Nobody really knows where gelato was first invented (this depends also upon how you define the first gelato as their were precursors of other frozen desserts but without milk or cream) but Florence, the cradle of the renaissance, certainly nursed this beloved frozen dessert through its infancy and helped it to grow into a world renowned treat. Florentine architect and theater set designer, Bernardo Buontalenti is widely credited with serving the first frozen cream dessert in the mid 1500s at the court of the Medici. Catherine de’ Medici brought it with her to France where it was served after most royal banquets, thus conquering the world. Even today, Florence is full of excellent gelato.
Here are 10 favorites: (See tips on how to choose the right Gelato shop.)
- Dona Malina: A chocolate shop, outside the center that has expanded into excellent all natural gelato; all topped with decadent chocolate sauce. Excellent chocolate and intense nut flavors. The Dark Chocolate (Fondente Blend) made without milk is a must and the Pine Nut (Pinolato) is not to be missed if it is in season.
- Vivoli: A Florentine favorite since the mid 1900s, and justly famous with world travelers. Don’t miss the Rice (Riso,) the unbelievable light and airy Chocolate Mousse (Mousse al Cioccolato,) or the delightful fragrant Pear with Caramel (Pere al Caramello.)
- Venchi: A historic chocolate company and now ever-expanding nation-wide chain, that nevertheless excels at gelato. Chocolate obviously is a star. Try the Nougatine (Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Praline.)
- Gelateria dei Neri: An always popular spot in the street-food centric Via dei Neri. Try the Ricotta with Figs (Ricotta con Fichi,) but skip the fruit flavors.
- Badiani: Outside the center but a favorite among local Florentines and always packed on a hot summer afternoon. They are the inventor of the Florentine original flavor Buontalenti (Cream) and a winner of the Gelato Festival Europa tour. Try the Buontalenti.
- Gelateria de Medici: Another local favorite, with a wide selection of flavors. Try the Blackberry (More) made without milk.
- Procopio: The Ben & Jerry’s style gelato with all sorts of mix-ins. Try the Il Procopio signature flavor with almond, pistachio and candied orange.
- Arà: Authentic and intense Sicilian-style gelato jam packed with flavor. You’ll never guess that most are made without milk or eggs. Don’t miss the nearly savory Ricotta gelato or in summer the amazingly refreshing Mulberry Granita (Granita di Gelso)
- Vivaldi: This rather cozy tea shop and ice cream parlor has a wide range of pure ingredient based milk-less gelato, think pure nut or fruit flavors.
- Carraia: Longstanding Florentine gelato shop. Try Peach (Pesca) and Almond Milk (Latte di Mandorla) if available.