Ti Amo Italy

Italy calls to me again and again.  And I barely speak the language!  I can say “Dove il negozio di scarpe più vicino?” (Where is the nearest shoe store?) but that’s pretty much it.  So, let’s be honest, it’s the clothes, the food and wine, and the beautiful hotels and scenery that draw me back.  

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But I’m not the only one seduced.  The Italian women here seem born to seduce.  How they ignore the cobblestones and strut around in heels all year round I’ll never understand. I love how a lot of them understands that feminine allure does not mean showing a lot of skin, but wearing clothes that are well-tailored to accentuate one’s best assets.

And that is why Italian designers are often the best women’s clothing designers.  So you are technically telling the truth if you declare you’re spending the day looking at Italian art and architecture, but really plan on shopping. From A to Z:  Armani to (Giuseppe) Zanotti.

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If you love fashion and adore Italian labels as much as I do, I really recommend either a) packing very little so you have enough room for all the beautiful clothes you’ll inadvertently end up buying or b) making sure your other half packs very little so that he has enough room for all the beautiful clothes you’ll inadvertently end up buying . I am not divulging which option I took. (Look, I was also willing to buy a new set of luggage with which to ship the purchases home, so really, he brought it on himself.)

Don’t be intimidated by designer prices here.  Remember the saying:  When in Rome do as the Romans.  In other words, if you go to outlets and consignment stores in Italy, you’ll find Italian brands everywhere. At a second-hand store in the States, those Gucci or Prada bags might be harder to find and cost a fortune, but in Italy they are ubiquitous. And even at a typical store, prices for Italian designer items are significantly cheaper in Italy than they are in the US or Asia.

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Here are some basic tips for shopping throughout Italy:

  1. In general, the best clothes shopping happens in northern Italy, while the best leather goods can be found in the center of Italy. The best designer outlet mall in the whole of Italy is The Mall, in Florence. I’ll write more about this outlet in my upcoming post about Florence

  1. Bargaining is allowed within reason. Not in name-brand r or large department stores, but in smaller shops and markets.  Especially if you are buying more than one thing or if paying in cash.

  1. If you spend more than 155 Euros in a store, you can often obtain a tax (aka IVA) refund. If not, you must save your receipt (not just the credit card receipt - the full receipt indicating your purchases) and then you’ll need to apply for your refund at the airport, or other such refund points around Italy.  Keep in mind you need to have all tags and soft packaging intact ( i.e garment bags , but shoe boxes can be discarded).  Always bring a copy of your passport, actual passport or valid ID. I forgot my ID - twice! - and had to rely on my social media presence to vouch for me.  Who knew Instagram is a valid form of ID?  It’s actually not (yet!) so I don’t recommend this awkward process, but I did get lucky both times. More info coming soon.

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  1. Always get a receipt for purchases (even that to-go latte!) because it’s the law. You must carry your receipts if you’re taking the purchase more than 200 meters away from the storefront.  And because it’s the law for the merchants as well, you’ll find them pushing the receipt on you even if you’re used to just shrugging it off in the U.S.

  1. If you’re buying some beautiful Murano glass (or anything breakable) have the store ship it to your home.  Yes, it costs slightly more, but you don’t want to chance it breaking during the rest of your trip, or on the flight home.  And be sure to take a photo of it before they pack it up for shipping.  That way you have proof for any insurance claim you might need to make if it doesn’t make it home in one piece.  (Years ago my parents purchased a custom, very expensive ceramic piece that they had shipped home.  It arrived shattered.  Completely shattered.  They shipped the pieces back and not long after it was returned in one piece.  The store claimed they had it repaired but we’ve never been able to see one repair indication so we suspect they just had a new one crafted.)

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  1. This is Europe- often stores close for one or two hours at lunchtime and their hours of operation vary from summer to winter time. And many shops don’t open until 3pm on Mondays or just aren’t open at all that day. Museums are usually closed on Mondays (and that includes the gift shops!)

