Traveling is good for your health. It can take you away from the stressors of everyday life, give your brain a chance to reset and even improve brain health thanks to stimulating new experiences. Travel can boost your mood and give you much needed social time. Unfortunately, it can also mean long travel days, jet lag that snags sleep and a slip in our usual healthy diet.   

Want to gain the benefits of travel without sacrificing your health? You can still do it!

Here’s how to stay healthy while traveling:   

Wash your hands  

Click on the picture to see the rest of the steps recommended by the World Health Organization

The simplest and most effective way to stay healthy while at home or abroad is to wash your hands often and thoroughly. Our biggest problem seems to be the latter; Most people don’t adequately wash their hands, according to the World Health Organization. Be sure to use clean, running water, plenty of soap, and wash for at least 20 seconds on the palm, back, and between the fingers of each hand. After, air dry or dry with a clean towel. While traveling, be sure to always wash your hands before eating, and if that’s not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Be sure to rub sanitizer on the palm, back, and between the fingers of each hand.  

Try to keep your normal sleep schedule  

Traveling can be physically demanding. You upset your routine by carrying luggage, walking all day, and maybe even crossing time zones – it can be harsh on your body! One of the most important things you can do while traveling is to make sure you get plenty of sleep. If you don’t normally go to sleep in the wee hours of the night, don’t do it while traveling either. With early morning wake-up times, odd hours, and jet lag, it can be hard, but there are some workarounds. Fight jet lag with a brisk walk in the sun – daylight is one of the best ways to reset your body clock – and if that fails, simply listen to your body. Perhaps the time change means you just need that post-lunch siesta. That’s part of vacation too!  

Move your body

a bike in front of a flower shop. Touring by bike is a great way to stay healthy while traveling

Working out while traveling is an excellent way to stay in shape, stick to your routine, and combat jet lag. It’s also far more difficult to plan and motivate. Though many hotels throughout the world have gyms and there are plenty of exercises and online workout videos you can follow in your room, it’s hard to justify time out of a busy travel day to work out. If you’re able to do it – good for you! If not, consider that in most destinations in the world, like Italy, you’ll be exploring all day. This means walking the streets, strolling in parks, and standing for hours while touring museums and churches and theaters. One good thing about exploring a new city is that you’re sure to keep moving! You can also schedule exercise into your trip with a hike, walking tour, or bike tour to get moving while sightseeing.    

Indulge – but only once a day  

Most people want to indulge and experience the local food while traveling – it is vacation after all! You can absolutely, have fun and enjoy some of the local fare, but you can avoid indigestion, constipation, diarrhea and other stomach issues by sticking as closely as possible to your regular diet.     

Try getting healthy snacks at a local market or grocery store to keep hunger and temptation at bay, and then consider indulging in that big plate of pasta or that three-scoop gelato just once a day, rather than at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “One treat a day feels special and pleasurable,” says registered dietician Keri Glassman, “overdoing it, on the other hand, isn’t as enjoyable and leads to low energy and poor sleep.”    

As always, if you have any food allergies or dietary restrictions, be sure to prepare beforehand. Study up on your destination’s local foods and consider getting a translated card explaining any allergies if you’re worried about language issues.   

Hydrate, enjoy wine, and skip the hard stuff 

A changed routine and constant motion can make it difficult to drink enough water, but keeping hydrated will help combat dehydration, hunger, stomach issues, and even jet lag.   

grapes picked and crated in the vineyard 

For this reason, make sure to drink lots of water, and consider limiting your alcohol consumption to reduce dehydration and travel fatigue. While in Italy you are sure to want to try some of the many wonderful local wines the country has to offer, so consider sticking to wine and beer and skipping hard liquor. A glass of wine is an essential part of the local culture and a popular and fun activity for visitors, so enjoy that vineyard tour and wine tasting, but make sure to stay hydrated as well! 

Check stress at the door  

Vacation or travel is a great time to slow down. Stop to appreciate your surroundings, try spending some time away from technology, and look to connect back with your analog nature. Read the local newspaper or a book, and focus on your travel partners and the new experiences you’re enjoying. Leave the stress of work at home.   

That said, we know that a lot of the stress of travel comes from the travel itself. Prepare yourself ahead of time for a seamless trip, try to let go of the travel hiccups you can’t control, and find what you need in order to travel without stress. Or, go for a completely stress-free trip by hiring a travel company and letting them take care of everything for you! At Ciao Andiamo, we love crafting Italy adventures through local eyes, and we can arrange hotels, excursions, and transfers, personalized for you. Contact us to see how we can make your dream trip to Italy come to life! 

Bring a smart first-aid kit  

Much of the basic medicine available throughout the world is the same, but why not cut the stress and bring your own basic first aid kit for any minor aches or illnesses? A first-aid kit can have all the usual – bandages, sunscreen, an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin, a thermometer and cold relief medication – as well as medicines for harsher eventualities, including diarrhea, constipation or motion sickness. Like we said, all of these are things that you can find in nearly any pharmacy in the world, but it’s so much more convenient to have them on hand right when you need it. Check out the CDC’s Pack Smart Checklist to help you prepare the best medicine travel kit for your trip.    

Consider travel insurance  

Finally, cover yourself against any possibilities or eventualities with good travel insurance. Most travel insurance should include emergency medical assistance, medicines and hospital costs, surgery and dental treatments, and urgent medical treatment for accidents, but make sure to choose one that also has emergency evacuation, legal coverage, and repatriation in case of serious illness or accident. The odds that you’ll have an accident or fall severely ill on a trip are low, but why not buy some peace of mind for your next trip with good medical coverage abroad? Details matter, so pay close attention to the specific policies if you choose to book!

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Carnevale in Italy brings a burst of color to the dark, cold months of winter.   

A huge final celebration to eat, drink and be merry before the restrictions and solemnity of Lent, the festivities in Italy aren’t reserved just to Mardi Gras.

Starting about a month before Ash Wednesday, revelers in Italy celebrate for multiple weekends with sweeping parades, elaborate masks and plenty of brightly colored confetti. You can find traditional Carnival sweets in the bakeries and plenty of tricks and mischief. After all, a Carnevale, ogni scherzo vale! That is, anything goes during Carnival. 

Carnevale in Italy  

A Carnival parade in Putignano, Puglia. Photo by Salvatore Capotorto from Pixabay

If the celebrations seem a little over-the-top, consider that the roots of this festival can be traced to Ancient Greece and Rome in celebrations that honored the god Bacchus (of wine) and Saturn. Some say they go even further back to primitive celebrations of the end of winter and beginning of spring.  

Though its history is pagan, the festival was so widely celebrated and the tradition so strong that it was quickly adapted to fit into the Catholic rituals. During the 40 days of Lent, parties were forbidden and meat, sugar and fats were off-limits. Carnival fit in perfectly as a last hurrah and a way to finish all the stores of rich food and drink before Lent.  

After weeks of mischief and parties, expect a more pious and solemn atmosphere in Italy during the weeks of Lent. Easter in Italy is as strongly felt and celebrated as Christmas.  

Officially, Carnevale is held on Fat Tuesday – in 2020 that is on February 25 – but of course the weekend before sees celebrations just as big or even bigger! Future Carnival dates are February 16, 2021; March 1, 2022; and February 21, 2023.   

Where to Celebrate Carnevale in Italy  

Though everyone knows of the masks and parades of Venice, every town in Italy, even the smallest, has its own Carnevale parade. Small towns will have day care centers and school children march in the street or ride atop team-made floats and school bands play. Bigger cities will bring together floats, bands, dance troupes and group costumes for the parades.  

There are some cities, however, that regularly outdo themselves. Here are some of the biggest, most famous Carnival celebrations in all of Italy:  

Venice, Veneto 

Photo by Serge WOLFGANG from Pixabay

Full of mystery, mischief and intrigue, the Carnival of Venice is undoubtedly one of the most famous Carnival celebrations in the entire world.  

Though the start of Venice’s Carnival is disputed, most attribute it to 1296, with an official document from the Senate of Venice declaring a public celebration on the day before Lent. Created as an allowance for citizens for some fun and revelry, the mask fit in perfectly, allowing citizens to celebrate independently of social class or religion.  

Carnival masks remained a fixture through the Renaissance, and masked comedy troupes would perform in the piazzas of Venice in the 16th century. These same masks and bacchanalia were banned by the Austrians in the 18th century and again by Mussolini in the 1930s.  

After many years, the holiday returned in 1979 in a celebration of the history and culture of Venice. 

The 2020 Venice Carnival will begin on Saturday, February 8 and end on Tuesday, February 25. Visitors can view events like the water parade, mask competitions or the infamous flight of the angel, or simply stroll the UNESCO World Heritage city and to see the elaborate and unique costumes.  

Today roughly 3 million people travel to Venice to participate in the infamous festa Veneziana, making it the most important event of the city and the biggest carnival celebration in Italy.    

Viareggio, Tuscany 

Another one of the most important Carnival celebrations in Italy is in Viareggio, on the coast of Tuscany. Started in the late 1800s by the rich bourgeois class who wanted to freely express their discontent of the high taxes, today the attitude continues with massive papier mâché floats satirizing big political and cultural names.  

The celebration is most known for these elaborate and impressive floats, made with extraordinary detail and engineering. The tradition is so important, that float-makers begin their work an entire year before Carnival!  

Besides the allegorical floats, the entire Carnival of Viareggio is followed by all night musical dances in the streets. This tradition started in the 1920s as “colored all-night dances” or veglioni coloratiwhere women dressed in specific colors and even the jewelry, confetti and decorations had to match. That plus the city’s Art Deco architecture make for the perfect scenography. 

The Carnevale di Viareggio takes place on Fat Tuesday, as well as the four Sundays preceding it. The final parade is followed by a huge fireworks show. Though admission is charged to view the parade, there are festivals, cultural events, concerts and masked balls for free throughout the season. 

Acireale, Sicily  

Photo by Carnaval.com Studios (flickr)

Repeatedly described as one of Italy’s most beautiful Carnivals, this is likely thanks to the intricate floats decorated with fresh flowers, adding beauty and perfume to the streets of Acireale.  

Allegorical papier mâché floats parade down the Baroque streets of Acireale during the Carnival season, but the surprise is in the flower floats.  Dating back to the 16th-century, revelers once celebrated Carnival in Acireale by throwing rotten eggs and lemons, but when those games were officially banned, they were replaced by a much more cultured character: Folk poets, known as abbatazzi, who improvised verses on the streets of the city.  

