If you’ve been following this blog for a while you will already know that I have written 4 best selling books about traveling in Italy. I also lead private tours of Italy every summer. So I have a vested interest in A) learning Italian and B)being comfortable speaking it with Italians while I’m there. I use multiple methods to improve my Italian language skills:
I do an online course that I can keep repeating. I do this one.
Italian With Davide
If you belong to my newsletter you’ll already know that 2 years ago I bought my first Italian With Davide course. I love Davide’s program and have been telling everyone about it!
Davide is young and fun and lives in Milan. He totally gets it that the old-school way of teaching Italian doesn’t really work with the modern traveler’s needs. We really don’t need to learn to say things like “Mr.Smith walks his dog around the block.”
We need to learn things that we can apply while in Italy, that let us participate in local life.
So he developed a language learning program that is perfect for anyone traveling to Italy as well as for professionals going there for work. His courses are all online and are done in your own time, when it works for you. If you have a busy schedule it can be really difficult to get to a class at a set time each week. This makes it easy because you do it at your own pace, when it works for you.
The courses are broken down into small modules so that busy people can do 15 or 20 minutes at a time if that’s all they have time for. Some days I do more, other days I just get one 20 minute module in.
I have spells where I don’t do any, but then pick it back up when I have time again. I love this about the program! Once you’ve bought it, you own it, and can go back and re-do modules as often as you want. I find this incredibly helpful as it really gets you learning on a different level.
You Learn Really Useful Things
With this program I’ve learned all kinds of useful things I never knew I would need. For example, this past summer at the end of my tours I spent 5 days the beach in Abruzzo. It was fabulous!
One of the days I took a boat excursion out to the Tremiti Islands. I was the only English speaker on the boat other than the captain who knew how to say “Absolutely! Yes!!” He learned that when he asked me if I wanted a glass of Prosecco and I said absolutely – yes!!
There were 2 groups of women on our boat. One was a group of local women who were about my age. The other were a bridal party doing a bachelorette day. I was only able to understand what they were talking about because Davide has a module about weddings in one of his courses!
I know I will have made tons of mistakes throughout that day, but everyone could understand me, and more importantly I could participate in conversations. I wasn’t sitting off to the side by myself, instead was included in the fun. Rather than my brain being full of useless phrases, I was able to apply things Davide taught me and more importantly have the confidence to just jump in and be a part of it all.
Course Registration Is About To Open
Davide only opens course registration a few times per year, and only for about 5 days each time.
The course is really popular, so the open spots sell out fast. You are able to interact with Davide (if you want to) so he keeps the numbers somewhat contained.
Italian With Davide is opening again on Cyber Monday. You can either register then, or get on the email list now, and you’ll be notified when the course opens. I had several of my Glam Italia Tour travelers try to sign up when they got back from their tours this summer, but they missed the registration cut off, so will have to try again this time.
I think he also offers one on one training if you need extra help, but I haven’t used this myself.
Italian With Davide comes in three different courses, marked beginner, intermediate and advanced, so there is something for everyone, no matter where you are on your Italian language journey. Several of my newsletter members bought the course for Christmas gifts last year.
If you are planning a trip to Italy in the future you will find it so much more fun being able to say even a handful of things with confidence. I heartily recommend at least checking out Italian With Davide.
Today I want to tell you about 7 foods you MUST eat while in Venice.
Venice is famous for its pastries. Which is handy when you consider the Italian breakfast is a cappuccino and a pastry. In my Venice book I tell you about specific places to go for a coffee and a pastry, and get into more depth on some of the really famous pastries of Venice. If you see frittelle (pictured below)in a pastry shop window you must try them. These are traditionally available during carnevale, but sometimes you can find them during the year as well.
Venetian/Italian croissants come plain, whole wheat, or filled with jam, Nutella, cream or my favorite, pistachio cream. Most of my days in Venice start in beautiful Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo at Rosa Salva, with a cappuccino and a pistachio croissant.
