The Finest Gifts from Italy

Looking for that perfect gift from Italy? Even though I’m always a fan of tracking down artisanal gifts in person, these days, you can find some pretty great Italian gifts online, too. And I don’t mean gift baskets where the “parmesan cheese” hails from Wisconsin.

Because it’s that time of year again, I spent some time scouring the interwebs to find the best gifts from Italy — as in, the finer things: from perfume to leather journals to olive oil.

And don’t miss this year’s best gifts for travel to Italy; all of my previous Italophile gift guides can be found here).

Here are just a few of the finer Italian experiences you can give — no airplane required!

An Italian wine tour

Got someone on your list who loves Italy, loves wine — but isn’t necessarily a wine expert? Introduce them to some of Italy’s most popular (and characteristic) wines with a six-bottle collection (above) that tours the peninsula, from a full-bodied Barbera d’Asti from Piedmont to a crisp white Vermentino from Sardinia. Each bottle retails in the US for $10 to $15 or so, so this might not be for the super-picky sommelier on your list, but personally, I’d be happy to drink any of these. Give it with this fun, informative wine map of Italy for the whole experience.

If you’ve got a serious wine-lover, on the other hand, they’ll definitely know Barbaresco, one of Italy’s most famous wines. While it’s easy to find a great one, finding a great one, abroad, at a good price, is pretty difficult. Enter the Produttori del Barbaresco 2010 Barbaresco, at $34, this is one of the best-value Barbarescos out there (and made by a group of Barbaresco winemakers that got their start as a 19th-century co-op). Of course, if you want, you also can impress the vinophile in your life with something just a bit costlier.

Food from every region

Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man… well, you know the rest  of the saying. Which is why any foodie or aspiring chef deserves to have The Food Of Italy (left), a collection of essays by food journalist Claudia Roden, on their bookshelf.

One of the few books out there that covers Italian cuisine region by region — which you already know is key — each chapter comes both with recipes and a section on each region’s wines. Bonus: It’s got my last name on the cover! (Just in case you, you know, forgot who recommended it).

The fragrances of Florence

The lovely soaps by Florence-based artisan Alighiero Campostrini are free of EDTA, dyes and titanium, but come with pretty packaging and yummy, Tuscan-inspired scents (like iris and cypress pine, rose, or even silk). The handmade soaps by La Florentina, another artisanal, Florentine soap-maker, also look, and smell, luscious; this set of three soaps (right) comes up with such a gorgeous box, you won’t even need to wrap it. La Florentina makes candles (like this one in Tuscan violet), too.

Or go for a perfume. The Terenzi family has been making scents in their workshop on the Adriatic coast of Italy for 40 years. Maremma Extrait de Parfum (left), which they created to be sold exclusively at British department store Fortnum & Mason, smells like the wild, Tuscan stretch of coastline for which it’s named; top notes include bergamot, jasmine, black currant and oak.

But for Florence- or Tuscan-inspired fragrances, there’s nothing like those by I Profumi di Firenze: the apothecary’s hand-blended perfumes are all inspired by original, 16th-century formulas that were commissioned by Catherine di Medici herself (the Caterina dè Medici perfume, ordered by the benefactress, is the original, with rose, iris and lily).

And speaking of perfume…

The scents of Capri… and Lake Como, and Amalfi, and Sicily


They say memory lives in the nose. It must, because each time I sniff one of the scents in Acqua di Parma’s Blu Mediterraneo collection, I feel transported — I don’t know how they do it (although the fact that their craftsmen have made scents in Italy since 1916 probably helps). The first time I ever smelled Mirto di Panarea, with its myrtle, basil, lemon and “sea breeze accord” (whatever that is), I felt like I was right back on the Aeolian island of Panarea, frolicking with friends. Just as eerily evocative are the Bergamotto di Calabria, with the southern Italian region’s bergamot, red ginger and cedar wood; Ginepro di Sardegna, with the island’s juniper, bergamot and spices; the Mandorlo di Sicilia, which incorporates Sicilian almond and orange; Fico di Amalfi, with lemon, grapefruit and fig; and Arancia di Capri, with orange and mandarin notes.

I became obsessed with a convert to the Magnolia Nobile perfume after trying it in Naples last year, and it’s the closest thing to a signature scent I’ve ever had. The scent includes notes of Italian citron, bergamot, lemon and magnolia, and — not that I knew this at the time I fell in love — was inspired by the palazzo gardens of Lake Como.

If it’s an Italian scent for him that you’re looking for, Colonia Leather incorporates Mediterranean (but masculine!) notes like Sicilian lemon, Italian orange, and birchwood, while Colonia Intensa has notes of Calabrian bergamot, leather, and ginger.

Rome’s best cup of coffee

Caffe Sant’Eustachio has the reputation of having the best coffee in Rome. And you no longer have to be in the Eternal City to get your hands on it. (Brave new world out there…). Give the gift of Italian coffee with one of the cafe’s signature roasts and a Moka coffee maker (you know, the kind every Italian has in their kitchens. I may or may not have two). Or, for the sweet-toothed coffee-lovers out there, there are always their chocolate-covered coffee beans.

A luxury Italian yacht (for the living room)

No, really. For that boat-lover who’s always dreamed of taking on the Mediterranean, there’s the Riva Aquarama 1/15E Model Boat, hand-crafted with every little detail — right down to the brass rudders and chrome accessories. Sure, sure, it’s a hefty £885… but when the real thing goes for £250,000, it’s practically a steal!

