Tanti auguri to us! Today, Ciao Andiamo celebrates 11 years 🧡

Eleven years – and more than 1,100 trips and counting – since we first began curating authentic Italian journeys for our guests.

While it has been an incredible ride, it goes without saying these last two years have brought their fair share of challenges. For far too long, we could not fully carry out our mission and welcome travelers to Italy, or say with any certainty what the upcoming weeks or months might bring. And, when we celebrated Ciao Andiamo’s milestone 10-year anniversary in March 2021, we did so faced with the reality that Italy’s borders were still closed to American leisure travelers.

What a difference a year makes. By May of 2021, we shared the exciting news we had been waiting for for so long – ITALY TRAVEL WAS BACK! And, in June, I made my first return trip to Italy since the start of the pandemic, to reunite (in person!) with my partners Max & Cristiana, and the rest of our Italian office. I can’t fully express the emotions I felt touching down once again on Italian soil, experiencing the splendor of Italy and the Italian way life that inspired the genesis of Ciao Andiamo so many years ago. And how sweet it was that, following my scouting trip, we enjoyed an abbreviated, but very full, season across the second half of 2021, as our world of Italy travel was reborn and almost fully back to normal.

Ciao Andiamo Italy + New York based teams in Tuscany, Feb 2022

Last month, for the first time since 2019, we brought both our New York & Italy teams together, for 10 days of scouting around Italy, from northern lakes and Piedmont vineyards to Ligurian coast and Tuscan countryside. We planned together for the year ahead – one that is shaping up to be the biggest ever in Ciao Andiamo’s history – and shared in the magic of reuniting after far too long physically apart. Italy travel is back, and we are as ready as ever to continue on our mission of helping guests experience the beauty of Italy through local eyes, and fall in love.

So, as we celebrate 11 years and the long-awaited return of Italy tourism, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to our travelers, collaborators, team, and supporters; it is because of you that all this has been and continues to be possible, and that our future, even in the wake of a global pandemic, looks so very bright.

Tanti auguri to Ciao Andiamo, and to you, our Ciao famiglia! Here’s to many more celebrations in the years ahead 🧡

Carissimi Saluti,

-Jon, Founder

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It goes without saying that 2020 has been a year unlike any other. We have all experienced some version of challenge and change, both personal and professional, big and small. Many of us have endured significant hardship and loss. The difficult moments may not yet be behind us, but there is reason for optimism, and I know I am not alone in my eagerness to turn the page and look ahead.

I remember the moment when news first broke that a COVID-19 case had been detected in Italy. It was February 21st, a Friday evening. I had just returned from the office, ready to settle into the weekend and certainly not ready for the alert that abruptly popped up on my phone. Whatever trepidation I felt at that moment – and I did not take that initial announcement lightly – I could not fathom the magnitude of what lay ahead for our business and for the world, how our travel industry would be turned completely upside down, just as we were preparing for the season to kick into gear.

At that time in late February, it was not yet an American problem. Sure, there was cause for concern in the States, but it still felt like something foreign to most, and the messages of worry that I began to receive were all about whether all the people on the Ciao Andiamo team and across our network in Italy were OK, and what this was going to mean for upcoming travel and for our business. 

Of course, we all know too well how the story evolved in the weeks ahead, and how COVID-19 has come to impact individuals, households, and businesses across the world, too often with devastating consequences.

For all of you who have faced these difficulties, who have struggled and suffered, we at Ciao Andiamo send you our love and heartfelt wishes for a better tomorrow. 

And with an earnest respect and understanding of what many of you may be going through personally, my feeling today is not one of pessimism but of hope. I am hopeful as we look ahead, as we set our sights forward and begin to glimpse the light that is finally peeking its way through at the end of what once seemed an interminable tunnel. 

I am ready to leave in my rear view mirror the uncertainty and worry that enveloped our small business, as our team worked tirelessly to sustain a boutique travel company through a global pandemic. But I also appreciate that, amidst the adversity, there was perspective gained, invaluable lessons learned, and a tremendous solidarity and higher sense of purpose across our team.

I am in awe of the courage, passion, flexibility, and trust of the individuals who are part of this incredible Ciao Andiamo team. It is because of each of them, along with our partners, clients and supporters – our “Ciao famiglia” – that I write this letter not as a business that has been forced to close its doors, but as one that has withstood its greatest of tests, and has positioned itself to come out stronger and more adept than before, ready for the moment that international travel to Italy resumes.

