Food, Wine & the Rolling Hills

Travel to Italy’s “Green Heart” and make your way through historic towns, rolling hills, and picturesque valleys. A vibrant nature lover’s paradise, Umbria is the only landlocked region in the country. Explore its enchanting villages, embark on a truffle hunt, and sample some of the best food and wine on this side of Italia.

Food, Wine & the Rolling Hills

Travel to Italy’s “Green Heart” and make your way through historic towns, rolling hills, and picturesque valleys. A vibrant nature lover’s paradise, Umbria is the only landlocked region in the country. Explore its enchanting villages, embark on a truffle hunt, and sample some of the best food and wine on this side of Italia.

Food, Wine & the Rolling Hills

Travel to Italy’s “Green Heart” and make your way through historic towns, rolling hills, and picturesque valleys. A vibrant nature lover’s paradise, Umbria is the only landlocked region in the country. Explore its enchanting villages, embark on a truffle hunt, and sample some of the best food and wine on this side of Italia.

The Ciao Andiamo guide to Piedmont: Food, wine, castles and capitals – why you should visit this region that has it all.  

Piedmont is Italy’s second-largest region, and one of its most important historically and economically. Home to FIAT, Nutella and Lavazza coffee, it’s also the birthplace of the Slow Food Movement. Italian unification got its start in Piedmont with the help of the royal Savoy family. Torino was even named the nation’s first capital city, prior to Rome. 

Piedmont is known for its high-class wine, cuisine and culture. Lonely Planet picked Piedmont as the world’s top region to visit in 2019 calling it a “savvy, arty, foodie traveler’s secret.”  

Tucked beneath the Alps, travelers to Piedmont can ride and sip their way through the rolling hills of the Langhe, tour the gorgeous museums in Torino, ski the piste of Monte Rosa, and feast upon region’s delectable dishes. 

What to know before you visit Piedmont:  

Visit Piedmont in style with the help of our Piedmont guide.

mountains in Piedmont, Italy
Piemonte, literally “the foot of the mountains” is nestled under some of the most gorgeous peaks of the Alps. Image by alessandra barbieri from Pixabay

Where is Piedmont and how to get there 

Piedmont is in Italy’s northwest corner, bordering Switzerland and France, and with the regions of Lombardy and Liguria as neighbors on the Italian side. The name Piemonte literally means “foot of the mountain,” and rightfully so. Piedmont is surrounded on three sides by the Alps and home to the highest peaks and glaciers in Italy.  

Travelers can fly directly into the Torino airport or any of Milan’s international airports–Torino is just a 2-hour drive from Milano Malpensa airport.

Ciao Andiamo can provide private car service, and for guests who join our insider journey of Piedmont, your dedicated tour leader will pick you up right in Milan’s city center.

When to visit Piedmont  

Piedmont is beautiful and accessible year-round. Choose the season based on your goals in the region. Skiers will want to visit in winter, while hikers should choose summer or fall. Fall is prime time for foodies who want to savor food and wine at the height of the harvest, and for those who want to experience the famed White Truffle Festival of Alba.   

a bridge in Torino
With nature and cities to explore, Piedmont is an excellent destination no matter the season. Image by Francesco Riosa from Pixabay

Best Places to Visit in Piedmont:  

Piedmont’s geography span’s gorgeous lakes, rolling valleys, and Italy tallest peaks. Here’s a brief guide to Piedmont’s top destinations, from elegant cities and charming villages to storied castles and more: 

The capital  

skyline of beautiful Torino in Piedmont, Italy
Torino’s skyline is well-known thanks to the unique shape of the Mole Antonelliana. Image by nonmisvegliate from Pixabay

With elegant palazzi, attractive contemporary art and nearly a dozen museums to choose from, visitors to Piedmont could spend all their time just in Torino.  

Visit the Museo Egizio, the biggest Egyptian Museum outside of Egypt; the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile to discover the history of Italy’s own FIAT; or Palazzo Reale to see Greek and Roman archaeological treasures and the personal art collection of the Savoy dynasty, among other masterpieces. Stroll through Palazzo Reale’s magnificent gardens, from the same designer who created the renowned gardens of Versailles.   

Visitors can’t help but notice Torino’s Mole Antonelliana, the 167-meter-tall domed building that marks the city’s skyline. Originally built as a synagogue, today it is home to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, showcasing equipment and film memorabilia from the very first motion pictures to modern day cinema.   

Finally, find a rival to Versailles in the Reggia di Venaria Reale. A hunting lodge for the Duke of Savoy Carlo Emanuele II, this enormous baroque mansion is impressive for its sheer scale and gilded decorations.  

If museum fatigue sets in, stroll the elegant boulevards and piazzas of Torino, tour the massive flagship Eataly store, or take a break in one of Torino’s historical coffeehouses like Caffè San Carlo or Caffè Torino.  

Torino has the grace of Paris and the splendor of Vienna, mixed with the rich culture and utter beauty of Italy.   

  

The mountains   

The Piedmont side of Monte Rosa is home to stunning peaks and characteristic mountain valley towns. Ski resorts abound. The most famous of which are likely those of the Via Lattea, or “Milky Way.” Made up of two different valleys, the northern Val di Susa and southern Val Chisone, many of the 2006 Winter Olympics events were held in the state-of-the-art facilities of the Via Lattea. Visitors can ski roughly 400km of runs through at least seven different resorts, including a jaunt into France to Montgenèvre’s slopes, all included with the Via Lattea ski pass.   

Piedmont is ruled by mountains and beautiful valleys, making it a great destination for winter sports lovers as well as Alpine aficionados looking to hike in the warmer months.   

Summertime visitors can go sightseeing in Susa to see the Arco d’Augusto and the Roman ruins, or hike the remote terrain on the border of France in the Maritime Alps National Park.   

