Take back a little piece of Italy in your suitcase and everyone will be satisfied, so here are the very best Italian Christmas presents for everyone on your list this year.
For cultured friends: Italian art
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
No need to shell out on an original Caravaggio (though if you're really lucky there might be one hiding in your attic). But prints of famous Italian artworks can be found at any gallery gift shops and most souvenir shops have arty prints too.
As an alternative to the more traditional pieces, why not try to find a local artist? We recommend CLET in Florence (famous for his quirky road sign art) or Alice Pasquini in Rome, who has painted murals and street art all over the country.
For foodies: as much Italian food as you can fit in your case
Photo: N i c o l a/Flickr
Give friends and family a taste of Italy. Italy has 138 products of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO or DOP in Italian), which means they’re authentic and of high quality. Extra virgin olive oil (make sure to check the label carefully to get the good stuff), pesto and Modena's balsamic vinegar are a great starting point, and you can't go wrong with Baci, Italian Christmas cake panettone or Nutella anything.
One word of warning: be very careful how you package the gifts if you’re taking them in your suitcase. Arriving home to find your clothes covered in an oily mess is not how you want to start the holiday.
For party-lovers: Limoncello
Sure, Italy’s wine is delicious and cheap, but it's also a bit of an obvious gift. For a bit of variety, add limoncello to your shopping list. The lemon liquor is the perfect digestif and has been popular in Italy for over a century; its sunny yellow colour and citrus taste will brighten up any winter evening. Alternatively, prosecco and grappa always go down well.
For children: a Befana doll
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
According to Italian legend, the good witch Befana delivers presents to good children over Christmas, and you'll see Befana dolls at most Christmas markets and touristy shops.
The story goes that when the Wise Men invited her to search for Jesus with them, she said she was too busy, but later changed her mind and still travels the world in search of the holy baby to this day. It makes for a gift that's a bit out of the ordinary, sure to delight the children on your list.
For Pope Francis fans: Vatican merchandise
Photo: Gent Shkullaku/AFP
Keyrings, mugs, clothes, iPhone cases, toilet paper … it would be quicker to list the products you can’t buy with the Pope’s face plastered over them, especially if you’re shopping in Rome. If your friends a fan of Francis, let them show the world with their own piece of Pope merchandise.
For the ones you miss: Symbols of your new hometown
Photo: Massimiliano Calamelli/Flickr
This gift works well because it's a subtle reminder to your friends back home not to forget you. Each town and city in Italy has its own emblem, and it shouldn't be hard to find out what it is and track down themed products. You've got the lily in Florence, the she-wolf in Rome, and the lion of Venice for starters. Cufflinks, jewellery or other items with your town or city's emblem on them have a classier touch than the usual 'I Heart Italy' tee-shirts and bags.
For Christmas obsessives: an Italian nativity scene
We all know someone whose house transforms into a glitzy wonderland each December. Help them bring some variety to the decorations with a traditional Italian presepe (crib). Nativity scenes are hugely popular in Italy so it should be easy to find a suitable size and style – you can go traditional with handcrafted religious figurines, or look for something more quirky, like a chocolate or Disney-themed nativity.
For literature lovers: A modern Italian classic
Do you have a friend who's devoured Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels and wants more of the same? For anyone who loves Italy, a good book can be the next best thing to a flight ticket there, and there's certainly no shortage of great Italian literature. A few great contemporary Italian authors (whose books have been translated into English) include Paolo Giordano, Dacia Maraini, and Andrea Camilleri of Inspector Montalbano fame. And you can find a list of our top five novels that give an insight into Italian life here.
For hard-to-buy-for relatives: locally-made ornaments
Show off your new hometown – and support regional businesses – by gifting trinkets made from local materials. You can find beautiful crockery and ornaments made from Murano glass, Etna lava stone or Umbrian ceramics. Alternatively, Italian leather is usually top quality, so you could look for bags, belts or leather-bound notebooks.
For your favourite cook: Italian kitchen essentials
If you've got a friend who loves cooking, help them kit out their kitchen Italian style with a few essentials. Some suggestions include a moka pot for the perfect espresso, a pasta-maker or a mouli (a slightly old fashioned mill/grinder which allows you to puree food without making it completely smooth). Or you could get them a recipe book for fresh inspiration: try Marcella Hazan or Rachel Roddy for great writing in English about Italian food.
For your kind-hearted friends: products from Italy's earthquake-hit zone
One of the prosciutto production buildings in quake-hit Norcia. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
The central region of Italy is badly damaged from a series of quakes earlier this year, and one of the big worries is the impact on tourism and agriculture in the region, which account for a large portion of its economy. The Valnerina Online website offers a good list of places where you can buy food from the area, in order to support local farmers and artisans. From the famous Norcia ham to truffles, chocolates and more, this has to be the most delicious way to give something back to Italy.
For your closest friends: A trip to Italy!
Photo: Jason Puddephatt/Flickr
Rather than sending them a mere souvenir of your adopted country, why not invite your favourite people to explore Italy for themselves – and visit you? Several companies offer cultural courses, so you could give the gift of learning to draw in Florence, pizza-making in Naples or Italian lessons in Bologna.
And a bonus gift for absolutely everyone: Italy's 'hot priests' calendar
Italy's Calendario Romano, or as many Romans have taken to calling it, the 'hot priest calendar', is possibly the most Italian gift you can buy. It can be snapped up at one of the many kiosks in Rome and provides information about the Vatican and, more importantly, twelve attractive priests (check them out here). The only downside is that the same men are featured each year, so you might not be able to give it again the following Christmas. But then again…