It hasn’t been easy, but we have survived, and we will soon again thrive. And we’ll do so, as always, with a meticulous focus on our guests, and a promise of carefully curated, immersive experiences that transform and elevate travel, with the highest level of personal attention and care. More than ever we will have an eye towards collective safety, individual comfort, and the greatest degree of flexibility we can offer our travelers.

So as we close the year, and look ahead to the next – during which we will celebrate ten years in business – what I feel in this moment is profound gratitude. Gratitude for my amazing business partners and co-owners Max and Cristiana, for our remarkable team members in New York and Italy, who have stood by us and trusted us through every twist and turn, and to you who have supported us in myriad ways during this difficult moment in our company’s journey, from personal notes and heartfelt wishes, to participation as we launched our virtual classroom, to expectantly planning distant Italian adventures, all along the way believing in us.

On behalf of everyone at Ciao Andiamo, I wish you a happy holiday season. May the new year bring peace, health, prosperity, and hope, for you and all those you hold dear.

Buone feste e felice anno nuovo,
– Jon Pollock, Founder

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April 3rd, 2020 – (see update on April 15th, 2020 below)

It is without a doubt that we’re all living through a very hard time, but the truth is that we are living through it as a community. As Italy is struggling and mourning its losses just as China did a few weeks ago, there’s another aspect of the story which is emerging to the worldwide attention thanks in part to national news, but mostly to social media. It’s a story of resistance, rediscovered empathy and fraternity. Here are a few pieces of happy news, in case you missed them:

The Italian People Rise Up

Many Italian celebrities started fundraising or donated a generous amount of money to support the public health system. Above all, instagram influencer Chiara Ferragni and her husband, the Italian singer Fedez, managed to raise more than 4 million euro for the construction of a new intensive care ward at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, which was built in only 12 days. From politicians to actors and actresses, from singers to football teams and individual players, from sports stars to big fashion names like Armani, Versace, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino Rossi, and even the Fondazione Andrea Bocelli, all have played their part in supporting their home country.

What is even more heart-warming are the ways that common people have come up with to help one another. As soon as the lockdown started on March 9th, notes and signs appeared in apartment buildings, with younger people volunteering to bring groceries to those who had been advised to stay inside at all costs. Charities, religious associations, and even local shops themselves have arranged an extensive delivery service so that people can avoid going out and queueing too long to buy necessities.

When not working from home, people spend several hours online and on the phone keeping in touch with friends and family who live all over the country. Having video-call aperitifs and dinners can keep people both keep busy and stay happy! Social media live dance and gym classes and book readings, online cooking tutorials, and other communications can help people find beauty in such a dark period. There have even been online virtual tours of museums, open source libraries, and online concerts filling the web with culture and beauty. And, of course, singing and playing music from windows and balconies is quickly becoming a popular trend for people in isolation all over Europe, with Irish musicians performing traditional music from pub rooftops, to Germans sending a big virtual hug to their ‘amici italiani’ by singing Bella Ciao. 

Solidarity and Support for Medical Professionals

The Italian people are also doing their best to help doctors and medical personnel in any way they can. Even though restaurants and bars have been closed since March 11th, owners of pizzerias and bakeries all over Italy have decided to remain in operation with a reduced staff (often their own families) to provide hospital workers with free pizza or cornetti, sometimes with donations from other citizens who help them buy the raw material. Upholsterers and seamstresses are crafting new breathing masks for both health personnel and fellow citizens alike, trying where possible to make them as colorful as they can, to lift spirits up.

On a more technical level, people are rising to other kinds of challenges. For example, following an online plea for low-running medical materials, engineers Cristian Fracassi and  and their team succeeded in designing and 3D-printing valves for intensive care machines that are now being produced on small scale, filling critical gaps in supplies and saving the lives of patients hospitalized in Chiari, Lombardy. In Emilia Romagna, Marco Ranieri (professor at the Department of Medical and Surgical Studies at the University of Bologna), together with his colleagues and a local company, designed a ventilator machine which can provide oxygen to two patients once. The machine has already been tested at Sant’Orsola Hospital in Bologna, and arrangements are being made to start a wider production.