Today, both the floats and poets can still be found and the Carnival of Acireale is widely entitled the “best Carnival in Sicily.” It is so popular, in fact, that the entire thing is reproduced in the balmy summer air of August. 

Ivrea, Piedmont 

The Carnival of Ivrea is likely the most unique Carnival celebration in Italy. Every year Ivrea, a tiny city near Turin in Piedmont, hosts its famous Battaglia delle Arancie (Battle of the Oranges) in the final days of the Carnival season.  

The battle symbolizes an event in 1194 when the people of Ivrea rebelled against the Royal Napoleonic Troops. It is said that the miller’s daughter, “la Mugnaia,” slayed the hated tyrant who ruled the city after he tried to take her, kicking off a rebellion that ultimately won the townsfolk a bit more freedom.  

Today, la Mugnaia is always represented by a local beauty, and the event is remembered with an enormous orange battle between helmeted “soldiers” in carriages and unprotected “townspeople” representing different districts on the ground. Those that don’t want to participate wear the traditional berretto rosso, red hats, to be excluded from the battle and can stay protected behind massive nets.  

Putignano, Puglia 

The region of Puglia in Italy’s heel likely has the most Carnival celebrations of any region, but the most famous is in Putignano.  

Located in the beautiful Itria Valley, home of trulli houses and interesting karst caves, the ancient town of Putignano is home to the longest Carnival celebration in all of Italy. Every year it starts on Santo Stefano, December 26th, with the Festa delle Propaggini, in which poets recite in local dialect, and ends on Fat Tuesday with a parade and the “funeral” of Carnival, represented as a pig.  

Not only is it the longest Carnival celebration, but it is one of the oldest in all of Europe. Putignano’s Carnival dates as far back as 1394, when relics of St. Stephens were transferred inland to Putignano for protection against invaders. The move was so celebrated that peasants left the vineyards to follow the procession, exploding into song and dance upon arrival, as well as improvised lyrics and poems, satirizing against politicians and news, habits and current events in the local dialect. 

After December 26, this long Carnival is celebrated every Thursday, but it’s not until the feast day of St. Anthony the Abate, January 17, that Carnival really takes off with parties, feasts, pageants, and parades. From then until Fat Tuesday, every day is Carnival!   

Fano, Le Marche 

Photo from @ilcarnevaledifano

It’s not confetti or tinsel or ribbons thrown about during Fano’s Carnival, but sweets. With the “getto” or throw, the masked floats toss hundreds of pounds of sweets, candies and chocolates to the crowds below. (The crowds come prepared with paper cones to catch the goodies!) 

Said to have started in 1347 during a rare moment of peace between two rival families of the time, the Carnival of Fano is known as the sweetest Carnival of Italy.  

The floats parade up and down the streets of Fano, ending in a final round with a “luminaria” with lights, fire and color added as night falls. Finally, a massive papier mâché puppet known as “Pupo” or “Vulon” is burnt in the main square to large crowds on the day of Mardi Gras, a practice that is said to take away winter together with the sins of the townspeople.   

Cento, Emilia Romagna  

The Carnival of Cento is known as far back as 1615, thanks to frescoes by hometown painter Gian Francesco “Guercino” Barbieri that document the celebration, but its most celebrated traditions are more recent.   

In the early 1900s the people created their own king to symbolize the city’s Carnival, a character to represent his fellow citizens, called Tasi.   

During the final parade, Tasi is burned in a bonfire in front of the Rocca while an impressive fireworks show lights up the sky in a scenographic display. Before he is burned, his will is read in the local dialect and his possessions are given to Cento’s most famous citizens – actual citizens of Cento!  

In 1993, the Cento Carnival was twinned with the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro and began displaying allegorical floats inspired by the exhibitions of Rio. Running for five Sundays prior to Lent, the parades circle the city multiple times and throw inflatable and soft objects into the crowd.   

Milan, Italy 

Photo from inLombardia

Technically, the Carnival celebrations in Milan aren’t much different than any of the others. There are parades and parties, confetti and costumes. The difference here is all in the timing.   

Milan’s carnival is the last to be celebrated. The Ambrosian Carnival, named after Milan’s patron saint, holds its final party after the Italian Carnival has officially ended.  

As tradition has it, the city’s patron saint, Sant’Ambrogio (St. Ambrose) was on a religious pilgrimage and asked to postpone the final Carnival celebrations until he got back. So every year, Milan’s carnival is celebrated four days later on the Saturday after Fat Tuesday, ending the Carnival season in the beautiful Piazza del Duomo. 

 

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The holiday season is a wonderful time to see Italy. Though winter is technically the low season, December sees a peak of visitors and festivities with a wealth of special events and seasonal sights.   

No matter where you are in the Bel Paese, you’re sure to feel the festive atmosphere. Italian cities big and small decorate their centers with lights, garland and trees, and shops deck out their windows for the holidays. All of Italy is beautiful in December, but here’s where to go for that something specific.

Where to Go and Why: 

Vatican City for the religious festivities 

St. Peter's Basilica in lights during the holidays in Italy
St. Peter’s Piazza decorated for Christmas. Photo by Giuseppe Milo on Flickr 

Italy is a predominately Roman Catholic country and the holiday season reflects that. Even if you’re not religious, seeing or participating in a mass is a chance to get to know the local culture and Italians Christmastime traditions. Each year on December 24th there is midnight mass held by the Pope in Saint Peter’s Basilica. (It’s often held before midnight, so check online). For those with only a passing interest or simply without a seat, join the crowd in St. Peter’s Piazza to follow the mass on a big-screen TV. Come back at noon on Christmas Day for the Pope’s Christmas message which he gives from his apartment overlooking the square. The square itself is decorated with a massive Christmas tree and a life-size nativity scene. 

Bolzano for the over-the-top Christmas markets 

All of Trentino Alto-Adige is known for its beautiful Christmas market coming from its long Austrian heritage, but known as is large or over-the-top as Bolzano’s. Going strong for nearly 30 years, the Bolzano Christmas Market strictly sells only locally produced options. Here you can find the region’s handiwork at play with wooden statuettes, decorations and nativities, as well as musical instruments, decorative candles, slippers, hats, stationary and more. 

Besides the commercial aspect of the market with many handcrafted gifts and artwork, visitors can see the artisans at work in the craft tent, enjoy local dishes like strudel and mulled wine and enjoy horse-drawn carriage wines, a merry-go-round or puppet theatre for the little ones.  

Naples for artisanal Nativity masterpieces 

Nowhere in Italy is more famous for its handcrafted Nativity scenes than Naples, and ground zero for this work is via San Gregorio Armeno. A long pedestrian street in the historic center, there are hundreds of shops featuring handmade presepibut each shop will likely have a slightly different style, color, cut or characters. Not only can you find the classic Jesus, Mary and Joseph figurines, but you can expand on your Nativity to create a veritable city with shepherds, blacksmiths and vendors of all kinds, as well as more modern ideas like pizza-makers, politicians and soccer players.  

If the crowds get to be too much on “Christmas Alley” (as San Gregorio Armeno is often called) head to the Museo Nazionale di San Martino in Naples to see the largest Nativity scene in the world, with more than 500 different people, animal, angel and object figurines. 

Matera for the living Nativity scene 

Known as the presepi viventi, a living nativity scene is when costumed people act out some or all of the Christmas story, usually on Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s on December 26 and the Epiphany on January 6 (when the Three Wise Men brought their gifts to Jesus). There are dozens of living Nativity scenes throughout Italy. In Chia, Lazio there are more than 500 actors. Barga in Tuscany includes at least a hundred costumed people walking through the town behind Mary and Joseph asking for lodging and of course Greccio, Lazio is said to be the home of the very first Nativity scene when Saint Francis of Assisi constructed one in a cave there in 1223.  

Still, only one has the nearly surreal backdrop of the sassi di Matera. Houses, churches and monasteries were carved and created in caverns of Matera’s rocks. A completely unique destination no matter the time of year, the landscape is even more evocative with these biblical reenactments. 

Turin for the heart-warming coffeehouses  

A decadent Bicerin is just what you need to warm up after sightseeing in December. Photo by Jeremy Hunsinger on Wikicommons

Turin is known for its chocolate, and what better time of year to indulge in this local treat than the holiday season? You can try the Gianduia chocolate or a creamy hot chocolate, but to experience the coffeehouse culture at its most decadent, order a Bicerin. A traditional drink from Piedmont, it’s a mix of chocolate, coffee and cream that will for sure warm you up on a cold winter day.  

Orvieto for the week-long Jazz Festival 

Umbria’s winter edition is held each December in the suggestive town of Orvieto for five days. That’s five days of music starting from noon and running late into the night at different times and different venues. From the Emilio Greco Museum to the Sala Etrusca in the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo filled with pianists, food, wine and jazz in the Palazzo dei Sette or the by now annual send off with the Funk Off band in the streets where the city itself is the true location.  

Rome for massive Hanukkah celebrations  

Though the city is home to the seat of the Roman Catholic religion, Rome, and all of Italy, has a large Jewish population and a long Jewish history. A huge, twenty-foot menorah is set up in Piazza Barberini, with crowds to match the size every night for the lighting ceremony. A smaller menorah can be found in Piazza Bologna for those wanting to escape the crowds. Mid-December you can join a lively Hanukkah street party on Via del Portico d’Ottavia, in Rome’s Jewish quarter with dancing, processions and, of course, food and wine. And instead of a jelly doughnut, go for the Roman version: the Fritelle de Chanuka. Sweet dough fritters mixed with raisins and anise seeds, fried in oil and topped with hot honey, they’re delicious, local and the perfect way to celebrate Hanukkah in Rome! 

Milan for the Christmas shopping and panettone

The galleria in Milan with lights and a tree for the holidays in Italy
The beautiful ‘Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II’ in the centre of Milan all lit up for the holidays. Photo by Ralf Steinberger on Flickr

Milan and shopping go hand-in-hand and that doesn’t change for Christmas shopping. Beyond the lights and enormous Christmas tree in front of the Duomo, shops big and small go all out on their window displays. Worth it even just to window shop, it also makes last-minute gift buying a breeze. When in doubt, go for the city’s hometown Christmas dessert and buy an artisanal panettone. A sweet bread with candied fruits and raisins, panettone has its origins in Milan, but is now a staple throughout Italy during the holidays. 