  

The lakes  

San Giulio Island on Orta Lake in Piedmont, Italy
San Giulio Island on Orta Lake in Piedmont, Italy. Image by alessandra barbieri from Pixabay

Piedmont is also home to most of Lago Maggiore, Italy’s beautiful resort lake that sits across Piedmont and Lombardy. The lakeside town of Stresa has been a favorite destination for artists and writers since the 19th-century (parts of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” was set here). Not only is it the perfect distance between Torino and Milan, it’s also the perfect jumping-off point to visit the ancient villas and luxurious gardens of the Borromean Islands.   

Though Piedmont shares Lago Maggiore with Lombardy and even Switzerland, Lago d’Orta is all Piedmont’s. Circled by forest, Lake Orta is perhaps the most peaceful of Italy’s northern lakes. Orta enjoys far fewer international tourists, making it the perfect place to escape the crowds. Swim or enjoy a boat ride on the lake, tour the narrow streets of medieval Orta San Giulio or ferry over to tiny Isola San Giulio for a unique day trip.  

  

The valleys   

The rolling valleys of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato are a wine lover’s paradise. It’s the land of Piedmont’s famed white truffles, sweet hazelnuts, and outstanding chocolate production. Here Barolo, the king of wines, is produced, along with other world-class wines made from the prized Nebbiolo grape. The beautifully cultivated vineyards of the area stretching from Asti to Cuneo are interrupted only by hilltop towns and charming castles.   

Visit Bra, the hometown of the Slow Food Movement; Barolo, the namesake of the famed Barolo wine and site of the Museo del Vino; and Barbaresco, with its 11-century medieval tower and equally noteworthy wines. As you tour the vineyards, dedicate some time to sleepy hamlets like Serralunga, La Morra, and Grinzane Cavour.  

Don’t miss ultra-charming Alba, the capital of the Langhe and home of the annual Fiera Internazionale di Tartufo Bianco (“The International White Truffle Festival”). Just 30 kilometers to the north is Asti, home of the sparkling white Asti Spumante.   

  

What to Do in Piedmont: 

Besides the stunning geography and delicious food, there’s even more to explore with the UNESCO Sites and the annual festivals of Piedmont. 

Visit the Venaria Reale 

interior of the Venaria palace in Torino
The Galleria Grande in the beautiful Venaria Palace in Torino. Image by loveombra from Pixabay

With a roughly 862,000 square-foot floor plan, the Venaria Reale is one of the biggest palaces in the entire world. The 17th-century palace, together with the other buildings that make up the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A Baroque masterpiece just outside of Torino, visitors can tour the palace, including the breathtaking Galleria Grande, the Theater of History and Magnificence dedicated to the Savoy family and legacy, and approximately 10,764 square feet of frescoes. Thanks to a hefty eight-year, multi-million dollar restoration, visitors can also stroll more than 120 acres of restored gardens, with 24 acres of vegetable garden and nearly 200,000 new plants. Originally designed as an estate for hunting and leisure for Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy and Duchess Maria Giovanna Battista, the Venaria comprises the palace, gardens, a park for hunting grounds, and an entire village, not to mention sculptures, fountains, staircases, terraces, ponds, and frescoes. It is a display of wealthy and beauty that rivals Versailles.

Hike in the Sacred Mountains  

The nine summits of the Sacri Monti (two of which are in Lombardy) have been given UNESCO World Heritage status for the 16th and 17th-century chapels built upon its peaks. Designed to celebrate different aspects of Christianity, these tiny structures not only have a deep spiritual history, but are also beautifully integrated into the surrounding nature of Piedmont’s valleys, forests, and lakes.

Relax in the terme (thermal baths)

Visit the thermal spas of Acqui Terme in the Monferrato valley. A spa and resort town since the ancient Romans – the town’s name means “thermal waters” – Acqui Terme offers various spa options and the relaxation and serenity of a small town. The town’s connection to the area’s hot thermal waters is represented in marble and stone with La Bollente, a fountain in the town’s main piazza that spews boiling hot thermal water. Rising from the earth at 75 degrees C, townspeople come at all hours to fill up on the spring water and enjoy its curative properties.  

Tour Castello di Rivoli Museum of Art  

artistic shot of the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art building
The Castello di Rivoli Art Museum is located in a former residence of the Savoy Family. Image from Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea

Though Torino seems to be ground zero of museums, there’s one museum just outside of the capital city that’s well worth a visit. The Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art is the envy of Italy’s contemporary art scene. The first museum devoted to contemporary art in Italy, the massive Rivoli Museum has a robust Arte Povera collection, hosts educational events and rotating exhibitions, and has approximately 44,000 books on art, architecture, photography, and design in its public library. 

Take part in the festivals   

Finally, check if your visit coincides with any of the region’s internationally-acclaimed festivals. Of course, the international white truffle festival is held in Alba each fall, but there’s also the famous Cioccolatò chocolate fair every year in Torino. The Palio race of Siena enjoys worldwide acclaim, but each September Asti holds a Palio of its own, considered the oldest horse race in Italy. There is the Cheese Festival held every two years in the town of Bra. Or, for the adventure seeker, visit Ivrea during the epic Battle of the Oranges, a massive food fight celebrated each year during Carnival.   

  

What to Eat in Piedmont  

No guide to Piedmont is complete without a note on its delicious local cuisine. When in Italy, it’s always best to eat local, and the Piedmont region is no exception.  

homemade Tajarin noodles with ragù
Tajarin noodles come with many different sauces, like these homemade Tajarin with ragù. Image by Lou Stejskal via flickr

Piedmont is a veritable Epicurean paradise. Home of the renowned white truffle, and its namesake annual festival, it’s also a land rich in dried fruits like walnuts, chestnuts and hazelnuts, homemade cheeses, soft delicate veal, and all the fresh veggies for which Italy is known.

