Volcanoes, gelato and canals: Italy’s great small cities chosen by readers | Italy holidays


Winning tip: Happy wanderer in Puglia

A little piece of my soul was left in Polignano a Mare, a beautiful slice of real Italian life in Puglia. Pretty houses perching on clifftops overlooking emerald seas, a labyrinth of streets leading to a stunning old town, delectable gelato and a buzzy atmosphere as locals promenade and music plays, all combine to create a real gem. The contemporary art museum is worth a gander. It is the wandering, however, getting lost in delightful white-washed streets, stumbling across the poetry written on doorways and stairs, finding a clifftop bar beloved by locals, which is the key to enjoying this romantic town.
Vivienne Francis, Kent

Lovely Lucca

Lucca
Photograph: JM_Image_Factory/Getty Images

Lucca is the hidden jewel in the Tuscan crown of Italy, and September is the best time to visit. Just 20 minutes from Pisa, its medieval walls, cobbled streets and shaded squares create a calm, quiet atmosphere. Cars are absent inside the walls, so it’s great to stroll around at any time, and not uncommon to hear Puccini’s music playing from open windows or balconies – Lucca is the composer’s home town. Around mid-September a candlelit procession followed by fireworks and open-air festivities mark the climax of the Holy Cross festival – simply magic.
Yasmin, Cambridge

Venice without the hype

Great water view of Chioggia with vintage cabins and bridgeChioggia, little Venice in Italy
Photograph: LianeM/Getty Images

Chioggia is like Venice without the crowds and the high prices. At the southern end of the Venetian lagoon, it combines views of the snowcapped peaks of the Dolomites on a clear day and the Adriatic from its fine, sandy beach. The pastel-coloured houses create a colourful canvas to its waterways, as the fishing boats chug slowly along, dispensing their catch to local trattories. A medieval clocktower watches over the city and the Museum of Adriatic Zoology showcases the area’s maritime traditions. Sit at a cafe sipping your cappuccino with vistas of calm canals and chatting fishers.
Gonca, Birmingham

Baroque gems in Vigevano

Italy, Lombardy, Vigevano, Ducale Square
Photograph: AGF Srl/Alamy

Just 35km south-west of Milan and easily accessible by road and rail, the town of Vigevano is an architectural gem. Its centre is dominated by the Castello Sforzesco, now a museum which is closely linked to that of Milan: it is connected to the town’s outer fortifications by an amazing and unique 200 metre-long medieval, covered bridge and roadway which allowed horsemen to ride directly from the castle to defend the town. Alongside the castle is the breathtaking 15th-century porticoed Piazza Ducale, enclosed at one end by the baroque cathedral – it is one of the most breathtaking open spaces in Italy.
Ian Statham, Cardiff

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Artisanal Anghiari

alley in the medieval village Anghiari, Arezzo, Tuscany
Photograph: Getty Images

The vast, 13th-century defensive walls of Anghiari still loom high over the plain of the Valtiberina, location of the decisive Florentine victory over the Milanese in 1440, and celebrated annually by a colourful, viciously contested Palio. Hidden within, a flower-strewn labyrinth of winding alleyways reveals linen looms, artisans’ workshops and boutiques hewn from the bedrock. The Southbank Sinfonia performs in the piazza under the stars each July, and the town revels in seasonal celebrations of Tuscan gastronomy, culminating in the “Chequered Tablecloth”, in which local produce is served at candlelit, communal tables, accompanied by performances of folklore, poetry and song and dance.
Benedict Leonard, London

Roman Christian mosaics in Ravenna

Mosaic of the baptism of Jesus, in the Arian Baptistry of Ravenna.
Mosaic of the baptism of Jesus, in the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna. Photograph: Michael Honegger/Alamy

Go to Ravenna – it is perfect for a long weekend, and close to Bologna. The imperial capital in the dying days of the Roman empire, it houses the most amazing collection of early Christian mosaics you’ll ever see. The art mostly dates from the fifth and sixth centuries and adorns just a handful of ancient churches in the compact city centre. The imagery is a real shock. There are no crucifixions or other signs of Christ’s suffering, and everywhere you’ll see sheep. Yes, they took the idea of us all being a flock very literally 1,500 years ago.
Chris Wilson, Fife

Sunsets in Sicily

Taormina with Mount Etna at sunset.
Taormina with Mount Etna at sunset. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