Agnone for a river of fire parade

Every year in the small region of Molise, the town of Agnone gives a nod to its roots in their Christmas fire festival, called the Ndocciata. On Christmas Eve locals in traditional dress carry large, fan-shapped wooden torches through the town, creating a river of fire and light to vigil the coming of Christmas. The parade ends in a huge central bonfire. Recently, the town has held a symbolic festival another weekend before Christmas Eve to allow even visitors to participate.  

Bologna for a unique New Year’s Eve tradition 

Bologna celebrates New Year’s Eve with the Fiera del Bue Grasso, or the fat ox fair. The ox is decorated with flowers and ribbons and is the prize for a lottery held to see who will win the ox! People join the procession with candles and fireworks until it ends just before midnight in Piazza Maggiore. There, all of Bologna rings in the new year and symbolically “burns” the old year at midnight by throwing a special dummy known as the Vecchione into a large public bonfire. Designed by a different artist each year, the dummy is worth a look before his destruction and the Piazza has live music, performances and a street market as well.  

Venice for a mass New Year’s Eve kiss 

There's no place or time as atmospheric as the holidays in Italy

There are few places as romantic as Venice. The atmosphere is charged with beauty and love and on New Year’s Eve it’s even more electric with music, fireworks and a plethora of sparkling wine toasts. See the traditional concert in Teatro la Fenice, but hustle to Piazza San Marco before midnight for the classic “mass kiss” when the bells ring in the New Year. 

Otranto to see the first dawn of the year in Italy 

The white city in Puglia, Italy’s heel of the boot, celebrates the New Year with the “Alba dei Popoli” festival, or Dawn of the People, a local party that ends at dawn. That’s because the Punta Palascia lighthouse in Otranto is Italy’s easternmost spot, separating the Ionian Sea from the Adriatic, and the first opportunity to see the dawn of the new year in Italy.  

Florence for traditional Epiphany celebrations 

The Epiphany on January 6th is the day the three wise men finally reached baby Jesus. In Italy it’s traditionally celebrated by an ugly but friendly “witch” known as La Befana who comes during the night to fill children’s shoes or stockings with candy, toys and sweets. In fact, most people in Italy refer to the Epiphany as “la Befana” and celebrations throughout Italy feature her. In Florence, however, the holiday’s holier roots are still visible every year with a historical procession through the heart of the city. Known as the Calvalcade of the Magi, participants dress in traditional costume to represent the journey of the Magi to Jesus. The parade starts from Palazzo Pitti, crosses the Arno River and ends at the Duomo, with a stop in Piazza della Signoria for a flag throwing performance! 

Massive christmas star decoration set up for the holidays in Italy
The Christmas Star leaping from the ancient Verona Arena. Photo by Gianni Crestani from Pixabay

Italians have a saying, “l’Epifania tutte le feste porta via,” meaning with the Epiphany the holidays are over. The holiday season is long in Italy – trees are up well past New Years – but come January 6th it’s time to take down the tree, pack up the decorations and put a close to the festivities. That is, until Carnival season!

Want to celebrate the holidays in Italy? Give yourself the perfect gift with a tailored trip just for you! Contact us today for help designing your dream journey for a no-stress, hassle-free holiday in beautiful Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Most visitors to Italy only think of the Mediterranean summers, but December is a great time to visit the peninsula. Tour Italy’s greatest cities under the twinkling lights of Christmas. It’s the most festive time of the year and the atmosphere and spirit of celebration are addictive! 

The holiday season in Italy starts with the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, when cities’ Christmas lights are turned on and Italians officially bring out the Christmas decorations and set up their tree or Nativity scene. Though it’s slightly later than most American’s day-after-Thanksgiving approach, in Italy the holiday season doesn’t end until the Epiphany on January 6th.

A predominately Catholic country, most of the season’s big-hitting holiday dates are from Christmas Eve on December 24th to the Epiphany on January 6th – the original 12 days of Christmas!

Though winter is the low season for travel to Italy, Christmastime does see a spike in visitors, as other Europeans have time off and tourists from all over plan their trip to take in the beautiful sights and smells of the holiday season in Italy. Coming to Italy in December? We’ve got everything you need to know about the holiday season in Italy:

Italian Holiday Traditions

Italians are champions of tradition and there’s no better time to see that than the holidays, when each symbol, event and meal are reminders of the magic of the season. No matter where you’re coming from, there are a few things you can expect to see during the holiday season in Italy:

Christmas markets

A good Christmas market is a feast for the senses, with delicious smells, warm desserts and drinks, handcrafted wares and atmospheric lights. Photo from Pixabay

Though this tradition is mostly attributed to Germany and Austria, Italians love their Christmas markets as much as their northern neighbors. In December, you can find Christmas markets in most cities throughout Italy. Visit Italy’s largest Christmas market in Bolzano, a city in the border region of South Tyrol. In Florence the historical Santa Croce Piazza fills with a market hailing directly from Germany for the entire month of December or head to Piazza Navona in Rome. Some, like those listed above, last all month, others like those in Genoa, Bologna or Syracuse, Sicily last for a week or two or at a specific time period, like Milan’s O Bej O Bej. The market, that gets it’s name from the local dialect for “how beautiful, how beautiful,”  usually runs for one weekend around the time of Milan’s patron saint festival on December 7th.

Christmas lights and Christmas trees

Few people in Italy decorate their house or garden with Christmas lights, but each and every town center will be positively lit up with lights and sparkling decorations. Some favorites are Ferrara, Turin, Milan and Rome. Beyond that, you can expect big cities to have a massive pine tree decorated for the season, usually located in front of the Duomo. There’s one in Florence, Milan, Naples and Venice, but perhaps the most impressive is Rome, which has not one, but several Christmas trees throughout the city. You can usually find a tree near the Colosseum, in Piazza Venezia, on Capitoline Hill and, of course, in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City.

Traditional meals

Fish is the traditional meal served on Christmas Eve, as Italians avoid meat and large meals in fasting and preparation for Christmas Day. After dinner many families attend their local midnight Mass. On Christmas Day, families feast the entire day, with a large lunch that usually has multiple courses and dozens of servings. Though every family is different, some regions have specific food traditions for Christmas Day, such as homemade cappelletti in broth in central Italian regions or panettone for dessert in the north.

Regional celebrations

As always in Italy, you can expect different traditions from different regions. Italy is a nation of city-states and though it’s one country, each area is fiercely proud of its own traditions and culture. Some dates, like December 8th, are national holidays, but there are other important holiday dates for individual regions. For example, Abruzzo celebrates St. Nicholas on December 6th, the generous saint’s feast day, with the nonni dressing up as St. Nicholas and giving gifts to children. The Milanese celebrate their patron saint, St. Ambrose, in style on December 7th, and those from Bergamo (as well as other towns) exchange gifts on December 13th, St. Lucy’s Day, rather than Christmas day.

St. Lucy, or Santa Lucia, is also celebrated in Syracuse, Sicily, where where she’s celebrated with a huge parade that ends in a firework display over the harbor in one of the biggest celebrations of the year. Research in advance your Italian destinations to see the extra events and celebrations they may have in December.

Caroling or … bagpipes!

Though caroling isn’t such a common practice anymore, in Lazio, Abruzzo, Sicily and other areas of southern Italy you may still see bagpipe players, called zampognari, playing carols the week of Christmas. Originally a practice of shepherds who would play their Christmas hymns as they returned home from their outposts in the mountains, today it’s continued by locals who want to keep the culture alive.

Nativity scenes

Living nativity scenes with local participants are popular throughout Italy. Photo by Michelle Scott from Pixabay

Nativity Scenes, or presepe, are super popular in Italy. They can be found throughout town and in nearly every Italian home. Some families don’t even put up a tree in lieu of a nativity! These can be super small or enormous, elaborate affairs with collections growing by the generation. You can find the oldest Nativity in the museum of Santa Maria Maggiore Church in Rome, but the place to find hand-crafted Nativities is in Naples. Here the artisan craft is still going strong and you can shop, window shop or simply admire the skilled craftsmen at work on via San Gregorio Armeno. Sometimes called Christmas Alley, this long street in the historic city center has nativity scenes on sale year-round!

Besides these small works of art, another popular tradition in Italy is the “living nativity” with actors and sometimes entire villages as the set. Known as presepi viventi, often the locations are just as suggestive as the scene itself. Custonaci in the Trapani region of Sicily holds its living nativity in a cave, Mantova in Lombardy has around 150 people featured, and the rocks, stones and caves of Matera make for the perfect setting for a reenacted Bethlehem.

Good luck and good fortune for the New Year

New Year’s Eve has fewer specific rituals than Christmas. Italians can celebrate at home, at a restaurant (with reservations well in advanced) or in the piazza where some Italian cities organize concerts and events. Throughout the country, New Year’s Eve is often celebrated in Italy with fireworks, especially in Naples where public and private fireworks can be set off long into the night. Italians eat lentils for dinner for good luck in the coming year, usually paired with a large sausage that requires hours of slow cooking called a cotechino. The tradition doesn’t stop there – be sure to pack a pair of red underwear if you’re coming for New Year’s, it’s considered good luck as well!

La Befana, the country’s happy witch

A representation of the Befana, Italy’s Epiphany tradition. Photo by sara150578 from Pixabay

January 6th is another important holiday for the Italian Christmas season. Known as the Epiphany, this is celebrated as the day the three wise men finally reached baby Jesus. In Italy it’s celebrated by an ugly but friendly “witch” known as La Befana who comes during the night to fill children’s shoes or stockings with candy, toys and sweets, similar to a Christmas stocking in America. Remember: l’Epifania tutte le feste porta via, or with the Epiphany, the holiday season is officially over. 

Menorah lightings for Hanukkah

It’s no secret that Italy is predominately Catholic, but Italy has a large Jewish population as well. This year Hanukkah starts on December 22 and ends on December 30. The highlight of the Hanukkah celebrations is in Piazza Barberini in Rome’s Jewish quarter where an enormous 20-foot-tall menorah is kept and lit each night. The Jews came to Rome long before Jesus’ time and lived freely until about the Dark Ages, when they were forced into the ghetto for more than 300 years. Today, the Jewish ghetto, or Jewish quarter, is the location of lively events, parties and feasts to celebrate Hanukkah. 

Other impressive menorahs can be found in Milan’s Piazza San Carlo, in Florence’s Tempio Maggiore Synagogue, one of the most atmospheric in all of Italy, as well as in Venice where there are not one but five still-active synagogues. Venice’s Ghetto Square includes a Jewish Cemetery and Jewish Museum. Head to the square to see the menorah lighting and the music, dancing and food that follows. 

What to Know 

The holiday season in Italy is filled with wonderful celebrations and festivities that are well worth seeing. It also, however, is filled with closures for national holidays or reduced opening hours for winter.

Be sure you plan your visits to museums and sites in advance to avoid going when they are closed. If you happen to be there on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or St. Stephen’s Day on December 26th, expect most everything to be closed. You’ll definitely want to book restaurants in advance for these days, as well as on New Year’s Eve.

Winter in Italy in general means attractions and transportation schedules change, usually with fewer hours or fewer trains running. Winter is Italy’s low season, but Christmastime usually sees a spike in visitors and crowds and prices may reflect that.

Remember also that just how cold it is depends a lot on where in Italy you are visiting. Up north in the Alps you might be skiing, while down in Sicily you’ll be strolling along the sea with a warming sun.

In general you should still bring a heavy coat, hat, gloves and warm, comfortable boots that can take you from day to night. Italian winters are humid, giving the air a chill even when the temperatures aren’t all that low and in northern Italy you might find rain or snow. Find out more on what to pack for winter here.

Though cold in winter, many of the attractions that you’ll want to see are indoors, making winter just as nice a time as others. Not only that, but the decorations, warm food and festivals make touring around a pleasure, even if it’s cold.

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Wine in Italy is as ubiquitous as pizza, pasta or gelato – it’s a staple!  

Italians are proud of their wine and take it seriously, but they are far from pretentious. Wine in Italy isn’t for just the fancy, elegant or rich. It’s an everyman’s drink, good for any food you’re eating and found everywhere. Once upon a time a dash of marsala or other wine over a raw egg made for an abundant, caloric breakfast and even today many Italians wouldn’t think twice about a glass or two at a work lunch and it’s not uncommon to see Italians enjoying a mid-morning glass at their local bar. 

In Italy the wine is mostly, well, Italian. Italians prefer to drink their local wine and many restaurants don’t even offer options from outside of Italy. After all, they have plenty to choose from! 

Italy has an exceptionally high quality of wine, more than 400 grape varietals and produces more wine than any other country. That, together with its super open attitude to wine drinking makes Italy the perfect place to dive into the wine culture and try something new! Italians are proud of the history, quality and taste of their wine so if you’re planning on imbibing when in Italy it helps to know a thing or two before you go:  
 

Drinking Wine in Italy 

Whether its wine or beer or cocktails, Italians never drink without food. Even if it’s just a bowl of olives or a slice of cheese, you’ll never be served a drink without something to munch on. 

When you order a bottle of wine from a restaurant in Italy the process should be nearly the same as back home. The server will bring the bottle to the table unopened. He or she will open it in front of you and ask who wants to taste it (chi assaggia?) then pour a small amount in your glass to taste. This isn’t about deciding if you like the wine or not – you’ve already ordered it! – it’s simply a way to check that the wine hasn’t gone bad. Though it’s difficult if you don’t already have a background with wine, you know it’s gone bad if it tastes moldy or like cork or vinegar.  

You can also order wine by the glass and, if you order the house wine, you can usually order a ¼ liter (a little bit more than a glass) or a ½ liter, as opposed to an entire bottle. And don’t scoff – the house wine isn’t bad! The vino della casa is usually a local wine that pairs well with the restaurant’s food and can be the perfect place to start to learn about Italian wine.  

It’s customary in Italy to fill the glass halfway, rather than up to the brim. This way it’s easier to manage, gives everyone the chance to have a glass from the bottle and invites those that want more to drink up. Don’t expect servers to come and fill your glass up for you after you finish it (whether wine or water). In general, servers come only when called and are much more reserved than their American counterparts. 

DOC vs DOCG and What to Order 

Italy has various organizations and classifications to preserve and protect its food and agricultural products. Like Champagne in France, some wines are “protected”, allowing only those grown in a certain way from a certain grape in a certain region to be given the name of that wine.  

The two classifications you should be aware of when wine tasting in Italy is DOCG and DOC.  

DOCG is the highest designation of quality for Italian wines. DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin. The strictest classification, DOCG wines have to be made in DOCG-protected zones and follow stringent rules.  

The second classification is DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata or Denomination of Controlled Origin). These wines also have to be made in specific zones and have specific regulations to follow such as the production area, wine color, grape varieties, proportions and alcohol levels, as well as some questions of vinification and maturation techniques. 

This classification was the first created in Italy. The DOCG wines were created roughly two decades later to further differentiate the top Italian wines from an already quality stock. All of the defined limits listed above are present, but with even more stringent minimum and maximums allowed, as well as an in-depth analysis and tasting from the Ministry of Agriculture.  

The Brunello di Montalcino and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, both from Tuscany, were the first wines to receive DOCG status in all of Italy followed closely by the Chianti from Tuscany and Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco.  

But these classifications aren’t the only measure of quality in Italian wines. The celebrated “Super Tuscans,” Tignanello, Sassacia, and Ornellaia wines, were originally thought of as table wines and had opted out of the DOC/DOCG process because they thought the stringent regulations hindered them from making the best wine possible. Since then, the classification IGT or Indicazione di Geografica Tipica has been added, which is designated for wine grown in a particular area without specifying the blend, such as the Super Tuscans.  

Not only that, but you can find delicious wines without any of these labels, proving that when in Italy, all wine is worth a try!  

Ready to taste the best of Italian wines? We can help! Visit wineries in Lucca, Florence, San Gimignano, Chianti, Pienza and Siena on our Essential Tuscany trip.

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The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is home to some of the greatest art and architecture in the entire world. Florence’s rich art history can be found at every turn, from incredible piazze and palazzi to ancient sculptures and hidden frescoes. The city itself feels like a massive open-air museum. But don’t just see the city from outside – Florence houses more world-class museums than nearly any other Italian city. 

From art to sculpture to archeology and even fashion, there’s a museum for everyone in Florence. The entire city seems to have been designed and built by the leading painters, sculptors and architects of the time. Visitors can see priceless works by Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Caravaggio… the list goes on!

It’s impossible to see them all in one trip, but with a well-planned itinerary you can hit all your must-see sights. Learn the opening days and times, prices and the can’t-miss artworks of Florence’s top museums to best see the incredible art that Florence has to offer.

What to Know Before You Go

Double check closing days

When planning a trip to Italy it’s important to note that museums, restaurants and other sites have at least one closing day per week, and it might not be what you expect. Many museums in Florence, including the Accademia, the Uffizi and even Palazzo Pitti are closed on Mondays. 

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to keep track. Some museums do happen to be open on Mondays. For example the Duomo and Duomo Museum, Palazzo Vecchio and the Bargello, but only sometimes. It closes the first, third and fifth Mondays of the month. 

With that in mind, check ahead for each of the sites you plan on visiting to avoid wasting time or being disappointed on your trip.  

Book ahead 

Though reservations aren’t required, book ahead for Florence’s most popular museums, namely the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria Accademia, if you don’t want to waste an entire day in line – especially in the summer! April through October and nearly any weekend of the year sees long lines all day long, so your best bet is to make a reservation. 

Other Florence sights, like the Bargello and the Pitti Palace, offer reservations but they’re not as necessary as the Duomo, Accademia or Uffizi.

You can book online directly at each museum’s website, via phone (English options available) or check if your hotel can make reservations for you. 

Or if that all seems a bit too complicated, you could always visit Florence’s top museums with a private tour. 

Consider a private tour 

You can choose a tour that focuses on one museum, or a tour that hits the highlights of Florence, such as the impressive Palazzo Vecchio

There is a lot to see in Florence’s museums. So much so that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the art and history there to take in. The Uffizi is one of the largest museums in the entire world and that’s just one of many impressive museums.

Private tours, even if just for a day, allow you to see the sights with a knowledgeable and expert guide. Not only that, but they help you to skip the line and maximize time. Everything’s taken care of for you!  

Both our Uffizi Gallery Tour and our Florence Highlights Tour with David are led by experts in the subject and both grant skip-the-line access to the two most famous museums in Florence. After your visit to see the David statue, see the highlights of the city’s historical center, including the Duomo and Baptistery and then venture off-the-beaten-path to explore our favorite churches, piazzas, artisanal shops, coffee bars and markets throughout Florence. Ensuring that you have enough time to see it all on your trip to Florence!

A Closer Look at Florence’s Three Most Popular Museums:  

Uffizi Gallery 

The Uffizi Gallery holds the world’s most important collection of Renaissance art. The massive museum covers two floors and holds work by Raphael, Giotto, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Caravaggio, to name a few. One of the most famous art museums in the world, it’s also one of the oldest. It was designed by Giorgio Vasari, architect and author, and has housed masterpieces since its construction began in 1560.

What to See

You could easily spend an entire day in the Uffizi Gallery, but for those without that kind of stamina or time, there are museum maps with set itineraries passing the most famous works. It’s nearly impossible to list all of the museums incredible pieces, but some favorites include The Birth of Venus and La Primavera by Sandro Botticelli; the Laocoön and his Sons by Baccio Bandinelli; The Annunciation by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci, one of his first works; The Medusa by Caravaggio; and Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the Renaissance’s few known female artists. 

Hours and Prices

Open: Tuesday – Sunday, 8:15 – 6:50 pm (ticket office closes at 6:05 pm) 
Closed: Mondays, January 1, December 25 

Full price March 1 – October 31: €20 
Full price November 1 – February 28: €12 
Reservation cost: €4, online or by phone at +39 055 294883 

Free entry on the first Sunday of each month, no reservations permitted. 

Note: You can visit the National Archaeological Museum for free with the Uffizi ticket!

Galleria Dell’Accademia 

The David in the Galleria dell’Accademia is one of the most captivating statues in the world. Sculpted in white marble by Michelangelo in the 16th century, it’s considered a masterpiece in proportion, beauty and art. And though you can find a copy outside of the Palazzo Vecchio, the original location for the David statue, it’s absolutely worth seeing in a building constructed solely to house this special masterpiece. 

What to See

Beyond the David, the Accademia has other incredible works by Michelangelo, including the four Prisoners, four unfinished sculptures designed for the tomb of Pope Julius that today flank the hallway leading up to the magnificent statue of David. Visitors can also see paintings of Florentine artists from the 13th to 16th centuries, musical instruments from the private collections of the dukes and ruling families of Tuscany as well as sculptor Giambologna’s original full-size plaster model for the infamous Rape of the Sabine Women sculpture.

