Ask the Italy Expert: Outlet Shopping and Rome Pastry Shops



I get lots of emails from readers asking for Italy travel advice. And while I like to think of myself as the Italy travel resource, I know that there are tons of bloggers, writers, tour operators, travel consultants, and many other Italophiles who have knowledge on specific subjects, like villa rentals, Tuscany antique markets, or wines of the Veneto. Previously, I have just answered readers’ questions as best – and as quickly – as I could. But I started thinking that everyone could benefit from the knowledge I’ve earned as a result of researching some of these inquiries.

So, today I am starting a new feature called “Ask the Italy Expert,” in which I utilize my network of Italy experts to answer your travel questions. I’m really excited about the first installment of this feature because it is all about SHOPPING!

Two readers, Dominika and Niek, recently asked me questions about shopping in Italy. Dominika, who is getting married in Rome, was particularly interested in finding out about factory outlets and pastry shops/cake makers in and around the capital while Niek wanted to know about outlets in the southern Italian regions of Basilicata, Calabria, and Puglia.

As soon as I saw that I had two specific shopping questions, I knew exactly who to ask. Stefania Troiani is the creative founder and owner of Rome Shopping Guide, a private tour company that offers personalized shopping tours of the Eternal City, from food markets to outlets to luxury boutiques. While I have never actually “met” Stefania, I have enjoyed reading her shopping advice on her website and Twitter for quite some time now. Certainly, she specializes in Rome, but I had no doubts of her ability to tell me about other shopping experiences south of the capital. Here are her superb shopping suggestions:

Question 1: Factory Outlets and Cake Makers in Rome
The best factory outlets for designer label handbags and clothes and shoes around Rome are:

Castel Romano Designer Outlet elegantly built around a style reminiscent of Imperial Rome that boasts 110 designer name shops with prices reduced from 30% to 70%. Many shops also offer tax free (from a minimum of 4% up to a maximum 16% of the selling price of the goods purchased). The outlet is located 30mins outside Rome (how to get there).

Another perfect place to find special accessories is the Bulgari outlet that carries all the end of series and unsold items from Bulgari shops. It is possible to find handbags, crocodile purses, ties, house furnishings, scarves, sunglasses, glasses, modern silver and also jewelry for which Bulgari has been famous for over 100 years, all to be discounted 30%. The staff speaks English and Japanese. The outlet is located on Via Aurelia, 1052 only a few miles outside Rome.

When in Rome you can also get some great buys on designer handbags, clothes and shoes and if you are looking for Miu Miu, Cavalli, Chloé, and Burberry you should pop into Outlet Gente conveniently located near the Vatican on Via Cola di Rienzo 246.

Antonella e Fabrizio is a discount store for men and women near Piazza Navona, on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 247 selling Armani, D&G and Just Cavalli as well as other popular Italian labels.

Il Discount dell’Alta Moda is a boutique near Piazza del Popolo on Via Gesù e Maria, 16 overstocking at up to 50% off goods by Fendi, Gucci, Sergio Rossi, and Roberto Cavalli.

Pastry shops in Rome are all very good. I know many great good cake makers. My two favorites are the historic Marinari pastry shop in the Trieste neighborhood also well known for its delicious “torta della nonna,” it offers a wide range of desserts from ricotta cakes to Sicilian cannoli.

Another one to recommend to dessert lovers is Antonini on via Sabotino, 19 that offers one of the best selections of pastries in town.

(Those pastry shops sound delicious! Best bet is to shop for shoes at the outlets so you can indulge in the cake without worrying about fitting into designer duds!)

Question 2: Factory Outlets in Basilicata, Calabria, and Puglia
There are not many quality outlets in Basilicata and Calabria, whilst in Puglia there are several places to visit for value conscious travelers.

  • Vestebene Outlet Storeon Piazza Dante Alighieri 85 – Galatina – Lecce
  • Filanto Shoes Outlet – Casarano Industrial Park – Lecce
  • Leather Company Outlet (excellent value and quality) – Via Provinciale Uggiano 44 – Otranto – Lecce
  • Molfetta Fashion District (80 shops) Via dei Portuali, Molfetta- Bari

Great tips for outlets in Puglia, Stefania! If anyone else has tips on outlets in Basilicata or Calabria, let me know.

