My Favorite Agriturismo in Italy: An Ode, in Photos

The best Umbria agriturismo, Fontanaro

When I need a break from Rome’s hustle and bustle, I head to the countryside. And when I’m there, I always stay at an agriturismo, or “farm-stay”—or Italy’s best-kept accommodation secret.

Over the course of my travels in Italy, I’ve probably stayed in more than 50 different agriturismi. Not once have I been disappointed. Each one has had its own character, but they’ve all been comfortable, in beautiful settings, and a better value than any hotel. And no, you don’t have to milk a cow or collect eggs to stay at one.

When I’m asked about my favorite agriturismo in Italy, though, there’s always one that comes to mind: Fontanaro.

Fontanaro and its sister property, Tartagli, are located on the border of Umbria and Tuscany, a 2-hour drive from Rome (or a 1.5-hour drive from Florence). They’re a stone’s throw away from the tiny, medieval village of Paciano.

Village of Paciano near Fontanaro

Made up of rolling hills and vineyards, the Fontanaro properties produce a huge variety of Tuscan-Umbrian staples, from olive oil to honey. Better yet, everything is grown organically. And the estate, run by mother-daughter team Lucia and Alina Pinelli, uses sustainable energy whenever possible; the farm was one of the first in Umbria, in fact, to use solar panels.

Fontanaro agriturismo on border of Umbria and Tuscany

Tuscan agriturismo in Italy

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6 Things I’m Psyched to Do in Rome in 2013

Rome’s amazing every year. But I’m especially excited for 2013 in the Eternal City.

Here are six things on my “bucket list” for my upcoming year in Rome (and beyond)!

Attending Rome’s best temporary exhibitions

Vermeer painting at Rome exhibition
The Vermeer exhibition: on my list of must-dos for 2013!

Compared to past years, 2013 has way fewer exciting exhibitions on. (Hello, financial crisis!). Still, there are some I’ve made note of in my calendar. Among them: the Vermeer exhibit at the Quirinale, which runs until Jan. 20, and the “Age of Balance” exhibit at the Capitoline Museums, which explores the era of the “good emperors” (Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius), until April 28.

Trying out restaurants and wine bars still on my list

Food in Rome in 2013
Food: From 2009 to 2013, one of my main reasons for loving Rome.

These include new-ish spots (like Baccano, an aperitivo, brunch and bistro spot near the Trevi Fountain; Coromandel, a bakery/brunch spot/restaurant near Piazza Navona; and Romeo, an Alfa-Romeo-car-dealership-turned-restaurant by the Roscioli brothers and the chef behind Trastevere’s Glass Hostaria), old favorites that I (eek!) still haven’t made it to (like Monti institution La Barrique), and a couple of high-end spots that just got their Michelin stars (Metamorfosi and Pipero al Rex).

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Flash Sale on Italy Travel Chats: Only Until Jan. 1!

Rome consulting sessions
Coming to Rome? Then take advantage of the chance to pick my brain on everything you need to know!

In honor of 2013 being, you know, the best year yet, I want to make it a little easier for anyone who wants to to pick my brain on travel to Italy.

From now until January 1 at midnight EST, my one-hour, one-on-one Italy travel chats are just $60. Get all of your burning questions answered, plus a follow-up email with what we spoke about, lists of restaurants and shops I recommend, and more!

Here are just some of the things clients have said about our chats:

“Thanks again for the consultation. It made all the difference for us. Whenever we were thinking outside of the box, we’d remind ourselves, “what did Mandy say about this?”” –Peter Graves, Phoenix, AZ, summer 2012 trip to Rome and Venice

“We loved all of your suggestions. Thanks so much for that suggestion [for a restaurant in Testaccio]—we never would have found it without you… We’re already discussing our next trip.” –Rachel Sussman, New York, N.Y., summer 2012 trip to Sicily and Rome

So don’t wait—buy your session now (just click the button below)! (You can also buy it now and use it at any point in the next year, so if you’re not yet sure what questions you’ll have or are only just starting to think about your Italy trip, it still makes sense to save and buy a session now).



I hope to speak to you in 2013! Tanti auguri di Buon Anno!

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Hey, 2012, You Weren’t So Bad

Rome graffiti
Not gonna lie: At some points in the past year, I felt like this guy.

At the end of the year, I always like to look back on what I did—or didn’t—accomplish. And I think it’s safe to say that, as much as I felt like it was impossible to “get it all done,” 2012 was a big year for Revealed Rome.

So much of that was thanks to my readers and followers, who have helped me with ideas and support—and, not least of all, with the inspiration to keep going even when it all felt overwhelming. So a huge thank you. Seriously. I couldn’t have done it without you.

What am I talking about? Let’s see. In 2012, Revealed Rome…

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Best Gifts for Travelers (or Would-Be Travelers) to Italy

Looking for that perfect gift for travelers to Italy? Here’s help! (And don’t miss the rest of our gift guide for people who love Italy!).

Update: Don’t miss the 2014 version of this guide, online now!

The best Italy guidebooks, magazines, and apps

Best guidebooks to giveThere’s an overwhelming number of guidebooks to Italy in print.

Personally, when it comes to figuring out where to go, I like seeing pictures. And that’s why the photo-heavy DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Italy is so great, especially if you want to give a gift to someone who’s just at the beginning stages of planning their Italy trip.

It’s less comprehensive on the information, though, so for someone who’s more sure about where they’re going, and wants to “dig in” to to the local culture and sights a little more, I’d recommend Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.

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Handmade in Italy: The Best Gifts from Italian Artisans

Ceramics handmade in Italy

Handmade ceramics from Le Tre Ghinee in Rome—which ships abroad

Looking for an item that's handmade in Italy… and can be shipped abroad? You've come to the right place! For the fourth post in my Italian gift guide, I wanted to spotlight Italian artisans, whose work—whether in leather or mosaic, glass or ceramics—is some of the finest in the world. 

Gift-wise, there's something here for everyone, speaking to the incredible variety of output of Italy's artisans. Need something for a mother or female friend? Check out the beautiful baubles made of Venetian glass, including necklaces and jewelry. Looking for a gift for a hostess? A handpainted ceramic serving tray is a thoughtful gift. Want a memento for someone who visited Italy, and loved it? Any of these would do!

Of course, many of Italy's artisans don't have websites, or don't ship abroad. I handpicked artisans from among the few who do. Some of their websites have online stores, where you can pay electronically; at others, you need to contact the owner to arrange payment. But aside from the slight inconvenience it might cause, the opportunity to buy a piece handmade in Italy, and shipped to you, seems worth it.

Nota bene: Some websites are in Italian only. Just run them through Google translator to put them in your own language!

Mosaic from Ravenna: Picture frames, decorations, and more

A handmade mosaic that can be shipped from Italy

Beautiful glass mosaic by Anna Fietta, a mosaicist working in Ravenna

Mosaic is an ancient tradition; on the Italian peninsula, the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines all raised it to a fine art. Luckily, Italy still has artists today who are keeping the tradition alive, producing gorgeous, elaborate images—by hand. And guess what? Many of them do ship abroad.

Ravenna is, without a doubt, the Italian (and perhaps international) capital of mosaic. So what gift could be more special than a mosaic, handcrafted by a workshop in Ravenna, and shipped to you? Remember, by the way, that a mosaic doesn't have to be a decorative image; it could be a picture frame, mirror, even jewelry.

Mosaic by Anna Fietta, an artisanal gift

A mosaic picture frame by Anna Fietta

Mosaicists in Ravenna who ship abroad, including to the U.S., include:

Anna Fietta creates such gorgeous, updated mosaics from glass, with a particularly large selection of picture frames, mirrors, and decorative animals—like this Tiffany-inspired picture frame (3.9 by 5.9 inches, just €35), shown right, or the whimsical fish, at top (4.3 inches, €22). Here's Anna Fietta's online store.

Barbara Liverani handcrafts contemporary mosaics using Byzantine techniques. She has a number of mirrors and small boxes, and also—more whimsically—gnomes and letters. Spelling out "home" or "love" seems like it would be a particularly sweet gift. You can't just purchase her items online, but you can take a look at her gallery and email her if something strikes your eye. Of course (as per the point of this post!), she ships abroad, including to the U.S. 

Glass from Murano: Jewelry, sculptures, tableware, and more

Murano glass

Glass from Ragazzi Murano, a registered Murano glass workshop

The island of Murano, off of Venice, is one of the most famous in the world for its glass. But there are countless Murano knockoffs (even on Venice itself, dozens of stores advertise "Murano glass" that's actually cheap, factory-made imports from China!). So if you want to buy the Italy-lover in your life a light-catching piece of Venice, make sure you're buying from an authentic Murano glass dealer.


Murano glass necklace

Necklace from Esse Due Murano

One authentic Murano workshop with items available online is Esse Due Murano, which has an especially excellent, and varied, collection of jewelry. The style is contemporary and stylish, and ranges from elegant necklaces like the one shown at right, €87, to items like these gorgeous drop earrings, just €18.

Another is Ragazzi Murano, who have an online shop here (however, you still have to email them for price information and to place an order). Items include whimsical clocks, picture frames, and jewelry as well as vases and tableware (shown at top). 

Finally, for the ultimate variety (and ease of purchase), the online store MuranoNet is one of the few "big ones" I would trust. It's certified and trademarked by Venice's Murano glass oversight association, and all objects come with certificates of origin and authenticity. The store has everything from sculptures to jewelry to ornaments, and definitely worth checking out if you want the perfect Murano glass gift.

Ceramics from Tuscany (and beyond): Kitchenware, home decor, and more

Handmade ceramics from Italy

Gorgeous, handpainted ceramics from Rampini Ceramics, in Chianti

Handpainted ceramics have to be one of Italy's finest artisanal traditions. And a pitcher, tray, or decorative plate, handcrafted in and shipped from Italy, makes a thoughtful gift for any hostess or homebody—especially one with a passion for Italy.

Handmade ceramics plate from Rome

Beautiful plate from Le Tre Ghinee

In Rome, my favorite ceramics workshop is Le Tre Ghinee, where ceramics artisan Susy Pugliese handcrafts contemporary, stylish plates, bowls, and more; many of her items are shown online, and you can order by emailing her.

Located in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Rampini Ceramics, one of the finest and best-known ceramics workshops in Italy, produces handmade saucers, bowls, and more using traditional handpainting techniques. Designs aren't just traditional scenes of lemon groves and olive trees (though those are lovely, too—just check out the picture above!), but also more-contemporary designs. They also sell gift sets, like a large pitcher and four mugs, all handpainted (€312), for a truly special gift. 

Tray by Ceramiche Bibi

Tray by Ceramiche Bibi

Ceramics artisan Sabina Pagliai is the artisan behind Ceramiche Bibi in Siena. All of her creations are handmade, using unleaded colors; pieces include plates, vases, and trays, all decorated with traditional emblems of Siena and Tuscany.

Since 1981, the workshop Poterie has handcrafted ceramics in Genova. Their artists specialize in decorative tiles and panels, including house number plates, with traditional Italian patterns of geometric shapes, fruits, and flora. 

The two women behind Artesia have been handcrafting, painting, glazing and firing gorgeousvases, bowls, plates, trays and more in Certaldo Alto, Tuscany since 1990. The prices couldn't be more fair: This 4.5 inch by 10 inch fruit bowl is €37, while this stunning 16-inch plate (shown left) costs €70.25.

Leather from Tuscany: Bags, wallets, iPhone cases, Kindle covers, and more

Handmade leather bag

Leather bag from La Dolce Vita

The family-run workshop La Dolce Vita has handcrafted leather accessories since 1980 in Buonconvento, Tuscany; now, you can buy their items—including beautiful bags for both men and women, like this red purse, at right, €145—online. 

Another leather workshop that lets you buy items online is Fandango, where every item is handmade in Italy. Their style tends to be contemporary and in-the-moment, and they have some great gift ideas, like a bright blue leather case for a MacBook Air (€85.90).

Italian linens: tablecloths, baby bibs, and more

The Bellavia store sells all handmade linens, including tablecloths, bed linens, and more. They ship abroad, and their online catalog is here

Since 1842, Tuscan workshop Busatti has been handcrafting fine fabrics using traditional procedures; every step of the process is done by hand and takes place in Italy, including dying, spinning, weaving, and finishing. From tablecloths to bed linens, towels to baby bibs, they have many of their items on their online store

Masks from Venice: The perfect memento (or decoration)

handmade venetian mask

Handmade mask from Ca' Macana, a workshop in Venice
Venetian mask a great gift

A gorgeous gift: a Venetian mask

Despite being one of Italy's "newer" artisanal traditions (truly), Venetian mask-making is now the most popular on the island. As with "Murano glass," though, many of these masks are cheap, manufactured abroad… and not exactly a great (or artisanal!) holiday gift.