Hours and Prices

Open: Tuesday – Sunday, 8:15 – 6:50 pm (ticket office closes at 6:20) 
And, from June 4th – September 26th 2019, the Museum will stay open in the evening from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays
Closed: Mondays, January 1, December 25 

Full price: €8 (Ticket prices may change on occasion of temporary exhibitions.) 
Reservation cost: €4 

Note: The Accademia doesn’t have a coatroom so entrance isn’t allowed to visitors with large bags or backpacks and water bottles over 0.5 l are not allowed.  

Il Grande Museo del Duomo 

Today, most of the works of art that once were housed inside the Duomo are now on display in the Duomo Museum, where they were placed after the Florence Flood of 1966 that filled churches nearly 6 feet deep.  

Though most of the works of art were specifically designed to decorate the interior or exterior of the Duomo’s religious monuments, there are still enough to fill twenty-five rooms on three floors.  

Along with the museum, The Great Duomo Museum ticket includes the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry of San Giovanni and the Crypt of Santa Reparata and is valid within 72 hours of the first visit.  

The museum visit itself ends on a panoramic terrace with an incredible view of Brunelleschi’s infamous dome.  

What to see 

The Gates of Paradise, Ghiberti’s bronze panels made for the baptistery door; Michelangelo’s unfinished Pietà; a striking wooden sculpture of Mary Magdalene by Donatello, titled the Penitent Magdalene; and the silver altar of the baptistery.

Hours and Prices

Open: every day of the week, 8:30 am – 7:00 pm 
Closed: first Tuesday of each month 

Full price: €18 
 
Note: Reservations are mandatory for the climb on the Dome. The service is free. 

Florence is filled with priceless art. Get more out of your visit with a passionate and knowledgeable guide. Learn about the Italian Renaissance and see the highlights on our Uffizi Gallery Tour or Florence Highlights Tour with David. Book your tour today!




 

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One of northern Italy’s most beautiful historic cities, Verona is famous worldwide as the setting of Romeo and Juliet. Travelers have long come to enjoy the romance that permeates the city, but there’s so much more to experience in Verona.  

A wide angle over the city of Verona at twilight, exactly when the opera in the Verona Arena begins!
Verona is beautiful in any light. Photo by Helge Thomas.

In fact, the entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its 2,000 year old architecture and urban structure that is still visible today.

Founded by the Romans in the 1st century BCE, Verona’s strategic location between Milan and Venice, sea, mountains and the Italian peninsula, helped it to grow rapidly in importance.  

Today travelers from all over the world come to tour Verona’s cobbled streets and take in its architectural icons. But there’s one architectural icon that outshines all others: The Arena di Verona.

An open-air amphitheater still in use today, the Arena di Verona is the best representation of the city’s important history and rich culture. Today visitors can go to see a ballet, an orchestra concert or a classic opera, and even if it’s not something you’d usually do, we promise you:

There’s no better way to experience the history and magic of the Verona than by seeing an opera in the Verona Arena.

What is the Verona Arena? 

The Arena di Verona is the city’s magnificent amphitheater built by the Romans in 30 AD. The third largest arena in antiquity, it could once hold up to 30,000 people.  

Though it looks like a miniature Colosseum, it was actually built nearly 50 years before the iconic Colosseum. Also, differently than Rome’s most famous ringed amphitheater, the Verona Arena is still used to this day.  

In fact, it’s the largest Roman amphitheater still in use. Standing tall for nearly 2,000 years, the Arena has survived pillaging in the Middle Ages, an earthquake that toppled its uppermost ring, countless rulers and World War II. It has been a stage for gladiator fights, a public trial area, cheap housing for prostitutes and more and later shops, offices and a small market before ultimately returning to a theater.  

Though the Arena had begun its opera tradition in the 1800s, for various reasons it still sat mostly unused. It wasn’t until nearly a century after the first performance that the Verona Arena became a true opera house with the opening of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi in 1913. 

Besides brief pauses during the First and Second World Wars, the Arena has been hosting summer opera seasons ever since.  

Today Verona’s Arena still fills with 15,000 – 20,000 spectators ready to enjoy an opera on a warm Italian summer night.  

Why You Should See an Opera in the Verona Arena

a close up of a giant face, a set dressing from the Tosca opera, with the Verona arena in the background
Set dressing from Tosca sits outside the Arena in Verona. Photo by Boss Tweed

While Vienna and Milan’s infamous opera houses maintain their elegant dress code and extravagant price tag to match, opera in the Verona Arena is available to all. Travelers can choose between assigned seats and cushioned chairs and the stone seating of the amphitheater rings and whatever price range runs between the two. Accessible prices and no strict dress code mean travelers can get tickets for the opera even if they didn’t plan ahead, and if they’ve had enough they can simply get up and leave!  

Built in the 1st century AD, the Arena’s acoustics are so remarkable that even today performers sing without the use of microphones and each voice can be heard in any seat throughout the entire amphitheater.  

Whether you’re an opera fan or not, opera in the Verona Arena is a must-have experience. At a Verona opera you’re fully experiencing Italian culture, participating in history and enjoying a magnificent Italian summer evening in the biggest open-air opera house in the world. 

How to See an Opera in Verona

Photo by Dimitris Kamaras

The Arena’s summer opera season runs from June to mid-September, but check online for exact dates. 

The 2019 Arena di Verona Opera Festival opens on June 21st with the Traviata and ends September 7th with Aida, the “Queen” of the Verona Arena. Since it debuted in 1913 on the Arena stage and officially opened the Arena back up to the public, Aida has been performed over 670 times and is a symbol of the Arena.  

Spectators can also see ballet and concerts in the Arena as well.  

You can purchase tickets online quickly and easily to ensure you have a spot. You can pay with credit card and look at your seating online as well. Otherwise, you can buy tickets directly at the ticket office on Via Dietro Anfiteatro 6/b from 10 am – 9 pm on performance days and until 5:45 pm on days with no performances.  

Truly live La Dolce Vita on our Dolce Vita trip by adding an opera performance on your overnight stay in Verona. Click here to learn more today!  

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Starting in 2021, non-EU citizens will be required to obtain travel authorization to enter the Schengen Area. 

But don’t worry – it’s not a visa, it’s inexpensive and as easy as a 20-minute online application form!

Not happy about the changes? We understand. Traveling can already feel daunting at times and even more so with even more bureaucracy to navigate, so let us help you.

Read on to figure out about the ETIAS is and what it means to you:

Do I need a visa to travel to Europe?


No, Americans (along with many other countries) still don’t need a visa to travel to Europe Union countries for less than 90 days. 

Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians and citizens from roughly 60 other countries will, however, need a special authorization to enter and travel in the Schengen Area. The authorization is called ETIAS and you can apply for it online.

If you have a passport of an EU member country, you will not need an ETIAS as long as you travel on that EU passport.


What is ETIAS and why do I need it?


ETIAS stands for the EU Travel and Authorization System. It is a completely electronic pre-screening and registration process that permits and keeps track of visitors from countries who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Area.

It serves as a way for the European Union to gather information on travelers who currently come to the continent visa-free and strengthen security in across control-free borders.

These types of systems are in place to identify security concerns before travel to the Schengen Area and not in the passport control line, thus saving travelers time and hassle. It is also designed to improve border management, prevent irregular or illegal immigration and fight against crime and terrorism.

The United States issued a similar travel authorization system called the ESTA shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks to improve border security and Canada has a version called the eTA.

The difference between the ETIAS and the US ESTA is that the latter pre-screens anyone traveling to the United States whereas the ETIAS pre-screens only visa-exempt travelers who wish to enter the Schengen Area.


What is the difference between the European Union and the Schengen Area?


The European Union is a union between 28 member states in Europe. Note: the EU is not synonymous with “Europe” as a continent. 

Schengen countries are European countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement. Currently there are 26 countries: all the EU countries except the United Kingdom and Ireland and an addition of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, which are not EU member states. These countries have no internal border controls between them.

The European Union is a political and economic union. The Schengen Agreement allows for the free movement between participating countries.

How is ETIAS different from a visa?


A visa is a much more complicated process that involves photos, itineraries and financial proof that you can support your travels while abroad. Americans only need a visa to travel in the EU if they are planning to stay longer than 90 days.

To compare: the visa process may take months and isn’t guaranteed to end in success. My Italian husband who needed an ESTA travel authorization to travel to the United States filled out the form on his smartphone while at the airport and 15-minutes later was checked-in and on his way to the gate. Though we don’t recommend you book any travel before applying for the ETIAS, it is likely to be a very rapid process that is over in minutes if approved.

How do I apply?


To apply for an ETIAS travel authorization you’ll need a valid passport that doesn’t expire within three months, a credit or debit card and an email address. 

The online form allows twenty minutes to fill out the application with basic demographic information as well as your country of entry and contact information. You’ll also have to answer a few background and security questions. Follow the prompts and answer honestly – your application is cross-referenced against European border security and criminal databases.

Note that for the ETIAS to work, you have to enter into the country that you stated. Even if your plan is to visit seven different Schengen Area countries, if you state on your application that the first country you will visit is Italy, you must enter Europe through Italy.

If there are no problems, then you’ll receive an email with your authorization in minutes.

Your ETIAS authorization is valid for three years. After that, you’ll have to go through the process again for a new authorization.

They are still implementing parts of the system and the application is expected to open closer to 2021.

Now that you know how easy it is to get an ETIAS travel authorization, contact us today about our full-service, expertly crafted journeys to Italy!

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What better way to ride the thrill of your wedding than by strolling through the streets of Italy lost in love? Newlyweds want to celebrate the start of their new life together with a trip to remember, and the jaw-dropping scenery, incredible food and innate passion in Italy aren’t easy to forget! Italy is the perfect honeymoon destination. Here’s why:

1. There’s something for everyone


Whether you’re searching for a dreamy coastal vacation, a relaxing countryside escape or a classic city-break, Italy has it. Between ancient cities, rolling green hills and gorgeous coastlines, the biggest problem is narrowing down your options! Couples with different ideas of vacation can find it all in Italy.

In our full-service City, Sea and Countryside itinerary you can relax on the Amalfi Coast, indulge in amazing food and wine in Tuscany, and get your history fix in Rome, all while experiencing the best of Italy’s landscapes.

Of course museums, art and architecture abound, but those hoping to get outdoors won’t be disappointed. Adventure-seekers can hike the imposing Dolomites up north or head off-coast for snorkeling or sailing. Or, couples can take it slower with a bike tour and wine tasting in Tuscany. Culture lovers, foodies and adventure seekers can all find something to love on the peninsula. Whatever you’re looking for, there’s a landscape and activity for everyone in Italy!

