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COVID-19 RULES

Dining outdoors and hiking: How visitors plan to holiday in Italy this summer

As the summer holidays draw closer we asked whether you'd be spending your Italian holiday differently this year. Many readers responded with optimism, but some are hesitant about the ongoing Covid situation.

Some visitors to Italy plan spend most of their time outdoors this summer.
Some visitors to Italy plan spend most of their time outdoors this summer. Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP.

As Italy continues to relax its anti-Covid measures in a bid to boost its pandemic-hit economy, the country is gearing up for its strongest summer season in the past couple of years.

We asked in a recent survey whether you’d still be travelling to Italy this summer despite the health situation country’s restrictions still in place and most of you said yes, although many had reservations.

READ ALSO: ‘I hate masks’: Why some visitors choose not to travel to Italy this summer

Out of those who are still going ahead with their travel plans, we wanted to know whether your trip to Italy would look different this holiday and how.

A large proportion of the 215 respondents said their travel plans would be unaffected by Italy’s health measures, and many of you said you intend to explore new parts of the country.

“The Cinque Terre is a new area I will be visiting. I’m going to an outdoor concert (Andrea Bocelli) and will try get some paddle boarding in,” wrote Tina Morgan.

Shona Stewart, from Essex in the UK, said: “We’re trying different day trips, for example Imperia from San Remo and Tellaro from La Spezia.”

Liguria remains a popular destination for visitors coming to Italy this summer.

Liguria remains a popular destination for visitors coming to Italy this summer. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

Several of you told us that you’d be travelling by public transport to get around Italy too.

“We hope to take a train trip to Venice, Vicenza and Padua, plus a few days on the Adriatic at Alba Adriatica with grandchildren,” said Debra Camastro, from Florida, USA.

Jan Bennett said they’d be using the train and the bus for their upcoming Italy holiday, while Kat Lync from Los Angeles in America said she will be traveling by train to Caserta and Naples from Rome.

READ ALSO: Will tourism in Italy return to pre-pandemic levels this year?

But others have expressed concern over using public transport in light of the ongoing, albeit improving, Covid situation.

“I will not be using train transportation to get to new regions as I would normally do when traveling with family. I do not feel confident enough,” wrote Mary Jones from the USA.

Jesse Voccia from Los Angeles in the US echoes this concern, saying, “I’m very concerned about contracting Covid on trains or in crowded public areas. We are staying in isolated areas planned around nature rather than museums and restaurants.”

While many of you have plans to travel to parts of Italy for the first time and try out new activities, plenty of respondents said they’d still avoid crowds and would opt to wear masks.

Some foreign visitors still intend to mask up in Italy this summer, regardless of whether it's required.

Some foreign visitors still intend to mask up in Italy this summer, regardless of whether it’s required. Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP.

“No group tours such as food tours or farm tours where one is transported in a small van with 8-10 people for example,” wrote Rosemary Murtagh.

Kathy Freise from Virginia in the US said she’d be “staying in one place mostly”, while another reader anonymously said they would be “spending more time outside. Wearing a mask all the time”.

They added that they had “purchased a face shield that I might wear if I feel the need to. Will not be dining indoors or shopping as much.”

Jennifer Gray from Missouri, USA, said they will “avoid heavily touristed spots – in Florence I will spend time outside of the city rather than museums.”

Some plan to wear masks in all spaces in Italy, even where there is no longer the requirement to do so. “I will mask while in public spaces, both in the open and enclosed spaces,” wrote Marlowe Ng from California, USA.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What type of mask will I need for travel to Italy?

Keeping away from crowds, dining outdoors when going to restaurants, and spending more time in private accommodation is on the agenda for many travellers to Italy this summer.

Many foreign visitors say they'll stick to outdoor dining in Italy this summer.

Many foreign visitors say they’ll stick to outdoor dining in Italy this summer. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.

“We will only eat outside, will avoid crowds (the best places!),” said Joseph Stone.

“I won’t eat inside so hope that even with the rain there are outdoor eating options,” added Michelle Camicia.

For Darryl Ainsley from Canada, he will “probably do more walks in the countryside, fewer museums. Outdoor eating only, unless case counts are very low.”

One anonymous reader from the US said they also intend to spend their holiday “hiking and not spending time indoors,” and another unnamed respondent from Australia said that they would be “not travelling outside to other regions, staying quiet, in place.”

“We plan to stay at home and avoid people as much as possible,” said Jesse Voccia.

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DISCOVER ITALY

Why some of Italy’s food festivals are ‘fake’ – and how to pick the best ones

Italy's countless sagre, or food fairs, are an autumn highlight. But how do you find the best events - and avoid the more commercial ones? Reporter Silvia Marchetti explains.

Why some of Italy’s food festivals are 'fake' - and how to pick the best ones

Italy’s renowned food fairs are one of the most exciting events during autumn and winter, particularly the coldest months when we’re looking for culinary weekend distractions. 

