When visiting another country, it’s common to hit the “high points.” Tourists flock to celebrated museums, historical landmarks, breathtaking scenery and sites particular to the region. These tourist activities are absolutely called for, but a visit to a far off land is much richer when you live like a local for your time there.
Italy is the ideal destination for those who want to immerse themselves in local culture. Sample iconic regional foods. Learn to make traditional foods from home chefs. And, by all means, stay in a family farmhouse.
Here are 7 must have experiences in Italy to make your visit unforgettable.
There’s an iconic scene in the movie Eat, Pray, Love when Julia Roberts determinedly walks into a crowded pizzeria in Naples and orders a whole Margherita pizza. She sits at a table filled with other diners, and begins to deliriously devour that delicious pie, slice by slice.
Americans do have a love affair with their pizza, but no pizza in the states (Sorry NYC!) can come close to real Italian pizza. The iconic pie was born in Italy-Naples to be precise. So be like Julia’s character and enjoy your pizza-by slice or the whole pie-in the birthplace of this perfect food.
Italy is home to some of the oldest wine producing regions in the world and Italian vino is produced in every region throughout The Boot. Obviously you will want to sample some of the product for yourself.
The best way to savor both the wine and the craft of winemaking is by visiting the small, family-owned, wineries. Many of the smaller wineries have been family owned for centuries and wines are produced following strict guidelines, some of which date back to the 2nd century, when Italians took over wine production in their country.
Cook With a Local
“Farm-to-Table” is not a new concept to the Italians. There really is no other way to cook for family and friends than with the freshest, and most readily available ingredients.
Learn to cook like a local, making traditional dishes using superb ingredients. These intimate classes are typically in the home of a local gifted cook and the meal enjoyed family style. You’ll learn techniques and recipes that have been passed down through generations. Learn to prepare Italian fare and return home to impress your own friends and family with your skills.
Sample Local Olive Oil
Experience every single step of olive oil production when you visit a local olive farm. Witness the centuries old craft of turning this ancient fruit into liquid gold. Finally, taste the product for yourself and see why this flavorful and fruity oil is a local treasure. You can even bring home a bottle or two.
Fresh pasta is an entirely different mouth feel than pasta secca, or dried pasta. And fresh pasta in Italy is a must. The Italian staple, from filled tortellini and ravioli, to the toothsome gnocchi and even simple spaghetti, has flavor and texture. Each pasta serves as a unique accompaniment to the sauce, whether the simple olive oil and garlic, the rich and robust Ragu Bolognese, or in a bowl of light brodo, or broth. Fresh pasta is a delicious delight.
Italian gelato is not ice cream. While both share some ingredients, milk, cream and sugar, ice cream contains egg yolks. Gelato has less cream and more milk as cream tends to overpower the flavor. and flavoring is accomplished using the freshest of ingredients such as basil, lavender, lemon, and vanilla bean. Gelato is churned at a much slower pace, accounting for the dense, silken consistency of this Italian treat. And finally, gelato is served at a lower temperature than ice cream. This is to help avoid numbing those mighty taste buds.
Leave it to the Italians to think of every aspect that makes gelato so enjoyable. It’s no happy accident. You’ll never forgive yourself if you leave Italy without sampling the national treat. And there’s a Gelateria everywhere you turn, so no excuses!
Agriturismo, Per Favore
One of the best kept secrets in Italy, at least as far as accommodations go, is the Agriturismo. The literal translation is “farm stay” and these typically working farms, or country houses, offer their guests a connection to the charm of life in Italy in a way no grand hotel can. By staying with those who live in the area you have a leg up on hotel-dwellers. Your hosts are often very familiar with the region and will happily advise you, whatever your need.