And if you want to go a step more luxurious (because why not), you can always spring for the £1,500 Riva Aquariva 1/12E Model Boat(left) instead).

The fresh pasta of a Roman trattoria

Earlier this year, my mother introduced me to the art of making fresh pasta at home. It was a revelation (thanks, Mom!). I knew how simple some pasta dishes were to make at home, but I couldn’t believe how easy making their most important ingredient was, too. Plus, it feels a little bit like being a toddler again, up to your elbows in Play-Doh. (Actually, I think that’s when I had last used the particular machine in question). So give the pasta-lover in your life the ultimate gift with their very own pasta-maker; with one, you can make everything from fettuccini to lasagne.

Pair it with this super-cute apron, printed with dozens of different pasta types and their names (farfalle! cassarecce! rotelle!) (although if you happen to be a guy giving an apron to a woman in your life, tread lightly). Bonus points if you can spot the apron’s spelling error.

A handcrafted leather journal

A classic, handmade-in-Italy leather journal, like this one, never went unappreciated. Although I’m an even bigger fan of this chocolate-brown leather journal (left) with gold-gilt writing (in Italian, of course!) on the cover.

A note from Florence

Writing a note by hand (never mind receiving mail) seems to be one of today’s most decadent pleasures, especially when it’s on nice paper. I love this elegant stationery set with its gold-edged Florentine fleur-de-lis pattern, all designed and printed in Italy. (Poke around the Florentine Shop’s other offerings — they have lots of other pretty patterns, too).

An education in liquid gold

This extra-virgin Italian olive oil (left) is legit. That alone is rare. But even better, the D.O.P. oil, by well-respected oil-maker Frantoi Cutrera, has won lots of awards, “best in the world” included. At $40, it’s also a good price. (No, really. That $10 grocery-store oil you bought isn’t even the same species). And, as a devastatingly low 2014 harvest means olive oil prices are on the rise, it’ll seem like an even better one soon, sadly. Stockpile now!

Or go a step further with a set like this, which has six extra-virgin olive oils by Frantoi Cutrera. Since each is produced from a different olive, it’s a great way to give the gift of not only olive oil, but learning about oil.

Give either one with Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil — easily the best nonfiction book I read in 2013 — by investigative journalist Tom Mueller. Seriously, it will upend how you think of that slippery little substance. (And give new meaning to the word “slippery”).

Organic olive oil… for your face and hands

I swear by olive oil soap (and lotions, and…). But, just like when you’re eating it, you want to make sure that what you’re putting on your body is only the good stuff. Which is why I like Perlier Olivarium, which cultivates its ingredients on 150 acres of land outside Turin, all with organic, pesticide- and insecticide-free farming. Their paraben-free hand mask, ultra-rich body butter and hand soap, all made from their own (organic) olive oil and lycopene (from tomatoes), are the perfect gift (even just for yourself!) for fighting off moisture-sucking cold.

An Umbrian clay beauty treatment

Even the ancient Romans flocked to the natural hot springs of Tuscany and Umbria. The reason wasn’t just that the Romans had a serious thing for baths. (Although they did). It was also for their healing and beautifying properties, which came from the minerals in the water… like those found in the clay in the Umbrian town of Nocera Umbra. A little beauty company by the name of Fresh snapped the clay up as its proprietary ingredient (apparently you can do that?); for those with acne-prone or oily skin, the Umbrian clay collection, including the treatment bar (right), mattifying mask and oil-free lotion, are like a little Italian treatment at home.

Gifts for the Italy-Bound Traveler

Looking for the perfect gift for a traveler headed to Italy? (Or maybe for yourself?). I’ve got you covered!

And don’t miss this year’s guide to the best Italian gifts on the web this season, or the 2012 guide to the best gifts for travelers to Italy!

The perfect airplane read(s)

When it comes to bringing history to life, Ross King is a wizard, telling rollicking tales of Renaissance scandals and assignments gone awry. And he’s done it with not one, not two, but three Italian treasures: Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture (on the Duomo of Florence); Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling (on the Sistine Chapel); and Leonardo and the Last Supper (at right).

Conveniently, each book is on a different city (Florence, Rome and Milan). Talk about the perfect gift trifecta for someone headed for the Grand Tour.

A super-duper camera… the size of a smartphone

I adore my 6-year-old-but-still-fantastic Nikon D90 DSLR and my little waterproof Sony digital camera. If I were looking for something in the middle of those two, though – not as professional (or big or heavy) as the DSLR, but with more options and flexibility than the point-and-shoot — I’d be looking at what’s called a “expert compact” camera. In particular, I’d have my eye on the Olympus XZ-2 (left).

The camera is smaller than a Galaxy smart phone, but comes with the kinds of bells and whistles you usually just can’t get in a camera that size — like ISO up 12800, sensor-shift stability, an SLR-quality image processor, and HD 1080 video recording. In layman’s terms, that means that you can shoot crisp photos in conditions that just won’t work with a lesser digital camera or an iPhone, like an indoor restaurant dinner or the floodlight Colosseum at night. For anyone who loves taking photos but isn’t a professional photographer (and even for some of us that are), this would be a seriously sweet gift.

A hedonist’s guide to Tuscany

Not your usual guidebook, Tuscany for the Shameless Hedonist includes tips on everything for making a stay in Florence or Tuscany pop with the pleasures of Italian life: where to find romantic aperitivi and relaxing spas, the top wine tours and finest local artisans, the best cooking classes and antique markets, and more.