I really hope that you have enjoyed this new Q&A on Italofile. If you’d like to submit a question or if you are an Italy expert who’d like to offer some advice, contact me. Hopefully, we can collaborate on the next installment of Ask the Italy Expert!

Photo © / CC BY 2.0

Venice for a Penny

I’d hate to be the employee who made this error:

The Crowne Plaza of Venice will be honoring a rate of 1-cent-per-night after mistakenly posting the rate on its website. According to BBC News, approximately 230 guests booked the hotel after seeing the unbelievable rate. The usual rate for the hotel, located about 10 miles outside the city, is €150.

Photo by Sicilian Italiano

Culture Week 2009

Today begins Culture Week throughout all of Italy. Through April 26,  state-run museums will be open for free and many will be extending hours. Tons of special events and exhibitions are part of Culture Week. To see what’s on, visit the Italian Culture Ministry’s website.

A Peaceful Oasis in Rome

After reading a post about Free Things to Do in Rome from fellow blogger Jessica at, I couldn’t resist commenting on one of my favorite places – free or not – in all of the Eternal City: the Protestant Cemetery. Then I thought I should also share this tip with Italofile readers, too.

The Protestant Cemetery, also known as the Non-Catholic Cemetery, is located behind the grand Pyramid or, in Italian, Piramide, itself a burial site for Roman magistrate Gaius Cestius who died around 12BC. Surrounded by tall trees, which miraculously drown out the din of Roman traffic just beyond the Pyramid, the well-kept cemetery is the final resting place of a few names from literature, notably John Keats (whose unmarked epitaph famously reads “Here lies one whose name was writ in water”) and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who died in a boating accident off the coast of Tuscany, but who wrote parts of Prometheus Unbound while living in Rome. Many expats and non-Catholic Italians have been laid to rest at the Protestant Cemetery and you can find lists of others buried there (ordered by name, nationality, etc.) by checking out these databases.

Indeed, it may seem a little morbid to spend time at a cemetery while in Rome. At the very least, it may seem odd to go out of one’s way to visit one of Rome’s least-visited (and certainly little known) sites. But, the Protestant Cemetery is just one of the many free things you can do in the Eternal City and is a great place to recharge your batteries after hours of dodging traffic and long lines.

Photo from the Protestant Cemetery website

Really Cheap Real Estate in Sicily

Here’s your chance to buy a really cheap house in Italy.

According to Italy Magazine, the Sicilian town of Salemi is selling homes in the town’s historic center which have been ravaged by earthquakes for the fair price of €1. The catch? Buyers must restore the homes “sympathetically” within two years.

Salemi (see this place on a map) is famous for having been the site where Giuseppe Garibaldi claimed Sicily for King Vittorio Emanuele on May 14, 1860, and for the earthquakes that shook the town in 1968. Mayor Vittorio Sgarbi and councillor Oliviero Toscani (of Benetton photo campaign fame) hope that this new scheme will bring Salemi a new kind of fame. Apparently, some Italian stars, such as Lucio Dalla and Inter Milan owner Massimo Moratti, are considering the Salemi real estate offer.

For more information, visit the Salemi website.

Italy Summer Article Round-Up 2008

Lots of Italy-related articles this time of year. So, here goes:

New York Times
Wandering Beyond Classic Rome (The Frugal Traveler Does Europe on a Budget)
On Venice’s Grand Canal in a Kayak
Prescription Med (Ischia)

Los Angeles Times
Exploring Rome’s Famous Seven Hills
Budget Travel in Rome
10 Books and Movies to Prep for a Trip to Rome
Italy: At Home in Rome

National Geographic Traveler
Rome Photo Gallery (Part of NGT’s Authentic Rome feature for the July/August 2008 issue)
Shopping: Roman Gold

The Washington Post
Smart Mouth: His Palermo Restaurant Is Popular, But It’s No Mob Scene
My Verona

Travel Postcard: 48 Hours in Ferrara, Italy

Naples (FL) Daily News
From the Ground Up: Part-Time Naples Couple Found Their Italian Villa a Full-Time Restoration Job Over Two Years (Brindisi, Puglia)