When in Piedmont, stick to Piemontese classics, like the typical bagna cauda. Literally, “hot bath”, it is a hot sauce made with anchovies, olive oil, and garlic, and used as a dip for Piedmont’s delicious fresh vegetables. Another dip of the region is the classic fondue, thanks to the border shared with France.  

Down in the valley, bordering the seaside region of Liguria, sample Piedmont’s renowned beef in the form of a classic vitello tonnato–cold sliced veal in a tuna, anchovy, and caper sauce. Or, try the esoteric snails from Cherasco, served in or out of the shell, pan-fried, roasted, or stewed with onions, parsley, walnuts and anchovies.

Of course, those same valleys are home to the bold, red wines made from the Nebbiolo grapes. Read all about Piedmont’s prestigious wines.   

No summary of Piedmont’s cuisine is complete without a nod to the white truffles of Alba. Truffles can be found throughout central Italy, but only Piedmont is a hub of the tartufo bianco. Try this pricy treat shaved over local fresh pasta like the long, skinny tajarin noodles or the tiny agnolotti al plin stuffed with meat or vegetables.   

Finally, indulge your sweet tooth in the birthplace of modern chocolate. Choose chocolate in nearly any form, including liquid like with a glass of bicerin, made of hot chocolate, espresso and whipped cream. Or travel south to Cuneo, the birthplace of gianduja, chocolate with hazelnuts. The delicious treat was invented when a Cuneo resident decided to mix expensive and difficult-to-find chocolate with the local and plentiful hazelnuts of the valleys, creating the precursor to the famous Nutella chocolate and hazelnut spread.   

The vineyards of Piedmont

See the beauty of Torino, tour the vineyards of the Langhe, and delight in Piedmont’s gastronomic delights with Ciao Andiamo on our Castles, Truffles and Barolo insider journey.   

  

  

 

 

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Each Italian region is unique. For such a small peninsula, the diversity of history, art, culture, and cuisine from region to region is remarkable. At first glance, Umbria and Tuscany seem to have a lot in common. Both are celebrated for their hilltop towns, spectacular scenery, and delicious rustic meals; but don’t be fooled: each has its own charms, atmosphere, and traditions.

How to choose between Umbria and Tuscany

When designing an Italian adventure, it can be difficult to choose which of Italy’s breathtaking regions to visit. The travel experts at Ciao Andiamo love every pocket and corner of Italy for reasons unique from one area to the next, and this is why the authentic journeys we design are always individually tailored with our travelers in mind. We’ve written this guide to help you learn more about the acclaim of Tuscany and allure of Umbria so that you can decide for your next visit: Umbria or Tuscany (or both!)?

Visit Umbria and Tuscany for the impressive cathedrals

Orvieto Cathedral, Umbria
Each region boasts beautiful cathedrals, like this one in Orvieto, Umbria. Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Brunelleschi’s Duomo of Florence is an architectural masterpiece and must-see for visitors to the region, while the Duomo complex of nearby Siena, in Tuscany, merits a full tour inside, out…and up, as visitors can now explore the eaves of the magnificent cathedral.

In Umbria, finding striking basilicas in small town settings–like Orvieto’s magnificent cathedral–is all the more impressive. The sensational gothic cathedral stands out against Orvieto’s austere city center. Inside, frescoes that rival those in Rome grace the walls. Then there is the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular destination for religious pilgrims, the cathedral boasts massive paintings and frescoes by Cimabue, Lorenzetti, and the school of Giotto.

Art and architecture are on full display in the many basilicas, cathedrals, and chapels of Tuscany and Umbria.

Umbria and Tuscany are great for nature lovers

Active travelers can find outdoor fun in both regions. Visitors to Umbria and Tuscany can hike and bike, mountaineer, and horseback ride. Each region has multiple national and regional parks to explore. Kayak and sail along the coast in Tuscany or spelunk, raft, and kayak in Umbria. For a new perspective in either region, take to the air to paraglide or hang glide over the breathtaking landscapes, or take it slow with a hot-air balloon ride.

Visit Tuscany for the unmatched art

exterior of Uffizi Gallery
Florence’s famous Uffizi Gallery holds priceless Medieval and Renaissance art

The explosion of art and architecture in the Middle Ages and Renaissance derived in part from the historic rivalries between towns. Though there were frequent wars, outdoing your neighbor in artistic wealth and architectural feats was just as important as a victory on the battlefield. The various cities in Tuscany and Umbria spent centuries trying to outdo one another, much to the benefit of visitors today.

Great art abounds in Umbria, with artists such as Perugino, Giotto, Cimabue and Pisano leaving their mark in cities from Città di Castello and Terni to Orvieto and Assisi. The Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia’s beautiful Palazzo dei Priori holds work by one of Umbria’s most famous locals: Pietro Vannucci, known as Perugino, who was also the teacher of Raphael.

That said, the sheer quantity of Tuscany’s Medieval and Renaissance art is unparalleled. The Uffizi Gallery alone holds some of the world’s most priceless art. There, you can find masterpieces by Raphael, Lippi, Caravaggio, as well as the Birth of Venus and the Primavera of Botticelli, to name a few. No matter where you are in Tuscany, you’re sure to find some world-class art.

Visit Umbria for a unique food experience

a butcher shop in Umbria
You can get high-quality cured meat in Umbria and Tuscany, but only Umbria enjoys the fame of these norcinerie. Image by GBSurf from Pixabay

You may be familiar with the olive oil, fresh pasta, and steaks of Tuscany, but know less about the specialties of Umbria. In many respects, Umbrian and Tuscan cuisine is quite similar. Both are born of a cucina povera tradition, and feature myriad vegetables and legumes, rustic flavors from game meat like wild boar and rabbit, and homegrown olive oil.

But only Umbria has the highly-prized tartufo nero. May to August is black truffle season, but you can get this pungent delicacy shaved over your pasta or omelet or simmered in a gravy sauce any time of year.