That's why I love Ca' Macana. If you go in person to the workshop in Dorsoduro, you'll see artists crafting each mask by hand. But if you can't make it there quite yet, then check out Ca' Macana's online store. Prices are very fair, starting at €19, and if you want to get a loved one a true objet d'arte, you can even pick a full-face mask that would make a gorgeous wall hanging; the one at right is only €59.

Please note: All photos in this post, aside from those of Le Tre Ghinee, were provided by the stores themselves and are their copyright, not mine.

 

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Gifts for Culture Vultures, History Nerds, and Art Lovers… with an Italian Twist

Looking for the perfect gift for that culture vulture in your life—someone who's loves history, art, engineering, cinema… or even opera? Here are some top gift ideas, with an Italian twist!

There are options here for those who live in Italy and those who don't, so whether you're an expat or an Italy-lover abroad, give them all a read. (This is part of a series of holiday gift guides!).

Gifts for ancient history buffs

Book gift for ItalophilesYou can't "get" ancient Rome without understanding Caesar. So give the aspiring Roman historian in your life Caesar: Life of a Colossus, possibly the most-comprehensive-yet-still-readable biography published of the Big Guy written in the last couple of decades. 

You don't have to be particularly interested in ancient history to be curious about Cleopatra—minx, stateswoman, and strategist. Stacy Schiff's new, compusively-readable biography Cleopatra: A Life balances juicy stories with a modern take.

One of the most dramatic stories in ancient history has to be the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius of 79 A.D. The documentary
Pompeii: The Last Day brings it to life with hair-raising dramatizations (and, of course, some history).

It's not all factual, but the BBC/HBO series Rome got a lot of things right, including the colorful, gritty atmosphere of Rome in the 1st century B.C. It's also a well-done, dramatic miniseries, one that will keep any ancient history buff addicted for hours. 

Ideas for art, architecture, and engineering lovers 

This art supply store in Florence dates back to 1342—and (this is even more amazing) it still sells paints, papers, and other supplies with formulas dating back to the Renaissance. Whether the artist in your life would like parchment skins for illumination and calligraphy, handmade paper for watercolor and sketching, or Renaissance-era paint pigments (lapis lazuli, anyone), Zecchi has it all. And you can both order items, and pay, online—and have them shipped abroad. Check out the Zecchi store online here.

Art programs in Italy

Children at one of Arte al Sole's programs; photo courtesy of Arte al Sole

If you're lucky enough to live in Italy, and if the art-lover in your life happens to be a child, then check out some of the fantastic programs offered by Arte al Sole. On Dec. 17 through 21, at St. Andrew's Church in Rome, they're running holiday workshops, in English, that take kids (aged 5-13) on an exploration of how Rome has celebrated the holidays, from antiquity up to today. They cost €40 for a one-day workshop or €70 for a two-day workshop; contact Shannon at shannon@italiakids.com or +39 3402140897. Other cool options, and gift ideas, for kids include summer sessions, like five days at the casale of Fontanelle where kids learn about glassblowing, weaving, and more.

Make your own mosaic

Give the gift of mosaic-making, using traditional Byzantine techniques!

Okay, this is a fun one. If you know someone who
loves the ancient art of mosaic, you can give them a mosaic kit to make their own… shipped from a mosaic workshop in Ravenna (the world capital of mosaic!). Small mosaic kits (making mosaics that are about 6 inches by 6.5 inches) are just €16, medium mosaics (about 7 inches by 9 inches) are €23, and large mosaics (8 by 10 inches) like this one, right, a reproduction of a mosaic at the Piazza Armerina in Sicily, start from €30. (There are lots of more modern patterns, as well). And yes, the owner has confirmed that she can ship abroad, including to the U.S.

Know someone who's fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci? You've got lots of interesting gift options. Ross King, the writer behind Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling and Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture—both of them must-reads for any lover of art or architecture—just wrote his latest: Leonardo and the Last Supper. It's gotten predictably excellent reviews, and sounds great. Otherwise, I'm itching to watch Da Vinci & Mysteries of the Renaissance, which has Emmy- and Golden Globe-award-winning episodes on Da Vinci, Copernicus, Kepler, Michelangelo, and more.

If your Leo lover is more of an engineer type, giving a model kit of one of da 
VinciVinci's designs—like his paddle boat, armored car and aerial screw (the helicopter's precursor)—is a fun option. (Seriously, check out how cool that is to the left!).

If you have a serious art history buff, then you can't go wrong with a gorgeous book like History of Italian Renaissance Artwhich looks pretty even on a coffee table.