The Guardian (UK)
The Amalfi Coast On a Budget
Caught in the Spell of San Pietro (Sardinia)
Hidden Gems (Sibillini Mountains, Le Marche)
Little Po Peep (Emilia-Romagna)
Flying Visit: Venice
A Greener Way to Umbria’s Capital

Sydney Morning Herald
How to Shop Up an Appetite (Milan)
Night in Italian Prison Promises Gourmet Fare (Tuscany)
Master of the House (Palladio in Venice)
Holiday in Harmony with Gregorian Monks (Tuscany)
A Bloodbath, Italian Style (Florence)

We’re Back…and Recent Rome Tips

Hello all. We’ve had a few technical difficulties over the last few weeks, so I hope you’ve stayed with us. In the interim, you may have missed our posts about Jewish Resources in Italy, Scootermania in Sicily, and Tuscan Wine Picks.

Now, it seems we have cured our hiccups and are ready to keep providing you with Italy travel tips. While we were gone, travel site Gridskipper ran a contest on Dream Destinations and many readers wrote in about Rome. Two Rome dream trips are in the finals; both entries are creative and provide useful tips for sightseeing, wining and dining, and exploring the Eternal City. Check out Roman Holiday and Rome Poem. Gridskipper also ran a piece about Secret Trastevere last month. By the way, yours truly entered a Gridskipper contest last year and qualified as a finalist with this entry about seeing Rome on $100.

Other Rome tips that have come our way recently are from A Luxury Travel Blog, which ran a piece on the Hassler Hotel’s Roman Skyline Package and from the New York Times, which has a feature on Rome at Night.

So, if you’re going to Rome this summer, here are plenty of suggestions. And there’s more to come, we’re sure…


Tuscan Wine Picks

One of the pleasures of visiting Tuscany is having the chance to drive the fertile hills of wine country, sampling reds and whites along the way. Most travelers really only think of Chianti, a mini-region within Tuscany, when thinking about Tuscan wine. But another vino hotspot is Montalcino.

Montalcino is the home of Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s most celebrated vintages. According to this month’s Tasting Notes newsletter from, Montalcino produces other tasty wines, too. One of Epicurious’ resident wine gurus Leslie Sbrocco particularly likes products from Castello Banfi, a wine estate and luxury inn just outside of Montalcino.

While the inn looks enticing, you don’t have to go all the way to Tuscany to enjoy Castello Banfi. You can buy many wines by the bottle or case from the winery using their online store. Or, you can check your local wine seller or wine.comicon for Castello Banfi reds and whites.

By the way, in case you didn’t know, food site Epicurious is a great resource for wine lovers, as well. Sign up for their Tasting Notes newsletter or visit the site to watch tasting videos. For more on Tuscan wines, check out this recent article on the Top 5 Affordable Super-Tuscan Wines by Linda Murphy. The article also includes links to recipes for the perfect wine and food pairings.

Harry’s Bar Offers Discount to ‘Poor Americans’

For Americans touring Venice, one of the most famous places to visit is Harry’s Bar, a former haunt of Ernest Hemingway. Unfortunately, as the dollar has sunk (and continues to sink) against the euro, Harry’s, which has always been expensive, is out of most American tourists’ price range. So now, in light of the current economic downturn, Harry’s Bar has begun to offer a “discount to ‘poor’ Americans suffering from a weak dollar and subprime blues.”

According to Reuters, the following sign has been posted outside of the bar:

Harry’s Bar of Venice, in an effort to make the American victims of subprime loans happier, has decided to give them a special 20 percent discount on all items of the menu during the short term of their recovery.

Now, let’s hope that other restaurants and hotels in Italy extend similar charity to traveling Americans this summer. We’re gonna need it!

Ten Euro Trattorias

Italy’s leading paper Corriere della Sera has a small English language section that delivers news and the occasional lifestyle article. While digging, we found this recent nugget on Low Cost Italy’s Ten Euro Trattorias. While the article doesn’t provide an exhaustive list of cheap eats (it is a mere round-up of some other food articles), it does name a few, including Buffet da Pepi (Trieste, Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Taverna del Leone (Positano, Campania), and Antico Forno Roscioli (Rome).

Roberto Rizzo, the author of the article, also names staf chef Davide Oldani’s D’O, a budget-friendly restaurant in Milan’s San Pietro all’Olmo district that offers a two-course lunch menu for €11.50. D’O’s dinnertime tasting menu isn’t a steal at about €32, but it’s not bad for a one-star Michelin restaurant.