You will find these triangular crustless sandwiches all over Italy, but in most places I avoid them. Typically there are about 1000 other things in any eatery that are more appetizing than tremezzini. In Venice however, all of that changes.
The food pairings of Venetian tremezzini are out of this world, even when they don’t necessarily sound exciting. The one in the photo above is asparagus and egg, which sounds meh, but is actually fantastic.
I get tremezzini at Rosa Salva all the time. The waiters know which are my favorites but also come over to tell me about something fantastic that’s on the menu that day. They recently had a porchetta and eggplant tremezzini that was to die for.
But trust me on this one – try tremezzini in Venice and you will be hooked! (Just don’t get them elsewhere around Italy.)
I always recommend you bookend your Italian days with a killer coffee in the morning and an outstanding aperitivo at the end of the afternoon. Venice takes this a step further with their finger food snack culture, the incredible cicchetti.
These delicacies are once again food pairings specific to Venice and designed to be enjoyed with an ombra of local wine from the Veneto. An ombra is a shadow of wine – I tell you the full story about it in my Venice book. I take all my Glam Italia Tour groups on a cicchetti walking tour with a foodie guide, so the photos here are from guided walks where we split items on the plate.
Normally you would order 2 or 3 pieces of cicchetti (at about €1,50 each) and an ombra of wine for €2 or €3. Cicchetti are available most of the day and all evening, so they can be a very inexpensive snack, late lunch, or sometimes I’ll even have cicchetti for dinner. It’s fabulous!
Sard in Saor
This is a traditional Venetian dish that you may find in cicchetti bars and also on regular menus as a starter.
There are variations on the recipe, some featuring raisins and pine nuts, some served alone, others of slices of polenta. But at its core local sardines are floored and fried, layered with caramelized onions and pickled in vinegar. It can be an acquired taste and not everyone will love them (I love them!) but you must at least try them once while you’re here.
Octopus and Moeche
My favorite dish in Venice is octopus on a bed of whipped potato, at Jonny’s.
In the U.S. octopus generally resembles chewing on an old bicycle tire, but with less flavor. Not so in Venice! (Or anywhere in Italy) Here octopus is delicious and prepared to perfection. My tour group travelers tend to fall in love with it too – even those who cringe at the though of eating octopus! The texture is sensational, the flavor is amazing, and it’s hard to only order it one time.
This one is seasonal but if you’re in Venice when they’re on the menu you must try the local soft-shell crab. It too doesn’t taste like any other soft shell crab you’ve ever tried, no doubt because of the parts of the lagoon they’ve grown in, and the way Venetians prepare them. They tend to be expensive but are so worth it.
Venice is of course the city on the water, in a lagoon separated from the Adriatic Sea by a series of long, thin barrier islands. That means seafood is king here. Everywhere you go there are amazing fish options on the menu. You can’t come to Venice and not have seafood pasta at least once!
One of the most famous pasta (and risotto) dishes in Venice is al Nero di Seppia, made from black squid or cuttlefish ink. It tastes delicious but does color your teeth and lips black while you’re eating it.
Unlike much of Italy, pasta is not the main carbohydrate here. It is definitely on every menu but so is rice (risotto) and polenta.
Even if you don’t like risotto at home you must give it a try here in Venice, at a real Venetian eatery, not a tourist joint. Here in Venice risotto is cooked to perfection. Whether you opt for the delicate Go risotto in Burano or a seafood risotto (my favorite) or even a simple mushroom risotto, it just doesn’t get creamier, more perfect, more delicious than in Venice.
You just cannot beat the perfect cup or cone of gelato in Italy. In all of my books I talk about why you should only ever eat artisan gelato. This is gelato made by hand using local, seasonal ingredients instead of mass made chemical laden ice cream found in the tourist shops. Just a heads up: Italians wouldn’t be caught dead eating the color added, chemical added fake stuff.
