Five Italian must-dos
Ahhh, bella Italia. The sun, the sky, the socialising. The pizza, and pasta and piazzas. Culture and history, or swimming and eating? The rolling hills of Tuscany or the coordinated chaos of Rome? With so much on offer, how can anyone decide. MELINDA EDWARDS helps us road-test the options and comes up with five quintessential Italian experiences.
CRADLED at the bottom of Europe, Italy offers a little something for everyone. From indulgent bowls of pasta catering to the travelling foodie through to the thrill seekers who just want to feel the power of the ‘prancing horse’ underneath their feet (that’s a Ferrari for those not in the know), Italy has it all.
With so much to see and do in one country, where do you start? After some difficult in-depth research, I’ve whittled the list down to five must-do Italian experiences:
Feed your inner foodie with Italy’s famous fare
You can’t go to Italy without making the most of what Italians do best: food. Follow your nose and chase the locals for the best quality fare to get your laughing gear around.
Rome in particular is a good place to start your foodie adventure. Try San Crispino for the freshest gelato; its humble but creamy flavours will keep you deliciously satisfied. Pizzeria Ai Marmi in the alluring district of Trastevere is best for wood-fired pizzas with simple toppings and a crust to die for. Though there is always a wait for a table, it’s popularity is a good sign this restaurant knows what they’re doing.
Drop in for an espresso at Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffe in the small piazza of the same name. Hold off on the extra sugar however, it’s sweet enough as it is. Next, head to Freni E Frizioni for aperitivo – a very Italian eating experience where your drink comes with a buffet of cold meats and pastas. Perfect for those on a backpacker budget!
Elsewhere around the country, tuck into a Florentine steak in Florence. Traditionally cooked blue, don’t even bother asking for anything past medium-rare or you might just be asked to leave the restaurant. Other highlights included ragu in Bologna where the famous bolognese sauce was born (although call it by that name and fear the wrath of the locals) and anchovies in the Cinque Terre. Try anchovy and raisin pasta at A Pie’ de Ma’ in Riomaggiore for an unusual twist on the typical pasta dishes you’ll find elsewhere in Italy.
Fanging it in a Fiat
There is no doubt that the Tuscan countryside is a rich treat for the eyes. There are rolling hills, wheat fields, olive groves and vineyards as far as you can see. But if you really want to experience the soul of Tuscany, and Italy for that matter, you can’t go past the Fiat 500 Touring Club.
Grab your bestie or significant other (because you’re about to get up close and personal) and squeeze into the pride of Italy in the 60’s – the Fiat. Taking one of these classics on a pleasant drive through private vineyards and quiet lanes in the Florence hills makes for a spectacular couple of hours.
Not only that, it will also allow you to get off the beaten tourist track. We found a private 12th century cellar in which to indulge in a lunchtime wine and olive oil tasting and sample local produce including bruschetta, cold meats, freshly baked bread and cheeses. This little bit of Italian heaven is a must-do for foodies and car enthusiasts alike. The only problem is, you’ll leave wanting to pocket an oh-so-cute Fiat for yourself.
Legging it in Liguria
Nowhere in the world is quite as unique as the Cinque Terre, the five cliff-top villages that hug the coastline of the Liguria region of Italy. Houses seem to cling to the rocky cliffs and each town’s colourful main pedestrian street leads to the lifeblood of the community: the ocean.
Try to stay in one of the villages itself rather than La Spezia, the eastern gateway to the Cinque Terre towns. Dedicate a full day to hiking between the towns, stopping off for refreshing ocean swims whenever you please. While there, make sure you grab the hand of your loved-one and lead them along Via dell’Amore (lovers lane). Here you can lock your love to the fence that fringes the 1km pathway connecting the towns of Riomaggiore and Manarola.
Pay it forward by perfecting your pasta
Take a little taste of Italy home with you by learning to make pasta – the skill that keeps on giving. There are cooking experiences on offer to hone your abilities throughout the country, but we couldn’t go past the chefs at inTavola in Florence.
The best thing about learning to knead and roll the perfect string of spaghetti under the fun instruction of the chefs is the opportunity to gorge yourself on the finished products. Plus, you’re sent away with recipes to take home with you. All you need is a pasta roller and you’re all set to impress your mates back home with your newly acquired talents.
Reward your inner rev-head
And lastly, for the Formula One fanatic in you, don’t travel past Maranello, near Bologna – the birthplace of Ferrari. Save up your pennies however, as this experience is expensive but well worth it to hear the roar of the 480 horse power V8 F430 Spider for 20 minutes at least.
Finish it off with a visit to the two museums dedicated to all things Ferrari. Museo Casa offers a fascinating insight into how Enzo Ferrari, the Italian motor racing driver, grew his company from very modest beginnings in his garage to the multi-million dollar enterprise it is today. And if that’s not enough, head to Museo Ferrari to get a close-up look at Ferraris – past and present. But please, no drooling on the cars!