The Environmental Effects

A welcome side effect of Italy’s newfound stillness, and one that will hopefully inspire a constructive debate once this is all over, is the environmental one. Videos and pictures document how nature is stepping back in the scene. Day by day, satellites are showing the pollution rate dropping significantly, ducks came back to populate Rome’s famous fountains, dolphins have been spotted in Cagliari Port in Sardinia, and people are amazed at seeing Venice’s canals as clean as they’ve been in ages, a happy thought in such difficult times.

We Will Get Through This

What Italy has demonstrated is a strong will to react to an unprecedented crisis, a fierce attachment to life, and a renewed sense of community. This too shall pass, and we can’t wait to be the first to welcome you to our beautiful country, once everything is over.

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UPDATE: April 15th, 2020

It has now been six weeks since Italy began its national lockdown. What began as encouragement and inspiring acts of community and solidarity has turned into a deeper and heavier realization of the reality of the situation, and what will have to happen before the lockdown is lifted. We’re sure our American friends may understand this feeling. 

What is noteworthy, however, are the ways in which those initial reactions made space for quieter, more organized, resistant and long-term ones.

When a call for medical staff was sounded, hundreds of people volunteered; funds were raised on large and small scales, and volunteers kept working to provide elderly people and those in need with essential goods. Mayors committed fiercely to the safety of their own cities (you may have heard of Mr. De Luca!). The relief funds that the government allocated for families and freelancers started to arrive today after only two weeks.

The Curve is Flattening

We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s faint, but it’s all we need for the strength to keep going and stick it out until the end of the lockdown and prepare for our future in the light, hopefully sooner than later. This week, experts have declared that the curve is finally flattening: the number of people checking into intensive care continues to decline, and, on Easter Sunday, Italy saw the lowest number of deaths since March 19th. Umbria, the region where the Ciao Andiamo Italy office is located, reported only one new case today; together with Sardinia and a few others, it is among the regions that are getting closer to the zero-new-cases goal.

Some other major news is that Italy is slowly starting to reopen activities! Although the recommendation for caution remains and some counties are further postponing the deadline, not only are more and more restaurants and bars opening for home deliveries, but this week has also seen establishments such as bookstores, children’s clothing stores, and some others reopen, respecting a limited schedule and social-distancing rules. 

Updated measures should progressively arrive as we get closer to the last-set lockdown deadline on May 3rd. Whatever they will be, we trust that #andràtuttobene (everything will be alright).

 

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On March 28, 2020, Ciao Andiamo celebrates NINE years in business, curating authentic Italian experiences for our beloved guests. It is surreal to think about all that has transpired along this incredible journey, and how far we have come since those very first days of operation.

The Early Days of Ciao Andiamo

When Ciao Andiamo first began, “we” were a team of one, “headquartered” in the living room of a New York City apartment. I had left a promising career in the corporate world to build a business around my long-time passion for all things Italian. From a decade spent studying the Italian language, to multiple stints living in the bel paese – first in the small town of Sesto Fiorentino, just outside Florence, and later in the bustling metropolis of Milan – I was fortunate to have been able to discover the immense beauty of Italy, not as a tourist, but as a local.

I did all I could to soak in real Italian life, and immerse myself in the country’s culture, history, food, wine, and natural beauty. More than anything, it was the people, with their tremendous Italian spirit, who impacted me so profoundly, and inspired the mission of Ciao Andiamo: To help travelers discover Italy through local eyes, and fall in love. My hope, in starting this business, was to enable travelers to have a different kind of experience than that of the typical tourist, to go deeper, and connect with the country and Italian way of life, on unforgettable adventures full of passion and meaning.

Ciao Andiamo Transforms

After the early days of learning the ropes of the travel industry, and molding and fine-tuning the ways in which Ciao Andiamo could successfully deliver on its mission for our travelers, some special things began to unfold. Most notably, I connected with Max and Cristiana, a husband and wife dream team, with years of experience in the Italian hospitality industry–from running their own B&B in an off-the-beaten-path corner of the Umbrian countryside, to managing a hotel in Rome, and leading VIP guests on insider excursions. Max and Cristiana were effectively on their own parallel journey, looking to build something meaningful and lasting, with a shared vision and passion for authentic Italian adventures. We began to collaborate in curating all kinds of experiences for travelers, and soon joined together as official business partners and co-owners of Ciao Andiamo.

