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CHRISTMAS

The twelve best Italian Christmas gifts to give this year

How's the Christmas shopping going? Whether you've yet to begin, or are puzzling over what to get for that one difficult relative or the friend who's got everything, we're here to help.

The twelve best Italian Christmas gifts to give this year
Photo: Pexels

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


Photo: HiEtec/Flickr

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


Photo: nedrichards/Flickr

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


Photo: Pexels

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


Photo: wiredtourist.com/Flickr

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


Photo: Jing/Flickr

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…
 

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CHRISTMAS

Five of Italy’s most magical Christmas markets in 2021

Even though Covid cases are rising in Italy, most of the country's Christmas markets will open to spread some festive cheer and fill our hearts (and bellies) with glad tidings. Here's a rundown of five of Italy's most magical Christmas markets.

The Italian Christmas markets you should put on your wish list for 2021.
The Italian Christmas markets you should put on your wish list for 2021. Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash

In 2020, many Christmas markets in Italy had to close or were scaled back because of the pandemic restrictions. This year, at least at the time of writing, lots of markets are set to open in the coming weeks.

Some have safety measures in place, such as mask-wearing and the requirement to show a green pass, so remember to check the rules before you travel.

READ ALSO: Where do you now need to show a Covid green pass in Italy?

While most of the larger and more famous Christmas markets are in the north of Italy, smaller markets and other seasonal events are held in towns and cities all over the country.

With that said, here are five of the most enchanting Christmas markets in Italy that count among our favourites.

Photo by cmophoto.net on Unsplash

Trento, Trentino–Alto Adige

‘I mercatini di Trento’ is one of Italy’s most famous Christmas markets. Set in the northern region of Trentino-Alto Adige, which borders Austria and Switzerland, Trento is full of that mountainous frosty glee that warms the cockles of your heart.

Every year, visitors are attracted by the artisanal goods, the abundant offering of seasonal gastronomical treats and the cosy atmosphere of a historic centre decked out in twinkling lights.

More and more stalls come to Trento each year, meaning there’s always something new to see, buy and eat every time you go.

The city’s two main squares welcome visitors with their cosy lodges, where you can watch live demonstrations and listen to traditional music. And with the snow-peaked backdrop and fresh air, Trento puts on a Christmas market to remember.

Trento Christmas market runs from November 20th to January 9th.

READ ALSO: Is Italy likely to bring back Covid restrictions this Christmas?

Christmas decorations on display in a market in central Bolzano. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

Bolzano, South Tyrol

Another Christmas market not to be missed in the north of Italy is the spectacular display in Bolzano, arguably one of the most beautiful in Italy.

This festive extravaganza located in the region of South Tyrol is claimed to be Italy’s biggest Christmas market and, after almost two decades of the event, always has something new to delight return visitors.

New for 2021 are some stalls dedicated to grappa and beer with tastings of South Tyrolean spirits and craft beers, while for wine lovers, there’s a dedicated wine lodge offering tastings of the local labels.

Those delicious yuletide aromas of pine, cinnamon and mulled wine fill the streets, while squares are bathed in a romantic glow when the stalls come to town and transform the city into a spellbinding winter wonderland.

What better time to sample a local strudel, feast on some salty speck or indulge in some alpine homemade sweets?

The big Christmas tree in the central Piazza Walther will be lit up on Thursday November 25th to launch the market, which will remain open until January 6th.

Christmas lights during the “Luci d’Artista” (Artist’s Lights of Salerno) (Photo by MARIO LAPORTA / AFP)

Salerno, Campania

The northern mountain cities don’t claim complete ownership of Italy’s best Christmas markets, however.

One of the most eagerly awaited Christmas events can be found in the southern region of Campania: the illuminations called Luci d’artista (Artist’s Lights) in Salerno.

After being cancelled last year, the display is back for 2021 offering visitors a show of real works of art made in lights.

Due to the pandemic measures, access to the city will be restricted, especially on weekends when buses will be limited.

Strolling around the city, you can see this world-famous spectacle as you go, while also taking a tour of the Christmas markets, located on the city’s seafront. All in all, it makes for an unusually marvellous Christmas shopping experience right on the coast.

The lights will run from November 26th until January 30th.

Photo by Lynda Hinton on Unsplash

Verona, Veneto

How much more romantic and magical can you get than a Christmas market in Italy’s city of love? In fact, the market’s organisers describe Verona as, “The city of love, the city of Christmas”.

Even Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy lights up with the seasonal colours, sounds and smells. The city’s streets and squares transform into a dreamy setting for festive shopping and socialising: handicraft products in glass, wood, ceramics and many food and wine specialities tempt and delight.

The entrance to the city will be illuminated by hundreds of lights, creating what they call “a Champs Elysees effect”, continuing through all the streets of the historic centre. All the sparkles and glow are set against a backdrop of the famous Roman Arena and the unmissable Christmas star in front.

There will be more than 100 exhibitors this year and for 2021, the market will run in collaboration with the “Christkindlmarkt” of Nuremberg in Germany, bringing a heartwarming fairy-tale atmosphere to the fair city.

Verona’s Christmas market will run from November 12th to December 26th.

Photo by Christian Della Torre on Unsplash

Como, Lombardy

The lake setting and Christmas atmosphere make this a unique festive market you’ll look back on for years to come – and where better to get excited about the exchanging of Christmas gifts than Italy’s so-called city of toys ‘la città dei balocchi‘?

Starting with the Magic Light festival, its projections and lights transform the city’s building and squares into an open-air gallery. Meanwhile, delightful wooden huts create a Christmas village, offering local specialities, gifts and mouthwatering dishes.

There are also numerous refreshment and tasting points giving visitors the chance to sample menus typical of the area. And the unmissable giant ferris wheel is worth a whirl too.

If you want to work off some of those festive chocolates, waffles and gingerbread hearts, you can get your cheeks rosy at the ice rink in Piazza Cavour.

Plus, you can’t miss (literally) the traditional Christmas fir tree, illuminated by thousands of lights.

Como’s Christmas market runs from November 27th to January 6th.

Where are your favourite Christmas markets in Italy? If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below. 

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