2. There’s no place more romantic


No place does romance like Italy. The country practically breathes amore. Home of Romeo and Juliet, of poets like Virgil, artists, writers, and lovers from time immemorial, the Bel Paese is perhaps most romantic for its sheer beauty. When you’re in front of such magnificence, it’s only natural to want to share it with someone you love.

From coast to countryside, you’ll find romance in the beautiful details of a private balcony, the secret glimpses into Italian gardens and atmospheres that feel like a film set; in the constant displays of love, the romantic two-person tabletops, long conversations and world-class landscapes. Tap into the passion of the Italians on your honeymoon: into their seductive language, mouth-watering food and sun-kissed cities.


3. The islands are as gorgeous as the mainland


Just because you’re coming to Italy doesn’t mean you have to eschew the beach honeymoon entirely. The Italian coast is dotted with hundreds of gorgeous islands, and though they’re not tropical, Italy has beaches that rival the white sands of the Caribbean. Enjoy the crystal-clear waters along the Emerald Coast in Sardinia or mix culture and beach life with a tour around the coastline of Sicily. Smaller island options include Ponza, Ischia or Elba. You can even split your honeymoon between cultural sightseeing and living the high life on the Mediterranean Sea.

Want to see the coast and the islands? Try an Amalfi Coast escape, with luxurious days on the breathtaking coast to private boat tours of nearby Capri and Ischia. 


4. It’s a great destination year-round


No matter when your honeymoon falls, Italy is worth visiting. The summer runs hot, perfect for those looking to visit the seaside or mountains, but is also the height of crowds and prices. For that reason the shoulder seasons, spring and autumn are great alternatives to those looking for more moderate prices and moderate temperatures. Keep in mind that Italy often stays warmer for much longer than other temperate climates, especially if you’re in the south. And spring is a lovely time to visit, when the entire country is warming up and in full bloom. Wintertime can be equally romantic, with cozy meals, warm ski lodges and the city dressed in lights during Christmastime. You don’t have to time your trip with hurricane season or the strength of the sun: every season is worth experiencing in Italy.

5. It’s home to the dolce vita



Everyone could use a vacation after the stress of wedding planning, and there’s no better place than the home of la dolce vita. Meaning the “sweet life” in Italian, it’s about indulgence and pleasure – just what you need on a vacation! The dolce vita comes from a life spent seeing beautiful things, talking with beautiful people and eating beautiful food. Tap in to that mentality on your Italian honeymoon to relax and unwind and enjoy the beauty life has to offer.

Those looking for total relaxation can try a smaller, less frequented location for a slower pace of life. But you can unwind anywhere in Italy. Imagine full days on the beach interrupted only by long lunches or soaking in one of the many thermal baths found in spas throughout the country. Take part in the leisurely pre-dinner passeggiata, when the entire town comes out to walk through the center and enjoy the evening air. 

It’s time to indulge, relax and enjoy the romance of Il Bel Paese!

 

Planning a wedding can sometimes feel like work, but planning a honeymoon never should. Ciao Andiamo’s carefully curated, ready-to-book itineraries put all the romance of Italy right at your fingertips. Contact us today to plan your perfect Italian honeymoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Guide to the Green Heart of Italy

What better way to enjoy springtime in Italy than a stroll through one of its breathtaking gardens? Springtime is a great time to visit Italy. Visitors during the shoulder season save money on flights and accommodation and enjoy fewer crowds than the jam-packed summer months. Mild temperatures reign with hot days possible in the south as the spring season bursts into bloom throughout the entire peninsula.

Take advantage of the excellent weather to tour some of Italy’s most beautiful gardens and parks, from north to south: 

Isola Bella and Isola Madre; Lake Maggiore, Piedmont 

Photo by Ed Webster

Two of the five Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore, these two are most noted for their gorgeous gardens. Isola Bella, (literally, ‘beautiful island’ in English) is an Italian-style garden whereas Isola Madre (mother island) was created in the classic English style. Both were made to accompany the beautiful villa dominating the small islands. Huge amounts of soil were shipped over to Isola Bella in the 17th century to create the gardens. Today you can see statues, obelisks, staircases and a remarkable amphitheater, not to mention the island’s infamous peacocks! Isola Madre has served as an orchard, olive tree grove and a citrus grove. Today it’s a gorgeous botanical garden with long, green boulevards and hundreds of different plant and vegetable species. 

Villa Carlotta; Tremezzo, Lombardy

Photo by David Spender

This 17th century Villa was built for a local nobleman, and though the opulent house is worth a visit, the real draw is the nearly 20 acres of gardens overlooking beautiful Lake Como. Tucked between the lake and the mountains, the botanic gardens are filled with a variety of camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons, tropical plants, and centuries-old Cedar trees. Though beautiful year-round, see the gardens turn into a veritable heaven-on-earth come spring.

Parco Giardino Sigurtà; Peschiera del Garda, Veneto

Gardens of Italy
Photo by Gabriele Vincenzi

Located near massive Lake Garda, this park is enormous in its own right. In fact, it’s Italy’s largest garden! Covering nearly 60 hectares, the landscaped gardens feature a maze as well as a petting zoo with donkeys, goats, chickens and horses for children. Explore the park on foot or by bike to see the more than 1 million tulips in March and April and nearly 30,000 rose bushes that bloom come May.

The Boboli and the Bardini Gardens; Florence, Tuscany

Boboli Gardens
One of the most iconic views of Florence is seen from the beautiful Boboli Gardens. Photo by stevekc

Behind Florence’s famed Palazzo Pitti is the city’s most celebrated garden: The Boboli Gardens and the Bardini Gardens inside. Covering 111 acres in the center of Florence, this huge park has plenty to explore, from ancient to modern statues, fountains, grottos and greenhouses. Take a break from sightseeing in the city with a relaxing stroll through these impressive gardens. Be sure to visit the Bardini Gardens as well (there is a ticket that allows you to visit both) for one of the best views of Florence you can find.

Borghese Gardens; Rome, Lazio

Borghese Gardens
Photo by Larry Koester

The Borghese Gardens are now a free public park open to all. Once a private garden for the Borghese Villa (now the Borghese Gallery), the Gardens span 148 acres, making them the third largest park in Rome. Though they are a priceless refuge from the Roman heat in summer, come in spring to enjoy this city oasis in full bloom and a pleasant temperature.

Rose Gardens; Rome, Lazio

Opposite the Circo Massimo lies the Roman Rose Garden, first created in the 1930’s and home to over 1000 varieties of roses. It’s an ideal setting for a romantic stroll, but hides a darker past: the area once formed part of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, and housed the Jewish cemetery. Look closely and you’ll see that the footpaths form the shape of a menorah in a nod to the district’s past.

Ninfa Gardens; Ninfa, Lazio

Ninfa Gardens – Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy
Photo by Bojana Brkovic

Once a populous medieval town, Ninfa fell abandoned after economic struggles and a malaria outbreak. It sat mostly unused until the 1900s, when it was rediscovered and transformed into a botanic garden. Though you can only see the gardens at certain times and on a guided tour, it’s worth it to learn the history and soak in the atmosphere. Here you’ll find plants of all types among the town’s ruins. There’s even a castle!

Villa d’Este Gardens; Tivoli, Lazio

Villa d'Este – The Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy
Photo by Dmitry Dzhus

These Italian Renaissance gardens are perhaps some of the most famous gardens on the entire list. A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tivoli, near Rome, they’re also considered some of the most beautiful gardens in all of Italy. Go to see the unique fountains that dot the gardens, including the large shell-shaped Fontana del Bicchierone, the Rometta Fountain with a wolf-suckling Romulus and Remus statue and the Avenue of the Hundred Fountains.

Buonaccorsi Garden; Potenza Picena, Le Marche

Though few know of this 18th-century garden, the Baroque, Italian-style gardens are an incredible testament to the era’s attention to detail. Perfectly preserved according to its original design, the Buonaccorsi Garden is laid out with perfectly symmetrical geometric patterns of diamond and star shapes. The garden is free to visit, so go to explore the grotto, the tiny lake and the super-romantic secret garden.

La Mortella Gardens; Ischia, Campania

The most beautiful gardens in Italy
Photo by Andrew Fogg

Invented and created by Susana Walton, the Argentinian wife of British composer William Walton, these tropical gardens completely surround the couples home on the island of Ischia, in the Bay of Naples. Here you’ll find more than 3,000 species of exotic, tropical plants, vertical terraces of plants and enormous tropical waterlilies that fill the pond in front of “La Bocca”, a sculpture of a face with a water sprout out of its mouth. Though created relatively recently, in the 1950s, the gardens are a tropical paradise in the Mediterranean sea.

Villa Rufolo; Ravello, Campania

Villa Rufolo
Photo by Curt Smith

The Amalfi Coast is filled with incredible vistas, but at Villa Rufolo you can enjoy the panorama in a gorgeous atmosphere as well. The 14th-century villa in Ravello is a masterpiece of medieval architecture, but its true draw comes from the flowers that cover nearly every centimeter of the property. Stroll under abundant wisteria arches while enjoying a view of the Mediterranean from on high.

Lama degli Ulivi Botanic Gardens; Monopoli, Puglia

The name is apt for these botanic gardens: the highlight is the olive trees. Gnarled and ancient, these olive trees are a testament to the area’s agricultural history, but that’s not all you can see here. The sun-bleached dirt paths will take you past more than 2,000 species of plants, as well as obscure rock churches.

Kolymbetra Garden; Agrigento, Sicily

A view of the Temple of Dioscuri from among the olive trees. Photo by Giulio Nepi

This botanical garden with a strange name is located in Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples. Dating back to ancient times when the garden was an important lake surrounded by beautiful plants and flowers and filled with fish. Despite this, it sat abandoned for centuries until 1999 when the Italian Environmental Foundation (FAI) took over, drawing out its former beauty with citrus trees, olive groves and tropical plants. Today it’s a verdant oasis beneath the ancient Greek temples.

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What if you could explore Italy without the stress of reservations, tickets or travel planning? What if you had an automatic “in” to the culture, people and language?

A small group tour is one of the best ways to really get to know Italy.

small group tour

On our small group tours you explore Italy with a local Italian guide and a group of eight people or fewer, visiting the kitchens, homes and family businesses of real Italians. Each experience is authentic, off-the-beaten-path and carefully curated by a dedicated tour leader. We like to say our small group tours give travelers the greatest insider access at the greatest value.

But it’s not just us who think so – we asked our clients to share what they loved about their small group tour experience. Each traveler’s story was different, but the same five themes kept coming up again and again.

