Posts Tagged ‘Italy travel’

What’s in a Name? Your Guide to Italian Restaurant Types

Friday, April 11th, 2014

When you think of different types of dining establishments, most fall into one of two categories-sit down or take out, fine dining or casual, restaurants in cafes.

But in Italy, they seem to have a dizzying number of names for places that, ostensibly, all seem like sit down restaurants: trattoria, ristorante, osteria, enoteca, and the list goes on.

When you’re out in Italy, how do you know what you’re getting? There are basically five grades of sit-down restaurant, two types of wine bars, and two main types of take-out place.

Sit-Down Restaurants:

  • Ristorante – This is the top grade of Italian dining establishments, with conscientious service, fine dining plating and dishes, and often a well-known chef.
  • Trattoria – Trattorias are wonderful casual places to eat, whether for a pre-set lunch menu or a dinner out. They focus on typical Italian fare, without the fusion flare you may see in ristorantes.
  • Osteria – Osterias are much like trattorias, but a bit more casual with a focus on regional specialties.
  • Tavola Calda – In a tavola calda, there is typically no table service. You choose your food from a cafeteria style serving set up. These are primarily in Florence.
  • Pizzeria – In Italy, pizzarias are sit-down restaurants that predominantly serve pizza with wine, a variety of salads, and a few pasta selections.

Wine bars:

  • Enoteca – For a more formal wine tasting experience in line with American wine bars, head to an enoteca. Today, many are high-design and high-tech, though the food options are typically limited.
  • Taverna – Tavernas are more old-fashioned, like an Italian version of a British pub, with wine instead of beer. Food is very traditional, simple fare.


  • Pizza a taglio – For a slice of pizza on the run, look for a pizza a taglio (literally: by the slice). There may be limited seating, but squares of pizza, calzones, and occasionally some desserts are packaged up to take away.
  • Rosticceria – Unlike pizza a taglio places, which expect people to be eating their food on the go, rosticcerias typically serve hot food, primarily meat and roast vegetable dishes, to take and eat at home. If you’re looking for an entire chicken, this is the place.

See My Talk at the NYTimes Travel Show! (on video)

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

As you may have seen recently via email, I was fortunate to be selected to speak on a panel at the New York Times Travel Show earlier this month with several other Italian travel specialist:

  • Kathy McCabe from the Dream of Italy magazine
  • Steve Perillo of Perillo Tours
  • Dominic Siano of Tour Italy now

In “How to Plan a Luxurious (But Affordable) Italian Vacation,” Susan Van Allen, a friend and author of “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go” and “Letters from Italy,” moderated a panel of experts to help travelers enjoy Italian luxury without breaking the bank.

To be completely honest, I was very nervous beforehand. Though I’ve been leading tours for decades, that’s different than sitting, facing a group of people you don’t know at all, and hoping they’re interested in what you’re saying!

I ended up being very surprised though, because the other panelists didn’t have a lot to say and ended up taking notes on what I was saying (!). In particular, I talked about the kind of experiences that a travel specialist can arrange for you through the people they know in Italy that can really add a sense of luxury to your experience even without an over-the-top price tag.

Watch my whole talk on YouTube here or the embedded video above.

Shopping in Italy: What You Need to Know

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Whether you plan it into your budget or not. Whether you bring a big enough suitcase or not. Whether you set aside time in your itinerary or not.

Shopping in Italy is kind of inevitable.

You may end up with a suitcase full of gourmet goodies or wine bottles (here’s how to pack them), housewares or high fashion. But first you have to navigate the cultural nuances of shopping in Italy.

Opening and Closing Times

Shops open on the later side, often around 10 am. Most non-chain shops, boutiques and handicraft shops close for an extended lunch from 12:30 or 1pm to 3 or 4 pm. In small towns, absolutely everything will close.

In major city centers, most things stay upon through the lunch break. Stores, even in smaller towns, are open later to compensate, usually till around 7:30 or 8 pm.

