In Italy, food is never just a meal. It is a way of life, a philosophy, a social event, an important reminder of home. Ripe, sun-kissed vegetables impart vibrant colours, while traditional methods create time-honoured flavours and textures that cannot be improved upon. From the firm, buttery pastas of Puglia in the south to the sweet mountain cheeses of the north, Italy's regions are a showcase of its specialities.
When planning your foodie tour of Italy, consider the specialties of each region – and savour every mouthful.
The heart of Old Tuscany, Chianti Valley has been hailed for its exceptional wines since the 13th century. Not much beats the experience of drinking a wine immersed in the landscape that created it, and no visit here would be complete without a tour of a wine estate and tasting session.
There are two types of vinegar: the type you put on your fish and chips, and the type you put on your salad. This is most definitely the latter. Made with Modena-grown grapes, the vinegar is aged for anything from 10 to 100 years using a process that has remained unaltered since the 17th century. Rich and complex, glossy and velvety, this is the kind of taste experience that changes the way you buy vinegar forever.
The mountain ranges that surround Lake Maggiore are known for their cheeses, including the buttery, hard ossolano d’Alpe. Made using milk from Grey Alpine dairy cattle, the sweet, herby flavour is enhanced with a little of the high-quality local honey to taste. Add some speciality cured meats, such as the local mortadella salami and pair it with a full-bodied red wine from Ossola Valley.
Ice cream might be a casual summer treat to you, but in Italy it is a serious business. The ‘Gelato World Tour’ is a three-year-long contest to find the ‘World’s Best Gelato’, and in 2017 it awarded the title to Gelateria Crispini in Spoleto. Its winning variety is a fluffy pistachio gelato, made with three different varieties of roasted Sicilian pistachios and enhanced with a touch of refined Cervia salt.
Particularly famous for its orecchiette (‘little ear’ pasta), Fasano produces the type of pasta that makes overseas Italians long for home. What’s the secret? It could be the harder type of wheat used to make it, or perhaps it’s the simplicity of how it is traditionally served: either with a pungent cime di rapa (turnip greens) dressing, or a vibrant, zingy passata di pomodoro (fresh tomato) sauce.
Secreted away in a little alley off Corso Umberto I in Modica, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto is Sicily’s oldest chocolatier. Founded in 1880, it makes its confection at low temperatures according to Aztec methods, without tempering, conching or adding extra fat. The result is a uniquely grainy, textured dark chocolate enhanced by flavours that include chilli, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, white pepper and salt.
Unless you’re vegetarian, it would be wrong, plain wrong, to visit Florence and not taste its specialty, bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak). Produced from Tuscan Chianina cattle, the steak is served 5-6cm thick, perfectly browned all over and bloody in the middle. At restaurants, it’s usually priced by weight, and often averages around 1-1.5kg. In this case, the waiters will likely suggest you share.
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