  1. Refunds are not common. They will generally replace a damaged item or offer store credit, but don’t expect Nordstrom’s “we give you your money back, no questions asked” type of service.

  1. We have all heard of Giorgio Armani, Max Mara or Fendibut there are numerous, lesser known Italian designers who you should look out for.  Check out Gabriele Colangelo who used to work for Cavalli but recently began his own eponymous brand.  Also, Arthur Arbesser, another up and comer.  Be sure to Italy’s version of Nordstrom which is La Rinascente.  You’ll find amazing brands at equally amazing prices.  La Perla bras for $20-30?  You’re speaking my language.  The Elizabeth Spignoli brand (they are in all major cities)  is like walking into an Italian Chanel but without the sticker-shock.

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Other tips for enjoying your trip to Italy:

  1. Be aware that there can actually be different prices for sitting outside a restaurant as opposed to inside. Consider the increase in cost, the cost of people-watching.  However, it is often better than most TV. There is also often a ‘coppa’ or cover charge of between 2 to 4 Euros per person. Restaurants and cafes that don’t have this usually loudly proclaim it as NO COVER CHARGE.

  1. Be sure to visit the pharmacy while in Italy. Look for the green cross sign.  Step across the threshold and you’ll never want to visit Walgreens again.  Make a beeline for Acca Kappa brushes, combs and accessories which are exquisitely made in the country.(and are much cheaper than in US)

  1. Make sure you get your smartphone unlocked before you leave. This way you can get an Italian SIM card so you can use your phone will in Italy. Check with your carrier - your phone may already be unlocked and all they need to do is put you on an international plan for the duration of your visit, or else they can unlock it and give you a code to use a SIM card.  They will try to convince you that the international plan is better, and it’s certainly simpler, but it is generally more expensive.   If you’re going with the unlocked and SIM card replacement, shop around for a SIM card immediately once you’re in Italy, at a mobile-phone shop (they’re called “mobiles” there and not “cells”.)  They will require seeing your passport and making a photocopy.  Don’t forget that if you have a smartphone, you’ll want one with a data plan as well.   If all this SIM talk has confused you, why not rent a temporary phone from Cellular Abroad http://www.cellularabroad.com/) where they send you an unlocked cellphone and applicabe SIM card and when you’re finished with your vacation, you just send it back. It’s what my friend who is an executive with Delta Airlines does every time he travels and he travels internationally constantly.

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  1. However you end up getting a cell-phone to work inexpensively while traveling, trust me, the hassle is worth it. You may think that you’d like to disconnect while on vacation but there are reasons to stay connected in Italy.  I, for one, can’t live without Google maps.  Especially not here where the streets are tiny and often not even labelled.  In cities like Venice, without Google maps you might as well be wearing one of their Carnival masks all the time. It’s a maze.  And half of that maze is water.  You’ll also want phone access to arrange things like porter service at the train station or to get your water taxi to your hotel in Venice.  Plus you don’t want to be off-line when someone gets a great shot of you climbing the Spanish Steps and want to post it on Instagram or Facebook.  (Oh, is that just me?  Well, I’m a blogger so that’s my excuse.)

  1. Bring a couple of Italian electricity adaptors and a Conair portable steamer. Let’s face it - even if you can afford it, spending hundreds of Euros to press or dry clean items pulled out of suitcases is silly. This $25 gadget will do the job in just a few minutes. I also really really recommend this travel adapter from Belkin. Because it swivels, you’ll be able to use it anywhere and in odd spaces. Most people I know need at least 2-3 outlets per person. So no more fighting whose phone gets to be charged first or having to choose between charging your ipad or your hair curler.

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  1. My secret weapon when traveling is the Luxe City Guides. I honestly find it’s catered more towards people like me who like pretty cafes, gorgeous collectible objects and more sophisticated attractions. Get the good-old-fashioned printed city guide to pop in your purse, or stay mobile and get the app.  This comes in handy every single day you’re traveling (not to mention you’ll appear quite sophisticated to your friends) - pointing you in the direction of the best hotels, entertainment, restaurants, shopping and places of interest from hip locals and insiders.  Granted, there are no bad restaurants in Italy.

