It’s easy to see why Italy is such a popular destination for gastronomes, food critics and connoisseurs of fine dining everywhere. Italy is perfectly placed to be able to produce some of the most delicious fresh ingredients possible – think of vine-ripened tomatoes bursting with just-picked flavour, freshly caught seafood and the scent of lemons growing on the trees…

One of the best-known delicacies of Italy, underpinning many of the fabulous recipes, is the olive oil. Nunez De Prado Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Sicily was voted the best olive oil in the world by the Independent in July 2013, for its intense and fruity cold-pressed flavour. Sicily is blessed with olive groves galore, as well as trees laden with enormous and beautifully-fragranced lemons – an impressive nine out of ten of the lemons produced in Italy come from Sicilian lemon groves.

Sicily is blessed with a gorgeously mild climate to help the crops, and even when the temperatures get really high in the summer months, the delicious sea breezes take the edge off the heat down by the coast, so that you can explore the fascinating Greek temples, beautiful Baroque palazzos and Norman churches in comfort.

Also in the south of Italy is Naples, and if you know anything about pizza, you’ll know that experts rate freshly-baked authentic Neapolitan Napoli pizza as being the best in the world. It even has its own association, the Association of True Neapolitan Pizza, with its own very strict set of criteria for the perfect pizza. Don’t go expecting a huge list of toppings if you want the real thing – the two finely-crafted pizza varieties accepted as authentic by the ATNP are marinara (tomatoes, oregano, olive oil, and garlic) and Margherita (with tomatoes, olive oil, fresh mozzarella and basil.)

Enjoy your freshly wood-fired pizza while you take a leisurely walk along the seashore and marina, and marvel at the stunning views of magnificent Vesuvius.

Parma ham is another Italian delicacy which is strictly regulated, and protected by the proud local producers. You might not find it on the traditional Neapolitan pizza,

but it’s used as a delicious addition to many of our favourite Italian dishes. The Italians love their delicious Parma ham so much that they even dedicate a festival to it. The festival, held annually in the renaissance city of Parma, sees all the local Parma ham factories opening their doors to the public, so that people can see how the ham gets its distinctive, rich flavour and taste some of the delicious examples themselves.

It’s not just the meat that Parma is well known for – Parmesan cheese, or to give it its full name, Parmigiano Reggiano, also originates from the area. The city makes the most of its reputation as a centre of foodie excellence with delicious handmade pasta dishes and delicatessens heaving with fresh, local produce that tastes all the more delicious for being eaten in such refined surroundings.

Although people tend to associate Parma with its gastronomic heritage, Parma is also a beautiful and elegant city with some stunning historical buildings such as the ornately decorated Baptistery, an octagonal building made from pretty pink marble which dates back to the 12th century.

If you’re more of a sweet toothed tourist, you won’t be disappointed with the delicious sweet treats on offer in Italy. One of the best sweet pastry shops is to be found amidst the beauty and culture of Rome, a city best savoured slowly, much like the delicious desserts it produces.

A local favourite is Mondi, which is close to Ponte Milvio in northern Rome – said to be the place that the locals go to when they want a pastry that will impress their guests. You can enjoy your choice of sweet treat sitting down, standing at the bar with a strong Italian coffee, or take it away to enjoy as you explore the delights of Rome. Whichever way you choose to devour them, these are not to be missed out on.

The best ice cream – well that’s something of a tall order as the enduring image of Italian gelatos is of a very long counter adorned with endless choices of delicious combinations. With fresh ingredients and top quality, the artisan style gelato is something to die for even if you don’t possess a sweet tooth. One gelato that sticks in the mind is found in Verona – also famous for its Shakespearean links, the old Amphitheatre, and the world-famous Opera House. La Boutique del Gelato in Verona boasts a selection of delicious ice cream varieties, all made with natural and traditional ingredients, including fresh fruit and even wine, which goes into some of the sorbets.

It would be remiss not to mention the beautiful Chianti region in Tuscany – not just for the delicious wines it produces and the myriad of opportunities there are to sample them on wine tours of Italy, but the stunning scenery makes this area, generally agreed to be between Florence and Siena, one of the most beautiful areas to sample a glass of cool Chianti. You could be in the grounds of a Medieval Italian castle, or sitting in a secluded restaurant overlooking a picturesque valley taking in a stunning Tuscan sunset. Wherever you decide to be, a fabulous glass of the region’s traditional wine will be the perfect accompaniment.

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Written by Kat Kraetzer, a travel writer and avid fan of Italian food.

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