Real, artisan gelato is out of this world, and Venice has multiple artisan gelato shops spread out all over the city. Typically they will only offer a handful of flavors each day, based on what is in season. When you buy a gelato at one of these shops you not only support the owner and the staff who made the gelato by hand, but also the local fruit growers and the local milk producers in the Veneto.
The gelato in the picture above was fig and ricotta
Everything You Need To Know About Venice
My newest book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Venice gives you an insider’s perspective on amazing things to see, do and eat in Venice. I take you away from the tourist crowds and into the Venice you’ve been dreaming of. I also point out loads of details you won’t find in any regular tourist guide book, details that will make you fall in love with this spectacular city. This book is available worldwide on Amazon.
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Venice is an amazing city to visit. It is completely unique and breathtakingly beautiful.
The city is full to bursting with fascinating history, unbelievable old palaces that seemingly rise up out of the water, churches filled with breathtaking artwork, stunning museums, and gorgeous old calli to walk along and explore. There is something spectacular around every corner in Venice. And oh good Lord – the food! Venetian cuisine is divine!
So it stands to reason that during any visit to the city you will want to pick up some souvenirs or gifts to bring home.
The problem is, most of the kiosks and storefronts are selling crappy Made-In-China junk. Furthermore, these products are typically made in sweatshops on the other side of the world and have a negative impact on the Venetian economy.
Rather than waste your hard earned money on rubbish, I want to guide you toward some of the fabulous artisan wares you can buy in Venice. All of these are made by real Venetians, living in Venice, using the same methods used for over 1000 years.
By shopping with authentic Venetian merchants you help keep the craft alive and come home with something authentic to remember your trip by.
You already know about Murano glass and Burano lace, so let’s look at 6 other types of Venetian goods you’ll love to bring home.
1. Venetian Chocolate
I learned about this absolute treasure form my Cicchetti tour guide Monica. This place is known as the finest chocolatier in the city.
Vizio Virtu is an artisan chocolate workshop run by two completely fabulous women who clearly have their priorities straight. Chocolate above all else.
They only use the highest quality ingredients, from Sicilian pistachios to Piedmontese hazelnuts. Their chocolates and truffles make incredible delectable gifts and souvenirs, their handmade gelato is divine (eat a cone while you’re there buying your gifts) and they even offer chocolate workshops.
Vizio Virtu is fantastic and not to be missed.
Address: Castello 5988 (3 minutes from Rialto Bridge)
Did you know that Venice was a pioneer in printing? In fact the Italic script was invented right here in Venice? It was first used in 1501 by Francesco Griffo, the typesetter for Venetian printer Aldus Manutius. Venice was also the home of modern music printing – in the 16th century Ottaviano Petrucci was able to secure a 20 year monopoly on printing sheet music. Prior to this sheet music was written out by hand.
Venetians discovered that using leather covers for books damaged the paper within, so started using beautifully marbled paper covers instead. Venetians became masters at the ancient art of marbling paper. You can still find marbled paper shops around Venice, many offering classes and demonstrations of this really ancient art form. Marbled paper is sold by the sheet, and artisans making these papers have travel sized cardboard tubes for you to bring them home in.
One of my absolute favorite paper stores in Venice is Plum Plum Creations, in the Cannaregio neighborhood. Arianna Sautariello is a young Venetian artist who amongst other things designs really cool, modern images of classic Venetian scenes, makes etching plates of them, then prints these etching in the old school way. Each etching is hand painted.
Did I mention they are incredibly cool?? These art the type of fresh artwork you can imagine framed and hanging in your home or office. Image via venezia.net
She also makes bookmarks and postcards and all manner of really special paper products. My Glam Italia Tour travelers always end up buying lots of pieces here. Arianna’s artworks are affordable, easy to pack in your suitcase, and make incredible souvenirs. Be sure to check out her website: www.plumplumcreations.com
Conveniently, Plum Plum is very close to one of my all time favorite Cicchetti bars, Vino Vero, one of my favorite Venetian coffee shops, Torrefazione Cannaregio, and is just around the corner from the Jewish Ghetto. Add this to your must see list.
