Four ways to make the most of your Italian summer

Summer is a glorious time of year – especially if you’re lucky enough to live in Italy. After almost 18 months of restrictions on life, spending time outdoors and enjoying the good life whenever you can seems more important than ever.

Four ways to make the most of your Italian summer
Photo: Getty Images

The Local, in partnership with McArthurGlen Designer Outlets, gives you four top tips for making the most of your Italian summer in 2021.

Get a free aperitif and an extra 10 percent off outlet prices at any McArthurGlen Designer Outlet in Italy as a reader of The Local

1. Refind your freedom in Italy’s ancient borghi

If you feel you’ve been missing out on fully exploring your adopted homeland, you’re hardly alone. But with all of Italy now in low restriction ‘white zones’, your opportunities for interesting ways to spend your free time are increasing.

If you’re longing for an authentic Italian experience away from the crowds, why not head to one of the huge number of ancient villages (or borghi) you can find in regions such as Veneto, Tuscany, Piedmont, Lazio and Campania?

In Monferrato, an area of hills, valleys and vineyards in Piedmont, you can truly escape, whether you prefer wine-tastings, truffle hunting or just a relaxing walk through a charming village such as Gavi or the small city of Novi Ligure, which Genoese nobles inhabited for centuries. In northern Tuscany, close to Florence, the Mugello is an enchanting region, crossed by the Sieve River, where you’ll find renaissance villas, castles and picturesque comunes ideal for exploring on foot.

Afterwards, you may feel ready to rejoin the 21st century with a visit to one of the five McArthurGlen Designer Outlets across Italy, including the Barberino Designer Outlet – through which the Sieve also passes.

2. Make the most of Italy’s outdoor food festivals 

One of the greatest joys of living in Italy is the food – and another is a summer of festivals and cultural events. At this time of year, you can combine both by attending a sagra (or some sagre if you fancy more than one!)

Sagre are outdoor food festivals where you can delight in Italy’s varied culinary traditions by feasting on local, seasonal ingredients served up in delicious traditional recipes. They thrive in rural areas, including many villages and medieval hamlets. 

Music festivals are also a vibrant part of the summer in much of Italy, as are giostre. These Medieval re-enactments really bring history to life through colourful costumes, flag wavers, drummers, and even jousting. Many festivals and events in regions such as Veneto, Tuscany, Piedmont, Lazio and Campania are beginning again as restrictions ease – watch out for announcements.

Reader offer: get a free aperitif and an extra 10 percent off outlet prices at any McArthurGlen Designer Outlet in Italy

3. Enjoy a return to outdoor shopping (and a taste of luxury)

In Italy, it’s not only the buildings that wow you with their style; there’s also the effortless elegance of Italian fashion. The country is renowned for the excellence of its craftsmanship in many areas, none more so than tailoring.

If you’ve felt starved of opportunities to see and try on new clothes recently, now could be the time to indulge yourself a little. What’s more you can make a day of it in attractive open-air surroundings at any of the five McArthurGlen Designer Outlets in Italy.

You’ll find hundreds of leading Italian and international brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld, Michael Kors, and Dolce & Gabbana – along with plenty of opportunities to feel the luxurious touch of exclusive silks and cottons in your hands. Your surroundings may also remind you of some of the architectural highlights mentioned above. Each centre reflects the local architecture, so you can enjoy wide avenues, spacious squares, and bubbling fountains.

It’s a far cry from another drab mall – the environment invites you to stroll at your own pace, just as you might in one of those Italian borghi. You can also enjoy genuine Italian food packed with flavour and nutrition – and worthy of a street food festival – at numerous restaurants.

Serravalle, near Milan, is the largest designer outlet in Europe, while Castel Romano is the only designer outlet in Rome. Noventa is under 40 minutes from Venice, while Barberino and La Reggia are located less than 30 minutes from Florence and Naples respectively.

