Gift Giving from Italy
Updated: Nov 10, 2022
The gift-giving season is fast approaching and if you are anything like me you are always looking for that uniquely special gift for those on your list. For Italophiles (lovers of all things Italy) and/or anyone that appreciates truly authentic items steeped in tradition you may want to consider the following items Not only are these gifts “Made in Italy,” they are traditionally handmade gifts in their region.
Capri - Carthusia
Certosa di San Giacomo is a Carthusian Monastery in Capri that was founded back in 1363. Legend has it that one of the monks picked a bouquet of flowers for Queen Joan of Anjou who was visiting the island. The flowers sat in a vase of water for three days and when they went to throw the flowers out, the monk noticed a beautiful smell. He took the water to the alchemist in the monastery and thus created the first scent named “Garofilium Silvestre Caprese” the water was the first perfume of Capri.
In 1948 the then prior of the Carthusian monastery found the old perfume formula and they have been producing perfumes from the centuries-old traditions, creating scents unique to only Capri. Their popularity has encouraged them to expand their products from perfumes to bath and body lines, to home goods, to accessories. All stages of production are carried out by hand to guarantee the authenticity of each product as it relates to the traditional methods of processing.
The good news is they have become so popular that Carthusia has started distributing their products worldwide. There are a few stores in the U.S. that sell Carthusia products. You can find those stores on their website (listed below).
My favorite scent is the Mediterraneo.
Official Website: Carthusia
Ravello – Ceramiche d’Arte Carmela
While ceramics are not exclusive to Ravello, this shop is my favorite. Maybe it is because I was lucky enough to be in the store when Carmela was there, or maybe because there are so many beautiful patterns to choose from. I always return here when I am in Ravello.
All of their dinnerware is made with lead-free materials and can be put in the microwave and dishwasher (a plus all by itself). And they are sturdy enough for everyday use. In fact, while I was there Carmela kept banging a pasta bowl on the concrete floor to show me how strong they are. Everything is hand painted so you know you are getting one-of-a-kind items. While the design/pattern might be the same, the hand brush stroke is not.
You can shop for products online, but the store has so much more to offer. I really encourage you if you are in the area to make the trip to Carmela's. Her entire staff is dedicated to making sure you get exactly what you want. They worked with me regarding the pattern I wanted and spent at least an hour showing me different options and color combinations so that when I made my purchase, I knew I was getting exactly what I wanted. They will even work with you on a design if you see a design that you want to be tweaked to your preference. Customization is extra- but worth it. Every item I purchased was shipped to the U.S. in perfect order and on time.
Official Website: Ceramiche d’Arte Carmela
Florence – Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Founded in 1221 as a Dominican Friar's monastery, it is considered the oldest pharmacy in the world. The Dominican friars were famous for using plants, flowers, and herbs to create medicines, ointments, and balms for healing the sick. They still use these herbal recipes to this day. My sister has bought unique herbal tea concoctions for everything from an upset stomach to inflammation.
It wasn’t until the early 16th century that the pharmacy got into the perfume business. Caterina de Medici took her perfumer, who was raised by the Florentine friars, with her to France where she married King Henry. Legend has it that her perfumer created the “Acqua della Regina” (The Water of the Queen) specifically for Caterina on her wedding day. They still sell her perfume using the same recipe today.
In 1542 the Pharmacy was first opened to the public in its original location behind the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella at Via della Scala, 16. While it is now a museum, it is still their most popular storefront. It is an amazing experience to visit the museum, take a break in their tearoom, and purchase products -assisted by exceptional customer service agents from the original location.
They sell a vast assortment of products: bath and body, skincare, fragrances, home goods, and accessories. These products are sold in 17 boutiques in the U.S and others around the world. See their website for locations (website listed below). Recently, they opened their online shop, so items can be purchased and shipped worldwide.
My favorite item is the scented wax sticks.
Official Website: Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Lucca – Fontanini
The Fontanini family has been making religious sculptures for over 100 years. Four generations have worked to make this company the largest producer of religious sculpture in the world. The entire production process is made by hand with high craftsmanship in Bagni di Lucca, Italy since 1908.
They commission artists to sculpt a figure previously discussed between the two but give the artist his creative space to produce the item. Once the final sculpture is approved a mold is made and the item is mass-produced. At this point, each item is hand inspected for any defects and then sent to artisans for hand painting. This is the best part – the ancient tradition of “figurine painting” which the Fontanini company is world famous for is done by many families across the Lucca territory. These families have been painting these same figures for generations.
Fontanini produces Nativity sets (which they are famous for), angels, and Christmas decorations as well. If you are in Italy, you are sure to find a store that sells their figurines. See their website for locations (website listed below). And they have a catalog of some of their items online as well.
Official Website: Fontanini
Milan – Panettone
In Italy, you start to see the world-famous Panettone in the window displays as early as November 1st. Italians think of it as a cake and serve it as dessert. Any leftovers are then offered in the morning as breakfast or a mid-morning snack. While it is shaped like a cake, for me it seems more like bread. If you have ever tried it, who cares what it is called? It's delicious.
It is believed that the recipe originated in Milan in the 15th century and that it was created for the Duke of Milan. The three-day process for making panettone is what makes it more expensive. It is definitely a unique taste. Panettone is a super fluffy, yellow dough with candied fruit and raisins inside. It gets its dome shape from hanging upside down during the cooling process.
Italians love receiving panettone as hostess gifts during the holidays. And lots of people think it originated in South America. That is because so many Italians migrated to Venezuela, Brazil, and Chile during WW2 bringing the panettone recipe with them and sharing the cakes during the holidays.
You can order fresh panettone directly from pastry shops in Milan. But the shipping far outweighs the panettone unless of course you combine your order with friends or family and split the shipping. I put a few links below to some of the best shops in Milan to order from.
And should you be in Milan, definitely visit these shops. It is always an experience to taste and purchase products in such beautiful interiors. The two listed below offer panettone all year long.
You can also purchase online from Eataly, but I would recommend getting those they source from Italy and not the ones Eataly makes. You will see in the description where each is sourced from. The same suggestion is true if you chose to order from Amazon.
Milan Pastry Shop Websites:
Official Website: Eataly USA
All of these gifts are truly made with love in Italy and will be sure to please everyone on your list.
Do you have a favorite item you either have received or given that is from Italy? Let us know by sharing in the comment section at the bottom of this page.