Also worth noting are Umbria’s renowned norcinerie–high-quality pork butcher shops from Norcia–whose butchers take the art of processing pork to an art form. Try it for yourself with a roast porchetta panino or an appetizer of affettati (sliced meats) including the classic Norcia prosciutto.

Visit Tuscany for some of the most famous wines, and Umbria for smaller producers and wines of equal stature

vineyards in Umbria and Tuscany
Image by alohamalakhov from Pixabay

Tuscany is home to some of the world’s most well-known wines and wine regions. From Chianti to Montalcino, Montepulciano to Bolgheri, Tuscany’s winemaking prowess is proven. Here you can taste Brunello and Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino and a wealth of Super Tuscans. For a white wine, try the Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Although Tuscan wines may enjoy more worldwide fame, Umbria’s vineyards have equally noteworthy, delectable options. Try the Orvieto DOC white wine made with the region’s star white grape or the Rosso di Montefalco, a dark red made with Sangiovese grapes.

The king of Umbrian wines, however, is the ancient Sagrantino di Montefalco. A DOCG red wine made with the eponymous grape, Sagrantino is 100% native, aged in oak barrels and, when cellared correctly, can be kept for up to 30 years.

Visit Umbria for cashmere and Tuscany for leather

There’s no better souvenir than a genuine “Made in Italy” product, and the gifted craftsmen of Tuscany and Umbria produce myriad artisanal goods. Artisans in both regions work with gold and precious stones, wood, marble, oil paints, and watercolors, and, of course, various fabrics and textiles. When shopping for clothes and accessories in central Italy, get your leather in Tuscany, and fine cashmere in Umbria.

Leathercraft has been practiced in Tuscany for centuries and the tradition continues today. Get the perfect fit with a pair of tailor-made shoes or go simple with a quality belt, purse, or wallet. Before purchasing anything, be sure to verify that it is truly made in Italy or, better yet, go straight to the artisan’s studios!

Umbria is where you can purchase a beautiful sweater, warm scarf, or elegant purse directly from local cashmere producers. In some cases, you can even visit the cashmere workshops, which are clustered in and around Montefalco, Bevagna, and Marsciano.

Visit Tuscany if you want a seaside vacation

a view of the sea in Tuscany
Visit the Tuscan archipelago for a seaside vacation like this one in Isola d’Elba. Image by DanieleFiaschi from Pixabay

Tuscany is the only option of the two for those looking for a Mediterranean seaside vacation. There, visitors can enjoy beaches along the coast or head off shore to explore the Tuscan Archipelago with its beautiful islands like Elba and Giglio.

Umbria might be Italy’s only landlocked region, but it still enjoys some bodies of water. There are mountain springs in the Foligno area, thermal springs north of Orvieto, and prominent lakes, including Lago di Piediluco near the border with Lazio, and Lago di Trasimeno, the largest lake in central and southern Italy.

For those visiting Umbria but still looking to include a visit to the sea, the new tunnels carved into the Apennines can bring travelers from Umbria’s Spello area to the Adriatic Sea in about 30 minutes for an easy seaside day trip.

Visit Umbria for small-town charm 

In general, Tuscany is the perfect place to explore iconic city centers, while Umbria is ideal for soaking in the Italian experience.

It’s true that Tuscany also has small towns that feel less “discovered,” but Umbria has more, and it’s generally easier to escape the crowds in the region known as Italy’s “green heart”.

With only two true cities – Perugia, the region’s capital, and Terni, its industrial powerhouse – Umbria is a region of villages and towns. Of course, Perugia, Assisi, and Orvieto are all must-visits, but we recommend you go beyond the most famous cities to tap into Umbria’s charming small-town ambience. Visit Gubbio, considered the oldest village in Umbria, Spello with its narrow walls and enchanting balconies, or the butcher shop-lined streets of Norcia. Explore the islands on Lago di Trasimeno, the small town of Narni, with its recently excavated underground, or the less-visited village of Bevagna. Tour the ancient streets of Spoleto and enjoy panoramic views from Montefalco.

In Umbria, you can find that authentic Italian spirit, untarnished by international influences. The pace of life is slower and the travel richer with local experiences. In Tuscany, you can live out a scene straight from an iconic film, but you’ll have to share the set. In Umbria, the set is yours!

Small town in Umbria from above
Castelluccio is just one of the many tiny towns that dot the Umbrian countryside. Image by Alberto Agostini from Pixabay

Still can’t decide? Visit both! Venture through the heart of the Italian countryside on our Food, Wine and the Rolling Hills insider journey exploring Umbria and Tuscany through the eyes of locals.

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No trip to Italy is complete without fully exploring the cucina italiana and all the deliciousness it has to offer. Cups of gelato every day, an entire pizza just for you, coffee, pasta, bread, it’s easy to indulge in a country that celebrates beauty, food and joy so much. 

But it’s not just about eating when in Italy, but about eating right. Italians are king of taking advantage of fresh, seasonal produce. And though you won’t be looked down on if you want to try a staple dish out of season, most of Italy’s top restaurants follow the seasons when making their menus.  

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If you’re eating in an authentic joint, visitors to Italy in the spring will be eating totally different dishes than visitors in autumn, because the best of Italian food is fresh, local and seasonal.

Fall in Italy is one of the best times to explore the country’s seasonal food culture. It’s the harvest season, when mushrooms, pumpkins and, of course, grapes are being picked throughout Italy and festivals celebrating the produce abound! 

Taking part in these food festivals, called sagre in Italian, is an excellent way to really get into the fall spirit. At this time of year you can enjoy novello wine sagre, funghi porcini sagre, sagre for grapes and pumpkins, apples and chocolate. And of course, the definitive sagra for the unrivalled white truffle in Piedmont, not to mention festivals for the black truffle of central Italy.   