The summer sales are now on at each centre, meaning you can save even more than you would with usual outlet prices. You can also take advantage of extended opening hours during the sale period.

Each outlet is also served by regular shuttle buses from the nearest city (check for more details before travelling), as well as free wifi, free parking, and children’s play areas. All centres have received the Bureau Veritas SafeGuard Covid-19 certification as a result of the health and safety measures in place.

4. See some awe-inspiring architecture

Being stuck indoors due to the pandemic may have meant missing out on much more than the country’s natural beauty. What about Italy’s endless unique architectural gems? If you’re considering a day trip, a weekend away or even a longer break, you could factor in a visit to one of Italy’s many marvellous buildings and archaeological sites.

If you’re going anywhere near Rome, the sight of the Colosseum or a visit to the Vatican is still sure to stir your soul, no matter how many times you’ve seen either. Further north, go off the beaten track as you explore the region around Milan to see the utterly majestic Certosa di Pavia monastery, which dates back to 1396.

Photo: Getty Images

In the northeast, look beyond Venice to discover Aquileia. This ancient city and archaeological treasure was one of the richest and biggest Mediterranean cities within the Roman Empire. Destroyed by Attila the Hun in 452, it later became a major hub of the Christian world.

In the south, a short drive from Naples, you can feast your eyes on the spectacular Reggia di Casertaa former royal palace, which is the largest royal residence in the world by volume.

Make the most of your summer: get a free aperitif and an extra 10 percent off outlet prices at any McArthurGlen Designer Outlet in Italy as a reader of The Local

Member comments

  1. Why so North-centric??? We have thousands of beautiful ancient villages in the South, and believe it or not, we have hundreds of sagre, village traditions, feste and medieval re-enactments in the half of Italy that is south from Rome.

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RANKED: The 11 worst food crimes you can commit according to Italians

From fruity pizza toppings to spaghetti bolognese, an international study has revealed which of the most common 'crimes' against Italian cuisine are seen as most and least offensive.

Pasta with sauce on top and vegetables on the side.
The Italian food police are on their way. Photo: logan jeffrey on Unsplash

It turns out that putting cream in carbonara is not actually the worst thing you could do when holding a dinner party for Italian friends.

And, while not ideal, neither is snapping your spaghetti before cooking it, or even serving it as a side dish.

The many unwritten rules around eating and drinking in Italy are often baffling to foreigners, while Italians themselves are famous for raging against what they see as “disgusting” interpretations of classic dishes.

READ ALSO: Seven surprising Italian food rules foreigners fall foul of

But in Italy, some of these food-related faux pas are viewed as far more upsetting than others, according to the results of a international study published by YouGov.

At the end of last year, researchers compiled a list of 19 ways in which foreigners are often accused of abusing Italian cuisine and asked people in 17 countries, including Italy, whether each was acceptable or unacceptable.

Of these, eight culinary practices were judged as being either fairly acceptable or divisive by Italian survey respondents.

Eating pizza at lunchtime instead of in the evening was deemed wrong by only a minority of Italians; while many also reserved judgement on people combining Bolognese sauce or ragù with spaghetti – which is famously not the done thing in Bologna.

Putting sauce on top of pasta, as opposed to serving the pasta coated in the sauce, meanwhile, was seen as mildly controversial.

However, the majority deemed 11 of the listed transgressions to be completely out of order, issuing a clear warning against certain habits which are widespread outside the country – and which, for the most part, were not seen as problematic by the majority of respondents in other countries surveyed.

Here’s the list of the very worst crimes against Italian food according to the study – ranked from the offences seen as deeply disturbing to those deemed slightly less terrible.

1. Putting ketchup on pasta – this was by far the most distressing item on the list according to Italians, scoring -82. It was one of only two food crimes on the list that Americans also deemed unacceptable (-48), with Spaniards similarly against (-46). However, in 11 countries people said this was perfectly fine, with Indonesians (+76) and Hong Kongers (+79) the most enthusiastic. People in Sweden also seem to enjoy pasta with ketchup, the survey found (+46).