Tips for Beating the Euro in Rome

Today’s budget-saving tips come from the readers of Fodor’s, who offer some very useful ways to stretch your woefully weak dollar, such as:

  1. Bars always have two different prices: If you have your coffee at the counter it’s cheaper than when a waiter serves it at a table.
  2. For the art lover on a budget: Most of the art I saw in Rome is free. Where else can you see countless Caravaggios, two Michelangelos, and even more Berninis for the cost of the wear and tear on the soles of your shoes?
  3. Invest in the bus schedule — at any place they sell tickets. Cost is €4. It gives you all the routes, how long between buses, hours they run, where you hop on/off to transfer etc.

The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy (4th edition due out March 24!) and this blog also offer lots of money-saving tips for Rome, Florence, and elsewhere in Italy. In addition to suggesting the three tips above, we have also advocated alternative accommodations, such as convents/monasteries or agritourism farmstays, and investing in a Roma Pass or other combined tickets.

If you’re visiting this spring – particularly from March 25-31 – there’s another great way to save with Culture Week (Settimana della Cultura 2008). During the week, all state-owned museums will be free to the public and many will have longer visiting hours to handle the demand. To can search through hundreds of programs that will be free during Culture Week with the Culture Ministry’s search tool (in Italian, but mostly intuitive).

How to Stretch Your Budget in Tuscany

Il Cipresso, Tuscany
Renting a villa in Tuscany may actually be a budget-friendly option

You know we must be in a recession if the villa rental company Luxury Retreats puts out an article on How To Stretch Your Buck in Tuscany. But they do come up with some valid points, such as:

1) Rent a Bigger Place. “More bedrooms equal less money per suite, as a rule of thumb, so if you’re looking for a really good deal, gather more friends and family.”

2) Cook Your Own Meals. “When you’re renting a villa though, you’re blessed with an easy cost-cutter: your kitchen.”

3) Stay Far Away From the City. “There are deals to be had the further you venture outside of the main tourist towns, which are never more than a quick scenic drive away anyways.” (Though, with gas prices as they are, those scenic drives can end up being pretty pricey.)

Despite the name, the prices are (like they said) somewhat reasonable should you and a number of friends or relatives want a multi-room crashpad in Tuscany. We are liking Il Cipresso (pictured above) and Villa di Montelopio, a 5-BR Pisa-area villa that rents from $700 per night for up to 8 people.

Luxury Retreats has villas throughout the world; in Italy, they rent villas in 13 of the 20 regions, including Campania (the Amalfi Coast), Puglia, and Sicily. And, if you just can’t afford to stay in an Italian villa this year (or next), LR has a unique feature for armchair travelers: the wish list. Dream On!

Italy Article Round-Up From the Past Few Months

Here are some of the Italy travel articles you may have missed over the past few months.

New York Times
Prato, Italy: In Tuscany, the Revealing of a Forbidden Love
Bread-Making and Truffle-Hunting in Italy (Piemonte; actually a short review of two tours)
Bologna, Italy: Finding New Life in the Arts
La Dolce Vita, Both Day and Night (Readers Picks in Rome)

The Washington Post
They Got Game. In Several Languages. (About European (and Italian) basketball leagues)

The Daily Telegraph (UK)
Italy: An Insider’s Guide (a list of the 30 best things in Italy; a bit similar to our recent posts “20 Things We Love About Italy” parts 1 and 2.)

The Guardian (UK)
Eternal Attraction (Rome)
Venetian Bites
Big City Bites: Parma

Los Angeles Times
20 Ways to Take Back the 20% Our Dollar Lost to the Euro (great advice from Rick Steves; not specific to Italy, but there are several Italy tips)

Bend Weekly (Oregon)
Serene Pleasures of the Veneto (via Copley News Service)

Sydney Morning Herald
Life in Ruins (Siracusa, Sicily)
A Cloister Walk with Thee (Assisi)

New Zealand Herald
Venice Calls – and to Hell with Explanations (a sort of Eat, Pray, Love piece on traveling alone to Italy)

The Roma Pass

The Colosseum is one of more than 40 places where you can use the Roma PassHere’s an update to yesterday’s post about Saving Money with Combined Tickets. In addition to some other combined ticket options on offer in the Eternal City, there’s also the Roma Pass. The €20*, 3-day pass entitles the holder to “free” entry to two museums, reduced rates to other museums, access to all public transport, discounts on entertainment and guided tours, and a kit that includes maps of the city and transportation routes as well as news about events.