A streetwise stocking stuffer

The Streetwise Rome map remains the most usable one of the city I’ve seen. It’s laminated, so you don’t have to worry about spilling wine getting rain on it. And the map has much more detail than you’ll find on the free tourist maps in the city, but is still pretty easy to read and use. Let’s just say it got me through my first 3-plus years of never knowing where I was.

A travel journal that gives you tasks (great for kids and creative adults!)

I love this. In the ingenious, interactive I Was Here: A Travel Journal for the Curious Minded, travelers aren’t just encouraged to jot down tips, reviews, and notes. They’re also asked to do things like, say, go to a local pharmacy and buy a toiletry brand they don’t recognize (I always say going to a pharmacy or grocery store is one of the best ways to get a sense of the local culture!), or ask a local to draw a map to one of their favorite neighborhood spots (I can just imagine what kind of crazy drawings you’d wind up with in a city where the streets are as confusing as Rome!).

I can imagine how much fun this would be for kids to do. Or, let’s be honest, for any adventurous adult.

An airplane wake-up

The kind of thing you’d never buy for yourself (aka a great stocking stuffer), this little jet lag kit (right), which is given to first-class passengers on Emirates Airlines, has two “sniff boxes”. Get a whiff of “sleep,” with lavender, chamomile and neroli, to unwind; “focus,” with bergamot, lemon and cinnamon, energizes and refreshes. Perfect idea for those otherwise torturous overseas flights.

The best conversational Italian course around

There are a million and one Italian-language software programs out there. While many people swear by Pimsleur for learning the basic, conversational Italian you want when you go abroad, the newer Living Language Italian has the edge: it’s currently the number-one bestseller on Amazon for Italian learning products, and the reviews are stellar. It’s also more bang for your buck, since the $30 complete edition has 46 lessons, with nine audio CDs and three books, that take learners from beginning to advanced.

For anyone who wants to, say, order food at a restaurant or get directions in the local language, this seems like the new way to go.

The gift of Rome, revealed

In my one-on-one travel consulting sessions, folks get an hour to pick my brain about all things Italy: what’s open in August, the best day trips from Florence, how to skip the line at the Colosseum, whether to get a water taxi to their hotel in Venice. Or we can spend that hour whipping a trip itinerary into shape. Or brainstorming where in Italy they should even start to think about going. Or… pretty much anything else.

New for 2014, I offer gift certificates that can be e-mailed directly to the gift recipient (or to you, so you can print it out and pop it in a card). For more, email me at

A hilarious guide to Italian quirks

Both entertaining and beautiful to look at, Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best will whet anyone’s appetite for Italy. Its 50 mini-essays explore all of the quirks of Italian culture: patron saints and pasta, hand gestures and gelato. It’ll also prepare travelers for the little things that might seem particularly annoying odd on arrival — like why Italians don’t queue, or what floor number won’t exist (nope, it’s not 13!).

The cutest (and most functional) travel containers around

Finally, travel bottles that you… can… squeeze! (And that are BPA-free, PC-free, food-safe, leak-free, and virtually indestructible. Not to mention adorable). Give these GoToob travel tubes to your favorite giftee-on-the-go to fill up with shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, or anything else (ketchup, anyone?). They’re also useful to throw in a backpack: Instead of carting a whole bottle of suntan lotion around the Roman Forum, just fill one of these guys up. Smaller and (take it from me) much more spill-proof.

Organic beauty on the go

If your Italy-bound traveler hates decanting all of their favorite lotions and face washes into different containers (even ones as cute as the GoToob), make it easy on them with Juice Beauty’s Organics To Go. The travel set has all of the skin essentials: cleansing milk, moisturizer, even a mini-face peel. The hydrating mist would be especially nice to have on a moisture-sucking plane ride. Juice Beauty’s items are all made sans  parabens, animal testing, pesticides, phthalates, or artificial dyes or fragrances, so it’s the perfect skin care set for even those with sensitive skin.

A guidebook, notebook, and map in one

I know people swear by Moleskine, but I’m (even more) old-school — when I’m on the road, you can bet I have a few spiral-bound reporter’s notebooks on hand, instead. Even so, I scooped up a Moleskine City Notebook when I headed to Lisbon last year, and wow! I loved it. Having different sections to pop my various lists into, plus plenty of room for random thoughts, made me much more organized. And having a thorough map of the city’s different neighborhoods embedded right in the notebook’s pages was unbelievably helpful.

The Rome City Notebook comes in hardcover-only, so it’s more of an indulgence. (The soft-cover Milan, Venice and Florence versions are much cheaper). But I could see it doubling as a nice keepsake post-trip, couldn’t you?

Happy holidays, everyone!

Also: where to eat in Rome’s most touristy areas, and a guide to Rome’s neighborhoods.

Pope Benedict XVI Resigning February 28

Big news from Rome: The Vatican announced this morning that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning at the end of the month.

The last time a Pope resigned, it was in 1415—and the purpose was to end the Western Schism. (Three men were all claiming to be the Pope simultaneously. Things got confusing). This time, the 85-year-old Pope’s reason for his departure seems a little more personal. It’s most likely because of his health, which seems to have been deteriorating in recent months. You can read the Pope’s declaration of his resignation here.

The conclave will be held in March. For visitors to Rome, that means not only the excitement of the usual media hulabaloo, but also, of course, a chance to see the Sistine Chapel chimney puff out its famous white smoke, the famed sign that a new Pope has been elected.

