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When you travel to the Boot, you can come home with booty - and not just the kind you get from eating the country's famous cuisine
As soon as my family hears I'm going to Italy, the requests for souvenirs start rolling in. The foodies want authentic Italian ingredients, the fashionistas want a scarf or designer purse. Just about everyone wants a hand-painted ceramic plate. Then, there are the kids, who usually ask for T-shirts and chocolate. Even though the gifts weigh down my suitcase, I love shopping for my family. And I love - even more - seeing their glowing faces when I hand over the memento of our homeland.
If you are planning a trip to Italy this summer, you might want to pick up a present or two. Here are some great Italian souvenirs for your friends and family - or little ol' you:
Home Goods -- From a beautiful espresso set with tiny cups shaped like elephants and giraffes to lovely soft linens for your bed, Italy offers great gifts for the home. Head to Murano (near Venezia) and invest in a glass bowl or vase that you can actually watch being made. Choose from the many hand-crafted items in the south, and you won't be disappointed. Crocheted doilies, ceramic key ring holders, crystal candlesticks with pewter detail, and a large antipasto dish are among some of my favorite finds.
Sogni d'Oro -- The best jewelry I own - with the exception of my diamond stud earrings - comes from Italy. I have a gold Madonna medal, two silver Y necklaces, more gold earrings than I can count, and a few gold-link bracelets. Last year, I bought myself a dramatic necklace with three chains of real turquoise beads - perfect for summer. And a promise ring from my Italian love with a swirl band in white gold and square diamond is my best gift ever. If you're looking for the best in gold, look no further than Firenze. Wherever you are, ask the locals - or your concierge - where they go for the good stuff. Smart shoppers don't get swindled.
Yummy Presents -- You'll have to leave the dried sausage and lemons in Italy because you can't carry them internationally. But there are plenty of other culinary delights that you can pack right next to your socks and underwear - and no one will mind (except maybe the recipient of the gift). Everything from cheese (think Parmigiano Reggiano and Asiago) to chocolate (think Kinder eggs with a surprise inside) is fair game. Bottles of olive oil from Puglia or Balsamic vinegar from Modena are also popular choices, but you'll have to pack them carefully in your suitcase now that the amount of liquid we bring in carry-on handbags is limited for security reasons. The same is true for liquor, which includes Vecchia Romagna and Limoncello, which are costly imports when purchased outside of Italy. In the Naples area, I've scored Vecchia Romagna for 9 euro, whereas I'd have to pay about $30 for it in the States.
Spiritual Souvenirs -- Italy is filled with beautiful churches, some of which date back thousands of years. Visitors to Roma usually tour the nearby Vatican. Iconic paintings of the Madonna, replicas of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, and beautiful glass or wooden rosary beads are wonderful reminders of your faith and your pilgrimage.
Fashion Finds -- Italians are the arbiters of cool, especially when it comes to cars and fashion. For clothes, none are as hip as those from Milan. Choose from the homegrown designer collections (Armani, Cavalli, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace), and you'll come home looking like you belong on the catwalk. Perfume and leather bags (Fendi, for instance) and shoes (maybe Prada) are must haves for divas the world over. If you're a really big spender, you can pick up a Ferrari or a Lamborghini to go with your new wardrobe.
La Dolce Vita -- The best gift Italy offers its visitors can not be packaged. A few days of the country's sweet life, and you'll return home renewed and refreshed. If only we could bottle that tranquility!
For more information on all things Italian, visit www.francescadimeglio.com.
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