Visitors can choose from about 40 participating museums (PDF), including the Colosseum, the Capitoline Museums, the Galleria Borghese, and the Ara Pacis. It includes the archeological sites of Appia Antica and Ostia Antica. And it also includes lesser-known contemporary sites, such as MACRO.

The Roma Pass is a great deal for just about everyone, but especially students, weekend visitors, and second- or third-time visitors who want to check out museums that aren’t usually on the tourist itinerary. Another bonus – it can be purchased just about anywhere. See the Roma Pass website for further details. And, if you’re looking for a way to save money on hotels, check out Rome Hotels for more information.

UPDATE: The pass now costs €25.

Photo by Storm Crypt

Saving Money with Combined Tickets

Save your euros by purchasing combined tickets
Save your euros by purchasing combined tickets

It’s tough to be an American tourist in Europe right now, what with the dollar sinking to new lows against the euro every day. The New York Times had a fantastic Practical Traveler feature a few months back titled 10 Ways to Keep Europe Within Reach. I’d like to add to this advice with my own suggestion – consider purchasing combined tickets when touring popular attractions.

A lot of touristy cities in Italy offer joint tickets that include admission to several related attractions at a price lower than each individual ticket. For instance, if you want to check out some of the archeological attractions in Rome, you can purchase the Roma Archeologia Card, a €20 pass to the Colosseum, the Roman National Museum, the Palatine, the Baths of Caracalla, the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, and the Villa of the Quintili. This pass is available at the ticket counters of all of the above sites (except for the latter two) and is good for one week. If you just want to check out the Baths, the Tomb, and the Villa, you can purchase a €6 card, which is also valid for one week. For more information, visit the Roma Turismo website.

Similar deals on admission prices are available in Tuscany. For instance, in Florence, visitors to the Accademia can pay an extra 50 euro cents (for a total of €7) for a joint ticket that includes the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, a fascinating, but oft overlooked attraction. Meanwhile, San Gimignano’s “biglietto cumulativo,” which costs €11, includes entry to all of the town’s major sites, including the Collegiata, the Museo Civico, and the Torre Grossa.

Elsewhere, Venice has a Museum Pass, which includes entry to the Doge’s Palace, the National Archeological Museum, Goldoni’s House, the Murano Glass Museum, and much more, for just €18. In fact, families (of two adults and at least two children) can take advantage of a Museum Pass discount by purchasing one full-price Museum Pass; the rest of the family’s passes are available at the discounted rate of €12 per person.

Before you travel, be sure to check the websites of the museums you plan to visit and the city or regional tourist boards for information about combined tickets. The savings could mean a vacation that doesn’t break the budget.

Photo © Will Spaetzel

Seeing Rome – and Other Cities – for Free

Rome, overflowing with art and architecture on its streets and in its churches, is one city in Europe that you can see on the cheap. As Ian Fisher notes in today’s article, “In the Eternal City, Priceless Art for No Price at All,” you can create a free, impromptu tour of Michelangelo or Caravaggio works by simply paying attention when visiting small churches such as San Luigi dei Francesi and Santa Maria del Popolo. Fisher also directs tourists to go beyond Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces to check out the modern art scene in galleries such as the Monitor Gallery. Of course, one need only to browse the Valentino and Fendi shop windows along the Via Condotti to appreciate Rome’s ongoing contribution to design.

While Fisher’s article is one to print out and tuck away for a future visit to Rome, it fails to mention another way to see Italy’s treasures for free. May 12 – 20 will mark Cultural Week, a yearly event (usually scheduled for spring) when all of Italy’s state-owned museums are fee-free. State-owned museums in Rome include the Capitoline Museums (which house some Caravaggios) and the Galleria Borghese, among others.

The Settimana della Cultura also features new exhibits, free guided tours, special lectures, and more. A guide to some of the happenings during the week is available here (PDF, in italiano). You can also search or browse a list of Italy’s state-owned museums for itinerary ideas.