The city of Taormina in Sicily has it all. It’s perched on a hilltop, therefore boasting amazing views of an active volcano, Mount Etna, while also having beautiful sandy coves, which can be accessed by a steep hike or via cable car. The town’s piazza is one of the best places to watch the sun set in Sicily and a visit to the ancient Greek-Roman theatre is not to be missed– you can even catch a show here today.
Rachel W, Cumbria

Blown away in Sardinia

The Roman amphitheatre of Cagliari
The Roman amphitheatre in Cagliari. Photograph: Luis Leamus/Alamy

Try a short break in Cagliari, a beautiful and bustling port city on the island of Sardinia – . Countless places to eat and drink, all fiercely proud of the local produce. Bombas, a modern burger restaurant, is nestled inside a cave within the stunning medieval city walls. Sightseeing includes La Torre dell’Elefante, an imposing 14th-century limestone tower, the sprawling ruins of the Roman amphitheatre and a host of museums and galleries. We visited not expecting much, but were blown away by what Cagliari had to offer.
Dom S, Accrington

Railway rapture in Genoa

funicular railway Genoa
Photograph: Roberto Lo Savio/Alamy

Genoa is steep, built into the Ligurian cliffs. But if you don’t fancy walking up and down the many staircases, there are a series of delightful funicular railways. The Zecca-Righi funicular gets you from the city centre to the high hills in minutes. But best of all is the cute and weird Ascensore Castello d’Albertis-Montegalletto – a delightful little carriage that trundles you 300 metres into the hillside, before boarding its own lift to leave you high up above the city, overlooking the port and just around the corner from the Museum of World Cultures. Journeys are €0.90.
Thom, London

Friuli had you fooled?

Piazza Libertà in Udine.
Piazza Libertà in Udine. Photograph: MassanPH/Getty Images

Italy but not Italy … That’s the feeling that strikes you as you wander the streets of Udine, in the lesser-known region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. Sitting in the shadow of the castle, Piazza Libertà is considered to be the most beautiful Venetian square on terra firma, but it’s the people and food that hint towards a more unusual mix of influences. The local language, Friulian, and the hearty dishes of frico, cjarsons and gubana give clues to the city’s mountainous hinterland and its intoxicating Germanic and Slavic influences. Yet as your senses are filled with new sights, tastes and sounds, a glass of bianco from the Collio vineyards reminds you that, well, maybe this is Italy after all.
Steve Bassett, Exeter



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Sydney’s coolest gelato scoops for summer 2021


Not much is certain about 2021 except the fact that it’s an excellent time to be selling and eating gelato.

It really is the ultimate al fresco food. It’s delicious. It’s inexpensive. Chances are you won’t have to travel too far to find a decent scoop. And it’s very democratic – everyone young and old can take part in an iced treat. Plus, no one’s hanging around for hours at a time for gelato. They get in, get out, and enjoy the results with very little contact.

A banana split at Ciccone and Sons.
A banana split at Ciccone and Sons. Photo: David Li Photography


And it’s become a vehicle for some exciting new projects for top Sydney chefs.

If 2020 was the year of collaboration, perhaps 2021 is to be the year of collaborative disruption. Sean O’Brien, co-owner of Redfern-based gelateria Ciccone & Sons, believes the nature of collaboration between hospitality businesses is beginning to change.

Restaurants don’t look at gelato as just another cog in the supply chain any more – they want to run custom flavours on their dessert menus, name-checking the gelateria they’ve worked with, the way they might have with good sourdough a decade ago.

We’re pretty fussy with what we do and so when someone does something really special with it, we’re really proud of it


Sean O’Brien

“I think that the people we’re dealing with understand that sometimes you can bring a product in that is better than what you can do in-house,” says O’Brien. “We’re pretty fussy with what we do, and when someone does something really special with it, we’re really proud of that.”

When it comes to experiencing these collaborations in the flesh, hordes of Sydneysiders have ticked Continental Deli/Ciccone & Sons’ Neapoli-tin (three flavours of gelato, tinned) off their dining bucket lists. The new box to check is the more challenging fish fat gelato at Josh Niland’s Fish Butchery.

“We’ve done a few products for Josh,” says O’Brien. “One of the first was a take on the restaurant’s brownie dessert with cod fat caramel on top. We used our salt caramel gelato, reproduced his fish fat caramel and ran that through [the gelato] as a ribbon.

“But the second project, which took a little bit longer to get off the ground, is a gelato stick. We used cod fat with caramelised white chocolate to make choc chips with a caramel-based gelato, then we coated those sticks in a chocolate made with the fish fat, so it was kind of like a fish Magnum. You’re eating ice-cream, but it has a real fishy saltiness to it.”

