When you are working in Italy – or simply travelling through the Country – in December, you just know that your loved ones back home will be expecting Italian-flavoured Christmas gifts. And that goes for your colleagues and employees too. And if you have been shopping for “local” Christmas gifts, you might have been discouraged by the fact that most shops and malls sell articles that you could just as easily find at home. If you want something uniquely Italian, something that will surprise and delight your friends and family this holiday season, we suggest you abandon the mainstream shopping routes and dive right into the fascinating world of regional crafts and artisan workshops. Here are three examples of unique Christmas gifts that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world.
Christmas gifts ideas from Italy for those back home
For the fashionista: handmade leather goods from the Tuscan Leather District
In the heart of the Tuscan countryside, in those areas of the region that tourists and corporate travellers usually ignore, thrives one of the most appreciated leather manufacturing districts worldwide. The sub-region of Valdarno is the perfect place to go if you want to give your loved ones exquisite leather accessories for Christmas. Some of the best-known fashion maisons in the world, such as Valentino, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana, source their leather goods from this area. Not all of the local production, however, is co-opted by major international companies. If you walk through the local villages, between a delicious plate of pappardelle with wild boar ragù and a glass of the local red, you will come across thousands of little workshops, where top-quality bags, shoes, gloves, belts, and all-things-leather are still lovingly handmade. Pick the perfect Christmas gift for that someone special back home. While you’re there, throw in a bottle of Tuscan wine and a box of Tuscan cigars too.
For the art-lover: papier-mâché figurines from Lecce
Apulia, particularly the province of Lecce, is famous worldwide for its beautiful and complex papier-mâché creations, which can vary from tiny figurines to life-sized statues. This tradition dates back to the XVII Century and it was originally prompted by the need to create statues of saints for new churches and, later on, for the popular tradition of Nativity scenes (which are still more popular than Christmas trees in the whole of Southern Italy). Over the decades, the exquisite taste and lively creativity of the local artisans have elevated this craft to an art, and nowadays collectors from all over the world travel to Lecce to acquire original, handmade papier-mâché creation or to learn this ancient craft. Sacred subjects are still overall the most popular ones, but secular subjects are slowly becoming more common, as younger and younger artists re-discover this beautiful technique. If you buy papier-mâché figurines to take back to your loved ones for Christmas, however, be sure to pack them safely before flying home: they are extremely delicate!
For the foodie: chocolate from Modica
Once you taste Modica chocolate, your whole idea of what chocolate is supposed to taste like will be changed forever – for the better. The only drawback might be that you will then be forever unsatisfied by most mass-produced chocolate brands. There’s something about this gritty, grainy, crunchy, and chunky chocolate bars that just leaves you wanting more. The secret is all in the preparation, which uses a technique that dates back to the XVI Century. Back then Modica was under Spanish rule, and the Spanish crown was known for having a hand or two in the early colonisation of the Americas. Among other things, this meant that Europe first became acquainted with chocolate and the Spanish empire was at the forefront of this game-changing culinary innovation. The recipe for Modica chocolate, therefore, is said to be the closest modern version of the original Aztec recipe (similar techniques are still popular in Mexico and Guatemala). Unlike most chocolate varieties, the Modica chocolate is always dark and matt and, apart from the original roasting of the cocoa beans, is never cooked. Once the cocoa paste has been prepared, it is mixed with sugar and spices, but never with milk. This means Modica chocolate is healthier, contains less saturated fat and is harder to melt than other varieties and that is suitable for vegans. Pro tip: try the chili-flavoured bars. They are unbelievable.