Trying Things On

When you arrive, you must say hello (buongiorno during the day and buona sera in the afternoon) to start a respectful relationship with the shop keeper. Otherwise they will find you very rude.

You, on the other hand, might find it rude when salespeople come into your dressing room while you’re trying things on to help you squeeze into a tight pair of jeans. Salespeople in Italy are very hands on, but it is just because they are passionate about helping you find something you like.

Buying and Exchanging

Commas replace a periods on price tags, and tax is already included. You can’t pay anything that is less than EU10 or 20 Euros with a credit card. Always bring cash with you for the smaller purchases.

Credit cards are not widely accepted, but bring your passport or another photo ID if you plan to make a large purchase with your credit card. Many stores will send you away if you are not able to provide photo ID with your credit card.

Be very confident before you purchase anything, because store exchanges essentially don’t exist.

$600 Fares to Italy Continue Through the Spring!

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Thanks to the pressure new entrant Emirates is putting on the U.S.-Italy flight market, more and more options for exceptional deals on flights to Italy keep popping up.

While we’ve focused a lot of attention on the new flights into Milan, particularly the flight sale Emirates recently ran (read more about it here), some new low fares have begun to appear for flights into Rome as well:

Rome flight alert

Great Milan Fares Continue This Spring

Even though Emirates initially announced that their $600 flights to Milan were only available through October 31st, I’m still seeing comparable rates on flights from New York to Milan in the early spring on Emirates:


And United and Delta are still matching the $600 rate:



But what is even more exciting than the other domestic airlines trying to jump in and challenge Emirates is the reaction of the European airlines.

To hold onto this key market, Lufthansa has also reduced its fares for the spring below Emirates’ offerings:


Do You Prefer First Class?

We’ve been primarily talking about economy fares so far, but I can’t help but point out this great fare for those who prefer business class:

alitalia 1st class

On my recent trip to Italy, I flew United, and got a great last-minute upgrade offer at the airport. Truly, when you need to take the red-eye, as most of us do to get to Europe, the effect of lie-flat seats and upper-class service cannot be underestimated

There’s still time to join our group departures to Capri and Amalfi and Puglia and Basilicata this spring, so take a peek at these flight deals before they’re gone.

Italian Travel Apps for Every Situation

Friday, September 20th, 2013

I’m getting ready to head to Italy twice next month, first to the Buy Veneto show and then for two weeks of research in Piedmont, Tuscany, and Rome.

Though I’m familiar with Katie Parla’s stunning Rome app (photo above), I’ve never had a chance to look into the increasingly wide world of  travel apps. But the landscape has changed significantly from the early Italian travel apps, which were little more than shrunken guidebooks.

Today your phone can ask questions for you in Italian or provide a whole set of situation specific vocabulary all while offline. You can find out if the train is on time and translate menus just by snapping a picture with your phone.

Some of these apps are iPhone only, but many are available for a variety of operating systems, including Android and Windows mobile.

Apps that Help You Navigate Italy

  • Word Lens – snap a picture of an Italian word on a sign, menu, or reservation and the app translates it
  • Rail Europe – browse schedules, buy train tickets, and find information on luggage storage and other train station services
  • Pronto Treno – connecting to the Italian national rail network, this app allows you to check whether your train is on time and whether there’s an upcoming strike scheduled
  • Italo Treno – with information on the newest high speed train system that links major cities in Italy

Italian Language Apps

  • The Lonely Planet Phrasebook – type in a phrase in English and the app translates and speaks the phrase for you in Italian
  • Talking Italian Phrasebook – sponsored by the Fiat 500, this app allows you to search by category to find the vocab for the situation you need, whether shopping, checking into your hotel, or getting directions
  • WorldNomads Italian-English Translator – prepared phrases available offline that allow you to practice your budding Italian in any travel situation