How long will pilgrims, tourists and the merely curious have to wait in St. Peter’s Square to see white smoke? Who knows. But the past couple of conclaves have been relatively swift: Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978 after just two days, while the conclave for Pope Benedict XVI started on the evening of April 18 and finished the next day.

March’s conclave also means pilgrims will be coming from all over the world for the chance to be in Rome during the election of a new pope. So, a word to the wise: If you’re planning a March trip to Rome, book your airline tickets and hotel reservations now!

Where to Catch the Pope This Easter Weekend

Here in Rome, all eyes have been on Pope Francis I since his March election. Curious about the new guy in charge of the Vatican? This weekend, there are plenty of chances to catch a glimpse of him—from the Good Friday Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum to the papal mass at St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. For more (and on more events going on this Easter in Rome), check out my latest piece for BBC Travel.

Rome in Summer: Is Rome Hot? (And How to Deal)

When it comes to Rome in summer, let’s get back to basics: what the weather in Rome in June, July, August, and September is really like… and how to deal.

In this first installment of the Rome summer guide, you’ll find out about some surprising ways to beat the heat, why Rome’s water fountains are freakin’ awesome, which of Rome’s sights have nada shade, why dressing skimpily isn’t always the answer, and—of course—what that heat is a great excuse for (hint: it comes in a cup or a cone…).

Want to survive enjoy Rome in summer, at the height of its temperatures? Read on!

What to know about summer weather in Rome (caution: heat ahead)

Rome in summer? Hot? Um, yes (at least for this New England girl). Rome’s average temperature in both June and September reaches a high of 81° F. The heat peaks in July, with a high of 88° F. And August isn’t much cooler, at 87°.

Even if you’re used to high temperatures, in Rome, it’s especially important to keep the heat in mind. First, you’ll probably be walking much more than you would at home. Or trying to take more public transportation, which can be even hotter. (Some subways have air-conditioning that works, some don’t. Same for buses.)

(Looking for a cooler alternative to the bus or metro? Check out these 6 alternative modes of transport on a hot day!).

All of this brings me to my next point: Air-conditioning isn’t something to take for granted in Italy. So while your hotel probably will be air conditioned (although your apartment rental might not be—always ask in advance!), many small shops, restaurants, and even museums will be au naturel.

So be prepared. And don’t miss my post on five sightseeing strategies for beating the heat in Rome. (Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the best pools and beaches in Rome!).

Hot or not, don’t dress too skimpily

Yes, it’s tempting to rock booty shorts or a tiny tank top when it’s 85° in the shade. Try not to.

That’s because a major part of sightseeing in Rome in summer… is visiting churches. Far from just holy sites, they’re also some of the city’s finest repositories of art, archaeology, and history. Whether or not you’re planning on visiting a church on a given day, chances are you’ll walk past one that’s a gem. And it would be very silly to be barred from entering because you aren’t dressed appropriately.

Of course, it depends on the church. Most don’t have the staff to guard the priceless artwork, never mind throw out miniskirted tourists. Still, covering up is respectful. And, yes: It’s true that the guards at St. Peter’s Basilica flat-out won’t let you in if your shoulders and knees aren’t covered.

If you still have to go bare, then at least throw a couple of shawls or wraps in your bag so you can cover up if need be.

Luckily, there’s water, water everywhere (and I don’t mean the €3-from-a-vendor variety)

Put away your wallet, and step away from the guy hawking overpriced water bottles at the vendor’s stand. There are 2,500 little nasoni, or endlessly-running water fountains, around the city of Rome. As I’ve written before, the water is cold, clean, and, yes, perfectly safe to drink. So carry around a water bottle with you and just fill it up at the fountains, for free.

Walking around Rome’s historic center, and want to know where the nearest fountain is? Good news: There’s an app for that.

Baby, shade ain’t always easy to find

The heat is one thing. The sun is another. And it won’t be kind to skin that’s usually office- or home-bound.

Be especially sun-cautious if you’re planning to head to one of Rome’s shadeless sights. The first one: the Roman forum.

Yeah, all these buildings had roofs once. But not anymore. Make sure to slather on the SPF even more if you’re taking a tour: You might have to stand in a certain (and possibly shadeless) spot for a while, depending on the guide’s sensitivity to your sun needs interest in a given sight. (And if you have to get out of the sun, duck into the Curia or Temple of Romulus, or climb the tree-lined Palatine hill).

Another shadeless spot is St. Peter’s Square, if you’re standing in the line to get into the basilica. Bernini’s colonnade is fantastic, but it doesn’t do much for the poor souls forced to stand outside of its shade, in the middle of the square, waiting to get into the church.

So, again: Either prepare with sunglasses and lots of SPF, or figure out how to skip that line. And stay tuned for more about that—and why it’s something to think about even more in the summer months—in an upcoming post!

And just by the way: the heat is a great excuse for gelato

Enough said. (And don’t miss my post on where to find the best gelato in Rome).

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

Why These Catacombs in Naples Might Be the World’s Creepiest

I’m constantly telling people to visit Naples, and I’ve finally written about one of my favorite reasons why: the catacombs of San Gaudioso. While Rome has no dearth of spine-tingling sites (hello, Capuchin crypt), these catacombs — which include a gallery in which desiccated heads were attached to the walls… and portraits of the dearly departed frescoed around them — are, hands-down, the creepiest place I’ve ever visited.