Here’s why you should choose a small group tour:

1. Small Groups are Fun and Friendly

Our small group tours are capped at eight travelers total. “When they say ‘small group,’ they mean small,” said fellow traveler Sarah. And there’s nothing like traveling together to spark friendship. Linda said her group touring the Amalfi Coast and Puglia was “the envy of other travelers, even Italians! We bonded with our fellow travelers immediately and laughed almost all the time that we weren’t eating.” Other travelers, including Svetlana, ended up liking their group so much, they traveled together again the following year!

2. Travel Like a Local, With a Local

Traveler Lindsay put it perfectly when she said Ciao Andiamo co-owner Max Brunelli “knows everyone in Italy.” As the leader for many of our small group tours, Max builds lasting relationships not only with the travelers, but with the local olive oil producers, cheese makers and guides. Sarah said the welcome her group received at each of their tour stops was “indescribable,” and the whole group was “made to feel like old friends” by the winery owners and chefs they visited on her tour of Umbria and Tuscany. Your tour leader isn’t just showing you Italy, they’re welcoming you into their way of life and giving you an inside-look into the lives of fellow Italians.

3. Deep Dive into the Culture

enjoying a cooking class on a small group tour

If you’re looking for an authentic, one-of-a-kind experience in Italy, small group tours are a great way to go. Your tour leader will take you off the beaten path to destinations you wouldn’t find on your own. “We felt like we were living like true Italians,” Meghan said, and Sarah enjoyed that there were few tourists or buses at their tour stops.

Some of our travelers favorite experiences include hands-on cooking classes led by local Italian chefs. In the town of Alberobello in Puglia, an Italian nonna will teach you to recreate recipes passed down by her family for generations inside a historic trullo home.

A cooking class in Umbria takes you inside one of the region’s first agriturismi (farmhouse restaurants), tucked in the hills between Spello and Assisi, where you’ll join the owner in preparing regional delicacies. In each room of the agriturismo, you’ll learn to make a different course, with the help of friendly chefs and local wine. Make pasta by hand, bake bread in a wood-burning stone oven and use fresh produce from the farm to complement your courses. You’ll experience the romance of country life as you feast on your artisanal creations in a rustic dining room with your newly-formed friends. 

4. Stress-Free Travel

All Ciao Andiamo trips are designed to give you a seamless experience, but small group tours take it a step further with a dedicated tour leader who is on-hand from the moment your tour begins. Your tour leader is there to take care of every detail – transportation, hotels, food and experiences – and give the group flexibility to enjoy each day to the fullest. Beyond being flexible, your tour leader will also spend time getting to know the group and can adjust the day’s activities based on your interests and preferred level of activity. Their goal is to give you the best day possible, every day of your trip.

As Svetlana says, “all we had to do is show up. From the time we  arrived, each day was seamlessly organized, full of surprises, incredible journeys, AMAZING FOOD!, well orchestrated schedules, and provided good balance of personal time and guided excursions through the unique hidden treasures of Italy.”

Our small group tours include accommodations, ground transportation throughout, daily culinary and/or cultural excursions, two meals per day (breakfast plus lunch or dinner) and pick-up/drop-off in a major city.

5. Travel Without Sacrificing Free Time

In addition to daily excursions, your group will have plenty of down time to relax or explore on your own – it’s your vacation! Elaine fondly remembers how Max “arranged free time for us to wander in quaint seaside towns” on her tour of the Amalfi Coast and Puglia, and gave the group “plenty of time to enjoy feasts overlooking breath-taking scenery with the backdrop of a beautiful sunset.”

small group tours

Ciao Andiamo’s Small Group Tours:

Now that you’re in love with the idea of a small group tour, check out the incredible experiences we have to offer!

Explore the beautiful regions of Tuscany and Umbria on a tour of Food, Wine & the Rolling Hills. You’ll taste wine in Montefalco and Montalcino, learn to cook with a hands-on class and tour charming hilltop towns, including Cortona (of “Under the Tuscan Sun” fame) and the medieval settings of Pienza and Spoleto.

For a visit to the Amalfi Coast and Puglia, join our tour of Southern Italy: Coast to Coast, where you’ll visit the unique city of Matera (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), take a cooking class inside a trullo home, visit the island of Capri, tour the ruins of Pompeii and more.

On our tour of Essential Tuscany, you’ll stay in the iconic Tuscan cities of Florence, Siena and Lucca, visit the marble quarries of Carrara, view the leaning tower of Pisa and explore the walled city of San Gimignano. Learn to cook in a winery in the Tuscan countryside, enjoy a cheese-making demonstration in Pienza and, of course, taste wine along the way. Winter travelers can also enjoy the region’s festive atmosphere on a special Tuscany for the Holidays tour.

Foodies will love Cooking in Italy’s Green Heart, with daily hands-on culinary experiences in the lush Umbrian countryside. Make pizza in a medieval village, craft pasta and gnocchi by hand, tour a cheese farm and create your own delicious gelato.  – all paired with delicious local wines.

Taste your way through Emilia-Romagna and relax on the Italian Riviera on a tour of Italy’s Finest: Cuisine to Coast. Balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano and prosciutto di Parma are all on the menu, and you’ll visit the iconic coastal villages of the Cinque Terre.

And, since your tour will start and end in a major city, it’s easy to add more traveling on your own before or after your tour. Some travelers, like Sarah, include a small group tour as just one leg of a longer trip. Ask the Ciao team for a recommendation for making the most of your time in Italy, we’re happy to help!

Don’t see a date that matches your vacation schedule? It never hurts to ask! New dates may open up, or we can recommend another trip based on your interests. If you already have a group of travelers, you can also ask us how to the trip private.

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You’ve booked your flight, your itinerary is set, and you’re ready to savor each and every day of beautiful Italia. But before you leave, there’s a few things you’ll need to prepare to help you have the best trip possible. From the language to your cell phone to power outlets, here’s what to do before you go to Italy:

Learn Some Language Basics

If you want to communicate directly with the locals, don’t worry – you might be surprised how many people will know English as you travel through Italy. But don’t let this stop you from learning a bit of the beautiful Italian language, as it’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture, even with some common greetings and basic phrases. Everyone knows Ciao and Grazie, so why not use them? Or, go a step further and add the more formal buongiorno and buonasera to your repertoire for morning and evening salutes. Scusi goes a long way when asking permission, trying to get attention or simply apologizing and of course, cono or coppa is a must-half for your daily gelato-run!

Before your trip, sign up for a free language-learning service to practice some of the key Italian phrases – Duolingo is one popular option. For a deeper dive into the language, the Ciao team loves the Pimsleur method. If you’re not fluent by the time you arrive in Italia, don’t despair! There are translation apps that you can use on-the-go to look up an unfamiliar word on the restaurant menu or respond to a friendly shopkeeper. These range from basic English-Italian dictionaries to apps with audio translations.  Check out iTranslate for Apple products or Italian Translator on the Google Play Store.

Prep Your Wallet and Carry Cash

The best way to pay for un cappuccino at the local bar is with a handful of euro, the currency used in Italy. Carry cash to use for souvenir shopping and other small payments such as the daily city tax charged by most hotels. You can use the ATMs in Italy to get cash, as they typically have a good conversion rate. Check with your bank first about flat fees versus percentage-based fees on international ATMs.

If you prefer to arrive in Italy with a full wallet, you can also get euro from your bank or another financial institution in the U.S., Canada or U.K. However, you’ll typically experience a higher exchange rate than you’ll find in Italy, so we recommend only withdrawing a few hundred euro, maximum.

Most restaurants, stores, and establishments in Italy will take credit cards, especially those with a chip. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted cards; American Express can be used at some locations, but not all. Before you leave, tell your credit card company that you’re traveling to Italy so you won’t be surprised with a denied card; if the credit card company thinks your card has been stolen, they’ll freeze it.

Make Sure Your Passport is Valid

One lesser-known tip travelers to Italy should keep in mind involves your passport. Italy requires that a passport must be valid for 6 months after the end of the trip, so it can’t expire five weeks after your adventure ends. Make sure to double check the date before your departure!

Prep Your Phone for International Travel

Bringing your cell phone abroad doesn’t just mean remembering to take it with you! Before you leave for Italy, call your current phone carrier and let them know that you’ll be travelling internationally. Most carriers can easily switch your plan to include an international data plan, and potentially a calling or texting plan, for the duration of your trip.

Even with an international plan, using cellular data can get expensive quickly. Be on the lookout for WiFi if you need to use your phone while in Italy, and turn data roaming off when you aren’t using it. If you’re not sure how much data you’ll be using when abroad, don’t worry; you can easily monitor it during your trip and upgrade if necessary.

Get an Adapter

While vacationing in Italy is the perfect chance to ignore your inbox, you’ll want to keep your phone fully charged for taking photos and looking up the Italian words for “more gelato please.” Power outlets in Italy are circular, with two or three cylindrical prongs in a row. An electronic adaptor will allow you to plug in your devices anywhere in Italy.

Some appliances that deal with motion or temperature, like a hair dryer or electric razor, will also need a voltage converter. Check the label or check online to be sure if your appliance is compatible with wall outlets in Italy. You can buy the correct adaptors and converters online or in stores such as Best Buy, Target, and B&H.

Pack Smart

When deciding what to pack for your Italian adventure, consider the time of year you’ll be travelling. To really go in-depth, check out the best tips for what clothing to pack for your Italian vacation compiled by Cristiana, our very own Italy expert.

In general, pack light, neutral colors that you can layer and comfortable shoes, but also keep in mind if you’re planning activities that require more elegant attire. If you’re planning any nice dinners, be sure to pack long pants or a dress in addition to your shorts. Some fine dining establishments may require jackets for men – if you’re unsure, it never hurts to ask! You’ll also need outfits that cover your shoulders and your legs down to your knees in order to enter into Italy’s beautiful churches and basilicas.

Finally, make sure to pack comfortable shoes, but to best blend in with the locals stick with your favorite pair of flats, boots or walking shoes. In most cities, you’ll find people selling umbrellas on every corner – especially when it rains – so feel free to leave yours at home and get a small one only if needed. Instead, bring sunglasses in the hopes that you will be wearing them every day with beautiful sunny weather!

Read, Watch and Get Inspired

In the months counting down to your Italian adventure, consider reading books, watching movies or binging shows that will best prepare you for your trip – be it the delicious food, beautiful sights, rich culture or friendly locals.