  1. Mode of Payment and Tipping 99% of stores accept Mastercard and Visa and 80% (of the especially large/established ones) accept American Express. I prefer Amex because of the points and their built-in insurance on purchases so I tend to use it whenever I can , and use my Visa debit card for those stores that don’t. Cash is important for taxis and public transport.

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Italians don’t expect tips. A lot of restaurants and cafes have service charge built in... but it’s hard NOT to tip when your porter just helped you carry your 60 pound luggage (on this trip we named my one suitcase “the black beast’ -) or when your waiter went the extra mile and snuck you two desserts because you couldn’t decide between the tiramisu or pannacota.

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And speaking of getting around, a lot of Italy is cobblestoned so make sure you have comfortable walking shoes (most of the time I was walking in my Uggs or these beauties ). If you want to wear heels opt of those with chunkier heels/wedges so you won’t ruin your stilettos when they get stuck between the cobblestones. You’ve been warned.

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PS: Stay tuned as I write more about Venice, Florence and my Milan adventures.



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RESPONSES

  • Airish Sophia says:

    Wow, Italy! So gorgeous! Molto bello 🙂

  • Lorelei Chung says:

    Italy is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Looks to me you enjoyed every minute you were there. I would love to go back and roam around Rome and shop and drop till my heart explodes. It’s truly magical!

  • Nikky says:

    Oh Italia! You’re in heaven, Heidi! Thanks for sharing all those beautiful pictures and stories!

  • Mikaella Wade says:

    Italia, magnifico! One of my favorite places in the world. It’s so good to see you enjoying yourself there. The places you’ve been are truly majestic!

  • Leigh Curtis says:

    I like this suggestion – packing very little so you have enough room for all the beautiful clothes you’ll inadvertently end up buying –

    You know what, that’s the most accurate thing to do when in Italy. Pack a little because when you go back from your trip, your luggage will be full to the brim because of all the beautiful and affordable items you’ll be purchasing in Italia.

  • Helga K. says:

    Oh that gelato looks tempting and buono delizioso!

  • Arianne says:

    Italy is magnifico! These are gorgeous pics, Heidi, thanks so much for sharing!

  • Kylene Adams says:

    One day, when I have enough money to travel, my first stop would be Italy. Definitely Italy! Magnifico!

  • Misty Dew says:

    Gorgeous! Thanks for sharing those tips on how to enjoy the trip and also for sharing your travel must-haves! Can’t wait to go there, soon!

  • Ella Marie says:

    I can’t wait to read your Milan and Florence adventures, too!

  • Khianna says:

    Oh, I was surprised with the receipts thing.. I, for one, isn’t a receipt kind of girl. Thanks for the tips. And I sure would have my purchases shipped because I know I would be buying tons of Italian merchandise!

  • Bella says:

    Italy is the most beautiful place in the world! Can’t wait to see more of your travel posts 🙂

  • GREAT great and informative post! Love it xo

  • MJ Walters says:

    Goodness gracious! So many wonderful things in Italy. I can’t wait to go there soon. Thank you so much for all the shopping tips and for being an online tour guide. I bet you had a splendid time there!

  • Rowena P. says:

    Those sculptures, ancient structures and buildings give out a classical feel. If I were there, I would be mesmerized by Italy too!

  • Desiree Lynch says:

    Wow, Italy is majestic! Such a wondrous place to visit or maybe to live in. I hope to go there soon.

  • Nikki says:

    Heidi, all these pictures are beautiful! And thank you so much for all the tips when shopping the strolling the wonders of Italy. I’ll take note of that sim card option. I would be staying in Italy for a couple of months later this year for something work related, so these tips are greatly appreciated!

  • Blue says:

    I’ll check out Gabriele Colangelo and the other brands/names you mentioned when I set foot on Italy soon!