It was a perfect union, and we got to work building our respective offices and teams, in New York City (where the focus would be on growth, trip planning, and client services), and in Umbria, Italy (where we would manage our invaluable relationships with carefully selected collaborators across Italy, oversee operations and bookings, lead insider tours, and closely look after all our clients during their travels). So began the next phase of Ciao Andiamo, and we slowly transformed what had begun as a small passion project into a dynamic business poised for smart, continued growth, while keeping the personal touch, and staying true to our roots and mission.

Grazie to Our Travelers: Over 1,000 Trips And Counting

While Ciao Andiamo’s Italian journeys come to fruition through the dedication, passion, and care of the Ciao Andiamo team, and our exceptional network of guides, drivers, chefs, producers, and artisans, none of this would be possible were it not for our wonderful travelers. Grazie to you all for trusting in us over the years, for your enthusiasm, curiosity, and zeal, and for being part of the “Ciao famiglia”. We cannot wait to continue our adventure together, for many years to come.

Today’s Context, and What Lies Ahead

As we now begin our 10th year in operation, we find ourselves in a moment unlike any other in the history of Ciao Andiamo. COVID-19 has impacted so many individuals, families, industries, and businesses across the globe, ours included. It has been a tough moment for travel in general, and certainly for tourism in Italy. However, we remain grateful for the health and safety of our team members and partners, and for the outpouring of well wishes and encouragement we have received from so many of you. We know this moment shall pass, and when it does, we will be ready to resume in the promise of our mission, bringing to life extraordinary Italian journeys for our travelers, and welcoming you all back to Italy with open arms.

How You Can Help Support Ciao Andiamo

We do not take for granted that all of you have been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or another. We are keeping each and every one of you in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time, and know that we will get through this all together. Italy trip planning is, understandably, not top of mind for many right now. But if you find yourself in a position where you are able and interested to support Ciao Andiamo, including our local partners and team, one meaningful way is to put down a deposit now for a trip you plan to take at some point in the future. You don’t need to have a precise travel date, or even a specific year in mind; any payment you make now will be 100% credited towards future travel, without time limitation, or restriction. And for any new trip deposits we receive at this time, we’ll be donating an additional 10% to one of the following two COVID-19 relief charities of your choosing:

 

The CDC Foundation Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund

Your support will help us mobilize a response to quickly assist CDC with taking aggressive public health measures to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus.

The Protezione Civile

The Protezione Civile, officially Dipartimento della Protezione Civile, is the national body in Italy that deals with the prediction, prevention and management of emergency events. Its duties are to predict, prevent and manage at national level disasters and catastrophes, both natural and human-made.


Select your trip credit amount and charity:



Grazie to our entire Ciao Andiamo famiglia: our travelers, partners, and team. You have made these last nine years so very special, and I cannot wait for all that’s in store in the many years ahead!

Stay well, and on behalf of the Ciao Andiamo team, I send you our love and gratitude.

– Jon Pollock, Founder

 

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Driving up to the Dolomites from Milan or Venice, it’s impossible not to be awestruck by the iconic snowcapped peaks. They rise from lush valleys dotted with ski towns. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique sawtooth limestone cliffs, the Dolomites are known for breathtaking natural beauty. The mountain range is also recognized as one of the top ski destinations in the world, in part for its famous Sella Ronda run – a chain of nearly 25 miles of trails linked by chairlifts. Located in the northeastern corner of Italy in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto (the latter also home to Venice and Verona), the Dolomites make up a part of the extensive Alps range, which spans eight countries and around 750 miles.

If you’re overwhelmed on where to begin, read on to discover the Dolomites:

What to Know

Traveling north through Trentino-Alto Adige, one of Italy’s 20 regions, you’ll notice a point when the architecture, culture and even language switch from Italian to German. This indicates you’ve moved from the sub-region of Trentino, which became part of the Republic of Italy in 1919, to Alto Adige, annexed by Italy in 1920. Alto Adige, also known as Südtirol, has deep Austrian roots. German is actually the most common language spoken here, together with local mountain dialect Ladino, though Italian is spoken almost everywhere in the province (likely with a thick Austrian accent).

