From top to toe, Italy is filled with spectacular scenery and beautiful towns. So beautiful that it can be difficult to decide where to visit next! While Puglia is at times overlooked internationally, Italians have long followed the sea and sun to this southeastern region that is the heel of the peninsula’s posh boot.   

Travelers new to the region might wonder: is Puglia worth visiting? We’re here to answer with a resounding yes! 

Here’s why you should visit Puglia: 

The beaches   

With roughly 800 kilometers of coastline, it’s no surprise that Puglia has some of the best beaches in all of Italy. A peninsula within a peninsula, visitors can enjoy pristine beaches on the Ionian and Adriatic coasts. And they truly are pristine – Puglia’s beaches regularly win the Blue Flag, an international eco-label given to the cleanest, most environmentally sustainable beaches. From the “Maldives of Salento” to the views of the “Two Sisters” sea stack, visitors looking to mix cultural touring with the ease of the sea have dozens of gorgeous options to choose from in Puglia. 

Read more about the Best Beaches in Puglia

The trulli   

A village of the unique trulli houses in Puglia with white walls and conical roofs
Visit Puglia to tour the distinctive trulli in Alberobello. Image by Jacques Savoye from Pixabay

There is little more unique to Puglia than its famous trulli houses. These traditional Pugliese homes are ingenious conical structures built with entirely local materials. Unique to Puglia, the trulli are built without any mortar and are devised to be quick to build and quick to dismantle. They maintain a cool interior and the conical roofs lead to a central cistern, usually located under the house, to catch what little water Puglia gets.    

You can find them throughout the Itria Valley, but only in Alberobello can you find more than 1,500 trulli, many in use today and almost all in perfect condition. Today, Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an “exceptional Historic Urban Landscape.”   

The lifestyle   

Visit Puglia to tap into the slow, easy days of southern Italy. Puglia isn’t stuck in the past; it has simply maintained the healthiest aspects of a slower pace of life. Take a cue from the Pugliese and learn to linger over a meal, enjoy the warmth of the sun, gather friends or family around, and soak in a less frenetic atmosphere. It’s the perfect destination for travelers looking to travel slow. Relax and reconnect with nature with the freedom to explore and enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes in Italy.   

The towns   

The beautiful beach in Polignano al Mare, Puglia

Puglia has a diverse geography and a unique history, both visible in its gorgeous towns and cities. Visit the quaint villages in the Itria Valley, including the trulli of Alberobello, nearby Locorotondo, Cisternino, and lively Martina Franca. There’s the atmospheric town of Polignano a Mare clinging to a rocky cliff over the Adriatic Sea and nearby Monopoli, the whitewashed city of Ostuni, Otranto on the Adriatic coast, and Gallipoli on the Ionian Sea.  

Visit Lecce, Salento’s historical and artistic center, and another UNESCO World Heritage site for its beautiful baroque architecture. And though Bari hasn’t traditionally been on the tourist trail, the recently renovated old town, burgeoning cultural spaces and lively nightlife have put the port city back on the map for many travelers.   

The food   

As in all of Italy, the food in Puglia is incredible.    

Known as the breadbasket of Italy thanks to its large production of durum wheat, Puglia’s pasta and bread are gastronomical staples. Most visitors have heard of the ubiquitous Pugliese orecchiette pasta, fresh pasta shaped like “little ears.” But there is so much more to Pugliese food than that!    

A little-known tradition is the “fornello pronto” in the Valle d’Itria, that is, butcher shops where you can order your meat and have them cook it for you on sight. Other street-food options throughout Puglia include the focaccia barese, fried panzerotto, or the rustico leccese, a puff pastry filled with mozzarella, bechamel sauce, tomato, and black pepper.   

Pugliese cuisine is historically very poor. In the past few could afford meat. Luckily, vegetables abound in this sun-kissed, fertile land. Here you can get fava and chicory prepared in a dozen different ways. Or simply ripe tomatoes with a fresh Pugliese burrata or simple grilled vegetables – all drizzled, of course, with Puglia’s famous olive oil.    

