Gifts for the Italy-Bound Traveler

Looking for the perfect gift for a traveler headed to Italy? (Or maybe for yourself?). I’ve got you covered!

And don’t miss this year’s guide to the best Italian gifts on the web this season, or the 2012 guide to the best gifts for travelers to Italy!

The perfect airplane read(s)

When it comes to bringing history to life, Ross King is a wizard, telling rollicking tales of Renaissance scandals and assignments gone awry. And he’s done it with not one, not two, but three Italian treasures: Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture (on the Duomo of Florence); Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling (on the Sistine Chapel); and Leonardo and the Last Supper (at right).

Conveniently, each book is on a different city (Florence, Rome and Milan). Talk about the perfect gift trifecta for someone headed for the Grand Tour.

A super-duper camera… the size of a smartphone

I adore my 6-year-old-but-still-fantastic Nikon D90 DSLR and my little waterproof Sony digital camera. If I were looking for something in the middle of those two, though – not as professional (or big or heavy) as the DSLR, but with more options and flexibility than the point-and-shoot — I’d be looking at what’s called a “expert compact” camera. In particular, I’d have my eye on the Olympus XZ-2 (left).

The camera is smaller than a Galaxy smart phone, but comes with the kinds of bells and whistles you usually just can’t get in a camera that size — like ISO up 12800, sensor-shift stability, an SLR-quality image processor, and HD 1080 video recording. In layman’s terms, that means that you can shoot crisp photos in conditions that just won’t work with a lesser digital camera or an iPhone, like an indoor restaurant dinner or the floodlight Colosseum at night. For anyone who loves taking photos but isn’t a professional photographer (and even for some of us that are), this would be a seriously sweet gift.

A hedonist’s guide to Tuscany

Val d'orcia 3Not your usual guidebook, Tuscany for the Shameless Hedonist includes tips on everything for making a stay in Florence or Tuscany pop with the pleasures of Italian life: where to find romantic aperitivi and relaxing spas, the top wine tours and finest local artisans, the best cooking classes and antique markets, and more.

A streetwise stocking stuffer

The Streetwise Rome map remains the most usable one of the city I’ve seen. It’s laminated, so you don’t have to worry about spilling wine getting rain on it. And the map has much more detail than you’ll find on the free tourist maps in the city, but is still pretty easy to read and use. Let’s just say it got me through my first 3-plus years of never knowing where I was.

A travel journal that gives you tasks (great for kids and creative adults!)

I love this. In the ingenious, interactive I Was Here: A Travel Journal for the Curious Minded, travelers aren’t just encouraged to jot down tips, reviews, and notes. They’re also asked to do things like, say, go to a local pharmacy and buy a toiletry brand they don’t recognize (I always say going to a pharmacy or grocery store is one of the best ways to get a sense of the local culture!), or ask a local to draw a map to one of their favorite neighborhood spots (I can just imagine what kind of crazy drawings you’d wind up with in a city where the streets are as confusing as Rome!).

I can imagine how much fun this would be for kids to do. Or, let’s be honest, for any adventurous adult.

An airplane wake-up

The kind of thing you’d never buy for yourself (aka a great stocking stuffer), this little jet lag kit (right), which is given to first-class passengers on Emirates Airlines, has two “sniff boxes”. Get a whiff of “sleep,” with lavender, chamomile and neroli, to unwind; “focus,” with bergamot, lemon and cinnamon, energizes and refreshes. Perfect idea for those otherwise torturous overseas flights.

The best conversational Italian course around

There are a million and one Italian-language software programs out there. While many people swear by Pimsleur for learning the basic, conversational Italian you want when you go abroad, the newer Living Language Italian has the edge: it’s currently the number-one bestseller on Amazon for Italian learning products, and the reviews are stellar. It’s also more bang for your buck, since the $30 complete edition has 46 lessons, with nine audio CDs and three books, that take learners from beginning to advanced.

For anyone who wants to, say, order food at a restaurant or get directions in the local language, this seems like the new way to go.

