Go Ahead traveler Angus explored the sights and flavors of northern Italy on tour—and what he discovered were some particularly delicious hidden gems.
For many, Italian cuisine is considered comfort food. On my Lake Como, the Italian Riviera & Venice tour, I had my fair share of amazing dishes. The food, the wine, and the northern Italian setting were great all throughout the trip, but my best memories are the meals I enjoyed off the beaten path. Here are some secret spots to look out for on your next trip to northern Italy.
The meal: Focaccia and pesto
Where to go: Crai Supermarket, Via Roma, 61
Where to enjoy it: In the hills outside of town
Finding amazing Italian food in a supermarket? Yes—eat where locals eat! A bit hungry but not wanting to spoil dinner, I popped into this little market in Cinque Terre. Once inside, my Tour Director knew what to do. We left with a huge piece of homemade focaccia bread and a big dollop of thick, green pesto. We trekked to the end of the main street and headed off the road, up a pathway leading into the hills. The hum of the town was gone and we were surrounded by the peace and quiet of olive orchards. We found a small bridge over a stream and sat down to enjoy our meal. The focaccia was soft and salty, the pesto was bright green from the basil and velvety thick with the addition of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Thus began my adventures in eating!
The meal: Mascarpone gelato
Where to go: Via Carlo Catteneo
Where to enjoy it: Piazzetta Castelvecchio
Gelaterias are all over Italy and the city of Verona is no exception. When I was there, the arena was being prepped for a show, which meant construction noise and foot traffic crowded the square and the Casa di Giulietta. Moving away from the main square, our Tour Director found a small gelato shop in the old part of town. You have many options, but we stopped because this was the only place with mascarpone gelato. I topped my creamy, sweet mascarpone gelato with another scoop of coffee to add some bite. Since when you’re in Italy, you stroll, stroll we did: right to a little park next to the medieval Castelvecchio. To my surprise, there was a well-preserved Roman arch in this nondescript park. I went to school for classics and ancient history, so this was life-altering for me. I could stand under the arch. I could touch the marble. I could see the cart tracks worn into the marble paving stones. I was standing in history and overwhelmed—luckily the coffee gelato kept me upright.
The meal: Kebab
Where to go: A stand on Rio Terà S. Leonardo
Where to enjoy it: Along the Grand Canal
First a supermarket, then a kebab stand? You have to trust me on this one! In this case, it’s special not so much because of what I ate, but where I ate it. My hotel was close by, and this large street was filled with everything one might need, from banks and restaurants to small hotels. If you’re looking for some fun or silly souvenirs to bring home to friends and family, you’ll find a number of shops selling gondolier hats and shirts that say I <3 Venice.
At the kebab stand, I got my mystery meat kebab (extra spicy, of course) and a bottle of cold beer. I paid about five or six euro, turned around and took a left at the Campo San Leonardo. Instantly, the crowds and vendor chatter were gone. I knew the keychain and postcard stores were 50 yards away, but I felt as though I was in a quiet neighborhood. The narrow pathway had buildings on either side and at the end was the Grand Canal. I actually got goosebumps. I sat there, watching the busy Grand Canal in front of me. The Vaporettos and water taxis were crisscrossing as the luggage boats and barges of supplies chugged along. I sat with my kebab, sipping a beer and enjoying the peace and quiet of Venice. What a way to relax!