City/Region Specific Apps

  • Tuscany for Foodies – recommended by SlowItaly, this app catalogs the culinary artisans of Tuscany that keep ancient traditions alive and the restaurants that serve their food
  • Rick Steves’ Ancient Rome Tour – an interactive guide with audio and video to help create your own walking tour of Rome’s ancient sites
  • Katie Parla’s Rome – an elegant, well-styled compendium of impeccably curated picks for eating, shopping, and exploring Rome
  • Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome - highlighting all the good stuff in Italy. Elizabeth has apps for Rome, Florence and Venice, plus her instagram sends are a glimpse of what we are missing daily

Italian Food Apps

  • Foodies by Gambero Rosso – from the publisher of the Italian equivalent of the French Michelin guide, Gambero Rosso’s comprehensive listing of the best eateries—from pizzarias to gourmet temples—includes GoogleMaps directions and itineraries
  • Italian Menu Decoder – a food-focused dictionary that includes nearly every ingredient, dish, and food festival you’ll come across in Italy, no matter where in the country you are
  • Olive Oil IQ – a guide to the differences between olive oil varieties and uses in different parts of Italy, as well as background on olive oil history and production

Summer in Italy: 5 Ways to Enjoy It

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

summer in italy
Image © Italian Concierge

As days and nights heat up, much of Italy becomes almost unbearably hot and humid.

To stay comfortable, Italians live life al fresco (in the open air). Parties, cooking and eating meals, dance clubs—every type of leisure activity moves outside till things cool down.

Here are five ways to get in on the outdoor fun this summer in Italy:


summer in italy festivals
Image © Italian Concierge

Italians love to take time off and relax in the summer, and there are hundreds if not thousands of festivals all over the country catering to just that desire.

Summer music festivals, from the 100-year-old summer opera festival in Verona’s Roman amphitheater to the month of classical concerts that makes up Florence’s Maggio Musicale and from the world-renowned Umbria Jazz Festival to the summer concert series in Ravello and Taormina, fill the warm summer nights with siren’s songs.

The Greek Theatre in Siracusa, Sicily, features classic theater productions in the warmer months, while Taormina hosts a renowned film festival. To me, one of the real highlights of the summer festival season is Andrea Bocelli’s annual July concert in the outdoor theatre he created in Lajatico near the sea in western Tuscany.


summer in italy hiking
Image © Italian Concierge

Hiking and country walking are some of my personal favorite ways to experience Italy. I’ve covered more than 2,000 miles of the book during my time leading walking tours, both for Italian Concierge and previously for Wilderness Travel, Country Walkers,  Smithsonian Journeys and Smithsonian Study Tours.

Summer is one of the perfect times to see the north of Italy on foot. While the rest of the country swelters, the weather in the Alps and Dolomites is almost as stunning as the mountain meadows.


summer in italy aperitivo
Image © Italian Concierge

It’s a simple concept, much like happy hour: stopping in a local bar for a pre-dinner drink accompanied by some nibbles. But like so many other things, Italians elevate it to an art form.

After you order your aperitivo—usually a fun, colorful drink like an Aperol spritz  (aperol and prosecco) or sparkling wine such as plain old prosecco—the bar is your oyster. A full spread of mini panini, pizze , sliced meats and cheeses, focaccias and more awaits at most aperitivos.

And in the summer, restaurants and bars double or triple in size as they take their seating into surrounding sidewalks or parks.


summer in italy grapes
Image © Italian Concierge

Sagras aren’t something you’ll find announced in glossy travel magazines. They’re decidedly and deliciously local affairs often to celebrate a particular regional plate, or food item.

Whether it’s DOC (designation of controlled origin) or simply a special local recipe, every town from petit cities like Florence to tiny country hamlets in the mountains of Calabria has a food worth celebrating. Porcini, castagne (chestnuts), tortellini, or cinghiale (wild boar) all are cause to celebrate.

Sagras may revolve around freshly-cooked, family-style meals, but there’s also music – if not a live band – and plenty of wine, which means dancing is the only way to end the night.


summer in italy palio
Image © Italian Concierge

Every summer, cities, towns, and small mountain villages around Italy maintain the medieval tradition of the palio, an event named not for a specific type of race or parade, but the prize they all have in common, typically a simple  banner.

