From the canals of Venice to the fashion runways of Milan, gazing at the magnificent Duomos of Florence to dodging Vespas whipping around Palermo’s medieval streets …. Italy has got ‘La Dolce Vita’ in its DNA.
Emily Rayner, Luxury Escapes’ Head of Content, fell in love with this magnificent country when she spent six months living amongst locals, based in a tiny village in Sicily right under the booming live volcano of Mt Etna. From there, she roamed Italy far and wide and is keen to share her top tips of where to eat, drink, stay and play in this stunning country of contrasts.
They say all roads lead to Rome, but in Italy, it seems all roads lead to an amazing trattoria. Eating good food is synonymous with the Italian way of life… every day the country closes down in tribute to the main meal of the day – lunch. It’s tricky to nail down the ultimate degustation in Italy, so instead we’ve pulled together a list of must-try gastronomic experiences – from the simple to the sublime.
Top 5 Dishes You Must Try In Italy
Eat Burrata Cheese in Puglia
Witness the ancient art of creating traditional burrata cheese at a local cheesemaker in Puglia. This delicious, fresh cheese is one of Puglia’s most celebrated products and you can see the ancient traditions of rolling the mozzarella, cheese curds and cream on Luxury Escapes gastronomic tour of Puglia.
Dunk Granita and Brioche in Taormina, Sicily
Let the French have their pain au chocolat … Sicily has granita con la panna e brioche. And it wins the ‘dessert for breakfast’ wars hands down. Who wouldn’t want to indulge in warm brioche, sweet and soft, served on the side of glass of icy coffee with a big dollop of fresh cream whipped on top? Just get messy and dunk that brioche right through the layers of creamy, cool goodness. As this is a speciality of Sicily (you get gelato ice cream in brioche further up north), people will look at you funny if you try to order it in Rome, so do yourself a favour and before you tackle the beautiful cobblestone medieval streets of Taormina stop off at Bam Bar, voted Trip Advisor’s Best Granita and take a seat for table service.
Tackle a Bistecca alla Fiorentina in Florence
Vegetarians look away now! In Florence the steaks (Bistecca alla Fiorentina) come in at a whopping 1kg of cow, they’re huge, rare and served with little else except for a wedge of lemon (in a fancy restaurant). You can share with friends or dig in solo but if you’re a self-proclaimed carnivore you’ll be in bovine heaven as you devour melt-in-the-mouth meaty goodness. You can make friends with salad later.
The best place to get traditional Bistecca alla Fiorentina is Buca Lapi, one of the oldest restaurants in Florence. Dating back to the 1400s, today the buca (hole) is both buzzing yet refined. Their steak might be one of the priciest in Florence, but it is also one of the best.
Slurp Tagliatelle al Ragu in Bologna
Fact fans … if you ask for Spaghetti Bolognese in Italy you’ll be met with a sour stare. The dish was invented by Italian immigrants arriving in America, but back home and it’s called tagliatelle al ragu and it can be found at its best in Bologna. Twirl some tendrils of long, flat ribbons of pasta around your fork, scoop up the sauce of minced meat simmered with soffritto, milk, and a tiny amount of tomato with your spoon, top off with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and enjoy a classic! The best joint in town for tagliatelle twirling is All’Osteria Bottega and but book a table as it gets busy.
Put Pork on Your Fork in Rome
Romans love meat, and one of the favourites is pork or porchetta in its more refined form. Porchetta consists of a pork loin, wrapped in pork belly, marinated with orange peel and rubbed with fennel, garlic, herbs, rolled and tied up and then roasted slowly for the best part for the day. Sliced thinly and served with an arugula (rocket) salad, it’s nothing short of sublime. Best eaten in Rome with a cheeky glass of chianti in hand.
Angry Pig birette e porchetta is universally acknowledged as the top place in Rome for porchetta. Get in early though, as tables fill fast!
History suggests the Greeks brought wine to Southern Italy, and the Romans refined the process of wine making. Wine became a part of life under the Romans and Italy became (and remains) one of the biggest producers of wine in the world. Today, Italy is most noted for its noble reds such as Chianti Classico, Barbaresco, Barolo and Brunello but a wide array of popular white wines are also produced including Pinot Grigio, Soave and Arneis, as well as sparkling wines such as Asti and Prosecco. So, if a cheeky bottle of red or white is your guilty pleasure you’ll be spoilt for choice in Italy. Here’s our selection of some of the finest wineries and where to find them.
Top 3 Italian Wineries
Paolo Scavino Barolo is considered one of the finest wineries producing the Baralo variety of grape. The Scavinos set up shop in Piedmont, famous for white truffles, chocolate and the nebbiolo grape in 1921 and continue to produce wines that are modern but have a nod to regional traditions, history and terroir.
Pinot Grigio, comes from the dramatic valleys in the foothills of the Italian Alps, especially Friuli and Alto-Adige.
