Postcards from Italy

Shave and a Haircut in Italy

There are many trends regarded as fashionably hipster in the United States which are, in Italy, at the least old school and at the most simply the way things are done. Small, family-owned businesses, artisan crafts, handmade accessories and shoes, eating locally, farmers’ markets, espresso bars, Vespas, fedoras: these hallmarks of cool in spots like Brooklyn and Portland have all been cribbed from the decidedly not alternative small towns of Italy.

DSC06004(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

In this same new-to-us-throwback-to-them vein is the historic barbershop. Though old-style shave-and-a-haircut boutiques (offering craft beer) are popping up wherever handlebar mustaches are worn in the U.S., the corner barbershop in Italy has remained an understated institution for the past century and a visit is less a token of hip and more a step into the past. Read More…

Nocino: Italy's Most Beloved Digestivo

Just yesterday, Italians celebrated the Feast Day of Saint John—or the Festa di San Giovanni—with food, fireworks, and showy pageantry. At least, that’s how citizens marked the day in some of Italy’s biggest and most cosmopolitan cities. In the quiet countryside, however, this saint’s day was observed with a much humbler but no less traditional rite: gathering green walnuts to put up the annual batch of one of Italy’s most popular digestive liqueurs, Nocino.

Italians have penchant for digestivi (the function of which, as the name suggests, is to settle the stomach after overindulging at the table), especially amari, or those bitter elixirs made with infusions of either plants and vegetables or a complex mix of herbs and spices. Mouth-puckeringly alcoholic and tongue-blisteringly aromatic, these drinks are not for the faint of heart (or liver). There are a number of digestivi that any restaurant or home cook will have at the ready to finish off a meal--measuring out no more than three or four sips to be presented in tiny digestivi glasses--but the one served with most pride is the house Nocino.

Tweetable: Across Italy yesterday, home cooks were picking green walnuts to put up this year’s batch of Nocino

Walnuts for Nocino(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
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Fire and Water: the Feast Day of San Giovanni

It’s so easy to lose track of time when you travel. In fact, that might be one of the most blissful aspects of setting out for distant lands, this sense of timelessness when you no longer know what day of the week it is, what month, or what holiday.

Of course, finding yourself unaware of a passing holiday is more common when you’re in a foreign country with a foreign calendar...especially when you’re in a foreign country like Italy, where it seems that every other day the nation is commemorating a historical event, saint, or random day of R&R. Here you are, happily getting on with it, when suddenly—and, to you, inexplicably—you find museums closed, hotels booked, and a procession complete with marching band and Madonna statue weaving its way down the main Corso.

Tweetable: Cities across Italy will be celebrating the Feast Day of Saint John next week with fire and water.

One of the holidays that often sneaks up on visitors to Italy is the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist--La Festa di San Giovanni--on June 24th (John the Baptist is the only saint whose feast day is celebrated on his birthday rather than his date of death, incidentally). Though not a national holiday, it is a festive occasion in a number of Italy’s most important cities where San Giovanni is patron saint, including Florence, Turin, and Genoa.

If you are traveling through Italy during late June, you may want to join in on one of these celebrations, which are infused with centuries of local history and culture. Though they take place hundreds of kilometers apart, they are united in their themes of fire and water, two elements linked to Saint John from pagan tradition. Read More…

Belli Bellini

How well do you know your Bellini, that deceptively simple combination of just two ingredients—Prosecco and peach nectar—into a delighfully refreshing cocktail? Here’s a pop quiz:

  • The best Bellini in Venice can be had at Harry’s Bar, where it was famously invented in the 1940s.
  • A Bellini has a distinct dusty rose color, which comes from the color of the pureéd peaches.
  • No peach nectar, no Bellini.

All three are true, right?


We were recently treated to hands-down the most delicious Bellini now being served in Venice, the signature cocktail of one of the city’s most respected mixologists, award-winning cocktail innovator Marino Lucchetti.

Bellini cocktail at the Londra Palace, Venice(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr) Read More…

Rome with Kids: A Family Friendly Tour

At first glance, Rome will not strike any parent as particularly kid-friendly. One of Europe’s largest and most visited cities, this sprawling metropolis is home to some of the world’s greatest treasures of art and archaeology, but can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate for families traveling with children.

rome with kids 001
(Photo by Rebecca Winke for Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Which is why the Eternal City is the perfect place to explore with a tour guide specialized in bringing the city’s iconic cultural sites to life (while coordinating bathroom and water breaks) for kids of various ages, attention spans, and interests. My sons (who are nine and twelve) and I recently spent a day with Valerio, one of Concierge in Umbria’s go-to family-friendly tour guides for Rome, who is also an art historian and expert on Rome and Roman history. Here’s our review of the sights we visited, with high points and caveats!
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Italy’s Best Car and Automotive Museums

The world mourned Massimo Vignelli last week, one of Italy’s most influential designers who was the genius behind such iconic graphic images as Bloomingdale’s shopping bags and New York City’s uniquely Modernist subway map. In reviewing his ubiquitous influence, we were reminded of how important Italian design has been to the 20th century aesthetic evolution of everything from espresso pots to sunglasses to cinema to cars.

Especially cars.

Some of the sexiest (okay, beautiful...but we all know they’re sexy) cars produced since Ford cranked out the first Model Ts have come from Italy; indeed, if you want to nitpick, the first car ever built was a wind-driven vehicle which used a windmill-type drive to power gears and turn wheels designed by Guido da Vigevano in 1335. Names like Lamborghini and Maserati have become synonymous with sinewy, flowing lines that belie the power of their roaring engines and conjure up images of La Dolce Vita-era film stars speeding their way along the Italian coast.

Ferrari classic cars(Photo by Kosala Bandara via Flickr) Read More…