The olive oil   

Visit Puglia to see century-old olive trees

With approximately 60 million olive trees, there are more olive trees in Puglia than there are Italians in Italy. In the Valle d’Itria in particular, travelers can see hundreds of olive trees, including some more than 2,000 years old! Besides a liberal use of the delicious oil during meals, visitors can tour through the olive groves. Today, most of these ancient, millenarian olive trees can be found in the area between Monopoli, Ostuni, and Carovigno. Tour by car or, even better, hike or bike among the olive groves, moving from one town to another.  

The masserie   

Puglia’s cuisine and culture change as you move away from the coastline. In the countryside, the cuisine changes from the fresh fish of the coast and more to meat and vegetables. There, we can also find a treasure unique to the region: the masserie. Ancient structures dating from the 16th century, these farmhouses used to be the home of the massaro, or farmer. Today these masserie range from rustic, renovated farmhouses to luxury hotels. Traditionally agricultural, you can visit to stay the night or simply go for a traditional, kilometer-zero meal. Agriturismi can be found throughout Italy, but only in Puglia can you find them in the traditional style of a Pugliese masseria.    

The history  

Like much of southern Italy, Puglia was conquered by dozens of different civilizations. Its fertile land and strategic and commercial importance attracted the Greeks, Romans, Ostrogoths, and Byzantine Empire; the Normans, Frederick II, the Kingdom of Naples, the Aragonese, the Habsburgs, and … you get the idea.    

This unique and eclectic history left an imprint on Puglia that we can still see today. The Greeks founded Taranto. The Romans brought the long history of wheat, olive oil, and wine production to the region to feed the legions. Gallipoli is fortified thanks to the Byzantines. The Normans brought the relics of San Nicola to Bari and built the Basilica di San Nicola and the French created what is known today as Bari Vecchia. Each new kingdom deeply affected the peninsula’s architectural, agricultural and cultural landscape.    

The nature   

a view of cactus and the seaside in Salento, Puglia

Those looking to explore the natural beauty of Puglia have plenty to choose from even beyond the attractive beaches. Don’t miss the Grotte di Castellana. The longest cave network in Italy with approximately 3 kilometers of underground caves, it is widely considered the most spectacular in Italy as well.    

Visit the stunning islands of the Tremiti Archipelago. Protected by a marine reserve, the only archipelago of Puglia is the pinnacle of natural beauty. Go to explore the wild beaches, snorkel or dive in the pristine water, or enjoy a day on the sea by boat.    

Visitors to the plateau of the Alta Murgia National Park will find a unique mix of nature, archeology, and history. With beautiful flora and fauna year-round, the Alta Murgia is also filled with masserie, jazzi, and poste, or dry-stone buildings used by shepherds to protect their animals. Most notable, however, is the 13th-century Castel del Monte. Built by the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick II, the UNESCO World Heritage Site fortification is a mysterious geometric structure built with perfect octagonal walls and eight octagonal towers.  

Finally, those with time to spare can head all the way to the southernmost tip of Puglia in Santa Maria di Leuca to see the place where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet, and explore the nearby caves, beaches, and nature reserves of the Salento Peninsula.   

Visit Puglia to tour the traditional trulli, travel along the picturesque Adriatic coast and cook with an Italian nonna on our Mediterranean Escape to Puglia and the Amalfi Coast. 

  

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With abundant natural beauty, famed ancient history, and noteedly diverse culture, the spectacular island of Sicily has enticed travelers to explore it’s many treasures since ancient times. Sicily’s rich history can be seen in; the Arab-Norman jewels in Palermo, the Doric temples in the Valley of the Temples, and the ancient Greek architecture of Syracuse. Baroque beauty abounds in the Noto Valley, and extensive religious art is abundant, as you discover Sicily.

