Books About Italy I’m Compulsively Reading (and Re-Reading)

No matter where I am in the world, I have a shelf devoted to books about Italy. Which may be why, although I started out this post planning to write a gift guide — something I do every couple of years — I found that everything that came to mind to include was… a book.

While that partly speaks to the fact that I’m a nerd bookworm, it also speaks to something else: whether you’re interested in fiction or memoir, food or art, ancient history or World War II, there are a number of compulsively-readable books about Italy out there these days.

What is my bar for “compulsively readable”? In the last three years, I’ve gone through two transatlantic moves. Each time, I’ve had to winnow down my library. Most of the books on this list are ones that I found myself re-buying after my last move. That’s how much I couldn’t live without them.

So. Here are the books about Italy I’ve sometimes bought not once, but twice — and the person on your gift-giving list (other than you!) who might like them best.

The best book about Italy for the one on your list… who, faced with a table of magazines at the doctor’s office, always reaches for the New Yorker.

Haven’t heard of Elena Ferrante? First, crawl out from under your rock. Second, run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore to pick up the first novel in her “Neapolitan quartet”: My Brilliant Friend.

The series pins down human emotions, flaws and foibles with such searing precision, it’s sometimes almost excruciating to read. On the surface, it’s about two girls who grow up together in the shadows of a working-class neighborhood in postwar Naples. And if you love Italy, especially the south or bella Napoli, it will give you a raw, intense look at a people and culture that tend to be stereotyped, not examined.

Why take a day trip from Rome to Naples?

And yet, as in any true masterpiece, so many of the observations Ferrante makes apply far beyond the backstreets of Naples. For example…

Continue Reading

One of the Loveliest Little Leather Shops in Rome

“Where can I find a good leather store in Rome?” has to be one of the most frequently-asked questions I get. Although I’ve dragged my (leather-clad) heels on writing a full list — it’s pending, I promise — here’s one to add: Mancini.

The little shop, tucked behind the Pantheon, got its start back in 1918. The great-grandson of the first owner runs it today. For a small place, it’s had an illustrious history: it provided leather for the 1951 film Quo Vadis, once made a leather folder (random, yes) for Pope Pius XII and was Gucci’s go-to spot for repairs for years.

Continue Reading

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!

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Italy in Autumn: My Favorite Shots (and Spots) for Fall Colors Around Italy

Fall in Italy in Umbria
Gorgeous fall colors in the Umbrian countryside

I adore Italy in fall. The weather’s crisp, the produce beautiful (don’t you love it when apples and eggplant and truffles are in season?), and the tourist crowds have started to dissipate. It’s also the only time when somehow, inexplicably, I sometimes get a whiff of that countryside woodsmoke-smell—the kind that makes me want to bundle up and go for a hayride—in the center of Rome.

Continue Reading

Five Most Overrated Things to Do in Rome… And What to Do Instead

What to do in RomeWant to know the best things to do in Rome—beyond seeing the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum? Then put away your guidebook. When they go beyond the main sites, too many books (and magazine articles, and television shows) provide the same tired, touristy list of things to do and places to go in Rome.

The problem: These places aren’t only overrun with tourist crowds, but often just don’t tick the box they’re supposed to.

Here are five of Rome’s most overhyped activities—and what to do instead.

1. Instead of having a coffee at Piazza del Popolo…

Tourist trap in RomeDon’t get me wrong: The large, obelisk-topped Piazza del Popolo is worth a stop. (Don’t miss the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, with its Caravaggio paintings). But it’s not where to go for a cup of coffee. The couple of cafes on the piazza are scams expensive (think €4.50 for an espresso) and the service is terrible—which is why you won’t see any locals there.

Continue Reading

Testaccio, My Favorite Food Neighborhood in Rome

Testaccio neighborhood for Travel and Leisure
Contrary to popular belief, it's not always that easy to just "happen" on good food in Rome. Which is why I'm a fan of Testaccio. This fascinating—and increasingly trendy—neighborhood sits just southwest of the Aventine hill and Circus Maximus. It also happens to have some fantastic restaurants and bakeries, not to mention a couple of kick-ass markets.

That's why I wrote about Testaccio for Travel + Leisure's April 2013 food issue. (Now online here).

Check it out to find out more about the new Testaccio market, an artisanal birreria, top-notch Sicilian bakery, and more. I only wish I could have included more of my favorite food stops (like Cafe Barberini for coffee and cornetti and Da Bucatino for a traditional Roman meal), but the word count is what it is!

Find the Travel + Leisure food issue on newsstands now.

Continue Reading

The Newest Vintage Shop to Hit Rome: Blue Goose

Blue Goose, a new vintage shop in Rome

I love vintage shopping in Rome—but hate those vintage stores that smell like Grandma’s attic. Enter Blue Goose. This little vintage boutique, which opened at the end of last year in Monti (on Via del Boschetto, of course!), is fabulous, well-priced, and anything but musty.

While tiny, the store has a beautifully-edited collection of vintage women’s clothing, bags, shoes, and jewelry. And most of the items are designer labels. Looking for that classic Louis Vuitton purse? Maybe a Versace jacket? This is the place to come.

Continue Reading
1 2 3 5