Under the rule of Mussolini, a great effort was made to “Italianize” Südtirol. This included giving all the towns Italian names and calling the province “Alto Adige,” because of its position above the Adige river in Italy, rather than its Austrian name of “Südtirol.”

Despite this “Italianization”, this part of the region still feels like entering into another country. Although they’re less than an hour apart, the differences between the cities of Trento and Bolzano are dramatic. Bolzano feels more like Salzburg than Siena, with signs listing German most prominently and dishes like canederli (or Knödel, in German), speck and schnitzel featured ubiquitously on menus in local restaurants.

Where to Go

Discover the Dolomites

 

Perhaps the most noteworthy luxury destination in the Dolomites is the iconic Cortina d’Ampezzo, a haven for jetsetters and VIPs looking to hit some of the Alps’ most striking slopes by day, and then enjoy apres ski, Italian aperitivi and ski village life by night. Located in the Veneto region (think Venice, Verona and Lake Garda), Cortina is a more bustling mountain town with a distinctly Italian feel. Travelers to Cortina can select from an abundance of lovely luxury properties, including the boutique mountain resort and spa Rosapetra.

 

 

The two other major towns are Bolzano in Alto-Adige and Trento in Trentino.

Bolzano is the capital of Alto-Adige (Südtirol) and the largest city in the region. A city straddling two countries and two cultures, Bolzano is has learned to embrace the best of both worlds.

Fun fact: Bolzano is also home to “Otzi the iceman”, one of the oldest preserved human mummies discovered in a nearby glacier and currently displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. 

Trento is the capital of Trentino and home of the 16th century Countil of Trent, during the Counter Reformation of the church. Today it’s a modern university town and the perfect jumping-off point for activities. Relax on a wine tour among the surrounding vineyards or get your heart rate up by hiking, skiing or cycling on some of the 400 km of paved cycling paths parting from the city.

 

Discover the Dolomites

 

Heading west from Cortina into the Alto-Adige portion of the Dolomites, you’ll reach three main valleys: Val Gardena, Val Badia and Val di Fassa.

Those in search of more moderate slopes, including families and beginner or intermediate skiers, will find Val Gardena ideal. Stay in the charming towns of Ortisei, Selva or Santa Cristina.

 

 

On the other side of the famed Sella Ronda is Val di Fassa, home to towns such as Canazei. The third is Val Badia, comprising the towns of La Villa and San Cassiano. Some of our favorite boutique hotels are located in San Cassiano, including Rosa Alpina and Ciasa Salares.

What to Do

Unlike most other regions of Italy, Trentino Alto-Adige is most popular in the winter, when its world-famous slopes open to skiers from across Europe and beyond. The Dolomites became even more fashionable for skiers after hosting the Winter Olympics in 1956 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, today one of the region’s most posh and famous cities. With over 1,200 kilometers of trails and a network of gondolas and chair lifts connecting many of the area’s mountain ranges, the Dolomites are ideal for ski bunnies who wish to hop from one slope to the next.

In summer, when the snow has melted, the mountains attract adventurers looking to hike, mountain bike and soak in the natural beauty of the Italian Alps. Hikers can take advantage of the long-distance footpaths criss-crossing the Dolomites, called the alte vie. One popular hiking destination is Lago di Braies, a stunning lake whose emerald waters reflect the mountains above.

Though the Dolomites are an outdoor lover’s paradise, it’s not all adventure sports and energy. The views alone are enough for a visit. Enjoy the gorgeous panoramas along the Grande Strada delle Dolomiti, or the Great Road of the Dolomites. Those looking for some R&R can tap in to the region’s healthy thermal bath culture. Though spas abound, we’d recommend baths built around natural hot springs. Try the massive Terme di Merano with 25 pools to choose from, saunas, a full spa and even a snow room. Added recently, the room is kept at about 14°F and filled with snow!

 

Local Tips

The Dolomites are dotted with baite, small mountain cabins constructed with stone or wood to withstand heavy snowfalls. Traditionally used as seasonal residences for sheep and cow herders, a recently restored baita may now be used as a holiday home or rented to travelers looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience.

On top of the mountains, skiers and mountaineers may find a rifugio, a shelter built as a point of refuge in case of sudden weather changes. Some rifugi today have become culinary hotspots, serving local dishes to hungry wanderers.