Address: Fondamenta dei Ormesini Cannaregio 2681
Carnevale masks are an intrinsic part of Venetian history. They were first documented back in 1094, and were a part of Venetian life for the next 7 centuries until the fall of the Republic in 1797. Mask makers had their own guild or union and were recognized as artisans.
Along with the Carnevale masks they also made Commedia dell’Arte masks for actors. You can still buy both types of masks and they make amazing souvenirs.
They also are incredibly ripped off – a loophole in the law states that even if the smallest piece is added by hand in Italy, it can have both a handmade label and a Made In Italy label. Consequently crappy plastic masks are shipped in from China, some sweatshop worker glues on a feather or a piece of ribbon, and they can legally label the knock off mask as Made In Italy and Handmade.
Rather than buying a $10 knock off mask that was made in a sweatshop in China, support local Venetian mask makers who still make their masks authentically. Look for mask shops that either have a full workshop on the premises or at least a partial workshop.
My favorite mask shop, and the one I take all my Glam Italia Tour groups to is Kartaruga. This is a family owned and operated business. They used to have 2 locations in Venice but unfortunately their main workshop got severely damaged in the November 2019 floods and then once Covid hit they were no longer able to keep both open. The main workshop is now on the mainland, but they have a partial workshop in the remaining store, where you can take classes or watch the master mask makers in action. On top of that, Francesca Cecamore who owns and runs the store is also the president of the Mask Makers Association in Venice.
Although you will see masks for sale around every corner in Venice, there are only a handful of authentic mask makers still in business. You can visit Kartaruga, just 4 minutes walk from Piazza San Marco, or find more authentic make shops on the Venezia Autentica website.
Did you know that Venice introduced coffee to Europe and the western world??
For centuries Venice was the merchant trade capital of the world. All trade between east and west went through the port of Venice.
Coffee was considered the drink of the Muslims, so the church tried to get Pope Clement VIII to ban the drink. He decided to try a cup before banning it, and liked it so much, he famously said:
“Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it.”
The first coffee houses (in the western world) were in Venice. The oldest coffeehouse in the world that is still running now is Caffe Florian in Piazza San Marco.
Suffice to say Venetians are absolute masters at making coffee. From their bean selection to the roast, to the grind, Venetian coffee is off the charts brilliant.
Unfortunately, because there is such a massive cruise ship population wandering through the center of town, a lot of coffee houses and hotels don’t bother making fabulous Venetian blends. There’s no point going to the time and effort for a mass market, Starbucks palette. However, Venetians don’t drink the mass market swill, they go for the good stuff, and if you know where to go it will rock your world!
As much as I am in Venice I always, always, always bring home coffee. The following are all artisan coffee roasteries. This is definitely not mass market coffee! Here are my three all time favorite places to get coffee in Venice:
This is the oldest artiginal coffee rotary in Venice, and supplies most of the best 5 star hotels in the city.
You simply cannot get better coffee than at Girani, and this is the first choice for coffee snobs and aficionados alike.
They have multiple varieties but my favorite is Fassina.
Coffee from Girani is an amazing gift or souvenir to bring home.
The business is just a roastery, but if you want to try a cup first, whip into the bar next door – they serve Girani. It’s also really cool to visit the roastery and have them explain it all to you while you watch.
Address: Campo Bandiera e Moro o de la Bragora, 3727, (5 minutes walk from Piazza San Marco)
Just around the corner from the Rialto Bridge you’ll find one of Venice’s best kept secrets, caffe del Doge. It is literally 2 minutes away from the worst of the tourist crowds, yet the only people you’ll see here are locals and travelers in the know.
Grab a cappuccino and a pastry and sit outside at one of the few tables, then rinse and repeat.
They have an extensive coffee menu, but if you’re there when they’re not busy they will walk you through it. If it is busy just order from the blackboard. You cannot go wrong!
After a couple of cups you’ll understand why you need to bring some home!
