of Italian culture.
When you visit a Tuscan market, be ready for large crowds where local rules apply. You must follow the rules or risk being left empty-handed. Here are some tips for thriving at the market:
Skip the Line: Italians don’t believe in lineups. If you stand around and wait your turn, you’ll be waiting a while! Instead, hack their protocol by asking someone “Chi e’ the last one?” (Who is last?), and you’ll be next after that person. Then say “Tocca a me!” meaning “It’s my turn!” and you’re off to the races.
Hands Off: Only touch the produce if the vendor hands you a bag. When you see a sign reading Do not touch it means don’t touch. For hygienic reasons, vendors prefer to handle the food themselves. Makes sense to us!
If You Buy It, Try It First: Forget everything you know about North American supermarkets. You may be used to your fruits and vegetables lasting a week or more, but that’s not true here when many fruits and veggies are grown organically.
Any trip to Italy is likely going to revolve, at least partially, around eating. While you may be hitting up every restaurant you possibly can, you’ll likely want to take a shot at some DIY Italian fare in the comfort of your villa’s kitchen—and that starts with the freshest and finest local ingredients. (You know what they say: When in Tuscany, do as the Tuscans do.) Italian tradition dictates visiting the local market and collecting just enough of what you need for that day or night’s meal. Here are your soon-to-be favorite Tuscan markets.
Central Market, Florence
Open all year-round, Monday through Saturday
For an authentic and traditional experience at one of the top Tuscan markets, head right to Mercato Centrale in the heart of Florence. Built in 1874 and housed in cast-iron structure, Mercato Centrale is likely exactly what you were expecting from a market in Tuscany. Its architect was Giuseppe Mengoni, who had also built the Sant’ambrogio Market and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan.
Inside you’ll find traditional food shops run by passionate artisans selling classic Tuscan ingredients like cheeses, cured meats, pasta, and bread. The market’s first floor (above ground level) was overhauled in 2014 and houses a mixture of stalls and restaurants selling ready-to-eat dishes where you can sit and power up for the rest of your visit. The chefs here believe that Italian cuisine should accessible to all, so don’t be shy to hit them up while in action and ask about what they’re doing, or even better, ask for advice you can take home with you.
Central Market, Livorno
Open Monday through Saturday (8am-1pm)
A large 19th-century Liberty-style building towers over a canal near the Porto Livorno where Tuscany meets the Ligurian Sea on Italy’s west coast. This is the Mercato Centrale, also known as Leghorn Market in English. On your tour of Tuscan markets, this one has to be high on the agenda. Livorno is a town meant to be discovered over time in order to appreciate its narrow streets and 18th and 19th-century buildings.
Tuscany’s most important port city, it was built during the Renaissance by the Medici family, incorporating fortified walls, ramparts, and canals to make the “ideal Italian city.” Early on, Livorno adopted an open-door policy towards immigrants, and those roots live on today in its vibrant and diverse population. The central market’s 16th-century design took inspiration from the Parisian architecture of the day, and it comprises of 200 shops arranged in rows serving meat, eggs, poultry, ham, cheese, bread, and wine. Make sure you spend some time in the smaller halls, where the main event is locally-caught fresh fish and Livorno’s most famous dish: Cacciucco, a tomato-based fish stew. Chase that with the local drink, Ponce Livornese: a warm mix of rum, cognac, Sassolino (an anise-flavored liqueur), lemon rind, and sugar capped off with a shot of Italian coffee.
Il Pagliaio, Chianti
Open every fourth Sunday of the month, March through December
Held at the Piazza Giacomo Matteotti in the heart of Greve in Chianti, Il Pagliaio is as authentic as Tuscan markets get. The market is a monthly ritual for locals—and smart travelers in search of the most authentic experiences! Perhaps you’re making a day trip from Florence or maybe you’re looking for the small town Tuscan experience. Either way, you’ll have quite the time at this lively social gathering in the small town center. Everything at Il Pagliaio—translating to The Haystack—is organic.
Forty or more producers gather to sell local and seasonal products from fruits and veggies to Florence’s famous Mugello chestnuts. You can be sure that every ingredient you take home is in season and from the region. Besides stocking up for that night’s dinner, you can also find some local crafts at Il Pagliaio. Artisans sell ceramics, paintings, woven baskets, jewelry, and more—and you can be sure that every item on display was made by the vendor selling it to you. Live music, performances, and theatrics are all commonplace here too. If you’re in or around Greve in Chianti on the fourth Sunday of the month, you can’t miss this market.