2. Putting pasta in cold water and then boiling it – the results are clear with a score of -71: don’t do this in front of an Italian unless you want them to run screaming from the kitchen. Of course, you’re supposed to add the pasta to water that’s already gently boiling. Adding pasta to cold water was the most disdained practice around the world overall, including by Americans, with only Chinese (+16) and Hong Konger (+31) respondents more likely to be ok with it. 

3. Putting pineapple on pizza – there’s a reason you won’t see a Hawaiian listed on the menu in many pizzerias in Italy – it’s seen as the third-worst thing you could do to the national cuisine with a score of -63 .France isn’t keen either (-15) though Australia appears to have plenty of fans of fruity pizza toppings (+50).

4. Serving pasta as a side dish – think a mound of spaghetti would be a nice accompaniment to your grilled meat or fish? Think again if you’re in Italy, where the idea of having pasta as a contorno ranked as one of the worst possible food crimes with a score of -63. As all Italians know, pasta is served before the meat, fish or other main course, as a primo. No other country surveyed had a problem with this, though, and the French were especially big fans of pasta as a plat d’accompagnement.

5. Cutting long pasta with a knife while eating – the message is clear: don’t snap it, don’t cut it; you’ll need to learn how to twirl your spaghetti elegantly around your fork if you want to be invited back to an Italian home for dinner. This habit is another one people in the country apparently find disturbing, with a score of -46.

6. Putting cream in carbonara sauce – perhaps surprisingly, this famous crime against Italian cuisine – which regularly provokes furious online outbursts and stern warnings from Italian chefs – came in at only 6th place with a score of -45. As any Italian will tell you, there’s no need for cream in the authentic recipe.

7. Topping seafood pasta with cheese – this rule may not seem obvious to non-Italians, but we don’t recommend asking for the grated parmesan after being served a steaming plate of spaghetti alle vongole. It’s a major faux pas in Italy, where it scored -39, while Americans gave a far more positive rating of +38.

8. Rinsing cooked pasta in cold water – while many people abroad may think they need to rinse boiled pasta, Italians wouldn’t do this. Instead, many recipes call for the starchy pasta water to be conserved and used to finish the sauce. While perhaps seen as more senseless than revolting, this practice scored -23 in Italy.

9. Drinking cappuccino after lunch – Long, milky coffees are for breakfast in Italy, and while the barista probably won’t refuse to make you a cappuccino at 3pm, be aware that this might cause confusion and could turn other customers’ stomachs, as Italians gave this habit a score of -23. That’s despite the rest of Europe being fine with the concept; it scored +65 in Spain, +62 in Germany and +53 in France.

10. Boiling pasta without salt – Italians will tell you that a pinch of salt is essential in the cooking water for pasta, and leaving it out is highly controversial, with a score -17. Meanwhile, the British don’t see a problem (+15).

11. Eating garlic bread with pasta – While the rest of the world may ask what could possibly be wrong with this, the concept of filling a baguette with garlic butter and baking it just doesn’t really exist in Italy – even if it does seem to exist in every Italian restaurant on the planet outside of the country itself. Americans are particularly enthusiastic about this combination (+83), as are Brits (+80) but Italians gave it the thumbs down with -14.

The results also showed that attitudes to some of the established food rules are shifting among young Italians.

The biggest difference comes with drinking cappuccino after a meal, something which 18-24 year-old Italians tend to think is fine (+24), but which older age groups – and especially the over 55s (-36) – say is unacceptable. 

READ ALSO: The common Italian food myths you need to stop believing

Young Italians are also substantially more likely than their older peers to say that eating garlic bread with pasta or having risotto as a side dish is ok.

However, younger Italians seem to have turned against the practice of adding oil to the water when cooking pasta. Those aged 18-24 and 25-34 tend to consider this unacceptable, whereas their elders tend to see it as fine, the survey found.