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.