The gift of Rome, revealed

Revealed rome travel planning gift_edited-1In my one-on-one travel consulting sessions, folks get an hour to pick my brain about all things Italy: what’s open in August, the best day trips from Florence, how to skip the line at the Colosseum, whether to get a water taxi to their hotel in Venice. Or we can spend that hour whipping a trip itinerary into shape. Or brainstorming where in Italy they should even start to think about going. Or… pretty much anything else.

New for 2014, I offer gift certificates that can be e-mailed directly to the gift recipient (or to you, so you can print it out and pop it in a card). For more, email me at revealedrome@gmail.com.

A hilarious guide to Italian quirks

Both entertaining and beautiful to look at, Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best will whet anyone’s appetite for Italy. Its 50 mini-essays explore all of the quirks of Italian culture: patron saints and pasta, hand gestures and gelato. It’ll also prepare travelers for the little things that might seem particularly annoying odd on arrival — like why Italians don’t queue, or what floor number won’t exist (nope, it’s not 13!).

The cutest (and most functional) travel containers around

Finally, travel bottles that you… can… squeeze! (And that are BPA-free, PC-free, food-safe, leak-free, and virtually indestructible. Not to mention adorable). Give these GoToob travel tubes to your favorite giftee-on-the-go to fill up with shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, or anything else (ketchup, anyone?). They’re also useful to throw in a backpack: Instead of carting a whole bottle of suntan lotion around the Roman Forum, just fill one of these guys up. Smaller and (take it from me) much more spill-proof.

Organic beauty on the go

If your Italy-bound traveler hates decanting all of their favorite lotions and face washes into different containers (even ones as cute as the GoToob), make it easy on them with Juice Beauty’s Organics To Go. The travel set has all of the skin essentials: cleansing milk, moisturizer, even a mini-face peel. The hydrating mist would be especially nice to have on a moisture-sucking plane ride. Juice Beauty’s items are all made sans  parabens, animal testing, pesticides, phthalates, or artificial dyes or fragrances, so it’s the perfect skin care set for even those with sensitive skin.

A guidebook, notebook, and map in one

I know people swear by Moleskine, but I’m (even more) old-school — when I’m on the road, you can bet I have a few spiral-bound reporter’s notebooks on hand, instead. Even so, I scooped up a Moleskine City Notebook when I headed to Lisbon last year, and wow! I loved it. Having different sections to pop my various lists into, plus plenty of room for random thoughts, made me much more organized. And having a thorough map of the city’s different neighborhoods embedded right in the notebook’s pages was unbelievably helpful.

The Rome City Notebook comes in hardcover-only, so it’s more of an indulgence. (The soft-cover Milan, Venice and Florence versions are much cheaper). But I could see it doubling as a nice keepsake post-trip, couldn’t you?

Happy holidays, everyone!

Also: where to eat in Rome’s most touristy areas, and a guide to Rome’s neighborhoods.

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The Finest Gifts from Italy

Gifts from Italy
Looking for that perfect gift from Italy? Even though I’m always a fan of tracking down artisanal gifts in person, these days, you can find some pretty great Italian gifts online, too. And I don’t mean gift baskets where the “parmesan cheese” hails from Wisconsin.

Because it’s that time of year again, I spent some time scouring the interwebs to find the best gifts from Italy — as in, the finer things: from perfume to leather journals to olive oil.

And don’t miss this year’s best gifts for travel to Italy; all of my previous Italophile gift guides can be found here).

Here are just a few of the finer Italian experiences you can give — no airplane required!

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Where to Find Rome’s Christmas Markets (Updated for 2016!)

Christmas markets in Rome just aren’t as much of a thing as they are in cities elsewhere in Europe, especially further north. For years, when it came to mercatini di Natale, as Italians call them, the main event really was just the Christmas market at Piazza Navona.

Today, the Piazza Navona Christmas market (which runs daily, and until 1am, from November 25 to January 6) remains the largest in Rome’s center. Every Roman (and visiting) family stops there at some point during the Christmas season. Stalls sell Christmas decorations, gifts and sweets and street performers juggle and dance, all under the gloriously-lit fountains and Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. For atmosphere and convenience, the 100-year-old Christmas market is a good bet. (Update, 1 December 2016: After being called off last year, the Piazza Navona Christmas market is back!) Update, 18 December 2016: Psych… despite earlier news to the contrary, the Piazza Navona Christmas market is not running this year. There is, however, the market’s traditional carousel running at the piazza!).