Though the most famous palio, the Palio of Siena, revolves around a horse race, Italian palios take many forms: foot races, donkey races, boat races, archery matches, and more.

In addition to the main competition, each palio includes parades, music, flag throwing, and neighborhood celebrations.


In our July newsletter, we’ll be covering one more way to enjoy the outdoors in Italy this summer: the estati (summers). Major cities throughout the country organize an entire summer of outdoor events from concerts to theatrical performances to interactive art events.

Sign up below to get the newsletter by email:


This June in Joyce’s Little Black Book

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

relais po italian luxury hotel

Image © Italian Concierge

As I travel through Italy this month, I’m reminded of the importance of little “accessories” that add an extra special ricordo (memory) to your Italian experience.

Italians are so warm and helpful, and often you can’t leave their company without receiving a little something to remember them by. It may be a little grappa after dinner, in the case of a restaurant. Or a piatti di buon ricordo (ceramic souvenir plate) when visiting a pottery workshop. Or even a well-used horn tool used to test the quality of the culatello you admired at the salumeria.

When you encounter such a giving people, it is impossible not to leave with positive experiences, but these little mementos are some of my favorite things to bring home from Italy.

In the second part of my trip report on my current travels, I share some of my latest special ricordi. You can also read more about one of my other favorite things to bring home (wine!) in the new “Wines to Bring Home” section.

Here’s what else you missed:

  • Tis the Season for . . . Gelato
    We explore the origins of gelato and our favorite places to sample Italy’s favorite sweet. And don’t miss our blog post on the etiquette and vocab for ordering gelato in Italy.
  • Events this Month: Emirates Begins Flights to Milan
    Challenging the current domestic offerings, Emirates has a new luxury flight experience available to start your journey to Italy off in style.
  • Traveler Tip: Bringing Wine Home from Italy
    You don’t need to “smuggle” you favorite Italian sips home, but you do need to pack them carefully. We show you how.
  • Things We Love: La Scuderia del Duca Paper
    On the Amalfi coast, they still produce handmade paper the same way Saracen invaders taught them nearly 1000 years ago.
  • May Recipe: Dark Chocolate Gelato
    Hungry yet? If you’re itching to try authentic gelato at home after our sweet focus this month, try this recipe for ultra dark chocolate gelato from Venice’s famed Hotel Cipriani.

If you’d like to start receiving the newsletter, sign up below!

This May in Joyce’s Little Black Book: Hello from Italy!

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

olive tree in puglia
Image © Italian Concierge

This month I’m back in Italy, exploring Puglia!

Our trip began with three nights in Matera, Basilicata, city of the “Sassi” where we stayed in slightly modernized caves. Departing from Basilicata, we headed south to Manduria, known for the production of Primitivo wine, a distant relative of Zinfandel.

We also walked past hundreds and hundreds of ancient olive trees which are found throughout Puglia (pictured above) and drove all the way to the tip of Italy, Santa Maria di Leuca, to see where the Ionian and Adriatic seas meet.

In this month’s newsletter, I recap the highlights of our time in Puglia with a slideshow, while also exploring the second part of the Via Appia – from Naples to Brindisi – which highlights the Pugilan coast.

Here’s what else you missed:

  • Events this Month: Infiorata di Noto
    For the spring feast of Corpus Christi, some Italian cities arrange flower petals on the streets into elaborate caricatures of famous people or works of art. My favorite is in Sicily in Noto.
  • Traveler Tip: Renting a Car in Italy?
    I often recommend driving interaries here in the newsletter, but is it really worth it to rent a car in Italy? Here’s what you need to know.
  • Things We Love: Santa Maria Novella
    They invented the celebrity perfume. Back in the Renaissance. But no historic farmacia is more relevant and revered today that Florence’s famed Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella.

If you’d like to start receiving the newsletter, sign up below!

Dining like an Italian- Mangia

Friday, July 1st, 2011


If you want to dine the Italian way, then, M A N G I A.

