Shopping on the Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast is arguably the world's most famous stretch of coastline, the setting for Silver Screen romances and chic fashion shoots alongside vacationing celebrities, honeymooners, and everyone in between. If you are planning a visit to this stunning coast, be ready to take on the hairpin curves of the famously tortuous highway skirting the shoreline, explore the Instagram-ready towns of Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello, and relax over a plate of fresh seafood at a seaside restaurant with sighs of delight as the sun dips into the Mediterranean.

amalfi-coast-boat-tour-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Be prepared to shop, as well. The coast doesn't offer the famed cultural landmarks of Rome or Florence - though Pompeii is a quick day trip away - but it does have majestic scenery, elegant dining, and some memorable shopping. From artisan workshops to luxury designer boutiques, there are ample opportunities to choose a special memento of your stay on Italy's iconic Costiera.

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Outlet Shopping in Italy

The summer sale season has begun in Italy, a country where driving is largely anarchical yet periods in which stores can hold sales are highly regulated region by region. There are two officially sanctioned periods each year - summer and winter - during which almost all stores hold a massive clearance sale lasting from a few weeks to two months, making space for the following season's new arrivals and throwing bargain-hunting Italians into a shopping frenzy.

saldi-italy-cr-brian-dorePhoto by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr

There are incredible deals to be found during the sale seasons, especially for those with a bit of patience who can hold out to the final days when stores offer up to 80% off their normal prices in a final push to clear their stock. However, if you are not traveling during these magical weeks, you will probably not stumble upon surprise bargains; shops are only allowed to advertise special offers in very specific cases (going out of business sales, for example).

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Italian Design

Milan celebrated its annual Design Week last week, which combines the Salone del Mobile international furniture fair in the sprawling Rho Fiera pavilions and the Fuorisalone, a series of design-related events held throughout the city during the same week in April.

salonemobile(Photo: Salone Del Mobile)

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A Day in Trieste

The world sees Italy as a homogenous country, united from north to south by a common language and culture, but this relatively new nation was united only in the late 1800's from a patchwork of former kingdoms and territories grouped - sometimes reluctantly - under a single flag but with vastly diverse histories and traditions. This is especially true in the case of the Italian islands, where millennia of geographic isolation has created local cultures much different from mainland Italy, and on the northern Alpine borders, where many regions were part of the neighboring empires until very recently.

Piazza Unità d'Italia(Photo by Leandro Ciuffo via Flickr)

The elegant city of Trieste is an excellent example of Italy's fascinating diversity. Located on the border between Italy and Slovenia on the Adriatic coast, this wealthy city has seen at least a dozen waves of invaders and rulers since the Romans. Most recently, Italy was granted the city after World War I and annexed the area from the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Though Trieste remained an intellectual hub and center for important literary and artistic movements, the rise of Fascism and campaign to transform this formerly heterogeneous city into a “città italianissima” led to attacks on and subsequent emigrations of the city's large ethnically Slovene population in addition to its Jewish population, which was the third largest in Italy.
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Italy's Handcrafted Paper

After its rich culture and even richer food, one of the best things about visiting Italy is shopping. From high-end fashion and design to exquisite artisan wares, Italy is full of unique treasures that are a both a refreshing change from chain store anonymity and imbued with a history and tradition often dating back centuries.

paper-bevagna-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

We have talked about some of our favorite artisan souvenirs in the past, but have never mentioned one of Italy's most affordable (and packable) traditional crafts: paper.
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Italy from Head to Toe

You may think you know all of the Bel Paese's prestigious “Made in Italy” products. You have felt the cashmere and silks, ordered the fine linen, admired the ceramics, worn the leather, sipped the wine, and sampled all of Italy's best fare from prosciutto to pasticcera. But there is one product, humble yet unsurpassable, that only true insiders know to stock up on when visiting: socks.

