How To Get The Best Gelato In Italy

If you are traveling to Italy anytime soon (or ever!) there are 3 things you can pretty much guarantee you will eat at least one time while you are away.

Pasta. Pizza. Gelato.

Some people are lucky enough to have a digestive system and a metabolism that lets them run wild with all three, others of us have to be selective as to how many times we can indulge while away. Whether you fall into the once only category or the multi times per day group, you have to make every time count.

Today we are talking gelato, Italy’s answer to but 1000 x better than, ice cream.

lemon gelato in Capri Italy
Lemon gelato in Capri. Not to be missed!

So what’s so hard about ordering ice cream you say? Well, there’s a little more to it than meets the eye.

It Starts With Where You Buy Gelato

This is in my opinion the most important factor when getting a gelato.

With tourism being so huge in Italy (it is one of the most visited countries in the world) gelato chains started popping up everywhere. Mass made, factory made ice cream with added color, added sugars, added God-only-knows-what. Chain store gelato doesn’t taste as good and can be so over sugared that it bites the back of your throat. As authentic as a Big Mac and with a provenance and nutritional value equally as questionable, these are not the places to buy gelato in Italy.

Their gelato either ships in frozen or is made from a packet. This is not the gelato you traveled across the world to eat!

Gelato franchises/chains are always scattered through the high tourist areas and are generally very close to major tourist attractions. If you have read my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) then you already know to avoid tourist trap eateries of any kind!

RELATED POST: HOW TO ORDER COFFEE IN ITALY

Always Buy Artiginale

Everywhere you go in Italy you can find fantastic, artisanal or artiginale gelato shops. These are owner operated stores where gelato is made freshly each day from fresh ingredients. The taste, texture and quality are superb. Think of it as chain store gelato being like eating Kentucky Fried Chicken versus artisanal gelato being like fine dining. Technically both will fill your belly but the experience is drastically different!

Buon Gusto artiginale gelato in Pienza Italy
Inside Buon Gusto gelateria in Pienza, Italy

Artisanal gelato flavors tend to be only what is in season. You won’t find strawberry year round.

Some artisanal shops only make a handful of flavors each day. In Pienza my friend Nicola’ from Buon Gusto makes only 6 flavors per day. When I take my Glam Italia Tour groups to Pienza I have learned to take them to his store when we first arrive, because we only spend a few hours in town and everyone always wants to go back for another gelato before we leave!

Explore the Flavor Profiles

Artiginale gelato shops offer some really fascinating flavor combinations. Don’t order the flavors you do at home – try something different! Look for things like raspberry and rosemary, peach and sage, figs and honey.

RELATED POST: HOW TO MAKE ITALIAN COFFEE IN A MOKA

They always offer samples so you can try before you buy. I find the more unusual the flavor combination (unusual to us, quite normal to them) the more amazing the gelato is. I always try anything with lavender, sage, basil or rosemary as they give such a fantastic flavor to gelato.

strawberry gelato italy
Gelato made with strawberries and basil.

On one of my tours one of the travelers tried orange,carrot and spinach gelato, the thought of which wasn’t overly enticing, but it was so incredibly good we all ended up going back and ordering one!

Gelato from Buon Gusto in Pienza
The one in back is the spinach and carrot gelato. As awful as it sounds it was actually sensational!

Mix It Up

Can’t decide which flavors to order? Try a scoop each of two or three!

Don’t be surprised if they refuse to pair the flavors you want or if they look at you funny. They get so invested in their creations and your taste experience is so important to them that sometimes they won’t want to put two flavors side by side.

gelateria Teatro, rome
white peach with sage and raspberry with rosemary gelato at Gelateria Teatro in Rome

One time in Sorrento a gelato guy refused to give me 2 flavors together. It was pretty funny! I couldn’t decide between the two so in the end he gave me 2 separate cups each with one flavor, then told me which one I was to eat first. He wasn’t being a jerk, it was because he didn’t want me thinking his gelato flavors were bad.

I go back every time I’m in Sorrento, which is multiple times per year, and now he just chooses two flavors that play nicely together for me. And I feel no guilt at having two scoops either, because the walk up the hill to the apartment I rent there is savage, so I’m convinced I burn it all off on the way home…

RELATED POST: HOW TO USE THE TRAINS IN ITALY

How Can You Tell If It’s Artiginale?

Most artisanal or artiginale gelato shops will proudly post signs saying they are artiginale/artisanal. You can also just google artiginale gelato near me and get walking directions, invariably just around the corner from where you’re standing!

