Postcards from Italy

Italy’s Top Ten

A few months ago, CNN published an eclectic list of “10 Things Italy Does Better Than Anywhere Else” which was in part spot-on (Flattery, absolutely.) and in part perplexing (River cruising? Really?). It did, however, inspire us to think about what we hold Italians to be particularly adept at and jot down our own list. Agree or disagree? Have your own Top Tens? Let us know, and we can compile a “Top Ten, Part Two”–crowd-sourced with your suggestions!

Do you agree or disagree with our Top Ten Things Italy Does Better Than Anywhere Else? Let us know! Click to tweet

Concierge in Umbria’s 10 Things Italy Does Better Than Anywhere Else

1) Tomatoes.
Yes, yes, we know. Tomatoes aren’t native to Italy, but got shipped back in the Middle Ages from the New World, along with potatoes, corn, and cronuts. That said, Italians grow tomatoes like no one else; the combination of Mediterranean sun and soil produces a fruit–tomatoes are a fruit, remember?–so succulent and flavorful that you need only to slice one up, top it with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil, and tuck in. Sound simple? Well, that’s because no one tops Italy in…

2) Simplicity.
Italy has a knack for complicating things, we know (read on), but Italians can also pull off the simple with an elegance and ease so charming that it’s easy to forgive the bureaucratic hassles. Their best food often involves no more than three or four ingredients (Bruschetta, for example. Truffle pasta. Pizza Margherita.); their best look is often jeans, a white shirt, an understated scarf, and the most beautiful shoes you’ve ever seen; their best entertainment is walking slowly arm-in-arm up and down the main street, window shopping and leisurely chatting about nothing in particular.

DSC02477 _Snapseed

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

3) Complication.
That said, just as Italy has lulled you into a sense of, well, sense, the country does an about –face and confounds you with its senselessness. Want to open a business here? Italy ranks 73rd on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, under such go-getters as Kyrgyzstan (Yes, it’s a real country. I looked it up.) and Tonga. Want to buy a house or car? You’ll need a phalanx of lawyers, notaries, translators (sworn), and helpful neighbors and/or cousins who know someone who know someone. Need to hook up a basic service like gas or electricity? It can become as time-consuming as a part-time job. Not to mention the bank holidays that sneak up on you, the complex weekly closing days of businesses (Florists: Tuesdays. Grocery stores: Thursday afternoons. Restaurants: Any day, any time. Depending on the season.), and the relativity of time itself (If they say 8:30, it means anywhere from 7:30 to 9:30, give or take). Luckily, Italy shines in…

4) Getting Things Done.
Okay, Italy doesn’t make things easy on you (or, to be honest, on the Italians) and Italians greet many new challenges with a sense of fatalism and resign. But somehow, at the end of the day, Italy manages against all odds to get things done. You may be answered with a decisive “No, that’s impossible!” to your request, but within two minutes they’ve managed to find a way to make it possible. The infrastructure may be crumbling, but Italy still manages to provide some of the best health care and longest life expectancy in the world. The university, research, and business sectors may be a tangled mess, but that doesn’t stop Italians from putting out some of the greatest tech innovations. Maybe because despite all its flaws, Italians take heart in their…

Italians make things simple or make them complicated, but do both with flair. Click to tweet

5) Natural light.


 (Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

The light in Italy is amazing. Whether the sun is filtered through dramatic rain clouds or illuminates the pink stone buildings with a rosy hue at sunset, Italy does natural light like no place else. Not picturesque enough for you? How about their…

6) Balconies and Flower Pots.


(Photo by Friar’s Balsam via Flickr Commons)

Though historically a rural country, Italians have largely moved to large cities over the past half-century. Their country roots show in their continuing passion for cultivating pretty much any free space they have, including their balconies and terraces, window sills, doorways, and front stoops. Their ties to the land also come out in their passion for…

7) Food, Talking About It.
Other nations may have sports or politics as their “go to” topics of conversation, but Italians love to talk about food. Brian and Maria recall, “We once had an Italian teacher who went on and on about the breakfasts of her childhood: toasted bread with a slice of mortadella laid on it just after the bread came out of the oven. The bread would heat the fat in the mortadella thus making it the most sublime breakfast imaginable. Though she was over 50 years old, she would still go on at length about these breakfasts and could, it seemed, recount every other meal she’d had since childhood.” Like her, most Italians are passionate about…

8) Food, Buying It.
Italians do markets extremely well. The most common are, of course, food markets (every town has at least one weekly market specializing in food and most cities have a number of neighborhood markets), but there are also “housewifey” markets where you can pick up anything from frying pans to rubber boots to baby chicks, antique and flea markets full of high-end furniture or fascinating period paraphernalia, clothing markets, and Christmas markets. These are great places to pick up lunch ingredients and quirky souvenirs, but also to try out your Italian bargaining skills and rub shoulders with the locals.


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr Commons)

Food, Italians buy it, make it, and talk about it better than anyone else. Click to tweet

9) Style.
There’s no getting around it: Italy is stylish. They dress stylishly, they drive stylish sport cars, they live in stylish houses, they even have stylish happy hours ( Italy seems to put a certain panache into even the most mundane of daily rituals, from the morning cappuccino served with military precision by the Mediterranean beauty of a barista to the the evening gas station run, with your both your tank topped off with gas and your ego topped off with a running stream of gentlemanly flattery.

10) L’Arte di Vivere.
Put it all together—the food, the style, the beauty, the simplicity, and the complications—and it boils down to this: Italian know how to live. They have mastered the art of living like few other nations, and it’s this skill in delicately balancing their daily contrasts and conflicts and coming out of it with an understanding of what is really important that is perhaps their greatest strength and talent. Viva L’Italia!


(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr Commons)

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore