Whether you’re shopping in or outside Italy – coming for a trip to Italy, requesting a gift from Italy, or you’re looking for a gift for an Italy lover outside of Italy, this list should give you some inspiration! You can buy any of the items on this list as Christmas gifts, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gifts. I’ve also given these as birthday, anniversary or even housewarming gifts, so they’re good for any time of the year!
FREE STUFF! After you read my list, leave a comment by December 1st about what non-perishable gift you’d love from Italy in the comments (even if I’ve already listed it) and I will send one lucky commenter this Illy collector’s tin (full of Illy coffee) designed by Michael Lin!
- Bathroom Scents and Scrubs
- Santa Maria Novella Farmacia
- In the Kitchen – Food
- In the Kitchen – Gadgets and Tools
- Venice and Venetian glass
- For the Writer, Blogger, Scribbler, Organizer
- Honorable mentions
Scents found in soaps and bath gels in a country reflect that culture and their tastes. If anything, it may be something you’ve never smelled before. Nothing says “Italy” like Gianduja (hazelnut chocolate) bath gel!
- Aquolina– Perhaps my favorite brand of bath soaps, they have some very different scents like lychee (litchi fruit), marzipan, cardamom and blackberry musk, which means the recipient is sure to enjoy a unique-smelling gift. I love the Cannella de Ceylon, cinnamon body wash and their recent “Chocolovers” line is delicious.
- Pupa – the very playful packaging and lines named “Miss Milkie” and “Polly’s Beauty Farm” make it seem like Pupa is aimed at a younger crowd, but scents like mandorla (almond) or coffee and the fun packages could tickle anyone’s fancy.
- L’Erbolerio Erboristeria – “A herbalist’s shop” – Based near Milan in Lodi, L’Erbolario carries a bevy of natural products and scents, and these stores are all over Italy.
The Pupa and Aquolina brands can be easily found at your local “profumeria” – L’Erbolario has its own stores. I like the Limoni profumeria chain as they usually have a good selection and can be found in most Italian cities. Sephora, one of my favorite beauty stores I grew to love in Paris and then back in California, is also becoming quite popular and has numerous stores all over Italy.
Some Pupa items are available on Amazon, or Pupa has a list of worldwide distributors you can call or email for info. L’Erbolario has a list of distributors in the world as well as a good selection on Amazon. Amazon also has a selection of Aquolina products, mainly the popular body sprays and perfume from their popular Pink Sugar line.
Well-deserving its own category, the Santa Maria Novella Farmacia is just one of those places you know if you’re in the know. If you like wonderful scents and retro packaging, you’ll love anything from the SMN Farmacia. Considered to be the oldest continuously-running pharmacy in Europe, the ornate insides of their stores are as charming as their products. My favorite scents are Verbena, Mandorla (almond) and Melograno (Pomegranate). Their bars of soap make excellent small gifts and the perfume is great for a special someone. Other favorites are the Acqua di Sicilia, the Rose Water and the foot and hand creams (Crema per le Mani and Pasta di Mandorle), as well as the moisturizers.
Visit one of their exclusive locations in Italy. The store in Florence is not only the original site, it’s also the biggest.
| Firenze Via della Scala 16 – Firenze – Italy | Roma Corso del Rinascimento, 47 – 00186 Roma | Milano Corso Magenta, 22 – 20123 Milano |
Out of Italy
Besides eLuxury which sells their products online exclusively to the US market, SMN Farmacia has a list of official commercial agents who you can contact for more information, and addresses of their resellers in London, New York and Los Angeles as well as all of their outlets in Italy.
How could I mention Italy without touching at all on the food, oh the wonderful food! Unfortunately, the best part about Italian food is the freshness and eating it surrounded by wonderful sights and history, and this doesn’t fit well into a suitcase.
But, you may be able to take a little Italy back with you, or at least a taste of it!
- Menu for Hope Basket – of course I think all of the great items from my Artigianale basket last year were wonderful gifts like the truffle oil and Nduja! This year I’m going to give you another chance to win in December!
- Chocolate from Modica – People either love or hate this grainy, crystallized chocolate. I love it. I blogged about fair trade Modica chocolate, which is cheaper than the non-fair trade version (go figure) and still delicious. I recommend the cannella (cinnamon), peperoncino (hot pepper), zenzero (ginger) or te’ verde (green tea) varieties.
- Sott’olio – Vegetables “under oil” (like the eggplant under oil I made in July) are popular gifts and just have to be transported correctly! I wrap mine well in plastic and put them in a box with sturdy sides if I have one. I suggest eggplant, sundried tomatoes, artichokes or hot peppers for great gift ideas.
- Saffron – some sustain that the quality of saffron in Italy is better than elsewhere, but any cook would welcome a little jar of saffron to make some risotto Milanese.
- Dried porcini mushrooms – Porcini have their own fans, and bags of dried porcinis can make a lovely dish back home. Some even swear by the porcini-flavored broth cubes Star sells here.
- Guaranteed classics – Balsamic vinegar, Honey, olive oil, limoncello and cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) are always good gifts, and you never know when you’ll find your new favorite. I also recommend getting a bit different like chestnut or cherry flower honey or peppery-olive oil.
Specialty food stores, like Peck in Milan, Castroni in Rome and Eataly in Turin are excellent sources of high quality, limited-production manufacturers. Or stop by an Italian supermarket before you fly out – you’ll find that the prices are not-touristy and you’ll find some interesting brands and products to take back home. Popular supermarket chains include Standa, SMA (pronounced smah), Coop, and Esselunga. Check online or ask for directions to your nearest one and stock up!
Modica chocolate: The fair trade version is sold in Altromercato’s “Bottega del Mondo Altromercato” stores all over Italy, and some in Greece, Malta and Portugal. The classic version of Modica chocolate can be found in specialty food shops and some gelaterias.
Note: Read your country’s custom limitations before planning to stuff your suitcase full of no-nos like buffalo meat and fresh yogurt. Chowhound has a good thread about customs questions being answered by a supposed US Customs agent, but be sure to read official government documentation.
Outside of Italy
Amazon has a varied supply of these Italian gourmet food, including the Casa Don Puglisi chocolate from Modica I tasted in the US in March that was almost identical to the brand I buy here. I found it at Whole Foods, which is another good resource for hard-to-find Italian products in the US, Canada and UK. San Lorenzo food will ship everything from mozzarella di buffala to limoncello within Europe.
- Alessi – Alessi is as known for being quirky as much as being very sleek. How one brand can be both of those things is hard to conceive, but Alessi is. I just can’t resist this cute blue bunny toothpick holder for my dad.
- Pasta machine – Time hasn’t really needed to improve upon the classic pasta machine’s design. This pasta machine from Villaware has the traditional “Imperia” stamped on it.
- Espresso cups – this is the set I have in my house, but this black and white espresso cup set from Bodum is versatile and stylish!
- Moka makers (Espresso on your stovetop) – Read more about How to Order an Italian Coffee in Italy to learn what you need for making moka is at home. Shelley also profiled the Tazza d’Oro where you can order some coffee beans to go!
- Olive wood cutting boards – beautiful keepsakes and a great cook’s helper. Williams-Sonoma carries a lovely olivewood cheese board.
- Mezzaluna – how could you not want to gift something whose name is in Italian? Mezzaluna means “half moon” and is an excellent chopper! Get the classic, two-handled version, or a modern update from Kitchenaid.
La Rinascente department store has a good selection of household goods and brands, and is present in most of the big cities in Italy like Milano, Roma, Firenze. Their website has an English version, otherwise click on “Gli Store” and you’ll be taken to a list of cities and addresses.
Outside of Italy
Amazon has a good selection of Alessi products and my Kitchen tool lists (click here for part 1 and part 2) have many Italian products sprinkled in. Alessi also has an online shop for USA, UK, the Netherlands and Germany. Williams Sonoma was my first introduction to food porn when I was little, and I love wandering their stores even today – gift an Italian tomato press or Imperia pasta machine for your “serious” cook.
For me, Venice has its own section in the gift guide. It’s not only a city, it’s a shopping destination, and I usually make a trek once a year for gift buying. I could (and do) spend days shopping when I’m in Venice, and I always find something unique for everyone on my list.
Venetian glass, and more specifically glass from the Murano island, can be beautiful works of art. Recently there has been an influx of “Chinese glass” in Venice being sold as Venetian glass. Unfortunately, there is no good rule-of-thumb about how to tell which is the real Venetian glass, so purchase with care. If you are making a substantial purchase of Murano glass, make sure you see a Vetro Artistico Murano sticker on it.
- Necklaces – It’s been more than 10 years that I’ve been buying glass necklaces, and I haven’t run out of styles yet. There are types and styles to suit every woman or girl on your list. I’ve become a recent fan of Marina e Susanna Sent necklaces, but unfortunately they have no website. They have two stores in Venice that Google gives you the address for.
