site stats
50+ Secret Things to Do in Italy |

50+ Secret Things to Do in Italy

For our Italy issue, we asked the most knowledgeable people we could think of about their favorite places all over the country: where they found the best cacio e pepe, spent quiet afternoons in 14th-century hamlets, and bought beautifully tailored shirts. The conversations—held on the phone and in person, over email and WhatsApp, in English, Italian, or some jumbled combination of the two—turned into one massive, sprawling Google doc of information. Some of these nuggets became full-length features in this month’s magazine; the rest are here, below, now yours for the scrolling (or printing, and highlighting, and stashing away for your next adventure).

The Restaurants We Love (and What to Order)

“At Da Felice in Rome, get the puntarelle in salsa di alici, the tonnarelli cacio e pepe, the abbacchio al forno and the carciofi alla romana. At Trattoria Sostanza in Florence, the tortino di carciofi, the tortellini in brodo, the lombatina di vitello and the fagioli all’olio. And at Corte Sconta in Venice, it’s all about the alici e melanzane marinate, the tagliolini al granchio di ragno and the seppie con polenta e piselli.—Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group


“In Florence, I love to go to Trattoria Sostanza for their classic, old-school atmosphere and the butter chicken—a double chicken breast in a browned crust that comes in a sizzling pan of butter. No one else in Florence does anything like it, but they’ve been famous for it for the better part of a century. It’s perfect with a couple of simple, Tuscan sides like slowly stewed cannellini beans with olive oil and a salad of bitter greens. For dessert, get the wild strawberries—you can have them plain, or sprinkled with sugar or lemon juice, but I like it when they’re splashed in sugar and red wine. If I’ve got someone willing to share it with me, I give in to the meringue cake with whipped cream and wild strawberries. Sostanza is small so reservations are a must and bring cash (they don’t do cards).” —Emiko Davies, author of Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence

“At the Umbrian restaurant Il Caldaro, an off-the-beaten-path restaurant in an old farmhouse in in La Bruna, a town just north of Perugia, everything is delicious—but the pizza is the simplest and the best. The dough is prepared daily by the in-house pizza chef and the toppings are sourced from the farm just outside. It is not a ‘fast food’ dish but a very creative part of their menu.” —Benedickt Bolza, founder of the Castello di Reschio estate in Tuscany

“Our favorite food memory would have to be at Trattoria Cammillo (sometimes referred to as ‘Da Cammillo’) in Florence. Their cervello di vitello (calf’s brains) are simply breaded and fried, and served with lemon. Offal might be off-putting to some people (especially Americans) but in Europe they just eat it because it tastes good! It’s light and crispy on the outside and incredibly creamy on the inside, comparable to the texture of smooth custard. The dish is very simple, but Scott and I both agree that it’s one of the best things we’ve ever eaten anywhere.” —Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli, executive chefs of Don Angie in New York

“In Rome, over the bridge—well, actually on the bridge—to the little Isola Tiberina, the small island in the middle of the Tiber River, stands the delicious family-run restaurant, Sora Lella. I’ve had so many wonderful and authentic Roman lunches and dinners there, with a deep wine collection to choose something delightful to accompany my delicious Roman-style veal tripe in a light tomato sauce scented with mint and pecorino cheese. I can’t wait to go back and experience the warm greeting of Poppa, the owner, and his sons and daughter, who make the whole experience feel as though you’re visiting family.” —Michael Lomonaco, chef and owner of Porter House in New York

“My two picks are both from Sardinia: the triangular black ravioli with seafood filling, fresh sage, and a dash of bottarga at Ristorante Su Barchile, in Orosei, and the snow white fresh cheese Fruhe or Casu Axedu served as a starter at Agriturismo Testone in the island’s Nuoro mountains.” —Claus Meyer, co-founder of Noma in Copenhagen