 

 

Food in the Alto-Adige shows the region’s German influence, with specials like canederli, bread balls made from leftovers including bread, milk, cheese and often speck (lean, lightly smoked ham). Gnocchi verdi, ghoulash and spetzel are all on the menu, and the region also produces apples. Wine in the region includes Teroldego (in Trentino) and gewürztraminer (Alto-Adige).

Plan Your Northern Italy Adventure

The Dolomites are easily accessible from Venice or Milan, and can be paired easily with a romantic, northern city like Verona or the towns along beautiful Lake Garda. If you’re ready to discover the Dolomites, touring picturesque resort towns, hitting famed ski slopes and warming up in charming lodges then check out our itinerary and let us do the work for you!

 

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Italy is often summarized as the country of food, wine, history, and nature. But even more than any of these, family is everything in Italy. I had never known this to be more true than during the months that my team and I worked on a special trip to Italy for Joseph and Irene.

Knowing barely a sentence of Italian and hailing from upstate New York, Irene and Joseph, 85 years young, reached out to Ciao Andiamo to help connect them to their Italian heritage. Joseph’s parents had been born in the late 19th century in Italy, outside of Bari, Puglia. Although Joseph and Irene had visited Italy a number of times, they had never before been to the place of Joseph’s roots.

Joseph decided that now was the time to seek out his family history, to track down the place where his parents had grown up and perhaps even find some living relatives from their hometown.

Uncovering Joseph’s Italian Heritage

After hearing their story, we designed a two-week-long trip down the Adriatic coast, spanning the regions of Abruzzo and Puglia, and concluding near the town of Bari, where we hoped to help Joseph discover pieces of his ancestry.

Working with our incredible Italy team and genealogy experts based in southern Italy, we began our search. We weren’t armed with much: rough birth year estimates of Joseph’s parents, a surname whose spelling had changed after Joseph’s parents had immigrated to America, and the name of a hometown somewhere near Bari – which, as we would soon find out, was incorrect.

But after weeks of hard work, we were able to track down something quite special.

Finding More Than We Expected

First, we found the official birthplace of Joseph’s father, in the small town of Toritto. We started tracking down birth certificates and names of a couple of living cousins.

We found that one of the cousins, whose grandfather had been the brother of Joseph’s father, was still living in Toritto, and he had a brother who was also alive and well living in Canada. The cousins were overjoyed to learn about their American relatives, but we decided to keep the news quiet from Joseph and Irene for now, until we could be sure it was true.

We continued our research and met with more and more local residents in Toritto. Toritto is the kind of small Italian town where everyone knows everyone, and we were amazed to witness the whole town start to become abuzz with news of Joseph and Irene and their planned visit mere months away in the early fall.

A Touching (and Memorable) Reunion

October finally arrived, and Joseph and Irene set off on their journey to southern Italy. After a number of days relaxing and exploring different coastal and countryside towns, they spent two days at a local masseria, a farmhouse, near the historic center of Toritto. It was here that their Italian family would come to meet Joseph and Irene for the very first time.

I had the incredible fortune to be part of this meeting at the masseria. I arrived with our local partner Max to assist with translation and logistics and photographer Ksenija to document the reunion. We were incredibly honored to be included in such a special experience and were, of course, delighted to continue to help.

Excitement mixed with nervousness. We weren’t sure how the events of the family reunion would play out. Would the one cousin we had spoken with even show up? Would he bring along one or two other relatives as well? How long would they want to stay and visit, and what would they say?

On the day of the event, something amazing happened. Not one, not two, but 27 family members would show up at the masseria throughout the course of the evening, in what would turn into a beautiful six-hour-long reunion full of hugs and stories, laughter and emotion.

As you might imagine, the conversations were loud, animated, and at times confusing – deciphering all the intricacies of the family tree and translating between the English spoken by Joseph and Irene and the Italian dialect spoken by everyone else. But somehow, magically, the evening worked, and they were truly united as a family.

Celebrating La Famiglia

Since we had never imagined that so many people would be joining, the owners of the small masseria were only prepared for a dinner of 5-8 people. But when you invite guests over in southern Italy, you invite them, and we would need to find a way to pull together enough food and wine to accommodate a celebration for over 20 guests.

