Italy travel tip #6: Meet the local Artisans


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Artisans in Italy work hard to keep traditional trades alive. In doing so, they produce amazing and authentic things to see (and buy!) in Italy.

Visiting Italian artisans also offer a great way meet the locals, and interesting ones at that. And of course, purchasing their wares not only supports ancient traditions, but means you are also buying traditional items that make great gifts for your loved ones (and yourself!).

Before your holiday in Italy, be sure to do some research on what items are traditional in the areas you are visiting. For instance, Sorrento is famous for its inlaid wood, Florence for its leather items (think bag, belts, wallets and shoes) and tailored clothing (being the home of many international designers and top textile producers) plus gold and silver jewellery. Naples – and particularly Torre del Greco – is the world centre for carving cameos. Venice is famed for glass items from its Murano Island, for lace on Burano and its paper.

A thoroughly enjoyable way to research traditional items in Italy is reading Laura Morelli’s Made in Italy or her Authentic Arts Series being released throughout 2015 and covering Florence, Naples and the Amalfi Coast, Tuscany and Umbria, Sicily, and Sardinia.

We asked Laura Morelli about her interests in Italian artisans recently. She explained:

I am traditionally trained as an art historian, and studied the great artists of the past: Michelangelo, da Vinci, and many others. However, once I realized the importance of living artisanal traditions within Italian culture, I was riveted; I wanted to know everything! It was the beginning of a journey that would take me from the Alps to Palermo, and become my obsession for more than a decade. Over the course of my fieldwork, it was the stories and the people behind these great traditions that captivated me, that kept me moving forward, digging deeper. The contemporary Italian artisans I interviewed, one after another, told me how important it was to them to pass on the torch of tradition to the next generation. In Venice, artisanal traditions like Murano glass, gondolas, and carnival masks are virtually synonymous with the city itself.

The story of The Gondola Maker developed while I was working on another book called Made in Italy. The living artisans I interviewed, whether makers of gondolas, carnival masks, or Murano glass, told me how important it was to them to pass on the torch of tradition to the next generation. After hearing that story over and over, I began to wonder what would happen if the successor were not able or willing to take on the duty of passing on his father’s trade. As I interviewed the last remaining gondola makers of Venice, the story of The Gondola Maker, my first work of fiction, germinated inside my head. I wondered about the strict social codes that had once bound boatmakers together in pre-industrial Venice, and what might happen if someone went against the grain.

Laura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, The Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, and other media. She has also written and produced art history lessons for TED-Ed. Laura has taught college-level art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at several American universities. Laura is the author of the Authentic Arts guidebook series, and is well-known for her travel series that includes Made in Italy and Made in France. The Gondola Maker, a coming-of-age story about the heir to a gondola boatyard in 16th-century Venice, is her award-winning historical novel.  Sign up for Laura’s newsletter at

We offer a great private guided tour of Florence’s artisan workshops with our expert tour guides in Florence to meet some of Florence’s best artisans.

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