- Glass plates – Ercole Moretti & Fratelli is my favorite brand of these little display plates. Make sure you find the “M” in the glass before buying one of their products.
- Glass tree ornaments – these are beautiful and often can be found with their own gift boxes so it makes packing them easier. I prefer the traditional, glass-blown globes.
- Classics – Wine bottle stoppers, ashtrays, little glass candy or glass pens, you’ll find something for everyone.
Notable: If you are into Carnevale masks, Venice is the place for them.
Shopping in Venice is best done by walking around. Almost no two necklaces, vases or statues are alike and deserve a good look. I have my favorites, but I think treatment in Venice is based largely from person-to-person and one person’s rude is another person’s welcome. I do have a suggestion, though. If you’re undecided about something, leave the store, but don’t go far. Get a coffee close to the store, think about your purchase, and then go back if you want it. “Coming back later” are famous last words in Venice and continuously navigating the narrow streets and crowds will suck all desire to come back later, given you can find it in the maze! But when you arrive back home, you’ll be kicking yourself. Stick close by until you’ve decided. Worst case? You have an extra gift to give.
Other than shopping in Venice itself, there are some places you can find Venetian glass in Italy. La Murrina (site appears to work only with IE) is all over Italy and guarantees the quality of the work being shown.
Outside of Italy
This is one thing that I’m not really comfortable recommending purchasing outside of Italy. If you try a site like eBay, there is the risk of finding fake products. Buyer beware.
Italy is a high-fashion mecca for many. I am not an expert or specialist since I refuse to spend that much money on clothes. But, I will share a few low-to-mid range favorites that will make a special treat for someone.
- Purses – My favorite brand is Furla, and they have many stores in Italy as well as throughout the world. Coccinelle (view site in IE) is another great, mid-range Italian brand. Not ready to buy a purse? Consider a wallet, keychain or coin purse.
- Gloves – Gloves have become very important to me, especially while living in Milan. Madova gloves (in Florence) are well-loved, as well as Sermoneta but there are tons of little glove stores tucked away in every town.
- Leather jackets – Leather is another buyer beware item in Italy. In Florence you will find beautiful leather and low-quality leather. If you want to buy a jacket in Italy, I would look for a style, color or other unique characteristic to make that jacket a must-buy, and go for it!
- Scarves – I love, love buying scarves in Italy. Unfortunately, most of the scarves you see in the markets and even in most stores are probably made in India / outside Italy. Shop with care.
If you came to Italy for a high-fashion bargain, you’ll probably go away disappointed. Unless 500euro for a T-shirt is a bargain for you, and that means this guide is probably not for you. I wouldn’t bother with the Via Montenapoleone (Milano) or Via dei Condotti (Roma) unless you enjoy window-shopping or have a particular goal in visiting these high-fashion showplaces.
Italy also has outlet centers, the most famous being “the Mall” in Leccio Reggello, outside of Florence, and the McArthur Glen Designer Outlets in Serravalle (northern Italy, Piemonte). Corriere della Sera has a list of malls and outlet centers in Italy, McArthur has links to their outlet centers in Italy.
Out of Italy
Perhaps my favorite category as I’m a big list-maker. When I first came to Italy, I was fascinated by the marbled and fleur de lis paper in Florence. I also bought a blank, leather-bound book to use as a diary. Now I carry a Moleskine around in my purse all day every day, a ready receptacle for my ideas.
- Florentine paper – Before email, people wrote letters on actual paper to each other. Marbled paper, paper with the fleur de lis, even Botticelli’s Venus decorate the pages of stationery sets found in Florence.
- Moleskine – A French company until the late 80s, in the past 10 years, an Italian company started manufacturing these characteristic little black notebooks. I’ve already bought my red agenda for 2008 and am using a few of the cahier notebooks for undercover assignments. Their city notebooks also make a good present for a traveler (note: they are not guides) filled with maps and space to take notes and observations about that particular city.
- Yearly calendars – If the person you’re buying for isn’t ready for a soulful trip into the Moleskine philosophy, check out hundreds of other agendas, many with Italian sayings or influences.
- Leather-bound diaries and address books – another specialty in Florence, leather-bound books will make a nice present for anyone from the artist to the recipe scribbler.
- Wine lover’s diary – this is a great idea for the wine lover in your life – a small, palm-sized book where they can write the details of various vintages they sample and their thoughts.
