The Passegiatta, Gelato, Aperitivo, Calabria, Italy.

Italian Rituals You Need to Adopt – From the Passeggiata to Aperitivo Hour

There are a few Italian rituals you need to adopt if you’re in Italy this summer or any time of year for that matter, from joining the early evening passeggiata and partaking in aperitivo hour to buying a gelato at the end of the night to enjoy on the amble home.

Some of the things I miss most about Europe are the customs and cultural traditions such as the Italian rituals you need to adopt if you’re heading to Italy this summer, or any time of year for that matter, from joining the locals on their evening passeggiata and partaking in aperitivo hour to buying a gelato at the end of the night to lick on the walk home.

The daily passeggiata, aperitivo hour and lining up for a gelato are three beloved Italian pastimes that we relished experiencing on our trips to Italy over the years and we recommend you do the same. These are two of the Italian rituals you need to adopt this summer if you want a taste of how Italy’s locals live their lives.

Italian Rituals You Need to Adopt – From the Passeggiata to Aperitivo Hour

The Passeggiata

The passeggiata or promenade is probably the Italian ritual that I adore the most that I’d love to see exported around the world. You’ll see the passeggiata – a collective late afternoon to early evening community stroll – all over Italy, but I think they do it best in Calabria.

Years ago we wrote the first English language guidebook to Calabria and during the course of our research we circumnavigated and criss-crossed the southern peninsula. We were there in late summer and early autumn so we got to experience two seasons of the passeggiata.

Every person in every town and city in Calabria seems to religiously participate in the passeggiata in the early evening during summer and in the late afternoon during the cooler months. In summer, the locals are showing off their tans in their freshly pressed linens and cottons, preferably white. In winter, they’re dressed in smart coats and boots.

The daily passeggiata typically takes place along a town’s seaside promenade, main pedestrianised street or shopping thoroughfare. It’s a chance to see and be seen, for young people to flirt, as much as it is a time to catch up with friends, family and neighbours.

Locals might stop to line up for gelato or sit down and enjoy an aperitivo at the end of their stroll, although they’re rituals in themselves.

If someone asked me what smell came to mind when I thought of Calabria, I have to say that I’d be torn between the salty sea odours of just-caught swordfish, the spicy aromas of ’nduja or peperoncino, the perfume of Calabria’s finest liquorice, and… shampoo and soap.

Because when you join the locals on their evening passeggiata, it’s clear the whole city has just showered and washed and styled their hair before changing into their best clothes, as the most distinctive smell as you stroll with the masses down a town’s main pedestrian street is shampoo – and soap, hairspray, perfume, and after-shave.

If you only participate in one, make it the passiagiatta in Vibo Valentia, pictured above, on a Sunday evening in late summer or autumn when the whole town comes out to mingle with friends.

Ravenna in the north also has a wonderful passagietta, with well-dressed locals taking their dogs out for the evening saunter along the town’s cobblestone streets.

Aperitivo Hour

One of the most quintessential Italian rituals you need to adopt on a trip to Italy is participating in aperitivo hour.

An evening aperitivo is another beloved Italian experience which involves heading out to meet friends or colleagues for a late afternoon or early evening drink, at happy hour prices, as you graze on complimentary snacks.

Sometimes the aperitivo snacks are little more than hors d’oeuvres or tapas served with each drink. At other times there’s a generous buffet that customers can help themselves too, which becomes dinner for many.

There’s no better place to enjoy aperitivo with the locals than at one of the many casual bars that line the canals of the Navigli, one of Milan’s most laidback neighbourhoods. 

Some of our fondest memories of Italy are the months we spent in Milan researching and writing a guidebook to the city. We rented a light-filled apartment that overlooked the Naviglio Grande, the main canal, and the streets either side of it.

Quiet during the day, in the late afternoon, early evening, and on weekends when there’s a market, the Naviglio Grande become one of Milan’s liveliest promenades.

We were lucky in that we had an excuse to head out to research and test out aperitivo hours each evening – we were including a guide to where to enjoy Milan’s best aperitivo hours in our book.

While we credit Southern Italy’s Calabrians for the best passeggiata, we reckon it’s the Northern Italians, particularly the Milanese, who do the best aperitivo. And it’s no wonder…

Because it was in Milan where Gaspare Campari created his eponymous bitters that were intended to stimulate the appetite. Naturally a negroni, along with the lighter and more refreshing Aperol spritz, is the drink of choice for aperitivo.

Spend some time in Milan or on the Italian Lakes that serve as the playground for the Milanese, and you quickly discover that aperitivo is a quintessential Italian experience.

There is a pattern to local life that unifies the diverse regions of Italy, from the ritual of the late afternoon cum early evening passagietta to sitting down to sip and snack and chat during aperitivo hour, and it’s all about enjoying life with family and friends.

While we wrote up our book in our Navigli apartment, our birds-eye-view onto the bustling street below, where the locals punctuated their passagietta with an aperitivo, motivated us to work fast so we could get down and join them. So take our advice: these are the Italian rituals you need to adopt when you get to Italy.

Have you been to Italy? Are there any Italian rituals that you love?

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