The wild strawberries at Trattoria Sostanza in Florence

La mugnaia at La Bilancia in Abruzzo is one of the most memorable dishes from my travels. It is a simple, hearty, thick hand-rolled spaghetti, made with just flour and water, a simple olive oil sauce and red pepper. It is served with a small scissors and a chile and you’re meant to cut the chili by hand over your pasta.” —Joe Campanale, owner of Fausto in Brooklyn

“I love Taverna la Cialoma, on the southeast coast near Pachino in the small fishing town of Marzamemi. All of the seafood is freshly caught from the Mediterranean. The shrimp and langoustine crudo were the highlights. My son ate his first fried anchovy there while we all convulsed over the incredibly fresh seafood served in its most natural state, raw with lovely local olive oil and sea salt. Simply heaven.” —Donna Lennard, owner of Il Buco and Il Buco Alimentari in New York

“Senigallia, a coastal town in Le Marche, is well known by Italian gastronomes but flies well under the radar of most visitors. There are two super famous fine dining spots there, Uliassi and Madonnina del Pescatore, as well as super cute natural wine bars and a number of fish restaurants like Il Clandestino in a range of fanciness. Pretty much every cook in town has worked at either Uliassi or Madonnina del Pescatore, so even the simplest food in the most unassuming venue has elegance. The town is quaint, the fish is so good, and it makes for a nice weekend trip. And Norcino Vito Bernabei in Marino, a half-hour train ride from Rome, has the world’s best porchetta, no exaggeration.” —Katie Parla, author of Walking Rome and Where to Eat Pizza

“There’s a restaurant in western Sicily called Ardigna that I’m crazy about (Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, the owners of Frankies Spuntino in New York turned me onto it years ago). It’s so damn good and wonderfully rustic and set on a hilltop surrounded by farmland and wandering sheep. It’s about an hour from Marsala or Palermo by a long and winding road. Ardigna’s housemade amaro was among the best I’ve ever tasted (not to mention their honey, their ricotta, their salumi, the bread and pastry, the olives from just outside).” —Peter Jon Lindberg, writer and travel consultant

“Gina is my favorite place in Rome. Sometimes during my lunch break, I give myself a special cacio e pepe moment there—it’s cozy, they have friendly service and it’s the best cacio e pepe in the city. If you want to find the best tiramisù in Rome, I always recommend Pasticcio in Lungotevere Portuense, a panoramic restaurant where I go to enjoy the sunset while having my favorite Italian cake.” —Stella Jean, designer

“One of my favorite secret places to eat is Sixieme Bistro, which just opened inside my friend Fanny Grung’s super chic new design spot, Six Gallery. She and her boyfriend David designed the restaurant—a cozy place with a small menu but all made with love. Then I’ll go over and hang with Fanny in the design gallery, which is another one of my all-time favorite places. The jungle plants alone are enough to make me want to stay forever and that’s before you’ve seen the gorgeous furniture!” —J.J. Martin, writer and founder of La DoubleJ

“One of my favorite things to do in Tuscany is explore the country from north to south, on and off road on my motorcycle. For a bite to eat, I like to stop at Il Quartino (the name means “a third of a bottle of wine”) in the small town of Pelago, a little over half a mile from our Castello di Nipozzano estate. The food may only be rivaled by the view, overlooking a beautiful valley with vineyards and forests. ​The summer​ is astonishing​; pink sunsets, to be enjoyed from the restaurant’s open veranda. Yo​​u can eat local product and dishes, from salumi and cheese to seasonal vegetables.” —Lamberto Frescobaldi, 30th-generation winemaker and president of Frescobaldi Wines

Taverna la Cialoma, in the small Sicilian fishing town of Marzamemi.

