We’ve all heard of people heading over to Italy on a tour of the wine regions – but it’s not an ideal trip if you’re driving the route (as so many tourists are now doing).
But, and this is most certainly one for kids and adults alike, there is one Italian delicacy that you can plan your road trip around — the calorie-laden, timeless indulgence that is gelato.
It’s certainly a very big and delicious part of our own Italian experience, from cones with the fluxlings in Rome’s Piazza Navona to massive swirls in glass dishes in the main square in Syracuse in Sicily. So grab your spoon and set out with us on the supreme Italian Gelato Road Trip.
The perfect place to start; Florence has become almost as well-known for its gelato as for its incredible architecture and rich history. If you’re driving in from the city’s airport, it’s a pleasant and scenic route which takes you to the romance capital of Italy; indulge in the beautiful views before you hit the sugary treats. Once you’ve parked up, head to Festival del Gelato, ideally located near the grand Duomo. It comes recommended by travel guide Frommers, and any one of its 70-plus flavours is a great way to start the trip. Alternatively, hit the famous Vivoli; this venue is renowned for its amazing gelato, which is reflected in the higher-than-average price tag and the smaller portions. Vivoli also refuses to sell their produce in a cone (tubs only), as they believe it distracts from the flavour.
Head to this quaint medieval hill town in Siena for an ice cream-laden day out. It’s easy to drive to from Florence, with winding roads leading into the gorgeous Tuscan hills. There’s plenty of parking outside of the walled town, which is known as the ‘town of fine towers’ (think Manhattan on a small, medieval scale). Hidden within the ancient walls is Gelateria Dondoli; you’ll be able to recognise the shop from the huge queues which form year-round. The gelato here is like nothing else — and you’ll quickly be able to see why its team was named Gelato World Champions in 2008-2009. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Gorgonzola or Champelmo (grapefruit with sparkling wine) varieties — a real treat for the tastebuds.
A tour of the finest gelato establishments in Italy would not be complete without a trip to the capital. The great thing about having a hire car in Rome is that you can save some money by staying in a hotel a little further out of the city centre, and drive in to park close to the action as the locals do. It’s less than three hours’ drive from Florence, so easy to do in a day. If you’re planning a trip to the Vatican City, make sure you stop by the Old Bridge Gelateria, opposite the Vatican’s vast walls. From the outside it looks nothing special at all; but step inside and you’ll find some of the most delicious gelato around. While you’re in the capital, you’ve got to visit the renowned Il Gelato de San Crispino, which boasts three shops in the city. It is featured in the hit novel ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, and whips up traditional flavours (the creme and chocolate are divine) as well as the popular zabaione.
The final stop on our gelato road trip is one of two places rumoured to have been the originator of gelato (the other region laying claim to this is Dolomite in the north). It’s a stunning drive down from Rome — you can take the coastal road, which takes a good 12 hours, or drive down the A3 to Villa San Giovanni, near Reggio (this is where you take the ferry over to Sicily). The latter journey time is around 8.5-9 hours, so is do-able with a few stop offs in between. The roads in the north of Sicily are much more manageable that the south, so you’re best off basing yourself in Messina and taking day trips from there. Once you park up next to the beautiful sandy beaches, there is only one thing to do — pick up some gelato. In its early years, the creamy treat was predominantly water-based in Sicily, but the locals are not renowned for their famous gelato for nothing, and it’s moved on to become deliciously creamy and light. The most popular regional flavour is pistachio, so don’t head back without trying some. One very well-known venue is La Voglia Matta (which literally means ‘crazy desire’) — many travellers have boldly named this as their favourite gelato destination. There’s only one way to find out…