It’s worth noting here that one person’s complex flavour profile is another person’s fish milkshake. And while they love to take on exciting projects such as these, back in the Ciccone & Sons gelateria, it’s all about the simple joys of jersey milk, honeycomb and the ice-cream sundaes of childhood dreams.

Newtown gelato store Mapo has worked in collaboration with other small food businesses from the day it opened in 2019. Owner-maker Matteo Pochintesta works with Pepe Saya butter to make his salted caramel gelato and has recently collaborated with food personality Magdalena Roze to make a special edition Oomite-flavoured gelato.

Cones at Cremeria de Luca in Five Dock.
Cones at Cremeria de Luca in Five Dock. Photo: Supplied


(Oomite, for the players at home, is a dense Vegemite-like spread made by Roze.) Mapo have also just released a “beerimisu” with local craft brewers Grifter – all the flavours of a tiramisu, with the heft of the beer company’s oat milk stout.

On the other end of the scale, gelato heavyweight Messina has been working with chefs since it opened its first store in Darlinghurst in 2002. Back then, it supplied the likes of chefs Christine Manfield, then of Paramount, Potts Point, and Danny Russo (L’Unico, Balmain).

During 2020, it worked with Firedoor chef Lennox Hastie and cookbook author Elizabeth Hewson, making custom gelatos for Hastie’s restaurant store. It even made a range of Neapolitan gelato-inspired gin with local distillers Archie Rose. Now it has shifted focus to chocolate.

Set to be distributed by specialty food suppliers Two Providores from February, the idea for Messina chocolate was borne of shipping chocolate from around the world for their gelato production, but not being too clear on where the cocoa for that chocolate was coming from. It now buys Fairtrade cocoa from Ecuador, working with chefs to make something unique for each restaurant.

“We’ve been in preliminary talks with Lennox Hastie, who wants to be involved in the actual process to smoke the beans in his oven and make a caramelised milk chocolate,” says Messina production manager-chef Donato Toce.

“We’re going to collaborate with Alex Prichard at Icebergs to make bon bons with native flavours, and Ross Lusted from Woodcut is also very keen to do something. I’ve gotta say, it’s given me a new lease on life.”

Here’s where to find Sydney’s best gelato.

Good Food. Bar Italia in Leichhardt.   Tiramisu gelato. 16th May 2019. Photo: Edwina Pickles.

Tiramisu gelato at Bar Italia. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Bar Italia

If you loved the restaurant, which has been a Norton Street staple since 1952, growing up, chances are it still holds a special place in your heart today. There’s no need to dine in to order a scoop. It still operates its dedicated gelato bar out the front of the restaurant. Can’t decide between the classic pistachio or the zuppa inglese? Order both. Minor caloric regrets for maximum flavour and joy. Plus, it’s been the training ground for some of the city’s best gelato-makers, who have gone on to open their own stores, including Mark Megahey at Ciccone & Sons and Franco Riservato at Gelato Franco.

Hot tip: tiramisu

Where: 169-171 Norton Street, Leichhardt, baritalia.net.au

Ciccone & Sons in Sydney's Redfern is scooping some of the country's best ice-cream and gelato.

 A whole new generation is enjoying the gelato at Ciccone and Sons. Photo: David Li Photography

Ciccone and Sons

When Sean O’Brien and Mark Megahey first opened in Redfern in 2016 there were very few neighbourhood children who frequented the store. Now, with the changing and growing community, a whole new generation is enjoying their gelato. Here, it’s small-batch, hyper-seasonal (no year-round strawberry, folks) and made in vintage churners. The pair are also passionate amaro collectors and run $10 cocktail specials on Sundays. With six seats under current restrictions, they might well be running Sydney’s smallest bar/ice-cream social.

Hot tip: chocolate or jersey milk

Where: 195 Regent Street, Redfern, cicconeandsons.com.au

Cow and the Moon 

Upper Enmore Road didn’t know what hit it when these guys set up shop in 2011. They started offering 26 flavours of sorbetti and gelati and then won the World’s Best Gelato title with their almond affogato flavour at the Gelato World Tour in Rimini, Italy, in 2014. That award-winning flavour is still available six years on, along with the likes of orange poppyseed, Turkish delight and after-dinner mint, for lovers of Roses assorted creams. 

