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Italy is a well-established foodie paradise. Whether you’re looking for a relaxed family getaway, a romantic couple’s break or an indulgent solo-travel adventure, there’s a delicious corner of Italy waiting for you. Sign up for a classic Italian cooking class, explore local coastal haunts or relax in a luxurious countryside bolthole. Choose your ideal food-filled holiday from our favourite Mediterranean hotspots below.
Find even more local travel tips, city guides and restaurant hotspots in our travel hub
Best for… pasta lovers and prosciutto platters
If you thought a trip to Bologna meant a pilgrimage to the birthplace of traditional spaghetti bolognese, think again. While it’s not known exactly where ‘spag bol’ came from, it’s not this northern Italian city. Bologna, the capital of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region is, however, home to ragu alla bolognese – a meat-based ragu that’s far from the thick, garlic-heavy tomato sauce beloved of British students – which is always served with tagliatelle, not spaghetti.
The official recipe for ragu, recorded in Milan’s prestigious Accademia Italiana della Cucina in 1982, involves coarsely ground beef, pancetta, carrots, celery, onion, tomato paste or peeled tomatoes, wine and milk. We tried one at Osteria dell’Orsa in Bologna’s buzzy student district. Here, al dente ribbons of tagliatelle are tossed in just enough ragu to coat, and the meaty flavour really sings (as does the cost, at just £6). With authentic, well-cooked pasta for such a bargain price, it’s no surprise that this place is almost always full. Our tip for a shorter waiting time? Go a little earlier than the locals, at around 7pm.
Ragu aside, there are plenty of other local specialities to try in the city, such as tortellini en brodo (tiny meat-stuffed tortellini in a bowl of hearty broth) and tortelloni burro e salvia (large, ricotta-filled pasta in a sage-butter sauce). You’ll find exceptional versions of these and other pasta dishes at All’Osteria Bottega (Via Santa Caterina, 51).
Bologna doesn’t lack landmark food addresses – this lively city is home to an overwhelming number of restaurants, enoteca, and delis specialising in mortadella, balsamic vinegar from neighbouring Modena and Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma from nearby Parma. Need something to accompany those indulgent eats? The surrounding region of Emilia-Romagna is also the biggest producer of lambrusco, a sparkling red wine that pairs excellently with tagliatelle al ragu bolognese.
But, if you tire of pasta, La Prosciutteria is the place for huge platters of cured meats and cheese. Plus, don’t miss the best pistachio gelato in the city (well, according to us) at OGGI (Officina Gelato Gusto Italiano). Indoor market Merato delle Erbe is worth perusing if you want to buy fresh fruit and veg or cheese, grab a pizza slice, eat in one of the popular restaurants, or simply stop for an aperitivo. Need an espresso? Try the exemplary Caffé Terzi. Anna Lawson
How to do it:Centotrecento Suite is a stylish, clean, modern one-bedroom Airbnb apartment that’s great for couples. Antonella is an accommodating host who is happy to meet, greet, and provide recommendations. From £63 per night.
2) Masseria Trapanà, Puglia
Best for… couples and solo travellers seeking a rustic retreat
Puglia’s old farm estates are increasingly being reborn as plush places for tourist pampering. Set in the sunny heel of Italy’s boot, surrounded by olive groves and acres of rolling countryside, these farmhouses are often food-focused, celebrating the ongoing renaissance of the region’s traditional cuisine.Masseria Trapanà is one such pastoral gem. This 16th-century walled estate, reconstructed from rubble, is now a foodie oasis in the surrounding rural landscape of Surbo, in Puglia’s Lecce province. Step through the gated door to be greeted with a verdant courtyard of cacti and fresh flowers, and a chilled glass of prosecco. The reconstruction has been faithful to its original design, with dramatic arched roofs, locally sourced tufo stone and large bay windows. The crowning glory of the hotel, however, is the underground spa that still houses the old farm’s original olive press. Try a full body massage or reflexology while reclining among the lemon trees outside (30-minute massage, £44).
It’s the perfect rustic retreat, with some carefully curated contemporary trills: clubby music enlivens shady courtyards, halls are decked with bright modern rugs, and bedrooms have orange-scented Aesop toiletries. Unwind in your room’s very own pale stone courtyard, complete with an al fresco bath tub. Start your day with a glass of fresh juice squeezed from blood oranges grown by the hotel, and some Italian pastries, then lounge by the pool under plum trees, ripe for picking from the branches above. Fancy lolling in greater seclusion? Relax in a hammock in one of the six walled gardens, exotically planted with cacti and fern, or perhaps in the shady mandarin grove.
