To appreciate the Pasticceria Gilli, one should take a trip through time. It’s 1733 Florence, during the reign of the last Medici, Gian Gastone. Italy and Europe is quite unstable. However, Florence is steadfast in commerce and a hub for social engagements. With that in mind, many Swiss families migrated south– bringing with them their practices, traditions and styles. One such family, the Gilli family, came to Florence with a sweeter dream. They brought with them old family recipes, traditional ingredients and an unbeatable selection of “pasticceria.”
Nestled in the Piazza della Repubblica, The Gilli Family opened their shop that featured their family recipes. Sugared doughnuts, artisan chocolates and liqueurs quickly turned their tiny store into a Florentine staple.
Gilli has watched 270 years of historical and cultural transformation unfold from its Piazza della Repubblica location. With its original façade, structure and furnishings, one feels as though they have entered into a time-encapsulated bubble. An air of glamour, art and history permeates the atmosphere, with frescoed ceilings, carved wood interiors and classical art adorning the walls. Despite the number of tourists and local regulars that flock to Gilli, the long, backwards “L”-shaped walnut bar provides ample space for those in search of coffee, pastries or a selection of artisan chocolates and desserts. The elegant Tea Room provides more space for those who wish to dine and linger over their selections. In the warmer weather, the outdoor seating area (that extends into the Piazza) offers the perfect spot to enjoy the splendor of Italian life and architecture.
Arriving earlier than most, I was afforded the luxury of truly taking in my first experience at Gilli, without any rush or bustle. The two impeccably uniformed men behind the bar kindly informed me of the wide selection of drinks including coffee, espresso, pure hot chocolate, cappuccino, macchiato, teas, infusions, juices, and on and on, until I simply asked them to make me their best.
“That would be our cappuccino”, one of them answered proudly.
A bit baffled by the superlative statement of such a common drink, I inquired further, “I can order a cappuccino anywhere, so what makes the one at Gilli ‘The Best’?”
“Everything we make here at Gilli is the best,” he responded, “because everything is made with passion. Even the selection of the ingredients used to make everything that you see, is made, in house, with passion.”
Intrigued by his heartfelt statement, I accepted the selection. And following unwritten Italian tradition, I then selected a pastry to accompany my cappuccino. So, while my “Best” cappuccino was being meticulously prepared, I sauntered over to the glowing glass case that extended from the end of the bar to the far wall. Heaping full of pastries, brioches, chocolates, cakes, tarts, tiramisù and other heavenly indulgences sparkled up at me. Another kind waitstaff smilingly asked what I fancied.
“What would you recommend?” I asked her. Without hesitation, she lifted out from the innumerable rows of treats, a golden whole-wheat brioche filled with honey.
Pastry in hand, I went back to my place at the bar where an artfully poured cappuccino was waiting for me, fragrant and foamy to perfection. I stood and ate and sipped, and nibbled, all the while my gaze scanned the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the sculptures, the art. The feeling of the history and culture entrenched every square inch of Gilli. And after I had finished my cappuccino and pastry, the young man behind the bar came back and asked with a knowing smile how I had found everything. I smiled back and told him that his cappuccino was indeed confirmed as “The Best.” Enjoying the compliment, he presented me with something even better – a small shot glass filled with pure hot Gilli chocolate, topped with fresh “panna” (whipped cream), and crowned with a singular, plump raspberry. It was with these flavors and presentations I came to admire the solid and unchanged existence of a Swiss family’s sweet dream.
Satiated, I thanked them for their amazing service and stepped out into the piazza. Pitti Palace to my right, the Duomo to my left, and Ponte Vecchio straight-ahead… a bit of history and a new cultural adventure in every direction. From breakfast to coffee breaks, lunch and aperitif, Gilli is frequented by the famous, the tourists, the locals, and by those simply desirous of the best. Famous for their tiramisù, sacher tortes and marrons glacés (hand-picked chestnuts boiled in sugar water for a whole day and night), one can choose to enjoy their tasty treats at Gilli or can take them back to enjoy while watching the sunset or sunrise from a villa terrace.
Either way, and no matter the selection, not only will you be tasting 270 years of unbeatable tradition, but you’ll also be tasting nothing but… “The Best.”