Non-Euclidean(Photo by David Goehring via Flickr)

Italy's focus on fashion and design doesn't stop at the ankles. Under those fabulous Prada heels or Tod's loafers, Italians don soft, fine weave cotton or wool socks in eye-popping colors and designs. The quality and creativity of their socks (and, for women, tights) isn't so surprising if you think about it...Italy also produces impeccable lingerie for men and women (think La Perla), so their attention to style begins at the skin and travels from head to toe.
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How to Claim VAT Refunds in Italy

Claiming VAT (sales tax, or IVA in Italian) refunds in Italy is one of those situations which seems like a no-brainer in theory, but in practice the logistics and timing can often be dauntingly complicated. As Brian says, “It's not a slam dunk that is always worth the effort.” That said, if you have spent a significant amount of money on important purchases while traveling in Italy, you may want to dedicate the extra thought and time to pursuing a refund of the 20% EU Value-Added Tax that is applied on all consumer goods—excluding meal and accommodation costs, unless you are traveling for business--in Italy.

NOT only the Devil wears Prada!(Photo by Marcel Van den Berge via Flickr)

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The Best Souvenirs from Italy

There is a difference between a souvenir and a memento. The former calls to mind cheap, often tacky, ultimately dust-collecting gewgaws picked off the shelves of rather seedy street-side shops -- usually at the pressing insistence of bored children—and then quickly passed on to dogsitters and elderly aunts back home.

The latter, instead, suggests something deeper. Not only is it an object (ideally impossible to find in your home city) that captures the character and artistry of a specific place, but also your state of mind and heart while you were there. All this, and, of course, the more practical requisites of being small enough to easily pack in your suitcase, and useful (or loved) enough not to be relegated to the back of a closet in a few months or years.

Untitled(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Here we suggest a few of our favorite purchases while traveling in Italy, objects that encompass the spirit of the memento though, for the sake of familiarity, we’ll call them souvenirs. Read More...

Deruta’s Majolica

Beijing may be the city of bicycles, Zurich the city of banks, and Las Vegas the city of sin, but no town is as synonymous with a single identifying feature as Deruta, a tiny hill-town in Italy’s central region of Umbria. Read More...

So You Want to Go Shopping in Italy

shopping in italy strolling the galleria
Photo by Flickr user Dajan

Besides enjoying the scenery, the food, the arts, and the people, shopping in Italy is one of our favorite activities.

What You Need to Know: The Basics


First and foremost, prepare at home to spend abroad. Call your banks and credit card companies to confirm your travel dates and avoid getting your accounts locked for fraud.

Once in Italy, you may find that intriguing shop you’ve got your eye on always looks closed. Shops in Italy often close for a long break for lunch at 1 PM. So while you’re often out of luck at 2 PM, late afternoon openings mean you can shop more or less from 4 PM until dinnertime at 8 PM.


shopping in italy specialty food store
Photo by Flickr user Roboppy

In the shop, start off with a “buongiorno” (good day) or a “buonasera” (good evening) if it’s afternoon to the shopkeeper to get things going on the right foot. Shopping in Italy is a rather collaborative experience; often, the customer isn’t even supposed to touch things.

Discuss, point, or otherwise indicate what you are looking for, and your salesperson will take care of you. In the more popular tourist destinations, the shop personnel generally speak English. In smaller towns or off the beaten track destinations, try out your charade skills.

If you’re making a substantial purchase (more than 155 euros in one shop), consider getting a partial refund on your 21% value-added tax (IVA) payment. You’ll need to start the paperwork at the time of purchase and then visit the customs desk at the airport before leaving Italy.

What Should You Shop For?


Everything?

If only there were enough time and luggage space. These are some of our favorite things to bring home:

Clothing


shopping in italy clothes store
Photo by Flickr user Sifu Renka

Look up how your usual size translates into European measurements for both clothing and shoes (Italy is simply the best place for fine leather goods), but don’t be surprised if you need a larger size. Italian clothing is cut slim. Try everything on before purchasing, as returns are often not possible.

Food & Wine


shopping in italy specialty food panforte
Photo by Flickr user Gashwin

Food stores are where the “look but don’t touch” ethos is most paramount. Let the salesperson give you samples and guide you to something special. But be forewarned: anything fresh – and to U.S. Customs that includes cured meats – can’t come home. Enjoy it while you’re there! Aged cheeses can be brought back so if you want to bring a small wheel of Pecorino from Pienza back home, just ask them to vacuum pack it (sotto vuoto in Italian). Olive oil and wine are ok as well. If you do plan to do some food shopping in Italy, be sure to bring a few ziplock bags with you from home - they are great for keeping any breakage during travel under control.