Want to know more? Deep dive into Italy’s cuisine on your trip with this autumnal fare:  

Truffles 

truffle hunters and their dog hunt for truffles in autumn in Italy

These pungent delicacies are revered throughout Italy and beyond. With a strong, earthy taste, you’ll find tartufo gracing menus throughout Italy in autumn, but the best are found in Umbria, Tuscany, Le Marche or Piedmont where the infamous and rare white tartufo is found. Truffles are difficult to find and impossible to grow in a lab, making them prized and pricey. Not only that, but the most delicious varieties are only available fresh in October and November, so get them while you can! Try them shaved fresh on top of homemade pasta, eggs or risotto.  

Can’t get enough truffle? Go on an authentic, private truffle hunt in the countryside of Umbria guided by a local truffle hunter and his trained dog. Follow it with a truffle tasting (along with pasta, bruschette and wine). As with all good things, this tour is seasonal, so sign up while you can!

Pumpkin  

It wouldn’t be fall without pumpkins! Though Halloween isn’t a native holiday and pumpkin spice items have yet to hit the shores of the peninsula, Italians know just how to bring out the delicious flavor of the pumpkin. You can find pumpkin served roasted as an appetizer or in a classic pumpkin risotto, but it’s all about the tortelli di zucca, or pumpkin-stuffed pasta. Mostly found in the plains of southern Lombardy and northern Emilia Romagna, tortelli di zucca is the traditional way to enjoy this harvest vegetable.  

Chestnuts 

chestnuts are a classic food to eat in autumn in Italy

While Americans are picking prime pumpkins to carve for Halloween, Italians are enjoying their mild autumn weather out in chestnut woods, foraging for these delicious nuts. Italy’s ultimate street food, visitors can find vendors selling bags of warm roasted chestnuts nearly everywhere this season. Or try them in a dish such as chestnut gnocchi or a hearty chestnut and mascarpone dessert.  

Grapes and wine 

By far the best way to try grapes in Italy is with an excellent bottle of wine. Luckily, in fall there are wine and harvest festivals galore. Try vino novelloliterally “young wine” harvested and fermented quickly for that year’s production. Popular in Veneto, you can also find it in Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Puglia and Sardinia. Or else tour the gorgeous vineyards dressed in their fall colors and enjoy wine from other years in the local cantinas.   

Still, wine isn’t the only way to enjoy the grape harvest. Now’s the time of year when you’ll find creative uses of the ubiquitous fruit. Look for it served with a wild poultry like pigeon or guinea fowl, atop focaccia, made into a jam, or pressed into fresh juice.  

Porcini mushrooms 

The mushroom foraging season can sometimes start as early as mid-August, but can be enjoyed in dishes throughout fall. King of the mushrooms in Italy are the favored funghi porcini. A meaty, flavorful mushroom, it’s perfect as a substitute to meat or to add a heartiness to soups or sides. Order porcini over a bed of polenta, try it with tagliatelle pasta or in a warm, creamy risotto.

Figs and prickly pears 

Stop to pluck figs from trees or the unique fichi d’India from cacti for a sweet, sumptuous fall treat. Photo by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay

Lush, aromatic figs fall from the trees in September. Try them in a warm arugula salad, alongside a silky burrata cheese with balsamic vinegar or simply fresh from the tree. The sweet fruit also pair well with cured meats like prosciutto and with a variety of cheeses.  

Further south you can find prickly pears or fichi d’India. Actually a type of cactus from Mexico, legend has it that they’re called Indian figs because Christopher Columbus thought he had arrived in India when he first saw the fruit. In Italy you can find these in Sicily or Sardinia, where they might even be served for breakfast. They’re healthy and hydrating and can be used fresh as well as in liquors or desserts. 

Chocolate 

Though chocolate can of course be enjoyed year-round, it seems the Italians have decided that autumn is the best time to celebrate the sweet treat, with multiple different chocolate festivals taking place in this period. In October there’s EuroChocolate in Perugia and CioccolandoVi in Vicenza. In November you can choose from CioccolaTò in Turin, Sciocolà in Modena or the Cioccoshow in Bologna. At the very least, take advantage of the cooler temperatures to enjoy a cioccolata calda, or hot chocolate, which is served thick and creamy, essentially just pure melted chocolate in a cup, but always delicious! 

Photo by Foundry Co from Pixabay

Beyond these decadent fall foods, there is plenty of other produce in season in the autumn, including apples (especially up north in region’s like Trentino Alto Adige), fennel, spinach, fall artichokes, rabe and prunes. 

Everyone loves Italian food, but to truly get into the Italian culture, the regional, seasonal offerings are the prime choice!  

Truly explore Italy’s sublime seasonal cuisine with Ciao Andiamo winery tours, culinary walking tours and cooking tours led by local guides, experts and chefs. Discover all your options here!

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Tucked underneath the Alps in the northwest corner of Italy is Piedmont, an unassuming and long-overlooked region that just happens to produce some of Italy’s highest quality wines. 

Though most only think of the Tuscan vineyards, Piedmont is a cultural, culinary and wine-producing powerhouse, and well worth a visit for food and wine lovers.  

Italy’s ruling Savoy family ruled from Piedmont for more than a century. The Italian Unification Movement started from here and the region’s capital, Turin, also happened to be the first ever capital of the country of Italy.  

Home of Fiat, Olivetti, and Nutella, the Piemontese are known for being hard working and industrious but, like all Italians, they also know how to unwind. It probably comes as no surprise that this is mostly done with food and wine. 

a coffeehouse in Piedmont, Italy

Though all of Italy has a claim to food fame, Piedmont has some heavy hitters that can’t be ignored. Namely, the pungent and evasive white truffle, the rich Nebbiolo grape and a culinary attention that threads through it all.  

In fact, the Slow Food Movement was started in Piedmont in the 1980s “to defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life.” Today the organization spans the globe but remains dedicated to artisanal, sustainable food and the small-scale producers that safeguard local traditions and high-quality products. All of which perfectly describes Piedmont’s wine production: small-scale family estates with a remarkably high quality with more than 40 different DOC and DOCG wine varieties. 