The run-down: Like the spectacular catacombs of San Gennaro, the catacombs of San Gaudioso were first dug out in Greco-Roman times. They were used as an ancient necropolis and then — later — an early Christian cemetery. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because the catacombs in Rome have similar backstories, too). But after being inundated with the lave dei vergini (literally, the lava of the virgins; great name, right?) and abandoned in the 9th century, they were forgotten about. Until, that is, some enterprising Dominican friars decided to build a church here in the 17th century… and pay for it, at least in part, with their really gruesome fancy-schmancy burial practices. (So fancy, in fact, only nobles and high-level officials got the benefit of it. Really, who doesn’t want to be drained, beheaded and put on display for all eternity?!).

Read more over in my story on the catacombs of San Gaudioso for BBC Culture, and remember: You have been warned.

If you’re already sold and just need the details:

The catacombs of San Gaudioso are located in the Naples neighborhood of Rione Sanità. (If you go, don’t miss the equally creepy Cimitero delle Fontanelle). The entrance is at the Basilica Santa Maria della Sanità in Piazza Sanità. The catacombs are open from Monday to Sunday, 10am-1pm, but visitable only with a tour, which leaves every hour; the guides (who are super-enthusiastic and knowledgeable, by the way — not always the case in Italy!) speak English, so you can ask for an English-language tour. More info here. It costs €9 per adult, which also gets you entrance to the catacombs of San Gennaro (also a must-see).

Also: two facts about ancient Rome you probably didn’t know, why you should visit Rome’s only pyramid and some other reasons to visit Naples.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

What is the Weather in Rome Really Like? (And How to Pack for It)

Want to know the weather in Rome, Italy? You could obviously just check out the forecast. (Not that that’s necessarily that reliable). But you’ve wound up here instead, so I’m guessing you don’t want to know the Rome weather coming up in the next few days — you’re looking further ahead and curious what, say, the weather in Rome is usually like a few weeks or even months from now.

Maybe you’re trying to decide when to come to Rome. Or you’ve already chosen your dates, and you need to know what to pack.

Although I resisted writing a post about weather in Rome for a while (compared to all of the incredible art and unknown museums and underground ruins and gelato gelato gelato the topic just seems so… banal), I get asked about it enough that it seems like it’s time.

So: here’s what to expect, season by season, in terms of the weather in Rome. And what this means in terms of what to pack and prepare for.

(PS: If you are looking for the weather forecast in the near future, two of my go-to sites are Weathercast and Accuweather).

Weather in Rome in… summer (spoiler: it’s hot, and they’re not that into a/c)

This is when things get nice and sweaty. Temperatures peak in July — that’s when you’re looking at an average high of 88°F (31°C). (While the average low is a comfy 62°F/17°C, if Rome ever hit that temperature in July, I’m pretty sure it’s while I was sleeping). It’s also the driest month of the year, with less than an inch of average rainfall. August is about the same — plus you have the double-whammy of the uber-crowds and that it’s ferragosto (read: when many restaurants and shops close as locals, reasonably, flee to the seaside). If you can swing it, June is milder and less crowded, especially earlier in the month.

“Oh!” you say, “but I love the heat and the sun! This isn’t a problem for me!” Yeah, okay. Try 90°F weather… when you’re tromping around all day (or trying to stuff yourself onto crowded, sweaty buses and trains)… visiting sites with little-to-no shade (like the Forum)… with no access to an air-conditioned car… and when many restaurants, apartments and even museums lack any air-conditioning.

If you’re locked into those months already thanks to school holidays/work vacation days/whatever, don’t worry! You’ll have an amazing time. Truly. But don’t miss these pro tips on how to survive the heat in Rome. And please, please wear sunscreen.

What to throw in your suitcase: Sunscreen (…put it in a Ziploc in case it explodes — you want it all over your skin, not your clothes), sunglasses, a light scarf to cover your shoulders (for ladies) for ducking into churches, an excellent deodorant and a sense of humor. What to leave at home: Your Nalgene (really) and the enormous suitcase that will make you sweat a Mediterranean-sized pool trying to lug it up the staircase to your fourth-floor B&B.

Weather in Rome in… fall

First, let’s be clear about one thing: in terms of heat and even crowds, September is pretty much summer in Rome. (It has the same average temperatures as June — highs of 82°F/28°C). So if you truly want to come in the autumn, which I can’t recommend more highly, plan for October or November. Preferably October: I moved to Rome in October, which was described to me by a local as a magic month. He couldn’t have been closer to the truth. Even the light seems more golden. (For more, don’t miss five reasons to love to fall in Rome).

Here’s what the weather in Rome is typically like for most of the fall: balmy (think highs of 73°F/23°C in October, getting down to 62°F in November), with clear, sunny days and crisp nights. Here’s what the weather can be like sometimes in the fall: chilly and rainy, with between 4 and 5 inches (10-12cm) of rain in each month. November, in fact, tends to be the rainiest month Rome sees year-round.

And it can, indeed, be rainy. In fact, on average, Rome in November gets twice as much rain as London, a smidge more than Boston or New York City. (Yeah, that surprised me too). But the difference that usually — usually — in Rome, it tends to pour down… then stop. Yes, it might pour down again a couple of hours later. And it can be near-torrential — hence that high average. But it doesn’t tend to be the week-long drizzle that you get elsewhere.

So keep in mind that even if the Rome weather forecast is calling for rain on a certain day, it might only be for part of the day. And when the sky opens up after a storm, it’s just about the prettiest, most photogenic thing you’ve ever seen. Just see below. (Further proof here).