  • Jenni Clarence says:

    I love the tips you shared here. I’ll be taking notes, especially with that smartphone unlocking thingie. It’s best to be prepared before I travel there. Thanks!

  • Aaliyah Jane Cross says:

    Grazie for these beautiful sceneries and images. I miss Italia, I stayed there for about a year a long time ago and people are really nice. Salute!

  • Shauna says:

    Been here a year ago and it was an exhilarating experience, one that I would never forget.

  • Margaret W. says:

    Italia! Such a wonderful, beautiful and marvelous place! I could live there forever!

  • Claire says:

    Thank you so much for all these helpful tips. I’ll be sure to print this out so I’ll be ready when I conquer Italy very very soon. I’ve heard about its beauty and sights and sounds, but you have captured most of it through these pictures. So lovely!

  • Olga Fischer says:

    Can’t wait to get there soon! I’aw always wanted to visit Italy, it’s such a wondrous place!

  • JC says:

    Someday I’ll be traveling around the world and Italy’s going to be my first destination. You’re so iucky to have been there, Heidi. It’s like one of the fashion capitals of the world, isn’t it?

  • Natasha says:

    Italy is a fashion haven, I can tell you that. I went there for a client’s fashion shoot and Italy was a sight for sore eyes. I love love love everything about Italia!

  • Sabrina says:

    Everything is spectacular in Italy. I wouldn’t mind moving there and stay forever, it’s such a romantic place!

  • Vanessa Holcim says:

    Wow, Italia is soooo beautiful and colorful! So vibrant and majestic. I would love to go there really really soon!

  • Erin says:

    It would be a dream come true to go to Italy one day. This country is heaven on earth!

  • Lindsay Crest says:

    Oh Italy! Such a wonderful place! Someday, I’m gonna go there and conquer Italia bellisima!

  • Donnabelle says:

    Beautiful Italy! I long for you!

  • Veronique says:

    My dream destination.. I will conquer you soon, Italy. You look fantastic, as always, Heidi!

  • Irena Ollick says:

    Italy is magnificent. All the pictures you’ve taken show how beautiful and majestic it looks. I would love to be there and capture its beauty, too!

  • MJ Hawkins says:

    I love these helpful tourist tips. I would surely enjoy my stay in Italy soon!

  • Charlotte says:

    Italy… I trust and love you.. haha. I wanna go there soon!

  • Emma says:

    Italy… One of the places I want to cross out in my bucket list.. I will come and conquer you soon!! Thanks for posting your beautiful pictures, Heidi!

  • Faye says:

    Italy is indeed a very beautiful country! Much thanks for all the photos..

  • Sharlyn Harris says:

    Italia Magnifique! Would love to go there again sometime. It’s nice seeing you there 🙂

  • Gabriella says:

    Italy is a magical place. Come back again soon!

  • Danica Louis says:

    Those are wonderful pictures! Italy is <3 <3 <3 <3 You should visit France, too!

  • Adrianna Selima says:

    Italy is love! Would be very happy to spend my vacation there one day.. I’m so jealous of you, Heidi, it looked like you had so much fun!

  • Charlotte says:

    Italia is divine! I would love to spend my next summers there, I heard it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world!

  • Pauleen says:

    I always get starstruck whenever I go to Italy. The place is breathtaking!

  • Ivan Ulrich says:

    Wow, Italy is simply magnificent!! A dream destination, indeed!

  • Lola says:

    I heard what happened to Italy recently. It was such a sad thing to have happened.

  • Laurel says:

    Love everything about this country. So amazing!

  • Chelsea Summers says:

    I wouldn’t mind spending my entire life living in Italy. It looks gorgeous and amazing! Please somebody take me to this wonderful country!

  • Marchessca says:

    Such a wondrous place. One day, I will go there, too.

  • Mariztella says:

    Italy is one of my favorite travel destinations. It’s so nice and peaceful and beautiful there.