The Best Shopping

“Every May, Artigianato e Palazzo is the chicest craft fair highlighting all the best and most traditional old world craftsmanship in Florence. It’s hosted and curated by the Corsini family in the gardens of the incredible Palazzo Corsini.” —Amanda Brooks, Traveler contributor

“The mercato d’antiquariato di Casale Monferrato in Piedmont is the best antique market in the north of Italy. I’ve found many treasures there, including several exceptionally beautiful sets of embroidered bedsheets. In Milan, Pupi Solari is a small children’s boutique that has been dressing the city’s luckiest kids for generations in impeccable Milanese style, and Merù Gioielli is a jeweler who makes small enameled medallions with the most varied subjects.” —Margherita Missoni, designer

“In a hidden garden in the heart of Milano is my favorite niche jewelry shop, Rosantica. They have the most interesting bijoux in town.” —Stella Jean

“Right in the same square as my favorite produce market in Florence, Sant’Ambrogio Market, there are a couple of places I love to browse for homewares. Il Cuore delle Cose has a small but lovely selection of plates, glasses, and cutlery with a tendency toward country chic in neutrals and pastels. Lisa Corti, next to Caffe Cibreo on the eastern end of the market square, has beautiful cotton linens handprinted using Indian block-printing methods in a colorful palette. Her bright, striped, or patterned designs are often paired with quirky coasters and placemats featuring exotic animals and palm trees. Slightly down the road from the market in Piazza Ciompi is the tiny workshop of Fabio Figus and his father Maurizio, who make artisanal knives and olive wood kitchen accessories like boards, platters, and utensils. My favorite knife at home, with a mahogany handle and hand-hammered stainless steel blade, is one of his.” —Emiko Davies

“The Vintage Fair in Parma, which they hold every October, can be full of rip-offs—but if you know what you’re doing, it’s great. Dealers from London go here to buy vintage Italian ’60s Gio Ponti, Achille Castiglioni, etc. and sell for three times as much back home.” —Emma O’Kelly, Wallpaper magazine editor-at-large

“La Reggia Caserta, outside Naples, is an outlet where dozens of Italian designers (Prada, DG, Moschino) offer crazy discounts. My pal Crescenzo Gargano (owner of the Hotel Santa Caterina in Amalfi) sends many guests there en route back from Amalfi to Naples. He and I went once and scored $4,000 Isaia suits for $400.” —Peter Jon Lindberg, writer and travel consultant

“In Montalcino, a small town dotted with enoteche along medieval streets, visit Sartoria Principe, an artisan textile shop whose selection ranges from Tuscan classics like the famous Busatti fabrics to some of the finest Italian clothes from silk and cashmere, to merino wool and Alpaca sourced on the nearby Mount Amiata.” —Lamberto Frescobaldi

“I love modernariato—vintage furniture. In Milan my favorite places are Mercatino Penelope and Roberta e Basta.” —Sara Battaglia, stylist

“At the antique market in Arezzo you can find a lot of beautiful old stuff!” —Luisa Beccaria, designer

“Campisi Conserve in Marzamemi in southeastern Sicily is a gourmet shop specializing in Mediterranean fish—tuna, anchovies, and anchovy sauce—and Pachino tomatoes preserves. Marzamemi is an ancient fishing village founded by the Arabs and famous for its tonnara (tuna processing plant) where time truly seems to have stopped. It is definitely worth visiting!” —Marco Muggiano, marketing director of Slowear

“In Florence, I like to shop at Principe, a true gentlemen’s destination for casual and classic clothing. They have a made-to-measure section where I like to get my warm suede trousers made to perfectly fit me for cold winter days.” —Luca Gnecchi Ruscone, creative director of L. G. R. Eyewear

“From a shopping perspective, Naples is most famous for its rich history of soft tailoring and the Chiaia district is the center of this. Many of the tailors are still based here. Vico Cavallerizza houses the incredible Sartoria Formosa and tie maker E.G. Cappelli. The two small shops share fabrics, so it’s possible to buy handmade ties cut from beautiful Scottish cashmere and jackets lined in beautiful English printed madder silk. For non-tailoring options: Capri by Capri’s house line of matte tortoise sunglasses is incredible. Nennapop is an eclectic women’s boutique that juxtaposes the vivid colors of Naples with Indian block printing and bohemian style. Finally, Neapolitan shirtmaker Salvatore Piccolo’s small flagship is not to be missed as it transcends the traditional idea of southern Italian style with fabrics and references from all over the world. You find soft coats lined in African mud fabrics, Japanese indigo western shirts, loop wheel knits and sweatshirts from Germany. It is the best men’s store in the city.” —Antonio Ciongoli, former head of clothing store Eidos Napoli