For a romantic and hilarious trip to the Italian coast, dive into the book Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, about an almost-love affair between an Italian innkeeper and a Hollywood actress. Elizabeth von Arnim wrote her novel The Enchanted April in Portofino, following four English women – all strangers – on their tumultuous vacation in Portofino’s Castello Brown and their journey to find beauty and tranquility together on the coast.

Pop some popcorn for the classic film Roman Holiday (1953), featuring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck as the unlikely lovers in the midst of Rome. The Trip to Italy (2014) follows two friends on their hilarious culinary road trip from Piedmont to Capri. For a shorter adventure into the cuisine of Italy, watch the first episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Tablefeaturing Massimo Bottura and his innovative food, which he serves at Osteria Francescana in Modena. Aziz Ansari also dines here during season 2 of Netflix’s Master of None, which features Dev’s trip through Modena to learn how to make pasta.

Now that you’re ready to go, you can count down the days until your adventure in Italy. Buon viaggio!

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My husband and I play a game whenever we travel – “spot the Italian.” Even in the middle of a crowded airport, we can always recognize another Italian by their distinct style. Italians pride ourselves on being fashionable and on their own bella figura, or making a good impression so it’s no wonder that travelers often ask us what they should pack in order to “fit in.”

Beyond fashion, Italy is also a narrow peninsula with distinct weather patterns that will impact your wardrobe. With that in mind, here are a few packing tips to help you dress your best on your Italy vacation.

Stay Breezy in Summer

A close up of shoes, scarfs and a panama hat – all perfect to pack for your Italian vacation

Summer in the north of Italy is very hot and humid, and the south is warmer all year round. Bring lightweight clothes in cotton or natural fibers such a linen to feel fresh throughout the day. Men can wear shorts, but many Italians prefer lightweight trousers. Sundresses are a popular, and breezy, option for women. You won’t see many Italians past high school age in denim shorts and flip flops, and make sure to bring dressier options for dinner. Don’t forget a bikini, sunglasses and sunblock if you’re headed to the beach!

Layer Up for Spring & Autumn

An above shot of the essentials to pack for your Italian vacation: leather purse and belt, sturdy shoes, sunglass, watch and camera. Change purse, t-shirt and versatile scarf.

Travel in the shoulder season can be ideal, since prices are usually lower and popular destinations less crowded. The weather during these seasons can change day by day, so be sure to pack layers and versatile items. In spring, the temperature can range from the high 50s to low 80s depending on the city and time of day. Pants, a lightweight shirt and a jacket or sweater should carry you through the day. Rain showers are common in the early afternoon, so don’t forget to pack an umbrella.

Cover Up in Winter

A pile of thick knits, pack at least one on an Italian vacation

Though we might imagine this Mediterranean country as the home of eternal sunshine, the winter can be cold in Italy. Northern Italy is cold in winter and even the more mild south can still get quite chilly. The weather can be windy but snow is usually reserved for the mountains. If you want to dress like an Italian, tour around with a puffy jacket, scarf and boots, but even gloves and a hat. Italians don’t shy away from the outdoors in the winter, but they do tend to dress for the occasion. Winter travelers can expect some sunshine in the afternoons to warm up an Italian winter day. 

Accessorize Like an Italian

A close up of nice leather boots

Comfort is key when traveling, especially in major cities where you’ll do a lot of walking. In summer, canvas shoes or sandals will work best. Italians only wear flip flops on the beach or at the pool, so you may stand out by wearing them in a city. Some restaurants will not allow flip flops, so bring a change of shoes for dinner. Boots or canvas shoes are good options for fall, winter and spring, and make sure they’re waterproof. If you want to take a page out of an Italian’s stylebook, you can also buy leather shoes during your trip, especially if you’re visiting Florence.

Italians have a love affair with pashmina scarves. In the colder months we wear cashmere or wool scarves, but we even have silk and cotton options for summer! Pashminas make a great souvenir as well, so look for them in local shops and markets.

Pro Tip

Italian churches require visitors to cover their shoulders when entering. Avoid any entrance issues by carrying a scarf or sweater in your bag to cover up – even in summer – and be sure your hemline is low enough to be respectful.

Now that you know exactly how to dress on your vacanza italiana, travel in style on a VIP private day tour

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Reading a menu at an Italian coffee bar can feel like more than just a foreign language – it’s a glimpse into Italy’s culture and identity. Unlike American coffee, Caffè Italiano revolves solely around espresso and the different ways it can be served. Here’s an in-depth guide to your options for all things caffeinated. 

The Basics

Caffè: A simple espresso. Though caffè means “coffee” in Italian, it isn’t your standard American coffee. If you’re unfamiliar with espressos, you’ll be getting a small cup of strong coffee served on a saucer with a spoon.

Cappuccino: An espresso with steamed whole milk and foam, an Italian favorite typically served in a slightly larger cup than the espresso.

Caffè Latte: An espresso with hot milk, served in a glass. Make sure to order caffè latte and not just latte, as you’d be getting a glass of milk from the barista instead!

Caffè Macchiato: An espresso with a bit of foamed milk on top. Macchiato means “marked” or “stained,” so it is an espresso “marked” with a little foamed milk.

Latte Macchiato: A glass of steamed milk with a bit of espresso, or “marked” with a small amount of espresso. If you want a bit more espresso, like a double latte, order a dark version, or latte macchiato scuro.

More Than Milk

Caffè con Panna: An espresso topped with sweet, often fresh, whipped cream. This drink is especially for those who want a sweeter version of the caffè macchiato.

Caffè Corretto: An espresso with a drop of liquor. Popular choices are grappa, Sambuca, or cognac.

Caffè con Zucchero: An espresso with sugar added for you. Most bars have patrons add their own sugar from a packet or container at the bar.

Less Caffeinated 

Decaffeinato or Caffè Hag: A decaffeinated espresso. Hag is the largest producer of decaf coffee in Italy, so some bars will write their name on the menu instead of decaffeinato.

Caffè Lungo: A “long” espresso, when the barista allows the machine to run longer, adding water and making the coffee a bit weaker.

Caffè Americano: An espresso diluted with hot water, the closest drink to American filtered coffee you’ll find in an Italian bar.

Caffè Americano Decaffeinato: A decaf espresso diluted with hot water, the closest drink to American filtered decaf coffee.

Cold Coffee

Caffè Shakerato: An espresso shaken with sugar and ice, typically served in a martini or cocktail glass. Some bars add chocolate syrup for an extra layer of sweetness.

Caffè Freddo: An espresso served iced or cold, typically served in a glass. If you order a caffè freddo alla vaniglia, you can add vanilla syrup or vanilla liquor to the mix.

Granita di Caffè: An espresso-flavored icy slush, typically with added sugar, almost like a coffee snow cone. Not all places will have this available but some ice cream shops will!

Regional Specialties 

Espresso in Naples typically comes with the sugar added. If you don’t like your coffee sweet, order un caffè sense zucchero. Or try caffè alla nocciola, an espresso with froth and hazelnut cream, for a special local treat.

In Milan, coffee bars serve an upside-down cappuccino called a marocchino. Served in a served in a small glass sprinkled with cocoa powder a marocchino starts with a bottom layer of frothed milk and is finished off with a shot of espresso.

The Piemontese enjoy a traditional drink created from layers of dense hot cocoa, espresso and cream, called bicerìn.

Now that you’ve perfected your order, read our guide to mastering the Italian coffee bar and enjoy your Italian caffè! 

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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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From espresso to caffè latte, Italian coffee is famous throughout the world. The delicious roast and small shots of caffeine are ubiquitous to Italy – and necessary for a jet lagged traveler! When in Italy, make your way to the local coffee shop (called a bar here) and order your favorite. Ordering coffee in Italy is taking part in an ingrained ritual of Italian culture. Here are five tips for getting your caffeine fix – the Italian way.

1. Milk is for Mornings Only

A cappuccino and pastry, the perfect Italian coffee to order for breakfast

The only people drinking coffee with milk after breakfast time are surely not Italian. The rule? You shouldn’t drink any coffee beverage that includes milk, be it a cappuccino or caffè latte, after 11 am or after a meal. Italians believe that the combination of hot milk and food in your stomach has an unsettling effect, so make sure to order your cappuccino before you start your day. Many Italians will have a breakfast of un cappuccino and a pastry, like a brioche al cioccolato. After lunch Italians order un caffè which means a normal espresso or at most un caffè macchiato, which is an espresso topped with a dollop of foamed milk. 

2. Stay on Your Feet

If you’re ordering un caffè in an Italian coffeehouse, you’ll probably notice that most Italians are standing and drinking their coffee. In Italy, cafés are known as bars, and for good reason – Italians order their coffee at the bar, drink their coffee at the bar, and pay for their coffee at the bar, all while standing. This is for a variety of reasons. For one, the coffee is short and taken almost like a shot. There’s no need to sit down and nurse an espresso cup. Not only that, but Italians usually have their morning coffee with just a small pastry or nothing at all, so there’s no need to sit down. Finally, some bars will even charge a bit more if you have your coffee at a table!

3. Pay Like a Local

Different bars have different methods for their patrons to pay for their coffee. Some cafés have you order and pay at the register before bringing your receipt to the barista to make your drink. Others allow patrons to order and drink their coffee at the bar first, and then tell the cashier what they had to pay before leaving. To be certain, take a look at what the other customers are doing and follow suit.

4. Know Your Order

When ordering your coffee, there’s no need to say espresso – a single espresso is un caffè. For those unfamiliar with espresso, you’ll be getting a small cup of strong coffee served on a saucer. If you ask for a latte, you’ll be getting a tall glass of milk. Order a caffè latte instead. There’s also typically no extensive list of flavored coffee, so try to keep your order simple. For a more detailed list, check out our guide to Italian coffee.

5. Become a Regular

Italians typically don’t drink un caffè doppio, a double espresso, but it’s not because they don’t consume as much coffee. Rather, Italians visit their local bar multiple times a day to drink several small cups of coffee, often chatting with the barista before going to their next appointment or errand. There’s no better break during the day then a visit to the local coffeehouse. In just a few minutes customers share information, make business deals, gossip and reset for whatever comes next in the day, all with a delicious sip of Italian coffee.

If you don’t have the Italian coffee rituals memorized, don’t worry – the servers will be there to assist you, as most of them are friendly and happy to help.

Enjoy your caffè!

In love with Italy’s food and wine culture? Taste your way through Parma and the Emilia-Romagna region, a food lover’s paradise, before heading to Liguria to visit seaside towns and feast on pesto and seafood caught fresh that day on our mouthwatering Reveal on the Riviera trip.

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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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