This is another of Venice’s really fantastic coffee shops and roasters. This time we’re in Cannaregio, not far from the Jewish Ghetto. The coffee bar is wonderful, with a really cool interior, and the coffee is tremendous. Torrefazione is a favorite with locals and also travelers who’ve been clued in (like you!)
You will totally get hooked, but that’s ok because Italians drink coffee all day, so you can drop in for another cup every time you’re in the area. (Venice is really small, so you’re technically always in the area!)
Did you know it take more than 10 different types of craftspeople to make a gondola? Every part of the gondola is made by hand right here in Venice – none of it happens in a factory somewhere on the mainland
From the squero where they make the wooden boat, to the remeri where they make the oars and the oarlock (the forcola) to the metal workers who make the fero at the front of the boat, every step of the process is fascinating. All of the workers involved in making everything from the gondola itself, to the cushions you sit on, to the gondolier uniforms, all belong to an association called El Felze. This association regulates the trades and protects the workers.
Gondola related products have to be one of the most iconic souvenirs you can bring home, but unfortunately they are also hot sellers for the rip off merchants. So let’s look at two types of gondola related souvenirs you can buy, and where you can buy them.
There is only one place in all of Venice that sells real gondolier shirts. Any gondolier style shirt not bought from here is a rip off knock off.
The Emilio Ceccato shop is a one minute walk from the Rialto Bridge, so right in the heart of where you are going to be anyway. Royalties from all sales of gondolier clothing go directly to the El Felze association and are used to safeguard gondoliers and the different types of artisans that make gondolas.
The gondoliers’ oars and oarlocks are hand crafted by the remeri. There are only 4 remeri in Venice, and every forcola and oar you see on every gondola in town has been handcrafted by one of them. Each forcola has been custom built for that particular gondolier.
Each remero has his own work shop and store where you can buy handcrafted wooden souvenirs, including scaled down versions of the focola, or even full sized sculptures to ship back. These are tremendous to visit, and even if you only buy something as small as a key ring, you get a wonderful souvenir and your travel dollars have made a difference.
Address: 4725, Calle Corte Rota, Castello
Il Forcolaio Matto (the mad forcolier)
Address: Ramo dell’Oca, Cannaregio 4231
Address: Fondamenta Soranzo detta de la Fornasa, 341 Dorsoduro
Address: Rio Tera dei Nomboli, San Polo 2768b
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Glass Beads And Jewelry
We know about Murano glass chandeliers and vases, but did you know there is fabulous handcrafted glass jewelry in Venice?
There are two jewelry makers I want to draw your attention to:
For hundreds of years, tiny ‘seed beads’ were used around the world as trade beads. They were also used to adorn clothing of wealthy European women.
These colorful, tiny glass beads were made on Murano and hand threaded onto skeins by women called the Impiraressa.
Venice has a modern day impiraressa, Marisa Convento. World famous and written up in every major travel publication, Marisa makes beautiful jewelry, coral branches, flowers and embroidery pieces. Every piece is made by hand in the traditional fashion, and all of it is sensational. She has pieces at every price point too.
You can find Marisa’s shop inside the Bottega Cini, a cooperative store for high end artisans in Dorsoduro. Check out her website at www.MarisaConvento.com
On Murano, just a 2 minute walk from the Basilica Santi Maria e Donato you’ll find another fantastic artisan workshop, this time belonging to jewelry maker Alessia Fuga.
Alessia makes glass jewelry like you’ve never seen before. Her pieces are beautiful and are available at all price points. Be sure to check out her website www.AlessiaFuga.com and visit her workshop while on Murano.
I hope this blog post will encourage you to seek out some of Venice’s amazing artisans, and spend your souvenir dollars with them. When you buy from a local craftsperson your dollars stay right here in Venice, and contribute to the local economy. When you buy knock off, Made In China tourist junk your tourist dollars bypass Venice and head over to Asia or wherever the sweatshop is that made it.