After reading about The Mall Firenze, one of The Mall Luxury Outlets in Italy, my friend, Helene, and I decided to meet in Florence a couple of weeks ago. We hadn’t traveled together since March 2020 and this seemed like a great way to do a little holiday shopping at some of the best stores in the world and also take advantage of the exclusive experiences The Mall Luxury Outlets offers to immerse guests in the local culture. I’m not talking about pizza in a food court but, rather, authentic, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that include truffle hunting, art tours and the chance to create a custom fragrance.
We were so intrigued by this unique concept and had no idea what to expect but it turned out to be such a special trip, we’re thinking of making it an annual tradition.
When we contacted The Mall Firenze to get more information, they couldn’t have been nicer, asking questions about our interests, making suggestions and even booking our hotel reservation at the gorgeous St. Regis Florence, which overlooks the Arno River and is a quick walk from the Ponte Vecchio. Complete with daily breakfast and our own butler, it was the perfect home base for our three-night stay.
We were excited to visit The Mall Firenze and couldn’t believe when we pulled up to what looked more like a sprawling Ivy League college campus than a shopping mall. Surrounded by the beautiful Tuscan countryside, it is stunning – and unlike any shopping mall you’ve ever visited. And, to clarify, these are not discount stores; they’re, literally, outlets for some of the world’s top designers.
We were greeted at the Welcome Center, where we enthusiastically signed up for the Mall Club loyalty program in anticipation of our future purchases. Members receive a variety of perks, depending on their level, and it’s worth joining no matter how often you shop. Also, because we had booked Experiences, we were each given My Luxury Wallet, which features some great perks like access to the VIP lounge and complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea or happy hour.
There are 36 boutiques at The Mall Firenze, including the names you would expect – Valentino, Saint Laurent, Versace – and some that were a delightful surprise, like Philipp Plein and Hogan. Each store is totally unique and proof that fashion is truly an art.
Since we were spending the day at The Mall Firenze, we had also arranged a cooking class with their chef, which was fun and delicious. He taught us how to make pasta and pesto from scratch and shared lots of stories. It was a wonderful addition to the day and we would have eaten more but we wanted to try his restaurant.
Because The Mall Luxury Outlets are all about making life easier and more luxurious for their guests, The Mall Firenze also feature two restaurants that could stand alone as five star experiences. We had lunch at ToscaNino Bistro, a warm and inviting space offering an extensive menu filled with dishes made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients. My Pappa Al Pomodoro (Tuscan Bread Soup) was the epitome of comfort food and so hearty, I understand why many Italians are so passionate about their midday riposo.
Our day at The Mall Firenze was so much more civilized and enjoyable than any day I’ve ever spent at a mall in the United States. And the best was still yet to come.
Here are the exclusive experiences we booked through The Mall Luxury Outlets. I highly recommend each one.
Discovering the Gold of Tuscany
I’ve wanted to go truffle hunting ever since I saw the documentary, The Truffle Hunters, so I was really looking forward to this one. It was amazing. We got to join Marco, one of the masters of the industry, and his dog, Maia, for an unforgettable morning in the forest. As we ran after Maia, who sniffed out both white truffles and black ones, we got quite an education in the art of the hunt – and the relationship between the human and canine hunters.
It was such an exhilarating experience and sobering to realize how challenging this is as a full-time job. Marco, who sells all over the world, had to find buyers for the truffles immediately to ensure their freshness and a courier came to pick them up as we were having lunch. Although we didn’t get to eat the truffles Maia found, we tasted them in every imaginable form – including truffle honey – with bread and cheese and wine. La dolce vita, indeed.
I’m not going to be able to do justice to how extraordinary this experience was but here goes. Helene and I fell in love with AquaFlor as soon as we walked into the Renaissance palace that is home to their breathtaking parfumerie. It is a delight for the senses, with beautiful objects to see and touch, dramatic music playing in the background and, oh, the scents.
We sat down with fragrance specialist Zisis, who is a wealth of information and has the patience of a saint. Not only did he answer our million questions about the history of fragrance but he indulged me as I sniffed a couple dozen scents, rating each one and, ultimately, only really liking one of them. When I told him how much I used to love the clean scent of philosophy’s Pure Grace, which doesn’t smell the same to me anymore, he nodded, pulled out a bottle and gave me a stick to smell. I almost cried. Once we had established this baseline, he whipped together a hauntingly beautiful scent that felt like me. Although I still have to let it mature for another week or so, it makes me so happy that every once in a while, I sneak a little sniff. This is a surprisingly emotional experience and one I will always remember.
We were smart enough to book two very different art tours – and lucky enough to have had both of them led by guide extraordinaire, Lucia. The first was a tour of the Uffizi Gallery and, although Helene and I had both been there before, it was so much more enriching to see it through the eyes of an expert.
The other tour was a custom mix of street art and a tour Lucia calls “Forbidden Florence.” She took us through alleyways, gave us the inside scoop on the artwork on the walls and even took us to a shop famous for work by some of the city’s most renowned street artists. In between stops for street art, gelato, more street art and shopping, she told us colorful stories of Florence’s more scandalous history. It was fact-filled, fascinating and fun.
Because we built our itinerary around – and with the help of – The Mall Luxury Outlets, we got to experience more of Florence in a few days than we had in any of our previous trips there. We made lifetime memories, knocked out some holiday shopping and have already started looking into flights for a trip to The Mall Sanremo in the spring.