What to throw in your suitcase: Layers, a light jacket (especially for night), closed-toe shoes that still aren’t winter boots (think ballerina flats) and sunglasses. What to leave at home: Your umbrella (if you get unlucky enough that it starts raining while you’re out, Sod’s Law holds that you won’t have it on you anyway, plus a hundred vendors will pop up on the street trying to sell you a cheap one).

Weather in Rome in… winter

The good news: if you’re not a heat-and-crowds person, this is your season! (Outside of Christmas and New Year’s week, that is. That’s pretty much as high a high season as August). In December, January and February, there’s an average high of about 55°F (13°C); it can get as low as 35°F (2°C) but, again, you’re probably sleeping through this. While you’re out and about, plan for it to be generally in the 40s.

While that’s a bit chilly for some, the upside is it’s also drier and sunnier than the fall — in fact, crisp and clear tends to be the name of the game.

However: December, January and February remain wetter than March, April and May, on average. So much for that “April showers bring May flowers”. More like “December showers bring May flowers”.

But remember how pretty we said the rain could be? It is! And if you’re really lucky, you might even see a rainbow…

Or, you might also see a lot of bundled-up, slightly soggy people. The photo below is just to keep it real, because I’d be lying if I told you rain in Rome was just a nonstop good time. (And if you’re looking for ideas on what to do when it’s raining in Rome, look no further).

What to throw in your suitcase: A warm jacket, sturdy (read: water-resistant) shoes (there’s a reason leather boots and shoes are the winter go-to here), a scarf (to tie on even on mild days, mostly so locals don’t panic that you’re going to suffer from the deadly colpo d’aria), leather gloves and sunglasses. What to leave at home: The expectation that “it’s Rome, so it must always be warm!”.

Weather in Rome in… spring (warm, lovely, with maybe some rain)

Ah, another bee-yoo-tee-full season. (Though, aren’t they all!?) The flowers are blooming, people are gathering in the piazzas and there’s green where you least expect it… like cascading down buildings.

If you’re looking for spring at its warmest and sunniest, aim for May: the month gets an average temperature of 75°F (24°C), getting hotter toward the end (obviously), with about 1.5 inches (almost 4cm) of rain on average — roughly the same as August. April is almost a full 10 degrees cooler at a very comfortable 67°F (19°C), but also sees an average of almost an inch more rain. And March, which is as rainy as April, tops out at an average high of 61°F (16°C).

If that didn’t sound nice enough, here are five more reasons to love spring in Rome.

What to throw in your suitcase: Layers, a light jacket, sunglasses. What to leave at home: I don’t know. Your cynicism? Because you’ll be falling in love with this city. Yeah, I went there.

Also: why the Appia Antica makes for the perfect stroll, the Rome airport to never take a taxi from and the ultimate guide to Rome in summer.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

Books About Italy I’m Compulsively Reading (and Re-Reading)

No matter where I am in the world, I have a shelf devoted to books about Italy. Which may be why, although I started out this post planning to write a gift guide — something I do every couple of years — I found that everything that came to mind to include was… a book.

While that partly speaks to the fact that I’m a nerd bookworm, it also speaks to something else: whether you’re interested in fiction or memoir, food or art, ancient history or World War II, there are a number of compulsively-readable books about Italy out there these days.

What is my bar for “compulsively readable”? In the last three years, I’ve gone through two transatlantic moves. Each time, I’ve had to winnow down my library. Most of the books on this list are ones that I found myself re-buying after my last move. That’s how much I couldn’t live without them.

So. Here are the books about Italy I’ve sometimes bought not once, but twice — and the person on your gift-giving list (other than you!) who might like them best.

The best book about Italy for the one on your list… who, faced with a table of magazines at the doctor’s office, always reaches for the New Yorker.

Haven’t heard of Elena Ferrante? First, crawl out from under your rock. Second, run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore to pick up the first novel in her “Neapolitan quartet”: My Brilliant Friend.

The series pins down human emotions, flaws and foibles with such searing precision, it’s sometimes almost excruciating to read. On the surface, it’s about two girls who grow up together in the shadows of a working-class neighborhood in postwar Naples. And if you love Italy, especially the south or bella Napoli, it will give you a raw, intense look at a people and culture that tend to be stereotyped, not examined.


And yet, as in any true masterpiece, so many of the observations Ferrante makes apply far beyond the backstreets of Naples. For example…

On politics: “People died of carelessness, of corruption, of abuse, and yet, in every round of voting, gave their enthusiastic approval to the politicians who made their life unbearable.”

On the female practice of “getting ready”: “All that struggle, all that time spent camouflaging myself when I could be doing something else. The colors that suited me, the ones that didn’t, the styles that made me look thinner, those that made me fatter, the cut that flattered me, the one that didn’t. A lengthy, costly preparation. Reducing myself to a table set for the sexual appetite of the male, to a well-cooked dish to make his mouth water. And then the anguish of not succeeding, of not seeming pretty, of not managing to conceal with skill the vulgarity of the flesh with its moods and odors and imperfections.”

On patriarchy: “A community that finds it natural to suffocate with the care of home and children so many women’s intellectual energies is its own enemy and doesn’t realize it.”

On life: “In the fairy tales one does as one wants, and in reality one does what one can.” (Ouch).

Ever since being translated into English (the final instalment, The Story of the Last Child, came out in English last year), these books have been the toast of the literati. For good reason.

The best book about Italy for the one on your list… whose guilty pleasure is The Da Vinci Code.