Is it really any wonder, then, that the region produces some of the world’s finest wines? 

Piedmont’s UNESCO World Heritage Vineyards 

The vineyards in Piedmont

Most of Piedmont’s wine is produced in the rolling hills of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato.  

In fact, the vineyards of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato are a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. They’re cited as a “cultural landscape,” an “archetype of European vineyards” and a “living testimony to winegrowing and winemaking traditions.”   

This area covers hundreds of municipalities in the south of Piedmont, incorporating towns like Asti, Alba and Monferrato, but more importantly, it has a special microclimate perfect for growing grapes. Cool air from the Alps in the north meet warm currents from the Mediterranean to the south to create cold nights, warm afternoons and long, foggy mornings.  

King of Wine and Wine of Kings 

It’s the area’s characteristic fog, or nebbia, that gives the name to Piedmont’s infamous Nebbiolo wines. Harvest takes place in late October, when it’s normal for an intense fog to roll into the region where Nebbiolo grapes are grown.  

There are multiple different wines made using the Nebbiolo grapes, but by far the two most famous are Barolo and Barbaresco.  

The first is rich and hearty and one of the most renowned Italian wines in the world. It’s said to be the king of wine and the wine of kings. High alcohol and high tannin levels, it pairs perfectly with Piedmont’s heavier cuisine: game, truffles, cheese. 

Like Barolo, Barbaresco is made from Nebbiolo grapes and also smells like roses and cherry. It’s also a deep red with high alcohol levels but its nutrient-rich soil tends to even out the tannin levels, giving it an ever-so-lighter taste than Barolo. It’s often considered a bit more approachable than its counterpart.  

Beyond that, Nebbiolo wines include Langhe Nebbiolo, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Ghemme, Gattinara and Roero Rosso, among others.

But Piedmont’s extraordinary wine production doesn’t stop there. (After all, Piedmont is the 6th highest producer of wine in Italy and Barolo and Barbaresco make up only about three – six percent of that).  

Wines to Try in Piedmont

crates of grapes grown to make wine in Piedmont, Italy

You could spend weeks touring Piedmont’s vineyards and wineries. Usually small-scale and family-owned, each is slightly different in its approach and taste.  

Barbera

Though Barolo and the other wines made from the Nebbiolo grapes are by far the most widely known internationally, it’s Barbera that is in the typical Piemontese’s glass. Barbera has made huge strides in the past few decades, growing into its role as Piedmont’s favorite medium-bodied red. It’s also significantly less expensive and easier to pair with a variety of foods. Try two different versions of Barbera in Asti or Alba. 

Dolcetto d’Alba

Produced in the province of Alba in the Langhe, Dolcetto d’Alba is another favorite red. Called “the sweet one” it’s not so much sweet as velvety, filled with dark fruit flavors, licorice and tannins. 

Fresia and Malvasia 

Fresia, along with Malvasia, are two lighter, slightly sweeter reds made in the Monferrato area. Of the two, Fresia is a slightly more complicated red in taste and production while Malvasia is fresh with just enough tannin to balance out the sweetness.  

Moscato Bianco

Muscat grapes, or Moscato in Italian, are some of the oldest known varieties of grapes grown for wine. All that time has certainly helped, today it’s one of the most delicious and widely known sparkling white wines. Piedmont is ground zero for this sweet wine, so be sure to try it when in Piedmont, maybe a creamy Moscato d’Asti Spumante 

Of course this is just a taste of the world-class wines that Piedmont produces, but enough to tempt a visit we’re sure!   

Piedmont is filled with perfect panoramas, culinary delights and historic towns. Tuscany may get all the glamour, but Piedmont sits stoic, sure of itself among castles, truffles and wine. 

Tour vineyards and delight in Piedmont’s gastronomical delights with Ciao Andiamo on our Castles, Truffles and Barolo trip. Click here to learn more!

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Everyone loves Italian food. Fresh, seasonal and simple, few cuisines know how to make the most of incredible flavors with so few ingredients. So how do Italians do it? First, they buy high-quality ingredients – after all, you don’t need much! Second, they always make sure they have enough on hand for a beautiful home-cooked meal. Here are the most ubiquitous Italian food staples and what you can make with them.

Olive Oil

Photo by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

It’s no secret that olive oil reigns supreme in Italian cooking. Whether it’s used to sauté fresh vegetables, enrich a pasta sauce or dress a salad, a high-quality extra virgin olive oil is a must in an Italian kitchen. Not only that, but many Italian kitchens will have different types and qualities of Italian-made olive oil based on the use. Whatever the use, olive oil is the foundation that Italian dishes are built upon.

Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce has gotten a bad rap in Italian-American cooking lately, but it’s still a staple here in Italy. Here it’s not the only way to dress a pasta and it doesn’t drench the pasta when it is used. A basic tomato sauce is considered just the start to a pasta sauce. It’s the base on which you build your flavors. Most are usually flavored with a soffritto of finely diced onion, carrots and celery. After, you can add meat, sausage, olives, fish – nearly anything – to create the pasta sauce of your dreams.

Dried Pasta

Photo by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Even when don’t have a single vegetable or any option of meat or fish, you can still have a full meal if you have some pasta. In Italy there are hundreds of different types of pasta, dry and fresh, but while the fresh pasta has an expiration date, dried pasta lasts years. Keep a variety of different pasta types so you’ll always have an option no matter what sauce you decide to make!

Onions

On that note, onions are a basis of flavoring here in Italy. Where in America garlic abounds, Italians tend toward the still-pungent but softer flavor of onions. Even if you don’t have carrots or celery to make a soffritto for a nice pasta sauce, a bit of diced onion will still spice things up. Onions flavor lentils, meat dishes and make a wonderful side dish to fish entrees. They also last for weeks in a dark, dry place, making them the perfect pantry food.

