As I sat in the passenger side of a well-loved Land Rover Defender and admired a pair of courting pheasants obstructing our path—and providing a temporary reprieve from the bumps and jolts of off-road Tuscan terrain—I thought to myself that this was quite different from any outlet mall experience I’d had before.
Let me explain: This close encounter with local wildlife was brokered by The Mall Firenze, which together with its sister establishment The Mall Sanremo, constitute Italy’s The Mall Luxury Outlets. The nondescript name almost feels ironic, as these shopping venues have been designed to be everything that a typical, nondescript luxury outlet mall is not, which may be why they attract more well-heeled travelers than those simply hunting for bargains.
Over an aperitif of local pigato wine at the Sanremo location, which opened in 2019, general manager Giorgio Motta explains that shopping is just one of the ways clients experience The Mall. Its dozens-strong assortment of shops is nothing to sneeze at: There are several marquee brands owned by The Mall’s parent company Kering, including Gucci, Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta, in addition to names like Loro Piana, Valentino and Tom Ford. Within the shops, previous season merchandise is sold at a markdown, but presented with a similar level of care and service as any of the labels’ flagship locations.
Whether shopping at its Sanremo campus or the original Florence location that opened in 2001, The Mall’s design is an unmistakably Italian answer to a retail format typically associated with suburban America. Both venues are built in a sleek, modern style favoring glass, steel and soaring eaves supported by thin columns—the overall effect is something like a consumerist Acropolis. And each is scented by a sweet, floral perfume created expressly for The Mall (it is, of course, available for purchase at the Welcome Lounge).
However, pains are taken to remind visitors that they are first and foremost in Italy, and more precisely, that location’s corner of the boot. Each is built as an open-air agora with architecture that frames the beauty of the local surroundings: hillside towns and the Ligurian sea in the case of Sanremo and rolling Tuscan hills at the location about a 45-minute drive from Florence’s city center. Both host restaurants operated by local caterers, specializing in cuisine unique to their region. In the case of Sanremo’s on-site restaurant, this meant a lunch of raw tuna in a caper cream sauce, squid ink tagliolini in a mullet ragu and a deconstructed lemon tiramisu for dessert.
The restaurant, however, is open only in the afternoon—as Motta tells me, he’d prefer that patrons explore the surrounding city for dinner. The desire for shoppers to experience something other than shopping is reflected by a curated roster of local experiences offered through each location, which is how I ended up tailing pheasants on the backroads of Tuscany in the first place.
That particular experience brought me to Fattoria di Maiano, an organic, family-owned farm some four miles outside Florence, where my guide piloted a Land Rover through olive groves and hills to provide sweeping views of the city in the distance. Another unfolded in Florence itself, where I visited the Renaissance palace headquarters of perfumer Aquaflor Firenze and worked with staff to build my own scent through their laboratory of concentrated fragrances (we came away with a fresh vetiver base accented by patchouli, peppery citrus and a touch of coffee and musk).
The Mall Sanremo, meanwhile, connected me to a local guide who provided a four-hour walking and eating tour of La Pigna, Sanremo’s medieval hill district, where we lunched on fried anchovies and trofie pasta in pesto sauce before exploring the narrow caruggi alleys that run throughout the neighborhood. Afterward, we visited the 2,000-person town of Dolceacqua on the French border, to admire the medieval bridge Monet painted in 1884 and snack on michetta cookies in a wine bar.
Typically, experiences can be booked online through each location’s website, or in-person through the concierges at The Mall’s welcome lounges (certain outings, such as the tours of La Pigna and Dolceacqua, are reserved for members of its loyalty program, which clients are free to join). Transportation can also be arranged, though not all experiences take place off-premise. At The Mall Sanremo, the on-site chef led me through a demonstration of traditional, mortar-and-pestle pesto-making that left me with a new respect for Ligurian grandmothers.
Should I have the opportunity to visit The Mall again in the future, I might even do a little shopping too.