It's the perfect gift from Italy: a handmade leather wallet. Or purse. Or passport-holder. But in Rome, figuring out where to go for an artisanal leather souvenir can be tough. There's not even a leather market here, like there is in Florence (not that most of the leather there even seems to, ahem, be from Italy).
Enter Armando Rioda.
Although it's in the heart of the Spanish Steps neighborhood, Armando Rioda is a molto local secret. It's hidden on the second floor of a residential palazzo, and you have to ring the buzzer to enter; its name doesn't even hang outside the building's door. But it's where leather-lovers in the know go.
Since 1949, the workshop (above… and below) has been turning out handmade leather goods by request. As proof of Armando Rioda's craftsmanship, well-heeled Romans come here to get their Gucci purses and Prada jackets repaired (talk about trust!).
For 50 euros and up, you can get a wallet handmade here; for 100 euros and up, a purse. They also do luggage, tote bags, even jackets. Pricey, perhaps—but for a unique, handmade leather gift, hardly unfair.
I first ventured there last year, looking for a Christmas gift for my father: a leather passport holder. I wasn't satisfied with the machine-made ones I'd seen in stores, so decided to give an artisanal shop a try.
I can't remember how I found out about this place. But I was glad I did. The guys inside, including the owner, were friendly and passionate about their work. (I'm not sure, however, how much English they spoke, so if your Italian is zilch, you might want to call first to ask).
Although there were some already-(hand)made passport-holders, wallets and purses for sale, I decided to have one made from scratch. I got to pick the leather (smooth or pebbled, brown or black—and, for that matter, leather or something zanier, like snakeskin) and the monogram (I went for a gold stamp). As well as being on a money budget, I was on a time constraint: I was leaving for the U.S. at the end of the week.
In three days, I came back to pick up a beautiful, handmade passport-holder. The cost? Fifty euros.
Armando Rioda is located at Via Belsiana 90. Like lots of traditional shops, they have traditional hours: from 9am-1pm and 4pm-8pm. Call +39 0669924406 for more.
Update, August 2014:Armando Rioda has moved! It is now located at Via delle Carrozze n.16, on the second floor; ring number 6 on the bell "Pelletteria Nives" is written there". Phone numbers: the cell phone of Nives, one of the owners, at +39 3385370233, and the other, Vinicio, is at 3333370831. (Make sure to call before you drop by to double-check their hours).