Sicily countryside and hills

Sicily’s history can also be found in the unique food it offers. A result of many different conquerors, the cuisine is perhaps the most culturally-infused of all of Italy. Here you can find classics, such as pistachios and almonds, citrus and swordfish, along with more exotic spices and ingredients, like saffron and sugar, baccalà and couscous.

Then, of course, there are the landscapes; first and foremost the formidable Mount Etna on Sicily’s east coast. One of Europe’s highest active volcanoes, Etna still erupts from time to time and can dictate life in the area. Then there are the stunning coastline nature reserves including the Zingaro Nature Reserve west of Palermo, or the Vendicari Nature Reserve in Sicily’s southwestern corner. Citrus groves, olive orchards, vineyards, and salt pans, wherever you are, you’re sure to have a stunning backdrop.

What to Know Before You Discover Sicily:

Discovering Sicily in comfort means you need to know its location and how to dress with the season.

Where is Sicily

Map of Places To Go in Sicily

One of 20 regions of Italy, Sicily is an island just off the mainland. It’s the ball to Italy’s boot, located in the extreme southwest of Italy.

Italy’s largest island, Sicily’s most important cities are coastal ports, grown powerful by the bustling sea trade since the ancient Greeks. Though there is a small airport in Trapani and another in the Val di Noto, most flights to Sicily fly into Palermo or Catania, two of Sicily’s largest cities.

The Weather in Sicily

It’s southernmost point, Sicily is hotter than the rest of Italy. In January average highs in Catania can easily reach 60°F, while August sees an average max of 90°F. Though skiers will be hoping for snow on Etna, it’s not impossible to see sunbathers in December, with sea temperatures reaching 59°F. In August, most cities in Sicily empty as residents go north on vacation or head to the beach to stay cool. If you’re not going in the summer, be sure to bring a cover-up as morning and evening can cool down.

Best Places to Discover in Sicily

The island of Sicily truly has it all; bustling port cities, small hill towns, coastal resorts and complete wilderness. There’s a lot to see on just this one Mediterranean island, but here’s where to start:

Palermo and Monreale

Beautiful Piazza Pretoria — Palermo

Palermo is an Arab-Norman jewel of a city with strong character, and a world of history, and culture to discover.

Long gone are Palermo’s days as a violent city. Today, it is a favorite for Italian hipsters, ground zero for the start of many a Sicily vacation, and was named the Italian Capital of Culture in 2018.

After Phoenicians founded a colony there in the 8th century, Palermo has since been ruled by Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, the Holy Roman emperors, Aragonese, Bourbons, and Austrians…to name a few. This important port city has always been strategic in the Mediterranean, leading to an intriguing mix of cultures, tastes, and ideas. Go see the beautiful Piazza Pretoria and its “shameful” fountain, the Palermo Cathedral and the Teatro Massimo. Palazzo dei Normanni is a must-see, if only for the Palatine chapel inside, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. See the Zisa Palace, the Capuchin catacombs, and the trifecta of gorgeous churches around Piazza Bellini.

Finally, head up the hill to tour the Cathedral of Monreale, a masterpiece of Arab, Norman, and Byzantine art.

Trapani

Salt flats and salt harvesting — Trapani

An important trading city since the 13th-century, Trapani’s port still bustles with ferry traffic to and from the nearby Egadi Islands. Tour the kilometers of salt flats along the coast in a pungent nod to the city’s salt harvesting history. The biggest draw is, without a doubt, the ancient salt pans of Trapani and Paceco. Visitors can tour these kilometers of salt flats along the coast, not only to see a glimpse of the area’s long history (many of the same techniques from 1000 AD are still used today) but also to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Today the salt pans are part of a nature reserve, still allowing a small amount of production, as well as the return of native flora, and fauna.

Piazza Armerina

Located in the hinterland of Sicily, Piazza Armerina is an off-the-beaten-path gem. The town itself has an 18th-century Duomo, and nearby you’ll find the Aidone Archeology Museum. But the real draw is the Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and archeological treasure worth an entire day.