Gifts for movie buffs

No classic film or Rome lover's movie collection is complete without Roman Holiday (clip shown above), the 1953 film starring the gamine Audrey Hepburn and dashing Gregory Peck. The same goes for La Dolce Vita, the Fellini movie that put the Trevi Fountain—and Anita Ekberg—forever in the international imagination.

Other musts for movie buffs: The Bicycle Thief (a 1948 film consistently rated as one of the best movies of all time), Il Postino (the Academy Award-winning 1995 film), and Cinema Paradiso(the gorgeous 1988 film that won the Best Foreign Language Oscar). Oh, not to mention Life is Beautifulthat heart-wrenching yet somehow-uplifting Roberto Benigni film that won the Cannes Grand Prize and the Oscar for best foreign language film.  

Il divoAnd while Italy's film industry might not be what it used to be, the country is still producing some top-quality movies. Keep the movie-lover in your life up-to-date with the best international films with, say, Il Divo, Paolo Sorrentino's acclaimed drama that's been described as "The 'Godfather' meets 'Nixon.'" Or Gomorrah, the disturbing, gritty, and all-too-true 2008 smash hit on the Mafia's hold on Italy. Or Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di Ferragosto), a sweet, funny 2010 film from one of the writers of Gomorrah. Or Nanni Moretti's famous The Son's Room, which won Best Picture in Cannes in 2001. 

And the list goes on!

Ideas for opera aficionados 

If the opera buff in your life can't get to La Scala… then seeing Verdi's La Traviata Special Edition in Blu-Ray, a top-quality recording of the entire opera, performed on stage, at La Scala in 2007, is the next best thing. Or if you think they'd rather be at the Arena of Verona, there's the 2011 Blu-Ray DVD recording of Puccini's Tosca, filmed of a production at the atmospheric, ancient theater. At less than $10 a pop, they're way cheaper than actually attending these operas (even closer to home!)—not that your gift recipient has to know that.

Another great option is Tutto Verdi Highlights, which includes arias from some 20 Verdi operas, all performed by the Teatro Regio di Parma.

Obviously, a CD of Italian opera can never go wrong. Especially if it's Pavarotti

Weep, Shudder, Die is a funny, accessible intro to understanding, and loving, opera; Ticket to the Opera is a super-comprehensive guide to 100 of opera's most famous works, with recommended recordings.

If you just want to go with the opera-ticket route, then check out the hundreds of opera listings, all over the world, on StubHub

Liked this gift guide? Make sure to check out my gift guide for food and wine lovers and my spotlight on gifts from the anti-Mafia organization Libera Terra!

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Gifts with a Conscience: Spotlight on Libera Terra

Libera Terra anti-Mafia cooperativeLibera Terra, an anti-Mafia cooperative in Italy, is inspiring, courageous, well worth supporting… and a great source for Christmas gifts.

No, really.

Libera Terra

Volunteers working a confiscated vineyard in Puglia

As everyone knows, Italy has a problem with organized crime. Libera Terra is one of the few, and bravest, grassroots organizations fighting it. Since a law was passed 13 years ago, saying that property acquired illegally be given to the community, more than 4,500 villas, farms, and other properties have been seized and returned to the people.

Libera Terra, which means "Free Land," sprung up from this law. The cooperative works the seized lands to produce (organic!) oil, wine, pasta, preserves, and other goodies; some of the agriturismi are available to stay at overnight (what a cool way to both delve into the local culture and support a good cause!). And each year, they run international community service camps, and they also often organize demonstrations and awareness-raising events against the Mafia's influence.

Think that sounds pretty cool? Me, too. 

And the good news is… you can support them. And give some cool gifts (including, maybe, to yourself). At the same time.

Here are a few ways:

Give organic, Italian foods and wines

Libera Terra wines, a great gift for those living in ItalyRemember how we talked about all of those gifts that would be great for foodies? Well, add this one to the list. Libera Terra sells all-organic, specialty Italian-food items–like Gragnano pasta, limoncello, marmalade made from Sicilian oranges, taralli, and wine. The prices are extremely fair, too (think €8 for a half-liter bottle of extra virgin olive oil, or €2.75 for a bag of Pugliese tarallini). 

If you don't want to pick items individually, right now, Libera Terra offers several beautifully-packed Christmas gift box options, including the large gift box (12 items, including wine, for €45), the medium gift box (6 items, including wine, for €26), or this set of three southern Italian wines (€23). 