For a glimpse of Masseria’s history, take a peek into its tiny chapel, complete with faded frescoes and vaulted ceiling. Come evening, you can settle yourself on a colourful Moroccan cushion near the firepit, a glass of local primitivo wine in hand. Follow with the simple set menu (£40 per person), with seasonal salads, burrata, and moreish deep-fried veggies. Don’t miss the locally made orecchiette pasta with cherry tomatoes and an addictive chilli and garlic-infused olive oil, then end your meal with a shot of Masseria’s addictive mandarinetto liqueur. Thursday’s pizza night offers the chance to make your own authentic dough creation and cook it in the 200-year-old stone hearth, unearthed during the hotel’s reconstruction. Beyond weekly pizza evenings, afternoon cookery classes with Trapanà’s executive chef immerse participants in classic ‘cucina povera’ recipes – Puglia’s ‘poor kitchen’ cuisine – which includes seasonal fruit and veg grown on site, plus local mussels and delicate sea urchin. Alternatively, go all out with a half-day family-run cooking course in the nearby town of Squinzano, organised by the hotel (£114 per person for five hours).
The baroque city of Lecce is just a 15-minute drive away, where you can explore ornate churches and indulge in a cafe Leccese (coffee with almond milk and ice), and sweet piasticciotto, a much-loved local, custard-filled pastry.How to do it: Suites at Masseria Trapanà cost from £360 per night, including breakfast and excluding 10% tax and city tax of £1 per person, per night.
3) Vecchio Frantoio, Tuscany
Best for… a family-friendly retreat, with plenty of fungi porcini and pici pasta
Surrounded by vines, olive groves and rolling hills, the tiny hilltop hamlet of Casanuova d’Ama feels like a wonderfully remote retreat – but is just a 10-minute drive from several exemplary Chianti villages, and 40 minutes to Siena. A Chianti villa stay allows you to cook with prized Tuscan produce in your own kitchen, while kids run free outside. Stone-built Vecchio Frantoio comes with flagstone floors, wood beams, a kitchen-dining room centred around a huge olive millstone, plus three double en-suite bedrooms (one in the cottage), and gardens terraced down to a showstopping swimming pool complete with inflatable toys, a pool house and gated access.There’s a hot tub, too, near the main house’s terrace, where a simple brick barbecue begs for a peppery salsiccia di Lucca local sausage and a Fiorentina steak (the kitchen’s hob-only cooker necessitates grilled goodies are done on the barbecue). In nearby Radda, stock up on Tuscan meats at Macelleria Rocchigiani (Via Roma 9) and Casa Porciatti, a deli with a supply of local salumi and garlicky lardo (cured fat), plus cheeses and wheels of Tuscan bread. You can stay in this hilltop town for dinner at pub-style La Bottega Di Giovannino, where ravioli Maremmani (ricotta and spinach, sage butter), and pici al manzo (supersized local spaghetti with pork ragu) are standouts, and Chianti bottles line floor-to-ceiling shelves (mains around £8). Gelateria In Paese (Via Ferruccio, 16) is an artisan ice-cream shop where hazelnut and pistachio flavours make children and adults sigh with joy (£2 per scoop).
A short drive away, the blink-and-miss-it village of Volpaia is the place for a blow-out Sunday lunch of such Chianti classics as ribollita and wild boar stew, with epic hilltop views from the terrace at La Bottega di Volpaia (mains around £9;). Gaiole is another local village with castle-topped Chianti hillsides as the backdrop, and superb thin, crusty pizza at Lo Sfizio Biancho, topped with fresh porcini mushrooms and truffes (pizzas £5-9). Under 10 minutes from the villa, the village of Lecchi is home to Ristorante Malborghetto, where fine dining remains firmly family-friendly. Dishes like truffed gnocchi in a showy parmesan shell, steak tagliata, and tagliatelli funghi porcini are must-eats (mains around £13). The kitchen garden provides vegetarian antipasti (delicate artichokes, chard salad) and fragrant herbs. Families can learn more about Chianti cuisine on cookery courses hosted by Malborghetto’s welcoming chef, Simone Murici (£90 per person for three hours, including lunch. Ask for child discounts).
Walking distance from the villa, along one of the numerous country trails that line surrounding hillsides, Castello di Ama produces organic olive oils and medal-winning wines. Tours and tastings (£45 per person) include access to Ama’s brilliantly-curated collection of contemporary art, including a Louise Bourgeois sculpture hidden away in the wine cellar. The opulent restaurant in the old palazzo serves such Chianti standouts as tagliata di Chianina (premium steak from local Chianina cattle), pappa al pomodoro (traditional tomato bread soup with basil) and guanciale di vitello (veal cheeks, stewed with fagioli beans). Ama’s entry level 2016 Chianti is superb, while the 2010 L’Apparita and 2013 Vin Santo dessert wine are treats (mains around £18). If you can drag yourself from this Tuscan idyll, a two-hour drive through countryside puts you into Pisa for the leaning tower, and Florence is a little further northeast.How to do it: A week’s self-catering at Vecchio Frantoio, near Gaiole in Chianti, from £2,176 (sleeps six) with to-tuscany.com. Car rental from Pisa or Florence airports cost from £49 with rhinocarhire.com.
4) Italy’s little-known coast, Liguria
Best for… enjoying the charm of the Cinque Terre without the crowds
Populated by palazzi in ice-cream colours, and with no proper road access, Liguria’s novel Cinque Terre has become something of a victim of its own success. The Five Lands – a uniquely pretty string of centuries-old seaside villages linked by leafy cliff-top trails – are awash with hiking, swimming, dining, selfie-snapping visitors almost year-round.Few foreign travellers make it to villages just beyond this honeypot national park, and they’re missing out. Start your trip in the little seaside town of Sestri Levante, north of the national park (50km from the hub city of Genoa), and finish just a stone’s throw south of the Five Lands, in the postcard-perfect fishing town of Porto Venere. Once the home of Hans Christian Anderson, Sestri Levante has fairytale charm, particularly Baia del Silenzio, with its tiny alcove-like sandy beach and the distinctive stripey-fronted Genoese church. Sestri’s cobbled streets are full of street-food vendors selling farinata (local chickpea bread), thin crusty pizza and gelato that’s good enough to make you flee the beach, with seasonal street markets offering local treats like marmellate (preserves) made with figs, blueberries and citrus, and focaccia di Recco (filled with creamy crescenza or stracchino cheese).
Have a sundowner and some simple stuzzichini (small Taggiasca Ligurian olives, salty slices of light plump focaccia) at Citto Beach Bar, set into the cliff just above the Baia del Silenzio. Then take a short walk to La Cantina Del Polpo, where the nine-course tasting menu delivers a range of refined Ligurian dishes at the hands of owner Dario Ballarini, including octopus tostato, tuna crudo (a mayonnaise tartare) with the chicory-like cime di rape, and baked salt cod with potatoes (£40).
Dario’s brother Daniele runs cooking classes (£31) where you have the chance to make proper pesto Genovese (with small sweet Ligurian basil leaves) at nearby La Sciamadda dei Vinaccieri Ballerini. Daniele’s group classes are fun (and your wine glass is never empty). Stay in a castle on the hill, overlooking the beach at Hotel dei Castelli. Make sure you head for the terrace for the best views at breakfast (simple Continental style), and don’t attempt the near-vertical hill – there’s a lift for that (B&B doubles from £195). Heading south, with its quirky-coloured houses, stunning seaside views and great seafood, Porto Venere could easily be one of the official five Cinque Terre villages – minus the tourist hordes. Make sure you wander up to beautiful San Lorenzo Church and explore Lord Byron’s Grotto, where the poet was once said to have meditated. Trattoria Tre Torri, just off the seafront, has a nautical theme, an intimate, lively atmosphere, and such classic Ligurian dishes as salted cod fish with black olives, a tomato-rich buridda stew of cuttlefish and peas, plus a sorbet of local lemons, and plenty of good local Vermentino white wine (mains from £9-14).
How to do it: For confident drivers, Liguria’s coastal roads are fun, cutting over and through the mountains, but the train is easier. Cheap, frequent services connect Genoa/the airport with most coastal towns, including Cinque Terre’s five villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore), where there’s access to national park hiking trails. italiarail.com. Three nights at the five-star Grand Hotel Portovenere costs £773 per person, including breakfast, private transfers, and return BA flights from Gatwick. citalia.com. For more info, visit lamialiguria.it.