Postcards from Italy

Five Great Italian Desserts for the Holidays

There's nothing like a touch of Italy on the holiday table, from great hard-to-find wines to local specialties like truffle sauce or extra virgin olive oil carefully tucked away and carried back in luggage from your latest trip. If you've exhausted your vacation cupboard by the time Christmas rolls around, preparing a traditional dish can add a bit of old world glamour to your table.

cannolo-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though a towering plate of pasta may be too much of a departure from tradition for your holiday feast, even the most old school guests will appreciate an Italian dessert. Like all Italian food, Italy's desserts are relatively simple and must be made with the best fresh ingredients. Here are a few crowd-pleasers sure to bring just the right touch of the Bel Paese to your holiday celebration this year:

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Women in Wine

A large number of Italy's most innovative wineries are run by women. We have been so struck by the excellent wines they are producing that we began collecting their labels for our home cellar a few years ago.

Succede alle cantine Caprai...(Photo by Michela Simoncini via Flickr)

Though there has been an association for women winemakers in Italy since 1988, and we have been searching out these interesting vintners for years, the recent increase of women in the Italian wine industry has begun to catch the attention of the international press.

Many of these female entrepeneurs have taken over family wineries, pairing tradition with progress, but others have founded new estates and built up their reputation from scratch. We often include these women-run wineries on our Italian travel itineraries that focus on food and wine. From organic to biodynamic, from Trentino to Sicily, from Prosecco to Chianti Classico, there is a wine to suit all tastes and budgets from Italy's donne del vino.

Here are a few of our favorites:

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Italy's Most Iconic Piazzas

The heart of an Italian home is the kitchen, and the heart of an Italian neighborhood, town, or city is the piazza. Just like the kitchen, the piazza is where family, friends, and neighbors congregate. They exchange news, participate in public celebrations and events, shop at the weekly market, or simply while away the hours with espresso, an aperitivo, or a gelato...since no piazza is complete without a bar.

In addition to being the hub of local life, Italy's piazzas have historically served as the focal point of the town's political and religious life. The central piazza of each town or small city is usually where the municipal building and the main cathedral are located, as well as the residences of the most important local nobility and clergy, often dating back centuries.

sampietrini-roma-piazza-del-popolo-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

In the past, wealthy and influential towns and cities also used their main piazza to showcase their power by commissioning monumental fountains or statues as decoration to impress visitors and citizens alike. From soaring church spires to humble cafe tables, the piazza encompasses the most important touchstones of Italian life and culture.

Here are five of the most iconic and beautiful piazzas in Italy, each embodying the essence of their city or town:

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Florence's Famous Flood

Though Florence's Arno is a picturesquely placid river most of the time - the perfect spot for a sunset row or the backdrop for a romantic snapshot from the Ponte Vecchio - once every few years an exceptionally heavy rain passes through Tuscany and the river rises and swells, flooding its banks and almost reaching the level of its historic bridges and retaining walls. It is during these tense hours that Italy is reminded of one of its most destructive natural disasters in the last century: the flooding of Florence on November 4th, 1966.

Alluvione di Firenze 07.jpg
Pubblico dominio, Collegamento

The Arno has overflowed its banks many times throughout history, but this flood was one of the most devastating, killing 17 Florentines (and 18 others in neighboring towns) and leaving thousands of families homeless. Countless works of art, antique books, and historic documents were lost or damaged by the water and mud that flooded the lower levels of the city's churches, libraries, and archives, some of which have yet to be restored.

Di Ricce - Opera propria, Pubblico dominio, Collegamento

Decades have passed since that terrible day, but traces of the flood still remain in the city, both physically and in the living memory of its citizens.

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The Day of the Dead and Italy's Famous Tombs

Though you would never know it by the Halloween mania that has swept Italy over the past few years, this holiday is a recent cultural import from the US. Until just a decade ago, trick-or-treating and masquerading as witches and ghouls was unknown in Italy, and the first days of November were instead dedicated to celebrating All Saints' Day and All Souls, known together as I Santi e I Morti.

purgatorio 1(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

We love Halloween fun, but also value Italy's unique cultural heritage and traditional holidays. If you are visiting on November 2nd, you can experience first hand the affection that Italians feel for their deceased loved ones by stopping in at one of the country's many beautiful monumental cemeteries, which are crowded with visitors leaving flowers and lighting candles at their family tombs each year on All Souls Day.

purgatorio 2(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

As you probably don't have any family members or friends buried in Italy to honor, here are some illustrious graves of Italy's most famous historical and cultural figures you can visit instead to pay your respects and participate in one of the most heartfelt holidays on the Italian calendar.

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