Basic herbs and spices

Photo by Konstantin Kolosov from Pixabay

Italians definitely prefer fresh herbs – some won’t even make certain dishes without them – but you can keep a stock of a few dried spices that will come in handy in a pinch. First, an Italian kitchen will have both fine salt and large sea salt. The first is used to season your dish, the latter is used to season the water to pasta or at most sparingly sprinkled over salmon or steak. Beyond that keep pepper, garlic and parsley in your pantry to cover your bases. Fresh is the only way to go with basil, sage and bay leaves, however.

Breadcrumbs

Often breadcrumbs are that just something you needed to raise your dish up a level. Slice vegetables and bake them under a mixture of olive oil, spices and breadcrumbs. Or else bulk up fish filets with breadcrumbs and parsley. With just an egg and some breadcrumbs you can make any slice of meat or fish impannato, breaded, to quickly fry it up and enjoy but that’s not where it ends in Italy. The land of the cucina povera, bread was never wasted here. Make stuffed tomatoes with a filling of herbs and breadcrumbs or take a cue from the Sicilians and add some breadcrumbs to your pasta to add some texture, such as in pasta con le sarde or

Eggs

Italians have a super varied diet and rarely eat the same thing over and over. Though they might have pasta every day, it’s never with the same vegetables or sauce or even the same type of pasta. And their protein rarely comes from the same source. It’s normal to vary between fish, meat, beans or cheese in the same week and eggs usually make the menu as well. Not only are eggs a solid source of protein during the week, like in a classic Italian frittata, but they also enrich savory tarts and can be used to make real Italian fresh pasta. Mix 100 grams of flour with 1 egg slowly to create the base of your fresh pasta then roll out to flatten and cut in whatever form you want. Cook until the pasta rises to the surface of the water and you’re good to go!

Olives

Olives are another pantry item that last for a long time and adds a kick of flavor to any dish. Make a super simple pasta with tomato sauce and black and green olives or grind up black olives along with almonds and ricotta to make a pesto siciliano. You can add olives to salad or bake fish on a bed of chopped tomatoes and olives (breadcrumbs are good here too) and of course, a bowl of olives is the perfect antipasto to pair with a glass of wine.

Wine

Whether you imbibe or not, wine is a staple in any Italian kitchen for its rich flavor and multi-use. It’s not uncommon to sfumare a dish with a splash of wine, then leave the rest of the bottle on the table to drink with dinner. Not only that, but there are many dishes that are specifically made with wine, like pasta al Barolo or risotto with Taleggio and Raboso, where the final flavor is that of the wine itself.  Cheers!

Can’t get enough of Italian food? Enjoy private tastings at hidden wineries and rustic-style feasts on our Food, Wine & the Rolling Hills trip in Tuscany and Umbria. Write us for more info!

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In a country beloved for its food, Emilia Romagna still stands out as a gastronomic wheelhouse. In fact, its cuisine is one of the best in Italy and has been exported throughout the entire world. The best cured meats, like prosciutto, all hail from Emilia Romagna and favorites like lasagna and a classic bolognese sauce are staples on tables and in restaurants throughout the world.  

Photo by Bogdan Dada on Unsplash

Emilia Romagna is a region in central Italy that has produced opera stars such as Pavarotti, educational experts like Montessori, filmmakers like Fellini and fashion designers like Armani. Its citizens are known as being hardworking and extremely productive, but the region also enjoys some of the highest standards of living in all of Italy. The great quality of life can be seen in Emilia Romagna’s charming and compact cities, which are clean, safe and generally quite wealthy. 

Today, Emilia Romagna is one region composed of two identities: Emilia and Romagna.  

From Bologna to the north and west is Emilia, and from Bologna to the southeast is Romagna territory. The northern European influence can be seen in Emilian cuisine, with a heavy emphasis on pork, lard and butter, whereas Romagnola cuisine is much more Mediterranean, with more beef, lamb and olive oil. Since nearly every town was once its own city-state, each town in the region has its own local specialty.   

There’s no better way to explore Emilia Romagna than through its rich and delicious food. Want to eat your way through the region? Here’s where to start:

Bologna 

The capital city of Emilia Romagna, this university city is ground zero for food lovers. With a perfect mix of influence from both Emilia and Romagna, it has such a strong gastronomic history that it’s long been nicknamed “The Fat One” for its excess of signature dishes and hearty food products. 

Mortadella 

Other countries simply call mortadella “bologna”, but the real deal is a far cry from that industrialized, nearly inedible baloney. Mortadella is a combination of pork, spices, a bit of fat and sometimes a pistachio slice for flavor. It’s delicate but tasty and a soft alternative to Emilia Romagna’s strongly-flavored cold cuts.

Ragù 

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

This is a meat sauce completely different from what most are used to in the United States. A combination of a good soffritto, with sausage and just a tiny bit of tomato sauce, it’s simmered for hours until the flavor is perfect. Today, ragù “alla bolognese” is synonymous with a richly flavored and hearty condiment. You can find it in the classic lasagna or over freshly made tagliatelle.  

Cotoletta alla Bolognese 

A cotoletta is always a breaded slice of meat, usually veal. Here, it’s a breaded veal cutlet with prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, sometimes mozzarella and a thin slice of pungent truffle. Remember, Emilia Romagna isn’t known for its light dishes. 

Parma 

Parma is nearly on par with Bologna in cultural significance and especially with gastronomic importance. Home to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, prosciutto and Italy’s largest pasta producing company, Barilla, it’s nearly impossible to have a bad meal in Parma.  

Prosciutto di Parma 

Parma ham is another delicious food from Emilia Romagna

Prosciutto di Parma is incredibly famous throughout Italy. It’s considered one of the highest-quality cured meats, largely because of its strict production process. The best Parma ham comes from pigs raised in the town of Langhirano, just north of Parma in the Apennine Mountains where the air and humidity are ideal for curing ham. 

