I dedicated a portion of one day of my Roman holiday to locating the lengendary Ai Monasteria shop. So after visiting the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Santa Maria Sopra Minerva I found myself circling the Piazza Novana more than once in search of this shop and their legendary sandalwood soap that my friends Patrick and Hugh can not live without. My mission was to find the shop and purchase 2 bars of sandalwood soap. Finally, after avoiding a large marching group of German tourists, flirting with 2 police officers, considering taking a lick of an unspecting 6 year olds' cone of gelato I found the store at Corso Rinascimento, 72 and it was worth the hunt.
Ai Monasteria is a 4th generation Roman establishment that represents and sells products from most of Italy's monastic orders. http://www.aimonasteri.it/indexen.html
The store reminded me of what what Bigelows and the landmark 3rd Avenue Keihl's use to be like. An apothcary chock filled of all manner of soaps, beauty products, chocolates, vinegars, wines, oils and teas, many made with traditions and recipes 100s of years old, is overwhelming. My goal was to purchase the sandalwood soap and though distracted by many of their goodies that's exactly what I did. I bought soap. Of course I couldn't just buy 2 bars and ended up buying a few for my own use and gift giving.
You can visit Ai Monasteri via the net and purchase some of their wonderful items through the website but be aware that they don't export everything they carry to the United States so it's so worth the stop if you're ever in their home town. For those of us in New York craving the experience of sniffying, eyeing and handling products with similar origins you find your way to Santa Maria Novella on 285 Lafayette St (between Jersey St & Prince St). It won't be exactly the same experience but it is well worth the trip -