An easy way to tell if gelato is artisanal or not is to just look at it. Chain store/mass made/made from a packet gelatos tend to have punchy, bright colors, whereas artisanal gelato colors tend to be more dull.

artisanal pistachio gelato in Volterra, Italy
Real pistachio gelato will be a slightly dull shade of green

Gelato made with fresh strawberries will be a slightly dull pinkish hue, whereas mass market strawberry gelato will be bright pink. Another one to look for is pistachio, a flavor you will find year round. Artisanal pistachio gelato will be a dull, mossy or grey/green whereas mass market pistachio will be a vibrant green.

Have you read my books yet? Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) and Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things to Do in Rome: Beyond the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps are both available worldwide in paperback and on Kindle and the Kindle App. Both books are bestsellers and will change the way you experience travel in Italy!

Look For Locals

The best gelato shops are like the best little local eateries – heavily populated by Italians. Watch where they go, and buy your gelato there! Sometimes you will see long lines of people stretched out across the piazza waiting to buy gelato. At Dondoli Gelato in San Gimignano the lines get crazy long and sometimes stretch beyond the well in the middle of Piazza Cisterna, but the gelato is award winning and is definitely worth the wait. Funnily enough the café across from it also sells gelato and never has a line. Those in the know prefer to wait and have the good stuff.

This tends to be a really good sign, unless it is a bus tour and that’s where the tour guide told them to go. Bus tour groups are generally easy to spot though – if everyone in line looks like a tourist, this is not the place for you to be!

If you can’t spot a good gelato shop don’t worry – ask a local. There is always a good gelato shop close by.

Rail Europe (Americas)

10 Things NOT To Do In Italy

Being that I am in Italy at the moment leading the Glam Italia II private tour, I thought this blogpost from Fodor’s was particularly pertinent!

10 Things NOT To Do In Italy

 

The more time you spend in Italy, the more you’ll notice that Italians love telling you what to do…whether you ask them for advice or not. Try this wine. Try it again. Pass that semi truck—you can do it! Wear different shoes. Change your hair; you’re not eighty. Loosen up. Mangia, mangia! For a change of pace, here’s a list of things NOT to do in Italy—a country as beloved for its passionate people as its natural beauty and delicious cuisine.

DON’T….

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HEAD TO VATICAN CITY IN A TUBE TOP

We know the desire to charm the Italians with your spaghetti strap sundress might be overwhelming, but visitors in skimpy clothing are forbidden to enter holy sights. If you can’t bring yourself to wear a top that covers your shoulders, tuck a scarf or cardigan into your bag, and use it to make yourself presentable when you’re on holy ground.

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PARK INSIDE THE YELLOW LINES

Or the pink ones, if you’re eating for one. Or the blue ones, if you want to save a few euro. Few things are as gutting as heading back to the parking lot and finding a parking ticket on your rental car, or worse, a stark gap where your car used to be. In an Italian parking lot, the white-lined parking spaces are free, the blue-lined are paid, the yellow-lined spots are for disabled motorists, and the pink spots are for expectant mothers. As for potential parking spots that have no lines at all, be sure to look for Zona di Rimozione (Tow Zone) or Divieto di Sosta (No Parking) signs. Or just do as the Italians: cross your fingers and park on the sidewalk. Sideways.

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EXPECT THINGS TO HAPPEN ACCORDING TO SCHEDULE

One of the first things any visitor to Italy will learn is that there’s time…and then there’s Italian time. Italian time is elastic (don’t be surprised when your 4 p.m. Colosseum tour starts at 4:30) and so are business hours. Many businesses—even, bafflingly, restaurants—shut down for lunch and will also be closed two days a week, days which vary from business to business. Double-checking business hours is crucial unless you enjoy making empty treks. Public transportation is also often “out of order” or delayed, so give yourself ample padding between travel connections.

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GET FLEECED BY A GONDOLIER

Taking a gondola cruise in Venice might seem like the most romantic thing on earth until you get the bill. Surprise: a gondola ride can cost upwards of $65 per person (!), and even more if you have a shady gondolier. If a $65-$130 boat ride isn’t in your budget, but you still have your heart set on floating along Venice’s canals, consider hopping aboard a traghetto—one of the water taxis used by Venetian locals when they want to cross the Grand Canal. The ride will be much shorter, but the traghetto boats are exactly the same as the tourist gondolas and tickets will cost around $5.

