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Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, Florence

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

I finally got to re-visit the beautiful city of Firenze/Florence in Tuscany last October. It is a place that has intrigued and inspired me for quite awhile.

In the last chapters of the 3rd book 'Long Way Home', of A Pinch of Coriander trilogy, Nick visits an ancient perfumery based-on Santa Maria Novella, where he thinks he solves a mystery.

Now, I have been able to experience this amazing space and sample the creative and interesting scented products created there.

They have an online store and ship internationally, if you're interested in treating yourself, or a loved one. Here's the ridiculously long link:

Excerpt from Book Three, 'Long Way Home.'

scents and sensibility


On the way back to Florence, Nick and Enza spoke at length about the function of reliquaries, and the clergy’s trade in dubious relics, Enza postulating that the crucifix and the vial may have been plague amulets, used to ward off the disease that hit Tuscany particularly hard in 1450, killing nearly half the population.

As they approached the city gates, Nick asked pointedly, “So, tell me, what do you really think about the date of that reliquary?”

“My first impression was that it fit the period when I assume our La Maestra’s bottega was active, circa 1440 to1470. And stylistically, being an anomaly for that time, if my dating is correct, points strongly to it being from her studio, if not by her hand.”

“Why didn’t you say that, then?”

“Because I’m not sure, I never pronounce definitively based-on first impression. I need to research thoroughly, perhaps consult another historian, then report to the owner. There’s no point in saying something that gets hopes-up you might need to retract later,” she replied, turning into the city. “Where can I drop you? Home?”

“No, I need to do a little Christmas shopping for Lidia’s gift. Smelling that vial reminded me that she’s out of her favorite scent. Do you know of a good perfumery here?”

“Oh yes, an exceptionally good one, in our area, near Santa Maria Novella, it’s the oldest perfumery in Europe, founded in the sixteenth century. It’s housed in a former monastery, the monks then being herbalists and chemists, who really created aroma therapy. Look, it’s just over there. Since the light’s red, I’ll drop you here.”

“Thanks Enza, talk soon,” Nick said, clambering awkwardly out of the low-slung sports car.

Entering the pristine, light-filled ‘temple of perfume’ Nick could see the echoes of its monastic past, the cross ribbed-vaulting, the rose windows, the bands of stucco quatrefoil outlining the corner spandrels, all evoking the aura of a once-sacred space. His eyes roamed along the gleaming counters and display cases holding rows of glistening, glass bottles filled with precious, jewel-colored scents. Nick chuckled quietly at the irony of a business devoted to sensuality, seduction and luxury conducted in a place once dedicated to asceticism.

“May I help you, sir?” a classic, blonde beauty greeted him.

“Yes, thanks. I’m looking for a perfume for my wife, something special for Christmas.”

“What does she currently wear?”

“White Bergamot, that’s always been her scent, but I’m open to other options,” Nick smiled broadly at the woman, not minding if he spent a while sampling and perusing.

She led him to a display counter, and set out four sample fragrances, spraying the first on a strip of absorbent paper, offering it to him to inhale. As he did so, she explained, “This one has a base of bergamot, with overtones of orange, and hints of sandalwood and patchouli.”

Nick wrinkled his nose, unsure of whether he liked it, “Don’t think it’s really her, a little too exotic, perhaps.”

“I see, then we’re looking for something more floral?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“How about this, bergamot base with rose, lily of the valley and a hint of pear.”

Nick sniffed the sample thoughtfully, “Getting closer.”

“Then, try this one, it’s a new formula for us, a twist on a classic,” she misted a new strip, from a pale-purple bottle.

The minute the scent hit the air, Nick’s olfactory sense was aroused, he took the strip and breathed-in deeply, his eyes popped wide open, “That’s it! That’s the scent!”

The woman looked pleased, “Yes, it is distinctive, isn’t it?”

“No, I don’t mean… it’s very pleasing, but it’s a scent I’ve been trying to identify and research. What’s in it?”

“The base is iris Florentina, orange blossom and a hint of lotus, with bergamot, of course.”

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