But. Most of the gifts for sale there are mass-produced, made-in-China items — and a far cry from the kind of artisanal gifts you can so easily find elsewhere in Rome.

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The Ultimate Guide to Christmas in Rome (Updated for 2016!)

Ah, Christmas in Rome! With the festive lights a-sparkling and families a-shopping, Christmas trees a-twinkling and nativity scenes a-…um, whatever nativity scenes do—well, it really is the most wonderful time of year.

Want to make the most of it? Here’s my complete guide to Rome at Christmas.

Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!

Rome Christmas basics: what will be open, what will be closed, and other burning questions

In the short video below, I answer some of readers’ biggest questions about visiting Rome over Christmas.

Here’s the breakdown of what holiday hours (and closures) to expect at museums, shops, restaurants, and with public transport in Rome.

What to do over Christmas and New Year’s in Rome

Rome at Christmas Piazza Navona market
One beloved Christmas tradition in Rome: the Christmas market at Piazza Navona

Rome has lots of special events and activities over Christmas. Here are 10 top festive experiences in Rome from the end of November to the beginning of January, from ice-skating to Christmas markets.

And speaking of Christmas markets… here are some of your best bets (beyond Piazza Navona… which actually, this year, is all but empty!) for the 2016-17 season.

You can always pay the (new!) pope a visit, too. Here’s how to see the new pope over the holidays in 2013.

Rome at Christmas
Christmas lights at Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina

One of the best activities: just wandering the gloriously lit-up streets. In this photo essay, check out what it’s looked like in past years.

Christmas nativities in Rome
Presepio at the Church of Sant’Eustachio

The presepi (Christmas nativity) exhibit I wrote about for the New York Times a couple of years ago is still going strong. Now in its 39th year, “100 Presepi” runs until January 6. There’s also a whole museum devoted to the craft of Christmas crib-making.

Christmas shopping in Rome

Christmas shopping in Rome
One traditional Italian gift: a beautifully-wrapped panettone

Get off of Via del Corso (no, really, please get off Via del Corso), and you’ll find tons of hidden independent boutiques and artisanal workshops in Rome—great for finding the perfect gift.

Here are nine of my favorite shops for buying one-of-a-kind gifts in Rome. And here’s one of my favorite streets for shopping in Rome.

Rome’s markets are great for gift-shoppng year-round. More on gift shopping at Rome’s best markets in my piece for the New York Times.

Give a great gift—and give back to a good cause—by shopping at Libera Terra, Italy’s fantastic anti-Mafia cooperative.

Not in Rome for your Christmas shopping? Here are some of my favorite artisans in Italy whose work can be shipped abroad (including mosaic from Ravenna, masks from Venice, and more). And here are some authentic, gourmet gifts for foodies, from the best Italian cookbooks to authentic prosciutto and Pecorino. 

Finally, here are the best Italian gifts on the web and the most thoughtful gifts for Italy-bound travelers, both new for 2014. (Check out my past gift guides for Italy lovers here!).

Christmas and New Year’s traditions in Rome and Italy

Not Rome-specific, but fun and useful: a quick guide to how the Christmas season is celebrated across Italy.

One of the biggest Christmas traditions in Rome is la befana. She’s the figure you’ll see across Rome come the holidays—and with her hooked nose and broomstick, she’s often mistaken for a witch. Here’s what to know about la befanaand this super-sweet video, below (starring my favorite little adopted niece Roman friend), explores the tradition further.

If you’re going to be a guest of an Italian family for any holiday meals, or you want to cook (or eat) according to Italian tradition this Christmas yourself, don’t miss this post on how to have an Italian Christmas meal.

Italian food is super-regional. But these days, you will see pandoro (a golden cake originally from Verona) in every Rome bakery. Here’s more about pandoro and Italy’s other traditional Christmas cakes.

Christmas sweets in Rome
Tastings of torrone, panpepato and panforte at the pandoro festival in Rome

Want to know about New Year’s? These are some of the main New Year’s traditions in Italy. (Yes, my Italian friends really insist on wearing red underwear. So much so a [female!] Roman friend once even gave me red underwear as a gift… just to be sure I would).