You can place an order at the online Libera Terra shop; unfortunately, they only ship within Italy. Or, if you're coming to Italy, you can buy goods at one of Libera Terra's botteghe across the country. The newest was just opened in Milan last weekend; there are also stores in Florence, Pisa, Turin, Genova, Naples, and Palermo, among other cities (here's the complete list of Libera Terra shops). In Rome, the store, which is called "'La Bottega dei sapori e dei saperi della Legalità,"  was actually the first one opened in Italy. It's located at Via dei Prefetti 23; call +39 0669925262 for more.

Give the gift of travel—and a stay at an agriturismo in the land of The Godfather

Agriturismo run by Libera Terra

Portella della Ginestra, an agriturismo in Sicily run by Libera Terra

Know anyone traveling to Sicily—or planning to travel yourself? Then give the gift of a stay at one of the agriturismi run by Libera Terra. 

Agriturismi are, in my opinion, Italy's best-kept accommodation secret. These are farms, usually with separate guesthouses, where you can stay overnight. Usually, you have the option of a home-cooked dinner and breakfast. I've stayed in more than 100 of them, and the experiences have ranged—but I haven't had a single negative one. And contrary to misconceptions, no, you're not expected to help out on the farm or with the cooking, and no, you don't have to stay for a week or longer–often you can stay for just one night!

So I'm pretty psyched that it turns out that Libera Terra runs their own. And not only do they have two… but they're both in the Corleone province, made famous, of course, first by real Mafia bosses—and then by The Godfather's Vito Corleone. Pretty powerful stuff. 

You can see their program of agriturismi in English here. Notable is that at each of the two agriturismi, Portella della Ginestra and Terre di Corleone, all-organic food is prepared with Slow Food principles. Both are near nature reserves, and the Portella della Ginestra is adjacent to a horse-riding center. Prices—starting at €70 per night, including all meals—are pretty darn good.


Agriturismo run by Libera Terra

Dining room at Terre di Corleone

Finally, if you know anyone who's free Dec. 27-29—or if you are—there's a special "Weekend in Palermo" offered by Libera Terra. The escape includes two nights at a hotel in Palermo and visits to the Libera Terra-run farms on the Corleone land, all in a small group of just 12 to 15 participants. It's €198 per person.

Give a membership, including a subscription to Libera Terra's magazine

Narcomafie magazine of Libera TerraShow your support—and stay up-to-date with what's going on with the fight against criminal networks in the world—by becoming a member (or buying a membership for someone else!). It costs just €1 for a membership for those under 18 and €5 for young people between 18 and 25. For those over 25, it's just €15 for a year-long membership, including the magazine's 12 issues sent in PDF form, or €30 for those who want the magazine sent in print.

The magazine, Narcomafie, is in Italian, and the print issue only appears to be sent within Italy; however, if you live abroad and speak some Italian, I'm sure they'd be happy to PDF you the files for the cheaper membership fee!

Donate to Libera Terra

Not in Italy right now, but really, really like the sound of what Libera Terra is up to? Then donate! All you need is a credit card, and every little bit helps.

Please note that all photographs in this post are used courtesy of Libera Terra. 

Check out my Italian gift guide calendar to make sure you don't miss a good idea!

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Gift Ideas for Italy Lovers: The Food Edition

GIFT guide for foodies
Looking for a gift for someone who loves food—especially Italian food? Then do them, and me, a favor: Don't get them a gift certificate to the Olive Garden or a gift basket of random, made-in-the-U.S. products that reflect little to nothing of Italian food culture. 

These days, there's no reason to. Thank modern technology. Even if you're not in Italy, you can buy authentic, Italian foods—including cheeses, meats, pastas, coffees, and more—that make fantastic gifts for foodies and Italophiles alike. 

Whether you're looking for a stocking stuffer, a single present, or some items to put together your own gift basket, here are some Italian food gift ideas to get you started. 

(This is the first of a series of holiday gift guides I'll be publishing!).

Stocking stuffers for the sweet-toothed

BaciOf Italy's many kinds of Christmas cakes, panettone the most famous. Originally from Milan, it's studded with raisins and candied fruit peels. Although it's best to get it fresh from a local baker, you can get it online if you have to.

Baci chocolates are so well-known in Italy, "Baci" is a common gelato flavor. And no wonder: They're a blend of milk chocolate and ground hazelnutes (dubbed gianduia), crowned with a hazelnut and covered in dark chocolate. In other words… I'm not sure there's a chocolate lover in the world who wouldn't want to see this box under their tree. Unless they were allergic to nuts.