Linens


shopping in italy linens
Photo by Flickr user Bart Hanlon

With access to stunning handmade linens like those at Brozzetti (highlighted earlier this month), it’s impossible to resist bringing one of a kind household linens home. Linens make great gifts - they don’t take up a lot of space and aren’t breakable. Brian’s mother advised us long ago to never leave home without a notebook of all of our table measurements. We pass along her wise words.

Pottery & Glassware


shopping in italy pottery
Photo by Flickr user Andrew Batram

If you love painted pottery, you’ll be in heaven. But before you fall in love, ask about shipping. Some of our favorite shops charge (thankfully) by box size not weight, but usually international shipping rates apply and they aren’t “cheap”. You may also receive a bill from US Customs for duty on shipped ceramic items.

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

Handmade Italian Textiles from the Masters at Brozzetti

When you reach Giuditta Brozzetti’s Handmade Fabric Museum and Workshop, it’s easy to think you’ve got the wrong place.

The Women’s Church of St. Francis


brozzetti italian textiles
Image © Concierge in Umbria

The street address leads you to an early 13th century church near Perugia's historic center. The atrium (pictured above) could be the office of the convent’s head sister, with its spare but elegant furnishings.

It was here that San Francesco and his disciples made their home while they were teaching in Perugia. And this church – today Perugia’s oldest Franciscan church – was erected on the spot in the saint’s honor. A group of Benedictine nuns then resided there on and off for the next 600 years.

But as you venture into the main church, you find antique looms lined up within each arch of the arcaded aisles.

brozzetti italian textiles loom
Image © Concierge in Umbria

And as textiles historian and Brozzetti co-owner Clara Baldelli Bombelli unravels the history of Umbrian weaving, through one breathtaking sample after another of the workshop’s delicate, colorful recreations of Deruta ceramic-inspired embroidery, veil-like silk and linen curtains, and cashmere- and gold-threaded tapestries, you come to share her belief that the church is the ideal place to honor the region’s traditionally feminine monastic crafts.

The Long Tradition of Umbrian Weaving


brozzetti italian textiles weaving
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Weaving as both a craft and an art form is believed to have developed in Umbria between the 11th and 13th centuries.

But it was in the next three centuries that the industry, and its designs, came into their own.

Umbria-woven linen altar cloths with geometric borders (similar to the Medieval tessuto rustico pictured above) and regal animal figures became in moda throughout Italy. Umbrian griffins, lions, and eagles – based on Etruscan pottery – could be found gracing the vestments of the high-ranking church figures and the tables of the wealthiest Renaissance families.

Unfortunately, after its Renaissance peak, the Umbrian textile industry declined almost to the point of extinction, until, in the early 1900s, a group of Umbrian woman revived interest in the traditional designs.

Giuditta Brozzetti, Clara’s grandmother, was one of those leading the charge, and Brozzetti founded her workshop not only as a production center, but also as a school to further the craft.

Brozzetti’s Work Today


brozzetti italian textiles jaquard plates
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Generation after generation, from mother to daughter, this tradition of education and excellence has continued through today.

If you have a day or a week, Clara and Marta will impart their deep knowledge of the craft’s history through basic weaving courses or in-depth dives into the intricacies of traditional Umbrian motifs. What sets the Brozzetti workshop apart, besides being one of the few wholly handmade cloth workshops left, are these designs (created on the pattern machine above).

Clara’s daughter, master weaver Marta Cucchi, studies paintings from the likes of Simone Martini, Ghirlandaio, and even Giotto and da Vinci featuring Umbrian cloths to uncover Renaissance patterns that have been lost to the weaving community over the centuries.

The Region of Umbria honored Brozzetti in 2004 for this important preservation work, officially including the workshop in its museum system.

Don’t Forget A Souvenir


brozzetti italian textiles weaving
Image © Concierge in Umbria

While you’re busy admiring the antique jacquard looms, skeins of jewel-colored linen, cotton, silk, and cashmere thread lined up like jellies in a candy shop, and Marta swiftly warping and wefting away in the midst of it all, don’t forget to choose a favorite.

We think it’s a sin to miss the opportunity to pick out one of the workshop’s divine creations in person.

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy