Shop till you drop – The Mall, Florence

The Mall shopperSpring is here and time to change the wardrobe and perhaps use the excuse to go shopping at The Mall, Florence one of the most popular designer outlets. Oddly enough it’s only 5mins from where I live yet I rarely go unless my overseas visitors are curious. It’s perhaps the only time many of the shoppers ever get to see the beauty of the Tuscan countryside. With around 3 million visitors each year it is not surprising that The Mall has continued to

The Mall Prada

Prada – The Mall

expand despite the economic crisis. The little local village of Leccio has incorporated the rather trendy architectural shopping blocks, though most shoppers rarely get out of The Mall precinct, since it has more than one restaurant and café area and the bus services and many private NCC taxi drivers take customers to the door.

These days the major clientele are Asian – Chinese, Korean and Japanese who come in droves, often in their own Tour coaches.

It has been a boom for the area however giving a lot of new work opportunities both inside the outlets as well as in the new constructions and surrounding landscaped gardens in need of constant maintenance. Regular bus services and additional taxi services are also a benefit to locals. And besides when it gets gruellingly hot in Summer we can all escape there into the air conditioning!The Mall expansion


Other outlet areas have opened close by – the Fashion Groove home to Geox shoes, Timberland, Calzedonia and others, Dolce and Gabbana at Primo Piano and the Fashion Valley.

But it has not all been a rosy picture as the closure of Fashion Valley can testify. Murky green ponds, dirty statues heighten the dismal effect of closed shop windows now in the Fashion Valley. The only place still open is the Asian restaurant – La Fenice which obviously has a special deal going as Coaches bus groups there daily for lunch.

Still a visit to The Mall is worthwhile, even without buying, as the ‘idyllic Tuscan countryside’ as described in the brochure is very relaxing on the eyes from the rooftopNike gym shoes restaurant of Gucci. And I must admit even I succumbed to a bargain in the Nike Outlet, after all how could I go past new gym shoes for only €29.50!!

Little do visitors know that they are just below the beautiful Castle Sammezzano which we hope will one day be open to the public to visit.

Tuscan countrysidePs And besides it’s safer to be out of the city these days considering what happened when the water pipe burst in Florence near the Ponte Vecchio last Wednesday!!



Even Paradise needs a Gardener!


Save Vernazza TeamSave Vernazza voluntourism project has started for another season in the Cinque Terre with 50 Busabout guides and drivers spending a morning getting their hands dirty and learning about the project so they can pass on the information to their clients.



It’s the Fourth Season of the “Turisti nei Cian” project which over the past 3 years:

  • 450 travellers joined 50+ excursions to provide direct assistance to save Vernazza’s fragile territory and to promote sustainable tourism.
  • 20 different landowners were helped to rebuild terracing and stonewalls (for which Vernazza and the Cinque Terre have been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO), restore olive groves, cultivate vineyards and harvest grapes.
  • Busabout guests donated over €6.600 to assist with Save Vernazza’s restoration and preservation efforts, including building five dry stonewalls and restoring land above the train station (to prevent further landslides onto the tracks).

Busabout Tour managers

While still a drop in the ocean in restoring damaged land after the 2011 flood, recuperating abandoned land terraces, or  recovering olive groves, the project has made a significant contribution to the community.Busabout Tour manager






Landowners were already smiling as they recounted the first day’s experience, as there is nothing better than being surrounded by enthusiastic young people giving a helping hand and enjoying the experience.

The Busabout staff  felt satisfied and at the end of the morning enjoyed a well earned lunch and laugh together.

The agency is part of the Treadright Foundation which is committed to ‘Sustainable Tourism, to keep this world beautiful!’


So if you are over this way and want to participate, check the calendar here and contact Save Vernazza – Irene di Martino project manager and sign up.    Email :   or  Whatsapp: +39 3485306953

Save VernazzaI guarantee you will find it a rewarding experience, the guides are young locals, the farmers all with a good story to tell and the lunch is super. You don’t have to be a Busabout client to participate in the Voluntourism project  and your contribution (€ 19) for the morning’s work and lunch covers equipment and expenses for the day. It is hard work and often hot so be prepared, but it will get you away from the madding crowds and give you an insight into the real community of Vernazza.

And as Save Vernazza’s motto says: ‘Even paradise needs a gardener!’


The Good and Bad news about the Cinque Terre




The tourist season has started at the Cinque Terre and since Easter we have been blessed with some great weather which only changed at the end of April. After the numerous discussions and meetings of Trenitalia, the Cinque Terre National Park, Local Councils and Ligurian Regional reps over the inundation of tourists and lack of services, we all had great expectations.Cinque Terre train





The good news was the introduction of the new train timetable – Cinque Terre Express which runs every half hour and stops at every village. This has meant a 24% increase in the number of trains available, a 40% increase in the number of stops (often in the past Corniglia was not included)  and a 25% increase in the number of seats. Offering around 50,000 seats per day within the Cinque Terre. It will also mean that shortly the cost of the train ticket will change to €4 for the entire trip between all 5 villages.

Wow! So what’s the bad news?

The new timetable started in time for Easter and the long weekend of the 25th of April with a record numbers of tourists, and unfortunately there were long queues to the stations, train delays and the ‘cattle truck syndrome’ inside carriages with pick pockets delighting in the squash. And this is only the beginning of the season! Train delays can happen for many reasons as the same railway line takes the rapid train to Genoa and through to Nice which always has priority against local trains. However the main problem appears to be the difficulty in getting people up onto the platforms while allowing for those disembarking to get down and out of the station area.

Solutions? We may have our own style ‘train pushers’ as is done in Japan to assist the crowds into the station and onto the platform to avoid continuing delays. Extra Trenitalia staff are to be placed at the stations to do just that, so look out!

Bartolo, Cheo winery, Vernazza

Bartolo without the T-shirt in his vineyards of Cheo winery, Vernazza

Another issue raised has been for local residents who will not be required to pay the €4 but the current €1.80 between each station, although how they will be identified is unclear. An article in the local newspaper suggested we may need to be micro chipped or possibly  tattooed?! I hope that doesn’t eventuate and thought of Bartolo a local wine producer from Vernazza who often wears a cute T shirt “I am not a tourist, I live here!”

The current Cinque Terre card which allows tourists to hike the coastal trail between Corniglia to Vernazza, and Vernazza to Monterosso costs €7,50 per person  or including all train travel  €12 for a day, will increase to €16 just so the train company get their quota.

Cinque Terre- Corniglia

Looking down on Corniglia


On the trail to Monterosso









The good news? The Cinque Terre is still gorgeous, a delight to the eyes, an enchanting unique area that will survive even the worst inundation of tourists……we hope!

And I will keep you posted of developments.