The Italian spread Nutella has become a worldwide sensation, and with reason: This creamy, hazelnut-and-chocolate spread goes on, well, almost anything. Including your finger, straight out of the jar. Top off the topping with The Unofficial Guide to Nutella, a fun, easy-to-read, and recipe-filled book by my friends Sara Rosso and Michelle Fabio. 

Staples for anyone: Italian olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Top-notch Italian olive oil is always a great gift

Top-notch Italian olive oil, like this one from Fontanaro, is always a great gift

As any "foodie" knows, great food starts with great ingredients. And few staples are more important, whether you're cooking "Italian" or not, than a great olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Frankly, I don't like to cook. But if I just drizzle a little bit of a top-notch, extra-virgin olive oil (more on what that is in a moment) on pasta or a salad, somehow, I feel like I'm eating food whipped up by Mario Batali himself.  

So, when it comes to olive oil, choose your oil carefully. Extra-virgin is a must, but that's not enough, since fraud is rampant in the olive oil industry. Seventy percent of extra-virgin olive oils sold worldwide aren't extra-virgin, in fact, but are cut with lower-grade oils.

Some trustworthy places to buy olive oil include the selection of Italian, imported oils at Zingerman's or the Corti Brothers (who also, by the way, have some other amazing-looking, authentic Italian food products).

My favorite extra-virgin olive oil, though, is produced by my friend Alina at Fontanaro, an organic agriturismo on the Tuscan-Umbrian border run by Alina and her mother. Their oil is rated as among the best in Italy by guides like Gambero Rosso and Slow Food; it's also organic, delicious, and can be shipped anywhere in the world. And the prices couldn't be more fair. Email alina@fontanaro.it for more info, or check out Cleo's Fine Oils and Vinegars, which sometimes has Fontanaro's oils in stock. (And yes: This is the olive oil I have on my counter right now).

Pick your balsamic vinegar of Modena carefully, as well; you always want to make sure it has the "D.O.P." label, which means that it was, in fact, created in Modena, using the right grapes, the right process, and meeting the right quality standards. (In the U.S., we can call anything "balsamic vinegar of Modena," even if it never touched Italy). The award-winning Vigna Oro Balsamic Vinegar di Modena DOP is a good bet.

For caffeine addicts 

Christmas gift from ItalyDo right by the caffeine-lovers in your life. If you can't make it to Sant'Eustachio, the best spot for coffee in Rome, in person to scoop up some blends as a gift, you're still in luck: They now have blends available online. Pick from whole beans or ground coffee.

And to really have coffee the Italian way, don't forget the espresso maker. These little contraptions are small, cheap, and long-lasting, and they're an integral part of Italy's coffee culture: I have yet to enter a single Italian kitchen that doesn't have at least one of these sitting on the stove (and no American filter-coffee machine in sight!). 

For cheese and meat-lovers 

Christmas gifts from Italy for foodies

Give the carnivore in your life a real taste of Italy…

Although it seems a little random (you're going to give someone meats and cheeses? really?), this can be a great gift. A couple of years ago, I made up a basket of cured meats I'd brought from Italy for my stepfather, a real guy's guy; he loved it (and, needless to say, it disappeared quickly). 

Just remember that it's impossible to get cured meats, like prosciutto, as thinly-sliced as they would be at an Italian butcher. So to go a step beyond, consider giving an electric food slicer to go with that array of meats.

If you're not in Italy, and you can't find authentic, Italian meats and salamis at your local butcher (if you want the "real deal," always ask where they're sourced from), then check into ordering online. (As with all of these products, ensure that what you're buying is made in and shipped from Italy and, if applicable, protected by "D.O.P." or "I.G.P." status). Mortadella from Bologna might be where we got our "baloney" from, but yes, the real deal is a completely different (and tastier) story. For a less-known meat, speck from Alto Adige is a lightly-smoked, dry-cured ham from the Tyrolean region of Italy . My favorite, though—and this is something that's in my kitchen here in Rome right now—is the delicious standby, prosciutto di Parma.