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TAKE THAT GOOGLE MAPS SHORTCUT

Should you be renting a car to explore the country, you’ll probably be using a GPS or Google Maps. You might be tempted to save on autostrade tolls by taking one of the outlined shortcuts. But the farther south in Italy you go, the worse-kept the roads tend to be. Razor-narrow passages, huge potholes and an absence of streetlights can make navigation difficult for a traveler unfamiliar with Italian motorways; the SS7 (Via Appia)—a mostly-unlit winding coastside path running from Rome to Brindisi—is particularly perilous. You might have to pay a bit extra to take the autostrade, but at least they’re well-kept.

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GET YOURSELF PSYCHED FOR AUTHENTIC SPAGHETTI ALLA BOLOGNESE IN NAPLES

In Italian restaurants outside of Italy, all of the boot’s many regional cuisines are slapped with the giant umbrella title—ITALIAN FOOD—so you’d be forgiven for not knowing that pesto was invented in Genoa and Limoncello is from Sorrento. But you wouldn’t head to Los Angeles hoping for the best barbecue of your life, would you? Do yourself a favor and stick to local foods on your Italian trip. A (very) quick cheat sheet: Genoa for pesto; Naples for pizza; Bologna for bolognese sauce and filled pastas like ravioli, tortellini and lasagne; Milan for risotto alla milanese and ossobucco alla milanese; Rome for spaghetti alla carbonara, spaghetti all’amatriciana and lamb. Gnocchi, bresaola, polenta dishes, and the ultra-popular Italian dessert tiramisù are found all over the country, but are native to the northern Italian regions like Lombardy and Veneto. Prosciutto—or Parma ham—is most commonly associated with central and northern Italy.

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TIP EVERYTHING THAT MOVES…NO MATTER WHAT THEY TELL YOU

Tipping is not obligatory or common in Italy. However, tourist-savvy service people may have heard that Americans are genetically programmed to tip everything from waiters to performing rabbits, so the cheekier ones might try to work you for some spare change. Unless they gave you the best service in the history of the planet, resist. They’re getting a living wage.

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ASK YOUR WAITER FOR PARMESAN CHEESE TO PUT ON YOUR SEAFOOD PASTA

Unless you want to see a grown adult cry, that is. One of the holiest commandments of traditional Italian culinary etiquette is that cheese and seafood never, ever mix. Only very recently have certain cheese/seafood pairings cropped up—i.e., ricotta with sea bass, gorgonzola with clams—but this is considered very avant garde (the elder generation won’t touch such dishes). Regardless of your age or level of sophistication, mixing parmesan cheese with seafood remains a cardinal sin, so don’t even ask. And for the love of Saint Peter, don’t let an Italian see you cutting your spaghetti with a fork and knife.

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KILL YOURSELF TRYING TO FIT ROME INTO A CROWDED ITINERARY

Twenty regions, so much to see! Most visitors enter Italy throughRome, but if you plan to enter via Sicily or Milan and can’t bear the thought of missing out on Roman ruins during your trip, take heart: the Romans were a busy bunch. Spectacular Roman ruins can be found throughout the peninsula, namely Volterra in Tuscany, Villa Jovis on the Isle of Capri, Pompeii and Oplontis in Campania, Piazza Armerina in Sicily, Verona in Veneto, and Mediolanum in Milan. Use the money you’ll have saved on extra flights to fill up on wine.

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PLAN ON CONDUCTING YOUR ENTIRE TRIP TO ITALY IN ENGLISH

Yes, the movies would have you believe that any time you travel, your host country will be chock-full of citizens who speak your language perfectly, albeit with a charming accent. But Italy consistently earns moderate to low proficiency rankings on English proficiency indexes—among the lowest-rated in Europe. You’ll do all right at hotels, historical sites, and restaurants in heavily-touristed cities like Rome and Naples, but set foot outside of those perimeters and, well, in bocca al lupo.

P.S. That means “good luck” in Italian.

Photo Credits: Get Fleeced by a Gondolier: Thats where I live by Saurabh Thakur Attribution-NoDerivs License; Park Inside the Yellow lines: blue like the line by Emiliano Attribution License; Get Yourself Psyched for Authentic Spaghetti alla Bolognese in Naples: Trattoria Anna Maria by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License; Ask Your Waiter for Parmesan Cheese to Put On Your Seafood Pasta: Getty Images/Hemera; Take That Google Maps Shortcut: Appia Antica by ChrisSteph LewisBoegeman Attribution-NoDerivs License; Head to Vatican City in a Tube Top: Lisja | Dreamstime.com; Kill Yourself Trying to Fit Rome into a Crowded Itinerary: Shootalot | Dreamstime.com

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