Jonathan Harr’s The Lost Painting is so fast-paced, it’s often easy to forget it’s not fiction. It tells the story of how two young art students track down one of the world’s great, missing masterpieces: Caravaggio’s The Taking of the Christ, which had been gone for more than 200 years. 

In the vein of Ross King’s Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling or Leonardo and the Last Supper (also excellent, by the way), the book reads like a novel — and in this case, like a detective thriller. There are details about art restoration and Baroque bad-boy Caravaggio, so you will learn something. It’ll just be without realizing it: the chapters are short and the information can feel a bit thin.

But as a fun, easy, fascinating read about one of the strangest stories in art history, this hits the mark.

The best book about Italy for the one on your list… who studied abroad in Rome for a year and still can’t stop talking about it.

This is basically the book that, in my dream of dreams, I wanted to write — except there’s no way I could have done it as well as veteran Roman journalist Corrado Augias. The Secrets of Rome is well-researched, beautifully-written and one of those rare nonfiction works that’s easy to completely lose yourself in.

Translated from the original Italian, Augias’ book is a journey through 2,700 years of Roman history. But not chronologically, and not for the purpose of “teaching” the city’s history as one long, cohesive story. Instead, each chapter takes a different corner of the city as the jumping-off point for a fascinating tale. Some are little-known, but even the stories that are famous — like Caesar’s assassination — have details that will surprise anyone but a Roman history PhD.


And while history can get a rap for being dry, the book can be nothing short of emotional: the chapter on the massacre of the Fosse Ardeatine, the caves where 335 men were brutally executed under Nazi orders in 1943, made me cry.

It’s a book that history lovers who have only been to Rome once or twice will love. But for those who know the city well, the book is even richer.

The book about Italy perfect for the one on your list… who still tears up over Saving Private Ryan.

Unless you have particular interest in World War II, it’s easy to all but gloss over it when you’re reading about Italy. After all, there’s so much else! Ancient Rome! The Middle Ages! The Renaissance!

But the war completely reshaped the landscape of Italy – including its cultural and artistic landscape. The only reason it didn’t wreck Italy’s art and beauty even more than it did came down to the ingenuity, bravery and hard work of locals — and of a group of art historian soldiers tasked with doing whatever they could to get ahead of the Allied invasion and save what they could.

If you’ve seen the film Monuments Men, this probably sounds familiar.

But whereas I wasn’t a big fan of the film, I could barely put down the book Saving Italy — which was written by the same author as Monuments Men. I’m pretty sure that I kept saying “Oh my God, did you know this?” to my better half so often while reading the book, he couldn’t wait for me to be finished with the thing. Did you know…

  • When the Allies bombed the Florence train station, they were so precise that they dropped 145 tons of explosives that destroyed railroads and warehouses — but the bombs didn’t even touch the churches that stood a stone’s throw away.
  • But the list of cities that merited that kind of protection was very short: just Florence, Rome, Venice and the island of Torcello. So when the station in Padua was bombed, it was far sloppier. One of the many buildings bombed was the Church of the Eremitani… where the irreplaceable frescoes by famed early Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna were completely destroyed.
  • One bombing raid on Milan killed 700 and destroyed La Scala, the Brera Picture Gallery and 40 churches — including Santa Maria delle Grazie. Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper was miraculously the only part of the chapel to be left standing. But even then, it was far from safe. It took days for people to clear the debris away, and while they built a new roof to cover it, they had to use a canvas tarp instead.
  • Hundreds of the world’s most important paintings — including Caravaggio’s Bacchus, Cranach’s Adam and Eve and Signorelli’s Crucifixion — were among those carted around Italy during the chaos of war, transported on open trucks across hundreds of miles… while being bombed, rained on and then often piled in damp, dirty caves, rooms, even jail cells. (I’ll never look at the paintings in the Borghese Gallery or Uffizi the same way again!)

The book is chock-full of these kinds of compelling details — all written in a can’t-put-it-down kind of way. A must-read.

The best book about Italy for the one on your list… who has a soft spot for Rome and already owns a million cookbooks.

I’ve known Katie Parla ever since emailing her when I was first toying with moving to Rome in 2009. In some ways, it seemed like she’d paved a path for me: we were alumni of the same university, both loved Italy and history (even narrating the same History Channel show) and wound up writing not-exactly-sugarcoated blogs about Rome.

Here’s one big difference between us: while I consider myself a pretty greedy good connoisseur of Italian cuisineKatie has taken it a step further. She’s made it her job to know Italy’s food inside, out and upside-down at a level I’ve always admired.

So maybe it’s to be expected that when her book Tasting Rome came out this year, I rushed to scoop it up. If you have someone on your Christmas list who loves a) food, b) Rome or c) just having a really pretty cookbook on their shelves, you might want to, too.


Rather than “cookbook” or “book”, Tasting Rome is both. It combines tidbits about both Rome’s food history and its contemporary culinary landscape with recipes adapted from some of the city’s most beloved chefs and restaurants. And while cookbook images usually look staged or stock-y, Kristina Gill’s shots are a lovely mix of both mouthwatering close-ups and glimpses of Rome’s hidden corners and eateries.

Perhaps best of all? Parla and Gill are transplants to Rome who know the city inside and out. That means that, while they love Rome and its history, they don’t see the city as some glossy version of dolce vita come to life — and that mix of warmth and authenticity is at the heart of every page.

The book about Italy perfect for the one on your list… who says that, if they could to “do it all again”, they’d study Roman history.

Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard appears often on television shows about ancient Rome. A big part of the reason is her refreshingly straight-talking take on history — which shines through in her book SPQR.

The book, which came out last year, isn’t for someone starting out with zero interest in Roman history. Unlike, say, The Lost Painting, no one’s going to mistake it for a novel.

But it is perfect for anyone interested in Roman history, even if they’ve never studied it before: Beard treats you like you’re a smart person who probably has heard of the story of Romulus and Remus, but might need your memory jogged, just in case… and who definitely is curious about how that story came to be and what on earth all that fratricide really meant. And she’s candid and clear-eyed not only about what’s true and what’s not, but also what the Romans were really like (she dispatches one ancient legend with a simple “This is another case of Roman exaggeration”).

The New York Times called her approach “a crisp and merciless clarity”. It’s also one that makes a very complicated subject very, very readable.

The book about Italy perfect for the one on your list… who everyone considers the cook of the family, even though their idea of “following a recipe” means eyeballing measurements and substituting half the ingredients.

Fifty years ago, a group of Italian scholars were getting very worried that local, “as mama makes it” recipes were disappearing. So they embarked on a massive research project. They visited hundreds of villages where they watched people cooking in front of their stoves, gathering 2,000 recipes from every region across Italy. The result is compiled in La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy.

The first thing you’ll notice about this book is that it’s a brick. (Do not buy this for someone about to move abroad — or who will be intimidated by a cookbook that could double as a doorstop at even the heaviest palazzo entrance).

The second is that it’s so, so much more than pasta and pizza. There’s plenty of that, too. But from recipes like barley-and-potato soup (Friuli) to carp roasted with wild fennel (Umbria) to braised pork ribs (Sardinia), there’s a ton of variety – as there is in Italian cuisine itself.

One of the things I love about this book is that the cooking methods are what people were actually doing. In other words: no food processors, no microwaves, no shortcuts. That makes this book a particularly good buy for anyone who enjoys incorporating a little “slow living” into their lives.

But that doesn’t mean everything takes ages to make. Some of the recipes are deliciously simple. Take Calabria’s swordfish with mint, where the recipe is literally “Rub the fish steaks with garlic, salt them, then bread them. Heat 1/4 inch olive oil and cook the fish until golden on both sides, then drain on paper towels and let cool. Arrange them on a serving plate, sprinkle with vinegar, then dust with mint leaves. Let rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.” Done!

But I also love that, as detailed as they are, the recipes can’t be followed scientifically. Sometimes that’s because of the ingredients (like the “2 lbs frogs, skinned and without heads”, for the Lombardian risotto alla certosina). But it’s often because of how the directions are given. Forget precise temperatures, for example: common phrases like “cook at low heat” or “as soon as it’s cooked, remove it from the liquid.” It assumes you already know the basics of cooking – and that, if you don’t, you can figure it out. And perhaps ironically, that means that while the recipes were written down to preserve at least one of their “original” and “authentic” versions, one of the best things about them is that they force you to be just a little bit creative.

Just add some drips of olive oil and biscotti crumbs stuck in the pages to make it 100% authentic.

Want more books? Don’t miss my round-up of some of the most readable books about Rome. More great inspiration for what to read (or give as a gift) in my lists of best Italian food gifts, gifts for Italy-bound travelers and gifts for culture vultures and history lovers.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

The (New) Revealed Rome Guidebook Is Out!

I couldn’t be more excited to announce that, after five years, my new Rome guidebook is out.

The original 2012 version of the Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks to the Eternal City sold thousands of copies (and got rave reviews). This book builds on that success with an in-depth update and serious expansion: It’s crammed full with more than twice as many fun, easy-to-digest tips and tricks than the previous version.

Like the previous version, the new book is not your normal “Rome guidebook”. Instead of providing information easily found elsewhere, it gives you tips and tricks to experiencing Rome like a local, including items like…

  • how to pick an authentic Roman restaurant at a glance
  • budget accommodation options you may not have considered
  • the one place to never take a taxi
  • secrets to skipping the lines at the Colosseum, the Vatican and more
  • off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods that should be on your list
  • how to eat gluten-free, vegetarian or with other dietary restrictions
  • key tips for booking (and taking) trains
  • here to find drinking water, and bathrooms, while out and about
  • how to protect yourself from pickpockets
  • the best neighborhoods in Rome for shopping


…and much, much more. Buy it on Amazon here or by clicking the cover at left.

I’m also really excited to say that, for the first three months of publication, I’m donating a significant portion of the profits (€1/$1/£1 per book, depending on location of sale) to a cause I believe in: the American Institute for Roman Culture, a nonprofit which protects and campaigns for Rome’s cultural heritage. So if you’re thinking of buying a book, now is the time to do it!

The book comes on Amazon as an e-book which can be read on any tablet, iPhone, laptop or Kindle.

Note: Bought the book before today, and now wish you’d waited for the new version? Don’t worry: You can replace the older version with this update. If you’re using a Kindle device or app, turn on Annotations Backup to back up your notes, highlights and bookmarks. Then go to the Manage Your Content and Devices page, select “Automatic Book Update” under the Settings tab and select “On” from the dropdown menu. Your e-book automatically will be updated to the new version.

If you’d prefer to receive the book as a PDF, order it through Paypal by clicking on the button below. When I receive the order confirmation, I will e-mail you the book as a PDF. (Just be aware that this is a manual process, so can take me up to 48 hours to e-mail over).