For the uninitiated, sagre are key gourmand exhibitions mixing local food, premium products, cheeses and olive oil – all the ‘excellences’ of the area – but lately I find some are just, well, fake. 

READ ALSO: The best Italian food festivals to visit in October

Instead of selling traditional indigenous delicacies, vendors sell a little bit of everything which they think appeals to foreigners and city people desperate for a rural break. 

Last weekend I went to the sagra at Osteria Nuova, near Passo Corese in Lazio, and found mozzarella from Naples and limoncello from Amalfi: now what do those have to do with the Rieti countryside?

It was sad and disappointing. Even though it takes place in an area which is famous at this time of the year for exquisite porcini mushrooms and chestnuts there was not even one single vendor selling these. Instead, there was codfish from Venice and porchetta from the Castelli Romani.

Up until a few years ago the Osteria Nuova food fair was very genuine and appealing: it was actually a real farmers’ market where animals were sold: not just rabbits and hens but cows, horses and donkeys. It was a vibrant event. 

Now the cages that once kept the animals are empty. And people just go there to stuff themselves with huge sandwiches and hotdogs. It’s always hell finding a parking spot because the fair is very close to Rome, luring day trippers on a ‘scampagnata’.

Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

My advice is to avoid visiting food fairs which are too close to big cities and towns, but pick offbeat villages or unknown rural spots where the sagre are small and with local producers selling authentic, ‘indigenous’ products. Choosing the remote hillsides, where traditions tend to survive, is of course better than the touristy areas. 

READ ALSO: Seven reasons autumn is the best time to visit Italy

Also, it’s best if the food fair is not too heavily sponsored or advertised in national newspapers. The best thing to do is search online for all food fairs in the area you plan to visit during the weekend or even during the week, and ask friends and locals as word of mouth can often be more reliable. 

Among the authentic sagre I would recommend the porcini mushroom food fair in San Martino al Cimino in the pristine hills of the Tuscia countryside in Lazio, where the woods are dotted with porcini. 

At the fair not only bags of huge porcini are sold but you can also buy a lunch ticket and taste various mushroom dishes sitting down at wooden tables. Last time I was served a delicious potato and porcini soup which inspired me to replicate (successfully) the recipe at home. 

However, the best thing is to search for the weird and unknown – food fairs with funny names and showcasing products that sound and look really bizarre. So forget about the usual truffles, mozzarella, limoncello, ham and pasta-filled events. I suggest opting for quirky food festivals in never-heard-of-before villages where the culinary adventure comes with a cultural jolt. 

Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

When I hear about something amazingly off-the-wall and tasty, with a particular story or legend behind it, my curiosity and taste buds tingle.

Last weekend I was surfing the web and came across the Ciammellocco festival in the tiny hamlet of Cretone, Lazio, which immediately aroused my curiosity. 

READ ALSO: 14 reasons why Lazio should be your next Italian holiday destination

As I had never heard of it before, I jumped in the car the following day and ventured out to an isolated woody area with a few small dwellings, where one single bakery makes this huge, funny-sounding, highly-nutritious sweet-salty doughnut with fennel seeds which has been around since at least the middle ages. Housewives used to make it for their husbands as a substitute for lunch when they went off working in the fields. 

Even though I have tasted similar ciambelle in my life none come close to ciammellocco, crunchy and tender at the same time, made with eggs but light.

Next I heard about the Sagra della Papera in Carassai, Marche region, offering succulent duck meat dishes with pappardelle pasta and roasted duck breasts, and given duck isn’t something you’d normally find in Italian restaurants, it makes the cut for authentic food events. 

Vegetarians can’t miss the Festival degli Orapi in the village of Picinisco north of Naples where guests are treated to platefuls of a unique, delicious spinach variety which is made exquisite by the fact that it grows beneath goat poo, a natural fertilizer. Locals actually roam the countryside with a knife to scrape away the poo and extract the orapi.

In Pedagaggi, Sicily, local housewives organize the Sagra della mostarda di fichi d’india, with gourmet dishes made from exotic-looking prickly pear mustards. 

READ ALSO: ‘La scampagnata’: What it is and how to do it the Italian way

Other curious sagre include the Festa del Gorgonzola set in the town of Gorgonzola in Lombardy which is the real birthplace of Italy’s iconic blue cheese. Huge pentoloni of steaming pots of gorgonzola in the middle of the piazza lure pungent cheese addicts. 

Also Diamante’s festival del peperoncino in Calabria is a must stop for lovers of strong, authentic hot dishes spiced up with chili peppers (there’s even a peperoncini eating marathon).

Real sagre tend to showcase one premium native product rather than a myriad with overlapping origins.

The more ‘local’ you dive into the deepest, remote corners of Italy full of tradition and folklore, the more genuine the sagra and the more satisfying the gastronomical experience.

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