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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Revealed Rome’s 12 Most Popular Posts in 2012

Revealed Rome posts in 2012
Two of the most popular 2012 Revealed Rome posts dealt with visiting Rome over Christmas and New Year’s

As we approach 2012’s end, I was pretty curious about which blog posts were the most popular on Revealed Rome this year. A little stats-checking proved to me that my readers are (unsurprisingly) big fans of Rome, especially when it comes to food, Christmas, shopping, and more!

Without further ado, here’s the list of the 12 most popular Revealed Rome posts in 2012… a couple of which surprised me! Do any surprise you?

#12: 5 Favorite Places for Food Near the Vatican: Oh lists, how I love thee. This one, on where to grab lunch in the food desert touristy area around the Vatican, was one of my first (semi-regular) “Five for Friday” posts—and one of the most popular.

#11: Rome’s Best Shopping Streets: Via del Boschetto: It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Rome’s shopping… when it’s done far, far away from chain-store-choked Via del Corso. One great alternative is this little street in Monti, near the Roman forum, which is chock-a-block with fantastic artisans and boutiques.

#10: How Safe is Rome, Really?: A question readers found even more pertinent in 2012 than in 2011 or 2010, when it was first published. Not sure what that says about Rome’s reputation. Or about crime in the world in general.

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Where to Shop for Gifts in Rome

Looking for gifts from Italy while you’re in Rome? I’ve got you covered (just in time for the holidays)!

Here are some of my favorite shops in Rome for picking up the perfect present (maybe even for yourself…). Not only do these stores sell great gifts, but they’re all one-of-a-kind, too, unlike that J. Crew sweater that tens of thousands of people will unwrap on Christmas! Consider it just another perk of buying from artisanal and independent shops.

Le Talpe

Le Talpe, a great find for gifts in Rome
At Le Talpe in Monti

I paid a visit a week ago, and among the items I found were fantastically handpainted booties, elegant-looking jewelry made from (surprise!) medical tubing, and an ermine shrug that’s actually a stuffed animal ermine. Oh, and this handcrafted shawl/mini-jacket, which I couldn’t afford but could, at least, model for a moment. (Prices tend to be on the higher side—think €200 for a shrug like the one I’m wearing—but since the items are all handmade by some of Italy’s hippest designers and artists, it makes sense).

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Christmas in Rome: Some Serious Lights

Christmas lights in Rome

This year, Rome is celebrating Christmas with some of the glitteriest, prettiest lights I've seen. Ever. And since that includes the decorations that glitter-bomb American shopping malls and cul-de-sac neighborhoods every year, that's saying quite a bit.

Here, just a few twinkly tastes of the most Christmas-sy corners of Rome. Photos—and even a couple of short videos—to follow.

Prepare to be dazzled.

Christmas tree and decorations at Piazza Venezia, Rome    Piazza Venezia


Rome Christmas lightsVia dei Coronari

Christmas lights in RomePiazza San Lorenzo in Lucina

 

Christmas parade at Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina

Christmas tree at the Colosseum, RomeColosseum Christmas tree

Lights for Christmas in RomePiazza Sant'Eustachio

Christmas lights in RomeNear Piazza Navona

Presepio or nativity scene in RomePresepio at the Church of Sant'Eustachio

Christmas in RomeVia dei Baullari, toward Campo dei Fiori

Christmas lights in Monti, RomeVia Urbana in Monti

Piazza Venezia during Christmas in RomePiazza Venezia, looking toward the Vittorio Emanuele monument

Via del Corso, with Christmas lights in RomeLooking up Via del Corso from Piazza Venezia

Christmas lights in Rome for the holidaysVia dei Condotti

Spanish Steps decorated for Christmas in RomeNear the Spanish Steps

Christmas decorations in RomeThe Fendi store on Via del Corso

 

Video of the lights at the Fendi store and Via del Corso

Via dei Coronari with Christmas lights in RomeVia dei Coronari

Via dei Condotti on Christmas in RomeVia dei Condotti, looking toward the Spanish Steps


Christmas lights in RomeVia dei Condotti



Christmas-lights-for-web-1
Via del Corso

Church of Sant'Eustachio at ChristmasPiazza Sant'Eustachio, with the Church of Sant'Eustachio in the background

Via Tomacelli at ChristmasVia Tomacelli

Want to know more about Christmas in Rome? Make sure to check out my 5-minute video on what you need to know, below!