The family run Elena Walsh winery in Alto Adige is one not to be missed. Sister duo Karoline and Julia Walsh and mother Elena operate the winery and pride themselves on producing a beautiful vintage using sustainable methods. In summer they run short hikes through the vineyards surrounding Castel Ringberd. You can find out all about vineyard care dedicated to sustainability. The walk comes to a relaxing end with a tasting of four wines on the large terrace of the castle.
Decanter magazine lists Antinori Chianti Classico as its top winery to visit to try out Tuscany’s famous Chianti. “Set among olive groves and geometrically aligned vineyards, the winery is almost hidden, as most of it lies underground. The Antinori family has been in the wine business since 1385, but don’t be fooled by the long history – here you won’t find dusty archives but an active and prolific wine empire which boasts two of Italy’s top wines: Solaia and Tignanello (produced on a nearby Antinori estate).”
Top 5 secret things to do in Italy
Enjoy Apertivo in Milan
No visit to Milan is complete without partaking in the pre-dinner tradition of aperitivo – basically cocktails served with all manner of free nibbles, often a buffet with enough food to constitute a meal. Though Navigli is home to many bars offering aperitivo, you’ll find it served throughout the city – so go ahead, sample a few different kinds.
Go where the famous Negroni was created at Bar Basso (the original had prosecco instead of gin) and tuck into complimentary plates of chips, olives and miniature sandwiches which are served for the table to share.
The Mouth Of Truth in Rome
So, your husband says he had to work back late last week. Do you believe him? If not, test his honesty at The Mouth Of Truth. Long before the modern lie detector was invented legend around the Mouth of Truth or the Bocca della Verità, which now rests outside the doors of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church suggests that if one were to stick their hand inside the disc’s mouth and tell a lie, the rocky maw would bite the offending hand off. This belief seems to have originated during the Middle Ages when the disc was supposedly used during trials having the accused put their hand in the slot and if found to be untruthful a hidden axeman would lop off the appendage. Ouch!
Sample Vintage Vinegar in Modena
Modena is fortunate enough to be home to not one, but two icons of Italian culture, and if you aren’t in town to gawp at sports cars at the headquarters of Ferrari and Maserati, chances are you’re hunting down the world’s finest balsamic vinegar. One of the best places to learn about the history and methods of aceto balsamico tradizionale (if you don’t see this on your bottle, it’s not the real deal) is Villa San Donnino, a small and extremely welcoming producer renowned as the home of some of the region’s finest black stuff. It’s open to tours throughout the year, which include a detailed explanation of the lengthy production process (which involves decanting concentrated grape must into incrementally smaller barrels and a whole lot of patience) with plenty of tastings along the way.
Enjoy a Cocktail with a View in Florence
Get away from the hordes of tourists and enjoy a drink with view you won’t forget at Golden View Open Bar. The amazing view of Ponte Vecchio and the patient and top-quality service makes this place top-notch in Florence. Dimmed lights in the evening with candlelight, music, innovative cocktails and different dishes – who could ask for anything more?
Snorkel in Isola Bella in Sicily
Located at the bottom of a cable car ride from the tres-chic medieval mountain-top town of Taormina, you’ll find the beautiful little cove of Isola Bella (literally translated to Beautiful Island) where locals mix with the rich and famous, posing for Instagram snaps. Although it’s a pebbly beach, the water is azure blue and a perfect spot for snorkelling in the Ionian Sea.
Unwind Amidst the Italian Lakes
Holiday like Clooney as you explore the finer things in life in Italy’s ultra-chic lakes staying at Villa Porro Pirelli, a grand historic mansion set in centuries-old park just an hour from Milan and ten minutes from Varese. With Lake Varese, Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano all less than an hour’s drive away, and the famous Lake Como accessible in just an hour and a half, it’s the perfect launchpad for exploring the lakes of Northern Italy.
Luxuriate Under the Tuscan Sun at Villa Le Maschere
Luxury meets history at Villa Le Maschere. Set in the seemingly endless Tuscan hills, this beautiful villa underwent major restorations to bring back to life frescoes, majolica, sculptures and stuccoes, giving the rooms the ancient splendour, they had when they hosted popes, noblemen and artists centuries ago.
You won’t want to leave this enchanting place, which features a wellness centre that has been developed in the ancient basement of the villa with sauna, Turkish bath, relaxation area, Jacuzzi and a swimming pool overlooking the stunning gardens. A stay at Villa Le Maschere is once in a lifetime experience.
Discover the History of Rome Staying in the Heart of the City
From the Colosseum to Vatican City and all the landmarks in between, discover the world-famous sights of Rome, Italy, staying in the heart of the city at the historic Hotel Sole al Pantheon, which dates back to the fifteenth century. Originally known as the Ram Inn in 1467, the hotel has welcomed travellers throughout the centuries including Italian poet Arisoto and French writer Simone de Beauvoir. Today, the thoughtfully-restored Hotel Sole al Pantheon offers guests an intimate oasis and an unbeatable location for exploring this incredible ancient city, opposite the world-famous Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda.
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