Agrigento

Valley of the Temples — Agrigento, Sicily

Agrigento is home to the Valley of the Temples, one of the most famed archeological sites in all Italy. Founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century BC, it quickly became one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean. This is still seen today in the massive collection of Doric temples that lie intact in the area’s fields, along with excavations of Hellenistic ruins, and early Christian sites. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, for its great row of Doric temples, considered to be “among the most extraordinary representations of Doric architecture in the world.” A “testament of Greek civilization” and an example of an “important interchange of human values,” the area once considered the “most beautiful city inhabited by man,” according to the Greek poet Pindar, is now one of the most beautiful archeological sites to be visited by man.

Taormina

Taormina Teatro Greco — Sicily

Taormina has been a resort town since the time of the ancient Greeks. With a spectacular location on the side of a mountain along Sicily’s east coast, it’s easy to see why Taormina has a long history of delighting the rich and famous. The town is breathtaking! Perhaps most famous for its Teatro Antico, an ancient Greco-Roman theater still in use today, most visitors are attracted by Isola Bella. Attached to the mountain coast by a small strip of sand, Isola Bella is a tiny nature reserve set in a natural cove. Once the home of Englishwoman Florence Trevelyan, it can now be enjoyed by all. Then, visit the nearby Giardini Naxos, the first Greek colony in Sicily, before taking time to relax somewhere and soak in the wonderful view – this won’t be hard to find.

Syracuse and Ortygia

One of the oldest settlements in Sicily, Syracuse was founded in 734 BC by the Corinthians, who landed on the island of Ortygia (Ortigia). Once the largest city in the ancient world, a visit to Syracuse means stepping back in time through the ruins of the original city in the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, one of Sicily’s greatest archaeological sites. Here you’ll find Greek ruins, like the Teatro, along with beautiful Baroque buildings framing sun-kissed piazzas. The most beautiful corner is surely it’s minuscule island of Ortygia. Just 1 square kilometer, it’s difficult not to fall in love with the island’s breathtaking views, characteristic streets, and Mediterranean atmosphere.

Noto

Cathedral Noto - South-Eastern Sicily

Located in southeastern Sicily in the eponymous Val di Noto, Noto is the epicenter of Baroque architecture in Sicily. The entire town is filled with grand central roads, elegant Baroque palazzi, and beautiful historic town squares. Gorgeous, no matter when you visit, the golden hour is favorite for the delicious hue that reflects off it’s red-gold buildings.

After the original town of Noto was destroyed in a 1693 earthquake the entire town was rebuilt a bit higher on the hill in the 18th-century. Traces of the same style can be found in Modica, and Ragusa, both located in Val di Noto and both worth a visit, thanks to a local architect who worked on all three.

Catania

Catania has long had a reputation as a gritty, chaotic city. Though this might still be true, the city still has atmosphere and attitude. It’s one of the few cities in Sicily that feels like a city, with nightlife and energy to match. Catania is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with Noto, thanks to its Baroque architecture. Visit the Piazza del Duomo, the Roman Amphitheater, and the famous Pescheria fish market, for a taste of authentic Italy. As you tour the city, you’re sure to see Mount Etna sitting in the distance, patiently watching over it all.

The best way to discover Sicily is by car – let us handle the stress of transit for you, with completely private transfer service as well as expert guides on our Discover Sicily Trip.

Sources:
Lonely Planet
UNESCO
Visit Sicily
NY Times

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How To Stay Healthy While Traveling

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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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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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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.  

Photo by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

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

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

What to Know

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

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

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

Where to Go

Discover the Dolomites

 

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

 

Discover the Dolomites

 

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

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

 


 

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

What to Do

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

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

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

 

Local Tips

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

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

 

 

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

Plan Your Northern Italy Adventure

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

 

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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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How to Order Coffee Like an Italian

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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