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10 Things to Do in Rome for Christmas (Updated for 2016!)

If you’re in Rome for Christmas, you’re in luck! As always, there are absolutely tons of ways to get into the holiday spirit.

Here, the best of what to do.

1. See the Pope. Over the Christmas season, you’ve got lots of opportunities, from midnight mass (although getting tickets can be tricky) to “Urbi et Orbi” on Christmas Day (no tickets needed). Here’s more on how exactly to see the Pope throughout December and January (updated for 2016!).

Pope during Christmas season in Rome

2. Celebrate Christmas at the Auditorium. Every year, Rome’s Auditorium hosts a number of Christmas-themed events (link in Italian), running through December and early January. Goings-on include a Christmas fair, ice-skating rink, and lots of concerts, from Christmas Italian music to gospel.

3. Head to a Christmas market. They pop up all over Rome this time of year, the most famous being, of course, that in Piazza Navona (both at top and below). Here’s a list of other Christmas markets in Rome (updated for 2016!).

What to do over christmas in Rome

4. Worship—in English. The American Catholic church of Santa Susanna is usually the go-to for English Mass. But the church itself is closed for the moment for renovations. In its stead, if you’re in Rome for Christmas, there are a variety of other Catholic churches host services in English throughout the holiday season (of these, my top pick would be the stunning Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e Martiri—it’s an ancient Roman bath turned church by Michelanglo, no big deal).

For non-Catholics, the Anglican Church of All Saints’ Church holds holiday services, including the Service of Nine Lessons with Carols, and the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church of Scotland has services throughout the Christmas season. Other churches with non-Catholic services in English during Christmas include the American Episcopal Church of St. Paul’s Within the Walls, the Methodist Church at Ponte Sant’Angelo, and the non-denominational Cavalry Chapel.

5. Go ice-skating. The Auditorium’s not the only place you can slip-and-slide. You also can skate underneath the iconic silhouette of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo. Click here for more information on the Castel Sant’Angelo rink. Other skating rinks in Rome include those at Re di Roma, Tor di Quinto, and Villa Gordiani.

6. Delve into the tradition of Italian nativity scenes. As well as Christmas cribs popping up in churches all over town, Rome boasts both a museum of more than 3,000 of them and, over Christmas, an exhibition of 200 presepi from artists across the globe (now in its 41st year). Here’s my New York Times piece on where to find presepi in Rome.

Christmas lights in Rome

7. Check out the Christmas lights. Decorations are getting more ambitious every year, with gorgeous twinklings (and light projections, and jumbo screens) lighting up not only the heart of Rome’s centro storico, but even Termini, EUR, and the Fiumicino airport. Don’t believe me? Check out my photo post of the prettiest Christmas lights and decorations in Rome!

8. Hear some holiday music. The internationally-renowned academy of Santa Cecilia hosts several Christmas choral concerts in December: on Saturday December 17 at 11:30am, Dec. 20 at 7:30pm and Dec. 21 at 8:30pm. 

Pandoro at Christmas in Rome

9. Enjoy delicious Christmas sweets. Bakeries are brimming over with yummy holiday offerings like panettone, torrone and pandoro (above). If you’re in Rome for Christmas, make sure to taste the goods. It’s the one time of year that even Italians  over-indulge in the sweet stuff!

10. Give back. The Emergency Christmas Market now takes place right in the heart of the center on Via IV Novembre 157B (off Magnanapoli), near Piazza Venezia and the Roman forum. It’s a Christmas market with a twist—proceeds from the goods, which include everything from Nepalese hats to Cambodian silks to Italian panettone, go to charity. In 2016, it’s running from 1 to 24 December on Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 8pm and Mondays from 12pm to 8pm (early closure at 2pm on Christmas Eve).

Also: the 5 most overrated things to do in Rome, how to start planning your trip to Rome, and 11 etiquette mistakes not to make eating in Italy.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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