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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.
in Cultural 1747 0



Fall in Italy is when food gets serious.

Both in terms of work load—it’s wine harvest time!—and in terms of flavors.

The richest produce that comes out of Italy, from olive oil to truffles to figs to the deep purple grapes that flavor schiacciata, makes its appearance in the fall.

So it’s little surprise that some of the most important food festivals on the Italian calendar fall at the same time.

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in Italy 1877 0

walking in barolo piedmont

Image © Italian Concierge

If you’ve seen the flyer for our upcoming Puglia and Basilicata tour in May 2014, you know that in addition to custom travel planning, the Italian Concierge also runs luxury walking tours.

With fall and la vendemmia (the harvest), nearly upon us, I’ve been reminiscing about visiting my favorite wineries in Italy.

One of the best ways to do that is to walk through Piedmont, stopping in castles for lunch, visiting the wine archives, and tasting the other rich bounties of Piedmont’s famous soil, like truffles.

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wine grapes
Image © Italian Concierge

After a meal in Italy, you may be offered the ubiquitous grappa or limoncello as a digestif. And if you eat Italian at in the U.S., you may find a dessert wine like Moscato on the menu. But like most things in Italy, the best treasures are local specialties.

I’m particularly fond of ending my meal with dessert wines called vini di meditazione, literally meditation wine, often called “a sweet wine for pensive moments.” Its the perfect way to contemplate the flavors of your meal, the meandering threads of long Italian post-dinner conversation, and your gorgeous surroundings.

Made for sipping slowly, these wines aren’t just sweet, they burst with aromas both strong and varied, due to their production from grapes that remain on the vine longer than most and a prolonged aging period.

One of the best things about these wines is that though they are typically saved for after the meal they pair with everything. Offer them with cheese instead of an aperitivo or prosecco. Or try them with spicy food, as they hold up excellently against strong spices and piquant flavors.

Since these wines can be extremely difficult to find in the U.S., they are definitely worth bringing home.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Passito from Pantelleria
    The Passito from Pantelleria, with a nearly 3000-year history dating back to an ancient grape from Carthage, is one of the most famous vini di meditazione. Intense aromas of apricot and peach along with a thick fig taste make it the perfect pairing for the local fruits in Sicily, where the wine is produced.

  • Schiaccetra from the Cinque Terre
    When you hike the sentieri (mountain trekking routes) in the Cinque Terre and spy row after row of grape vines precariously ordered along the steep clips, you understand why Schiaccetra is so precious. Like many Italian dessert wines (passiti), Schiaccetra is made from raisinated grapes. The Schiaccetra from Buranco in Monterosso was served when the G8 summit was held in Italy in 2011.

  • Malvasia from Lipari
    Malvasia is a versatile grape cultivated all around the Mediterranean and fermented on its own or with other grapes, sometimes into the Tuscan Vin Santo. But the variety from Lipari, a Aeolian Island off of Sicily, is one of the most distinct, with an eerie orange flavor and incredible richness due to the volcanic soil in which it is produced.

  • Sagrantino Passito from Montefalco, Umbria
    For decades, the deep, inky purple Sagrantino grape was only used to make this passito, but in recent years the dry Sagrantino has become one of the most sought after Italian red wines. Unlike other passiti, the Sagrantino passito is a dark wine, with a thick syrupy look like blueberry pancake syrup.

  • Ramandolo from Friuli Venezia Giulia
    This unusual vino di meditazione is not nearly as sweet as its counterparts and has a color that verges more towards copper than the usually golden hue. Made from the northern Verduzzo grape, Ramandolo is reminiscent of an Austrian dessert wine due to the northern clime in which it grows.


Read more about my favorite Italian souvenirs in this month’s Little Black Book:

 


in Italy 3233 0
relais po italian luxury hotel
Image © Italian Concierge

"Follow me."

Two simple words can lead to a fantastic adventure.

Maybe a restaurant recommendation leads to the best meal of your life. A stranger's pointing down the road brings you to small village that you dream of retiring to. Or even a suggestion of visiting a simple hidden courtyard provides much needed respite and rejuvenation on a hot day of too much sight-seeing.

It is a uniquely and wonderfully Italian trait to accompany you wherever you go. Even a shopkeeper you ask for directions to the train station will walk outside and down the corner to make sure that you see which street across the plaza you need to take.

This charming facet of Italian life is found all over, but more prevalent the warmer the weather gets. So this summer, ignore your mother's advice to never go with strangers, and let those simple words guide you to discovery.

Follow me for our favorite picks from around Italy in the July newsletter.

Here's what else you missed:

  • Tis the Season for . . . Estati!
    You'd think the l'estate (Italian for "summer") was festive enough already, but most Italian regional capitals take things even further with the official estates, an entire summer of outdoor concerts, films, performances, and festivals

  • Events this Month: FDA Lifts Imported Cured Meat Ban
    Culatello, coppa, salame fellino - a variety of previously unimportable meats are now ostensibly allowed into the U.S., but enforcement of the new regulations is very unclear.

  • Traveler Tip: Bringing Home Meat and Cheese
    Customs and Border Patrol has coined the phrase "when in doubt, keep it out," further scaring consumers from these items home from abroad. So how do you know what to bring?

  • Things We Love: Pecorino di Pienza
    Though always aged in oak barrels for at least 90 days, this sheeps milk pecorino from Pienza comes in many varieties. Read about my favorite.

  • July Recipe: Apricot Crostata
    Easy to store, cut, and finish in one go, crostatas combine one of the most important parts of an Italian meal - presentation - with one of Italians' favorite ways to end a meal: fruit!


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