Top souvenirs and gifts in Italy

Italy's best gifts, mementos, and kitschy doo-dads and where to get them

The following list points out some of the top buys in Italy. Because taste in shopping varies, I've included all the sorts of special-to-Italy merchandise. If you want my advice on what to buy, though, stick with the hand-crafted and the unique.

Now "hand-crafted" can apply as much to a fine wine, hand-tatted lace, or leather jacket as to a papier-mâché crèche scene from Naples, mosaic from Ravenna, or painted Italian ceramic plate—so long as it's something you couldn't find anywhere else and something that to you helps define the local culture in some way or remember your trip.

Don't get suckered by souvenirs
Bring home real mementoes of your trip and of the destination, not ready-made and mass-produced memories. Shop flea markets and the local equivalent of a K-Mart and take home some of those everyday objects that you only find in Italy.

Don't gobble up every trinket you see. Go for the items that truly bring out Italy's spirit, style, or culture. It may be a beautiful museum book, hand-painted ceramics, delicate leather gloves from Florence, a compilation CD of the greatest (local) pop hits of the year (a personal favorite of mine).

Get a Cave Canem ("Beware the Dog") sign in Latin from Pompeii (its a famous mosaic there), or pop into a hardware store to pick up one of those lopsided hourglass-shaped carafes they use to serve table wine in osterie.

Just make sure it's memorable to you.

That way, instead of going in a shoe box or display case once you get home, your souvenirs become part of your daily routine, and every time you open the back gate or have wine with dinner, you have a reminder of that great Italian vacation.
If you have the money, Italy's a great source for art, antiques, and high fashion. The rest of us can have fun haggling for semi-antiques and leather jackets at street markets.

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