The village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, near Montalcino

The Most Charming Small Towns

“Matera in Basilicata is a most magical place. I recently visited Matera for the first time and fell completely under its spell. It’s a day trip from a holiday in Puglia, or a perfect escape for a weekend stay.” —Margherita Missoni

Saluzzo in Piedmont. Totally underrated and beautiful. At the foot of the French Alps and wonderfully romantic. It’s off the highway from Torino to Genoa, which is basically how you get from France to Milan.” —David Prior, travel writer

“I love the little local ski resorts where the lifts are queue-free and you ski alongside slaloming locals in their colorful Lycra and eat delicious Italian lunches. San Domenico, in the Ossola valley, is expanding as an area with new lifts and runs and a five-star spa hotel opening next season.” —Emma O’Kelly

“We like to plan a day trips around a sagra, a community food festival dedicated to a particular seasonal ingredient, product, dish, or theme, be it cherries, porcini mushrooms, tortelli (Tuscan ravioli that come in various fillings depending on which part of Tuscany you visit), fried artichokes, chestnuts, calamari. They’re held all over Tuscany and on weekends you can always find one somewhere. There’s often live music, a market, or entertainment for the kids. It’s very informal, usually with long queues and long shared tables, but it’s a fantastic way to taste local delicacies you may not find in a restaurant—more often than not the volunteer cooks are the local grandparents of the village. The bonito festival in San Vincenzo on the Tuscan coast is a good one, with about 30 different stalls selling preparations by local fishermen, from grilled, just-caught sardines to whole boiled octopus, and the small cherry festival held in late spring around the old fortress of Lari, near Pisa, is worth stopping by just to get a bag full of fresh cherries and a paper cone full of cherry frittelle, deep fried sweet dough studded with fresh cherry pieces. One of our most memorable sagra visits was to a festival that was dedicated entirely to a dish of stewed wild boar’s head, a specialty of Castagneto Carducci near the wine region of Bolgheri, a dish—like many that you get at a good sagra—that you really cannot experience any other way.” —Emiko Davies

“I am amazed that Capri and Sardinia are still the islands that everyone goes to when there are so many great ones that fly under the radar: I love Ponza for its stylish crowd and guesthouses, Giglio for getting away from it all, and Salina for its laid-back but chic hotels and beautiful sea.” —Ondine Cohane, Traveler contributor

“With its crumbling walls and its medieval town, Civita di Bagnoregio is the cozy place I go to get out of Rome. A little more than 100 km north of Rome, Civita di Bagnoregio is known as “the dying town” due to the forces of nature—earthquakes, landslides, and floods—that have threatened its survival since the 17th century. You reach it by passing over a bridge and through a stone passageway. I love to stop on the bridge for a while and take a long walk in the little borgo.—Stella Jean

“I would definitely recommend Ravenna, a small city full of incredible Byzantine art and history. The city center is extremely nice and the beach is just a few minutes away. I always go there for long walks by the beach.” —Giuseppe Zanotti, designer

“There is a place in the heart of Tuscany, in the Chianti hills called Locanda dell’Amorosa, just outside the town of Sinalunga. It’s a 14th-century hamlet that has been transformed into a locanda (a small hotel), a perfect getaway for a few days in the region that is always in my heart.” —Vincenzo Castaldo, creative director of Milan-based jewelry house Pomellato

“I really love Carlo and Ennio Capasa’s family-run beach club in Otranto down in Puglia. It’s so homey and cute and right next to Carlo’s masseria, which my husband and I often visit. I also love Scicli in Sicily because it’s an old Baroque town filled with magnificent churches and many friends.” —J.J. Martin, writer and fonder of La DoubleJ

Category: Accessories  Tags: ,  Comments off
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.