You will be expected to order an antipasto, primo, secondo with contorno, then dolce, maybe un vino di meditazione ( dessert wine), and finally café`.  Ordering all of these plates is not obligatory even if the waiter makes you feel it is.  He is doing his job, selling food. Do not feel pressured to order it all.  You may select only a few plates. Traditional ordering could take hours.  If your dining companion wants courses 2 & 4 and you want courses 1 & 3 you could be waiting all evening.

If you want to save some time (alla Americana) then you may instruct the waiter to bring you the plates at the same time. “ Ci porta tutti i piatti insieme allo stesso tempo per favore.  Please bring us all the plates at the same time. Not very Italian but will expedite your meal.  And whatever you do, don’t cut the long pasta with a fork! Twirl baby, Twirl.Just wear black to dinner that night.

Antipasto                Appetizer

Primo                      Pasta, soup or risotto

Secondo                 Meat or fish

(And just meat or fish)

Contorno               Vegetables are side plates, salads, spinach etc

Dolce                      Desserts

Vino di meditazione  – Dessert wine

Cafe                         Coffee (never brought WITH the dessert)


Do not touch the fruit with your hands …ever.

The shop keeper will pick the fruit and put it in a bag for you. When purchasing fruits and vegetables, note the location of where the product was grown. In most cases the products are grown within Italy. To touch the fruits and vegetables in Italy you need to wear plastic gloves.


COLAZIONE: Breakfast Breakfast is almost always included at your hotel.  The nicer the hotel typically the better breakfast.  Eggs are not served for breakfast in Italy, but are normally served at home for an evening meal as a Frittata. You will see eggs on the breakfast menu, beginning at the 3-4 star hotel level.

WATER- Can you drink it.? You CAN drink the water, however no one does.

Italy is blessed with a wealth of fresh water springs throughout the country.  Whether at home or dining out, Italians order and drink bottled water.  You may even see them at the local spring filling up their empty bottles.  So, Order the bottled water.

Vocabulary:  Frizzante or Gassata or naturale or Liscia ( smooth)

ICE CREAM; Artigenale which means hand crafted is the word to look for when selecting an ice cream shop.  Avoid the shops with the mounds of gelato.


An Italian bar will serve both coffee and alcohol all day long.  Italian may go to a bar for breakfast, and typically have their colazione standing up (it is cheaper that way).    There is a ritual/ process to paying for and to obtain your café.   The price is different if you stand at the bar (less expensive) than if you sit down at a table. (More expensive).

Ordering Procedure for the “BAR” Go to the cassa, (cash register) first and pay for whatever you are having.  Get the scontrino (receipt), and take it to the barman. Now wave the receipt in front of the barman then he will notice you, and then order your café `and paste or cornetto, brioche (literally means dough or pastry). In a perfect world, he should tear the receipt and give it back to you.  By law, the consumer must hold onto the receipt for 50 feet from the store, in case the Guardia di Financia (that is mobile IRS in gray and yellow cars and uniforms) stop you.   They can legally fine you, because you did not keep the receipt.  They can also fine the establishment because it is now obvious that they intended to keep the cash and not pay the tax.

Scrontino Receipt

Sprumuta di Aranca- Fresh squeezed oj

And if you like what you’ve been reading, like us on Conde Nast Traveler’s Travel Specialists List, where I’ve appeared for the last four years straight.

Italian Language-Learn some before you go

Friday, July 1st, 2011


Why it is that traveling Americans are always so dreadful.” Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis


We cannot dispute the fact that America is known as a force in the world, both economically and for our military. We are loved and despised for our social freedoms, admired for the opportunity given to each and every citizen to have a chance to pursue his/her dream. It is no wonder why so many foreigners want to come and live here. Look at our borders. Daily people risk their life to get here. That position was one I had heard time and again from my well traveled parents in the 50’s and 60’s. And is still applicable today for some cultures. But is it applicable to Italians? Do other Italians still envy the USA so much that they all want to become American? There has been a change in attitude over the past thirty years with regard to our culture. The whole world no longer envies us as they once did. As a conscientious traveler, we must ask ourselves what brought on the change? One reason is that Italy has changed. The quality of life has improved dramatically in western European countries since WWII. Life is much better now for Western Europeans and therefore many are less likely to want to leave.