Hot tip: roasted coconut 

Where: 181 Enmore Road, Enmore, cowandthemoon.com.au

Cremeria de Luca

Gelato might be the main game here, but did you know you can also order sweet arancini? Yup, those deep-fried rice balls you’ve come to know and love as an aperitivo snack come filled with Nutella here. There is also a soft, sweet bun filled with gelato, which is somewhere between an ice-cream sandwich and an ice-cream burger. Classicist at heart? Maybe a lemon granita is more your speed. Here, the Sicilian-style flavoured ice shavings are topped with sweet cream. And for the truly delicate and pure, a simple scoop of rose petal gelato. BYO straw hat before finding a weeping willow to recline under.

Hot tip: cinnamon (and it’s vegan!)

Where: 84 Ramsay Road, Five Dock, cremeria-deluca.com

Good Food. 14th of November 2017. Gelato Franco on Marrickville Road in Marrickville. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Franco Riservato’s Marrickville store. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Gelato Franco

With its green wood-panelled walls and collection of vintage etched mirrors, the interior of the Franco Riservato’s Marrickville store looks like someone’s very cosy lounge room, only it serves way better dessert. Order house-made biscotti alongside your small-batch antique-machine-churned pistachio or stracciatella (choc chip), or try fresh mango sorbetti. The flavours are concentrated, and the gelato itself has that dense, creamy consistency that speaks of a product that’s been made slowly by hand.

Hot tip: toasted hazelnut or pistachio

Where: 281 Marrickville Road, Marrickville

Gelateria Gondola

This little shop off a Chatswood side street offers big flavours and gondolier-inspired decor (owner Davide Barbisan and Luca Zanini are both originally from Venice) with a pretty interesting point of difference: a vertical gelato machine (the only one in Sydney) that makes a tiny six litres per churn. So while there are fixed points on the menu (chocolate-lychee, blood orange-choc chip!), the small batches give the ex-chefs room to experiment. Pass the macadamia panna cotta.

Hot tip: plum, pine nut and raisin

Where: Shop 2, 77 Archer Street, Chatswood, gelateriagondola.com.au

Gelato Messina

The gelateria that stole the hearts of so many Sydneysiders way back in 2002, when Nick Palumbo opened the first store in Darlinghurst, is now an Australian institution, with locations around the country. Messina has always been about pushing the envelope flavour-wise, especially when ex-A Tavola chef Donato Toce joined the team and started running a weekly board of specials (prune and armagnac, and white chocolate gelato with peanut caramel crunch and chocolate fudge are two of the most recent). On top of the specials, there are also 35 regular flavours including a vegan, nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free and alcohol-free range. Something, as they say in the funny pages, for everyone.

Hot tip: dulce de leche

Where: Stores around Sydney, gelatomessina.com

Toscana Naturale Gelateria, for goodfood.com.au ice-cream story Jan 2020

Ask about the specials at Toscana Naturale Gelateria. Photo: Supplied

Toscana Gelateria Naturale

A modest Bankstown shopfront belies the not-so modest skills of gelato-makers scooping the likes of locally grown prickly pear sorbet and vegan coconut with fresh cherry sauce. You’ll find all the classics (fior di latte, stracciatella and pistachio) but the specials such as fig, balsamic and mascarpone are where it’s at.

Hot tip: ricotta and cinnamon

Where: 103 Denman Road, Georges Hall

Get the scoop from Mapo.

Get the scoop from Mapo. Photo: Rein Photography

Mapo

Cult favourite and beloved among Sydney chefs, architect-turned-gelato-maker Matteo Pochintesta’s tiny Newtown store churns gelato daily. Like most savvy gelaterias now, there is a range of vegan options marked out on the menu, as well as the best-selling fior di latte, 75 per cent Bolivian chocolate and the unbeatable raw honey, which you can pimp by topping with a drizzle of fresh honey, straight off the honeycomb. Want to keep it light and fruity? Try the kiwi sorbetto.

Hot tip: Pepe Saya butter sea salt caramel

Where: 123 King Street, Newtown, maponewtown.com

Terry Durack review at Ormeggio 2.0. Amalfi lemon gelato. 4th Sept 2020. Photo: Edwina Pickles / SMH Good Food

Amalfi lemon gelato. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Ormeggio at the Spit

Hot ticket for all those lovers of fine-dining gelato: Alessandro Pavoni and head chef Victor Moya now offer a gelato experience at the bar at Ormeggio, and you don’t need to order a full meal beforehand to enjoy it. Rock up, order a little grappa or amaro, and a cannolo with house-made pistachio gelato. Or try the lychee sorbet with plum-flavoured marshmallows and caramelised violet.

Hot tip: Amalfi lemon gelato with Italian meringue

Where: D’Albora Marinas, Spit Road, Mosman, ormeggio.com.au





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