The best place to get inspired by Florentine paper is at the San Lorenzo market. Be sure and visit the more specialty paper shops in the area surrounding it for something truly authentic. I don’t have a favorite, and most paper sellers’ websites are horrendous, but there are a few stores in Florence that you can visit and possibly order from online: Signum, Lilium and Parione.
Out of Italy
I added a few Moleskine models to my eStore, but Amazon has a much larger selection available that can’t be added to an estore. Moleskine also has a list of locations where their notebooks can be found in the world, highlighting Barnes & Noble, Borders, Feltrinelli, FNAC, and Mondadori. Amazon also has a small selection of Florentine paper and products.
I love music, and living in Italy means I can often enjoy free concerts like Festival Bar this summer, and hear the latest “it” songs. Music for me has a way of recalling past emotions and experiences, so even if I don’t love the song, I can often remember an event or feeling I had surrounding it.
Ask for the latest “Compilation” – popular recurring compilations are NOW!, Hit Dance Mania or Festival Bar and have a good mix of English and Italian songs popular in Italy right now. Keep up to date with RadioItalia’s Italian music chart or MTV’s Hitlist Italia chart.
I try to keep my Italian Music page in my estore updated for some great Italian albums – there’s over 40 now!
If I had to buy three albums for an Italian music lover right now:
- Giorgia on MTV Unplugged – Though some people think she has a bit of an attitude, I think some of it is deserved – she has a soulful voice and is excellent live. Highlights from the CD are: “Infinite Volte,” a poignant love song, or “Gatta sul Tetto” which always makes me dance with its hard bass line.
- Elisa: Soundtrack 1996-2006 – Though many of her songs are in English, she is firmly in the hearts of the Italian public. I love “Gli Ostacoli del Cuore” as well as her older songs like “Rainbow” which I heard years ago when I discovered her while still in the US.
- The Best of Nek – I continuously say Nek’s good for beginner Italian learners, and it’s true. He sings pretty clear, and his pop songs are light and enjoyable.
- BONUS: Yo-Yo Ma plays Ennio Morricone – though instrumental, Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of Ennio Morricone’s classics are moving. I used one of the songs in my wedding (I won’t say which!)
A quick list of some Italian artists to look out for when shopping:
Classics: Luciano Pavarotti, Mina, Eros Ramazotti (albums also in Spanish – most recently has a duet out with Ricky Martin “Non siamo Soli”), Pino Daniele, Vasco Rossi, Laura Pausini (albums also in Spanish), Andrea Boccelli, Irene Grandi, Gigi d’Alessio, Elisa.
“Newer” talents: Nek, Neffa, Negramaro, Tiziano Ferro, Francesco Renga (after winning Sanremo in 2005, he’s more popular), Finley.
Not Italian, but….
Brazilian Girls is a great mix of lounge and funky electronic music where the lead singer intermingles her amazing 5 languages with innovative beats. Born in Rome, she sings at least one song in Italian, “Lazy Lover.”
La Feltrinelli and Mondadori are good places to buy books as well as music – Messaggerie Musicali stores used to be separate stores, but they’ve been acquired by Mondadori, so the sign may remain, but they are the same store.
Out of Italy
Movies are just as moving as music.
If I had to buy three movies for Italy lovers, I would buy:
- La Vita e’ Bella – Life is Beautiful – though I feel biased since part of this movie was shot in the town I studied in, in Tuscany, it is a beautiful and moving film. Leave the Italian and put on English subtitles.
- Under the Tuscan Sun – though it’s a bit of a “americanata” – meaning Hollywood put its hands into this film a little too much, you are guaranteed some lovely visuals and moments for the Italy lover. Filmed in Cortona, near where I studied.
- Il Postino – that the lead star, Massimo Troisi, died shortly after filming stopped lends a certain nostaglia to the film before you start it, but it paints a wonderful picture of Procida and the ordinary beauty of daily life.
- BONUS: Only You or Stealing Beauty: – though neither of these films are cinematic masterpieces, the scenes and places from the films will definitely invoke a reaction for any Italy lover.
I don’t really recommend buying films in Italy unless you’re sure your DVD player can play them. Music, movies and books are found at Mondadori and La Feltrinelli.
I could go on and on about gift ideas. In fact, I’ve gone on too long already. Here are some other ideas that I may cover in more depth later.
- Antique maps
- Anything Ferrari, Ducati, or Lamborghini
FREE STUFF! Remember, now leave a comment by December 1st about what non-perishable gift you’d love from Italy in the comments (even if I’ve already listed it) and I will send one lucky commenter this Illy caffe’ collector’s tin designed by Michael Lin!