VIGNETTE: I was sitting in the piazza in Portofino with another Italian guide waiting for our group to gather. Many, many groups entered the piazza in Portofino during a day. “See that group?” I was asked by my colleague, “yes.” “They are American.” “How can you tell?” “Well, all the other groups come to the piazza and view it from the side, but this group came into the very middle of the piazza and claimed the entire center, as if they intended to conquer it.”. Do they still love us? Yes, they do. Do they want to move to the USA? No, they don’t.


They do not like to work and have a lot of holidays. Great food and bad government. They drink a lot of wine They seem to have a lot of strikes. They live with their mothers. They adore the Madonna. They dress well and pose. They are all in the mafia.

HOW TO RELATE TO PEOPLE-Italian Style In a fast moving world, I believe we have forgotten how to communicate with real people. We email, phone and Skype. It is no longer necessary to look people in the eyes when conducting our daily transactions. Italian Style- is all about how you treat people. It is about maintaining the human element throughout our daily lives. Courtesy. Look directly in the eye, and acknowledge whomever you are speaking with. Take your time and begin with small talk first. The actual reason for your visit is secondary and comes after the social graces have been satisfied. Remember: People first, then business.

VIGNETTE: I had an encounter with an Italian shop keeper. Her comment, “I see you speak some Italian, may I ask why is it that Americans never look us in the eye or acknowledge us when they enter our store? We feel badly that they do not acknowledge us. Is it because you have grande magazzini (big warehouses) and you do not need to speak with anyone? Or is it because you think you are better than everyone else?” When visiting an artisan or food producer, be mindful when you schedule the appointment, to allow enough time. As Americans we are known as “Sempre in Fretta” Always in a hurry. The visit will take as long as it takes. More often than not, the host will offer you something to eat or drink or perhaps even a small gift as a positive memory “Ricordo” of the experience. This happens all over Italy. Try to not rush off.

GREETINGS: Learn a little Italian; it will go a long way. This is not a language book. But you cannot expect to travel around Italy using only English. Americans all to often begin encounters in English. You need a few basic words of Italian to make your experience more rewarding. We want to be better travelers. We want to be respectful and savvy about the country we are going to. Then give it a go, and try to speak the language!

Italian Alphabet: 21 letters No J, K, X, Y, W

Lesson # one. Our culture has lost all formality in our use of English. We say “ Hi, how ya doin’? To everybody without ever stopping to listen to the answer. Romance languages are more formal and will address different people within the society respectfully based on the intimacy or lack thereof in the relationship. Your greeting sets the tone of the interaction.

Don’t use “ciao” unless you know the person well. We all know the word and may even use it in the USA. “Ciao” is a very informal greeting meaning hello or goodbye. It is used when greeting people you know well; family, peers, or to greet small children and dogs. Remember: It is okay to kiss, (both cheeks) men and women.

Please learn and use at least two of the following:

Buon Giorno- Good Day

Buona Sera- Good Afternoon (begins around 16:00 ish)

Buona Notte- Good Night (final salutation when going to bed)

ArriverderLa. – Good bye to you (Formal) Arriverderci. – Good bye to you (Plural/informal)

Buona Giornata- Have a good day! Salve`- Health (Old trail greeting-informal)


Scusi- Excuse Me

Prego You are welcome

Mi dispiace- I am sorry

Lei Parla inglese?- Do you speak English?

Non parlo l’Italiano I do not speak Italian.

Grazie Hear me… Three syllables Grah-ts’-yeh NOT Gra-z!!!

And if you like what you’ve been reading, like us on Conde Nast Traveler’s Travel Specialists List, where I’ve appeared for the last four years straight.