FontinaFor cheese-lovers, an array of some of Italy's best cheeses can't go wrong. Some of my favorites include fontina from theValle d'AostaPecorino Romano from Rome, caciotta al tartufo from Umbriaricotta salata from Sicily, and, of course, the two most famous guys: fresh mozzarella di bufala from Campania (I promise, it's completely different than mozzarella back home) and Parmigiano Reggiano from Parma (also completely unlike that powdery stuff you get in the green cans in U.S. grocery stores). Yum!

Books for cooks

CookbookThis book hits shelves tomorrow, but it's already available for pre-order… and looks fantastic. The Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking, published by the editors of La Cucina Italiana magazine, features how-tos for every quintessential Italian cooking technique, from how to shape tortellini to how to recognize a San Marzano tomato. Some 500 recipes are included, too. A great gift for beginners to Italian cooking, or for those who want to brush up on their techniques. 

(Another nice gift idea, of course, is a subscription to La Cucina Italiana magazine).

Cookbook 2Or go for the bible of Italian country cooking. La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy got its start 50 years ago, when Italian scholars gathered to figure out how they could preserve traditional, Italian cooking in the face of so much change. The Italian Academy of Cuisine did research in hundreds of villages, getting recipes right from people cooking in front of their stoves, and gathered these 2,000 recipes, which include arancini di riso from Sicily, buridda (fish stew) from Liguria, and everything in between.

 For a cookbook of Italian recipes at their most authentic, check out the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Don't expect any spaghetti and meatball recipes here: Instead, there are fantastic treatments of classics like ossobucco, polenta, gnocchi, risotto, and more.

I love the idea behind the beautifully-photographed The Italian Farmer's Table: Authentic Recipes and Local Lore from Northern ItalyIt gathers 150 recipes taken directly from agriturismi in northern Italy. In other words, it doubles as a cookbook… and as inspiration for anyone planning on visiting northern Italy and wanting ideas of where to go, what to eat, and even what agriturismi to stay in!

For winos wine-lovers

Wine, a great gift for Italophiles
Pair a bottle of excellent Italian wine with a little background reading for the recipient. One great place for wine-lovers to start is Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy, which covers Italy's wine-producing regions, identifies their most important wine styles, prodcuers, and vintages, and even includes recipes.  

Wine Map of Italyis, literally, a map—and any wine-lover will want to have it as a reference at hand, or even tacked to their wall. It includes Italy's DOC, DOCG and IGT wine zones, plus an index booklet.

Gambero Rosso's Italian Wines has always been the number-one way to sort out Italy's best vintages, from the rest. The Italian Wines 2012version is a little different than past ones, but wine enthusiasts will still want to have it on their shelves.

For those who like reading about food (almost) as much as eating it

BookHow Italian Food Conquered the World is a great look at, well, how Italian food conquered the world—or, more accurately, how it transformed as it moved from Italy into immigrant communities abroad. I've written about the book before.

Waverley Root's The Food of Italy is a classic; each chapter covers a different Italian region, with basics about the area's food culture and its most popular dishes. 

Probably the most fun of all of these reads, Delizia!: The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food is a well-written, fast-paced history of Italy—told through its food, from Renaissance banqueting halls to 19th-century Naples alleyways.

Olive oil's history isn't just thousands of years long… it's also full of scandal—perhaps not so surprising in an industry that has as much money in it as hard drugs (!). This book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, started as a New Yorker article, and it's on my bookshelf Kindle as we speak. 

Liked this gift guide? Then make sure to check out the other ones I'll be posting soon!

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Announcing: Gift Guides for Italophiles

Italy gift guides
Looking for the perfect gift for someone who loves Italy? Starting tomorrow, I'm going to be running a series of guides on Italy gift ideas. These guides include both gifts that you can order to be shipped abroad, and gifts that you can procure if you're living here in Italy. So I'm hoping both Italophiles here in Italy, and elsewhere, will find them helpful!

(Update:Don't miss the 2014 Italy gift guides, including the best gifts for Italy-bound travelers and the finest Italian gifts on the web!).

The calendar:

Monday, November 12: Gifts for foodies, cooks, and coffee-lovers

Thursday, November 15: Gifts with a conscience: Spotlight on Libera Terra

Sunday, November 18: Gift ideas for culture vultures and history nerds

Wednesday, November 21: Gifts with a conscience: Spotlight on Italian artisans—whose work can be shipped abroad

Tuesday, November 26: Gift ideas for those traveling to Italy

Friday, November 30: A roundup of my favorite shops here in Rome for finding one-of-a-kind gifts 

Exhaustive? Yes. Helpful? I hope so!

 

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