Incredibly, the owners and their small staff managed to whip up a huge feast in the kitchen, and we dined and drank wine into the wee hours of the morning.

Joseph, beaming from ear to ear throughout the night, made no fewer than three toasts to his new-found Italian family and those who helped make the evening possible.

The next day, we took Irene and Joseph to the historic center of Toritto, showed them the street where Joseph’s father was born, and dropped them off at Joseph’s cousin’s house, as the family had insisted that they join them the next day for lunch for a part two of the family reunion.

I am so incredibly grateful that I had the chance to lend a hand in writing such a beautiful story of Italian family, and to help create an experience that a teary-eyed Joseph told me he will always remember. I know I certainly will.

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Planning a getaway to Italy? Whether it’s your first time to the bel paese or you’re a travel veteran, here are some pro tips to help you feel right at home in Italia.

1. Buongiorno Will Only Get You So Far (in the Day)

Your guidebook may have told you that boungiorno means “hello,” but Italians use it to mean “good morning.” Switch to buonasera (good evening) in the mid-afternoon, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, use buon pomeriggio to wish someone a good afternoonOnly say buona notte (good night) at the end of the night, when it’s time for bed!

2. Lunch and Siesta Like an Italian

Lunch is traditionally the biggest meal of the day, and an important social occasion when families get together. Meal times can vary by region; the further south you go, the later lunch typically begins. As a rule of thumb, restaurants won’t open for lunch before 12:30 pm, or 7:30 pm for dinner. Shops typically close between 1-4pm for siesta, especially in smaller, less touristic towns, so make like a local and relax after a big meal.

3. Say Arrivederci to Spaghetti and Meatballs

You won’t find spaghetti and meatballs or fettucine alfredo on any true Italian menu! Embrace la cucina Italiana and try some of the local cuisine, which can vary across the country. Each region features dishes that highlight its own local ingredients and unique cooking styles. In Rome, you’ll find cacio e pepe, pasta with pecorino cheese and peppercorns, and carciofi alla roman, Roman-style artichokes. Milan is famous for its risotto, and Tuscan cuisine features bistecca fiorentina, Florentine steak, and simple dishes like panzanella, bread salad.

4. When in Rome, Do as Romans Do

If you are seeking an experience that is authentic and off-the-beaten-path, look no further than the local Italian favorites. Some of the most authentic Italian jaunts may appear simple and nothing special from the outside, but they make for some of the richest and most delicious dining experiences you can find. These places are often unassuming and removed from the most heavily toured sites. For instance, if you want an authentic dining experience in Venice, you shouldn’t eat right in Piazza di San Marco. Be adventurous, and embrace the real local culture!

5. Visit the ‘Bar’ Morning, Noon and Night

In Italy, ‘bar’ has a different meaning – it’s a place where you can go to get a caffé (espresso) or cappuccino, or perhaps a little pastry or sandwich. Italians stand at the counter just long enough to drink an espresso and chat with the barista before heading on their way (for more, read our tips for navigating an Italian coffee bar). Italians often visit their favorite bar multiple times a day for a little caffeine boost, so be sure to taste your way through the menu of espresso options

6. Take a Break From Brunch

Italian breakfast is typically a lighter meal, with maybe some cereal and yogurt or toast with nutella or jam. If you are eating in a hotel, you can enjoy a buffet with these options and some cheeses and sliced meats. If you venture out to a coffee bar, order a cappuccino or espresso and pastry with chocolate, jam, or cream. Italians only really drink cappuccino in the morning, and never after lunch or dinner.

7. Take It Slow at the Table

In Italy, there is a standard order of Italian courses (antipasti, primi, secondi and contorni, dessert and espresso). You don’t have to eat a full 4-course meal every time, but this is the order in which they serve the different dishes. Primi are ‘first courses’: a pasta, soup or rice dish. Secondi are ‘second courses,’ being meat, fish or poultry. When dining, waiters typically won’t check on a table very frequently, as it is custom to let diners linger and enjoy pauses between courses without being disturbed. Instead, if you need your waiter, flag them down. Dining in Italy is a social experience, so take your time soaking in the amazing food and wine with family and friends!