Culatello 

Though Parma’s prosciutto is best known worldwide, the local favorite is actually the culatello. A cured meat made from the leanest part of the pig’s hind leg and aged 15 to 18 months, the process is nearly just as stringent as prosciutto: Culatello is made strictly with the right leg, which has less muscle because the pig lays on it, and usually from pigs raised in the flat, humid area between Parma and the Po River. This cold cut is perhaps the clearest example of the the parmigiani’s food purism.  

Parmigiano Reggiano 

In English this is often called Parmesan, but the real deal is far from the imitation cans often sold internationally. Parmigiano Reggiano borders on the religious for many Italians, and in fact it does have a religious origin story.  

The origins of Parmigiano Reggiano and its sister cheese, Grana Padana, was born from the Padani monasteries in the first half of the 12th century. After extensive land reclaiming of the swampy area around the Po River, the monks were able to expand production but quickly found themselves with an excess of of milk. From that surplus comes our beloved Parmigiano Reggiano, “The King of Cheeses,” which only gets better with time. The taste is strong and slightly nutty and it’s principally used for grating over, well, just about everything. You’ll find a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano on just about any pasta dish, but it can be used to add flavor to sauces or grilled vegetables, in breading for meats or served in chunks with cold cuts. 

Modena 

Aceto Balsamico di Modena 

The king of Balsamic vinegar's comes from Emilia Romagna
Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

Though aceto does mean vinegar, thinking of balsamico as a vinegar denies the product’s true worth. A dark, jeweled liquid, balsamic vinegar from Modena elevates whatever food it is paired with: whether vegetables, meat, cheese or even strawberries. Made strictly from Trebbiano grapes, it ages 12 years, fining its flavor in different barrels made of various wood. As a result, real aceto balsamico tradizionale is extremely costly but packed with flavor – a little bit goes a long way.

Cotechino di Modena

In Italian they say, “From the pig you don’t throw anything away” and that philosophy is definitely true for the cotechino. Made of a mix of pork parts, salted and spiced and steeped in wine, this sausage-like dish is traditionally served with lentils and considered good luck to eat on New Year’s Day (or a similar sausage called zampone). Though it surely wasn’t invented in Emilia Romagna, it was there that this preparation grew on an industrial scale, bringing the hearty cotechino to the masses from the industries of Modena. 

Ferrara 

Salama da sugo 

The number one specialty in Ferrara, the salama da sugo is a crumbly sausage with an intense flavor usually served with mashed potatoes. It’s made with cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices as well as wine, usually Marsala, and a splash of brandy, all of which gives it an intense flavor and strong smell. Most either love it or hate it. Nevertheless, the dish is extremely traditional: the first mention of the salama da sugo is in the 15th-century in a letter from Lorenzo de Medici of Florence to Ferrara’s ruling Duke, Ercole d’Este.

Foto di Marco967 da Pixabay

Panpepato 

Called “peppered bread”, this sweet is actually made with almonds, walnuts, candied fruits, sometimes wine or chocolate and a rich array of spices. A Renaissance invention, it was usually made during Christmas or other holidays and clearly showed to the rest of the world the wealth and refinement of Ferrara.  

Throughout the region: 

Gnocco Fritto 

A decidedly emiliano dish, the gnocco fritto is cooked in shortening (strutto in Italian) and usually paired with salumi and served as an appetizer. Each city in the area has its own shape and size of gnocco fritto, for example in Modena it’s usually rectangular, but all are delicious fried puffs of dough that perfectly exalt the region’s world-class salumi.  

Piadina 

The piadina can be found in any part of Italy, but it’s from the Romagnola area that this flat, round bread was born. Originally baked on a terracotta plate, the piadina today is largely industrialized but still filled with high-quality ingredients and perfect for a quick lunch. Go classic with a piadina filled with squacquerone (a super soft cheese) and herbs, though a slice or two of Prosciutto never hurts! 

Tortellini in brodo 

Fresh pasta is abundant in Emilia Romagna

Much of central Italy prefers egg pasta over dry pastas, but nowhere does stuffed pastas like Emilia Romagna. Always made fresh, there are dozens of different shapes and stuffings to choose from. In Piacenza and Parma you’ll find anolini, in Reggio Emilio cappelletti and multiple cities compete among themselves to be crowned the hometown of tortellini. Traditionally these meat-filled pastas are served in a beef or, even better, capon broth and served on Christmas day, but you can find them with tomato sauce or a bolognese meat sauce as well.  

Lambrusco 

The number one wine of Emilia Romagna is without a doubt the classic and ubiquitous Lambrusco. Predominately made in the hills surrounding Modena and Reggio Emilia, Lambrusco varieties range from sweet (more popular in the US) to amabile to dry. A fruity bouquet and a red-violet color, you can’t go wrong with Lambrusco – it pairs well with all of Emilia Romagna’s most traditional dishes!

Photo by Spi Cgil Emilia-Romagna on flickr

This is just a glimpse into the region’s rich cuisine. While traveling, touring markets or perusing menus, keep in mind the excellent Vignola cherries from near Modena and pears from Ferrara or the peaches, nectarines or scallions from Romagna. Along the coast the heavy meat dishes are interspersed with many types of fish and seafood and even eels from the lagoons lining the coast. 

There are plenty of desserts to indulge in beyond Ferrara’s panpepato. Try rich, homemade mascarpone cheese (though its more like a cream), a torta di riso rice cake from Bologna or torta di tagliatelle, because there’s nothing more representative of this pasta-loving region! Buon appetito!

Taste your way through Parma and the Emilia-Romagna region, a food lover’s paradise, before heading off to digest along the coast in our Revel on the Riviera trip. Already drooling? Book now!

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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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What Do I Order? A Guide to Italian Coffee

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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