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Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Florence

16 Via della Scala
Tel: 39 055 216 276's insider take:

Of the many herbalists' shops in Florence, this is the most famous. Occupying a stunning ex-pharmacy in an ancient palazzo with a frescoed 13th-century chapel, it's worth visiting for the setting alone. However, you will be hard put to resist some of the gorgeous goodies on offer, most notably what is generally acknowledged to be the best soap in the world. Many of the products (bath oils, body lotions, face creams, skin tonics, and so on) are still made to the Dominican monk, Angiolo Marchissi's barely modified 14th-16th-century recipes. Medicinal remedies include such curiosities as Aceto delle Sette Ladri (for fainting spells) and Acqua Antisterica (valued for its antispasmodic properties). You can now buy Santa Maria Novella scents all over the world, but nowhere can compare with the original store.

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