8. Tip (or Don’t Tip) Like an Italian

If you come from a tipping culture, it can be tough to get used to the idea of not leaving tips for waiters, taxi drivers, and hotel service. But Italians do not tip. In a restaurant, locals will often leave nothing at all, or at most 2-5 Euro, regardless of the bill. If you can’t help yourself, a good rule of thumb is to leave the change from your bill or at most 5-10%.

9. Master Public Transportation

When riding the bus or train, don’t forget to get your ticket stamped before getting on board. Look for the little yellow machines at the train terminals or on the bus, where you can stick your ticket in to get it validated. In some places, like Venice, when riding on the public water taxi, tickets are electronic, and you can hold your ticket up to the machine for it to scan.

10. Get Behind the Wheel

Driving from town to town in the countryside or on the highway is often manageable, with easy-to-follow signs pointing the way towards different destinations. However, the arrival and departure from big cities can be harder to manage and very stressful, especially in cities like Rome where there are no rules, and lots of vespas weaving in and out of traffic aggressively. Don’t be intimidated by Italians’ reputation as aggressive drivers. Driving beyond the major cities and towns is sometimes the best way to discover the real Italy – all the local favorites and hidden gems Italia has to offer!

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Summer may seem like the obvious choice for vacation, and more travelers are embracing the shoulder season, but we’d like to make a case for the off-season: Italy in December. With its festive atmosphere and mild weather, the holiday season can be the best time to experience Italy.

Here are five reasons to add a December vacation to your wish list:

1. Festive Lights & Open Air Markets

December marks the season when cities and small villages throughout Italy shine brightly with Christmas lights. Locals flock to open air markets to buy holiday gifts and enjoy December nights with friends and family. Not only is it simply beautiful, it’s also a unique way to take part in the Italian experience.

Christmas lights and massive trees add to the festive atmosphere of December in Italy
Christmas lights and massive trees add to the festive atmosphere of December in Italy

2. Plenty to Do Outdoors

Italians spend the winter hiding inside. Besides the wonderful Christmas markets to explore, you’ll find outdoor ice rinks set up in most major cities during the holiday season – and they’re not just for the tourists! The rinks are filled with families, teenagers, and children enjoying the holiday cheer and a festive way to ward off the winter chill. If you’re not feeling up to lacing up your own skates, you can grab a cappuccino at a nearby cafe and people watch to your hearts desire. Cafés in Italy will often have outdoor tables available throughout the winter, with heat lamps, fires or even blankets to keep guests warm. Do like the locals do and find one during the day to soak in every ray of sun available. Beyond that you can ski in the mountains, go snow-shoe hiking, window shop and generally enjoy your time outside, no need to hide!

3. Sweet Treats Galore

In December, stores and markets throughout Italy are stocked with traditional Italian dessert breads – panettone and pandoro. Both are sweet yeast breads found only during this time of year. Pandoro, traditionally from Verona, means bread of gold and was a staple on the tables of the rich Venetians during Christmastime. Today it’s a Christmas classic for all Italians. 

Panettone is the Lombard answer. A tall loaf, panettone is filled with dried fruit and candied citrus and is a Milanese tradition. Of course at any Christmas market you can find a wealth of sweet treats, but it isn’t Christmas in Italy without one of these traditional sweet breads!

A shop window shoes row after row of traditional Italian panettone
You can only find this delicious Italian sweet bread in December.

4. The Weather is Just Right

Sure, you might need to pack a winter coat and scarf, but Italy in December is actually quite moderate and for many preferable than the scorching summer for touring. Temperatures in the north range from 25 – 45 degrees Fahrenheit (though the mountains have their own microclimate) while the south easily enjoys an average of 50 degrees and in Sicily it may get as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit in December. January and February run colder and November rainier, but December is a sweet small in-between. 

5. It’s Italy Without The Crowds

Plain and simple: December may be the best time to visit some of Italy’s most popular and heavily touristed destinations such as Venice or the Italian Riviera. Imagine all the picture-perfect beauty of Italy, but without the crowds and selfie sticks. It’s a whole different experience to stroll through the enchanted city’s winding side streets, walk through Piazza San Marco and overlook bridges and canals or hike one of the famed Cinque Terre trails when it feels like you have all of the city to yourself. 

The port in Camogli Italy
December in Italy means having small towns like Camogli all to yourself

Ready to experience the magic of Italia for yourself? Contact us to begin planning!

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