33 Ways To Live La Dolce Vita – And Be More Italian

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33 Ways To Live La Dolce Vita – And Be More Italian

Words by Ms Fedora Abu

21 June 2023

The Danes have hygge, the French their terrasse culture, and the Australians their enviably sun-soaked indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Still, when it comes to the art of living beautifully, no nation has mastered it quite so well as the Italians. In the bel paese, revelling in life’s simple pleasures – be it a leisurely evening stroll with friends or beautifully cut blazer – is part of the national identity. Here, one works to live (never the other way around), with implausibly long holidays and even longer mealtimes.

This wonderful lust for life is something that we at MR PORTER are keen to embrace during these languorous summer months (and beyond). And as it turns out, there’s no need to hop over to the Amalfi Coast to do so. Here, a few of our favourite Italians – and expats – have shared their secrets to bringing a touch of the dolce vita to the everyday, whether you’re living in New York, north London or Napoli. Grab yourself a plate of perfectly al dente pasta, pour yourself an ice-cold spritz and tuck in.


Talk to strangers…

“Talk to people, constantly, everywhere,” says Ms Laura Rysman, the central correspondent for Monocle, who lives in Florence. “Getting in an elevator? Say hello. A hospital waiting room? Greet your fellow patients. In Italy, conversations are struck up in places that might be considered non-social zones in other places, but as far as I can tell, non-social zones don’t exist in this country, which has the effect of rendering the bothersome chores of everyday life a good deal more tolerable.”


…Specifically, about food

“Sure, you can easily open a conversation with a comment on the weather, but there’s not much to say there,” Rysman says. “When I first moved to Italy, I was dying to understand what everyone was always debating so heatedly. Once I learned the language, I realised it was, almost universally, food – recipes, where to eat, what’s delicious, what the next meal is going to be – and now I spend my days doing the same.”


Have an aperitivo

“I really enjoy the aperitivo time as a way to introduce the evening,” says Ms Mirella Aponte, a Dutch-Italian creative director who lives in London. “It’s a similar sentiment to the after-work drink, but what makes the aperitivo better in my opinion is the fact that there is absolutely no cultural issue with having a non-alcoholic drink to go along with it. Personally, I love Crodino, which seems to have started making an appearance in London bars.”


Perfect your pasta (obviously)

“My mum has never overcooked her pasta in her life,” says Ms Emma Pradella, MR PORTER’s Marketing Copywriter, who grew up in Rome. “For perfectly al dente pasta, I tend to take three or four minutes off the cooking time. In Italy, we also weigh our pasta – around 100g each. And you have to mantecare the pasta. Save a ladleful of pasta water, drain the rest and then finish cooking the pasta in the sauce with the starchy water to make it extra silky.”

“My mum has never overcooked her pasta in her life”


Start with a soffritto

“The foundation of all my cooking is celery, carrots and onions [il soffritto], which is the crucial starting point for a great ragu,” says Mr Simone Caponnetto, executive chef at Locale Firenze. “Not to mention garlic and oil, which are perfect for a quick pasta at the end of a busy service.”


Say “arrivederci” to spaghetti bolognese

“In Bologna, it’s either tagliatelle or pappardelle. Never spaghetti,” says Ms Benedetta Melini, audience growth manager for GQ Italia. “And always use fresh egg pasta.”


Chill with the parmigiano

“Never ask for parmesan with a fish or seafood pasta,” says Ms Emily Fitzroy, the founder of luxury Italian travel consultancy Bellini Travel. “And funnily enough, I was once rapped on the knuckles in Florence for asking for parmesan on my spaghetti al pomodoro.”


Pare back your pizza

“The secret is in the dough and its ingredients,” says Ms Emanuela Potortí, a copywriter at Versace who hails from Naples. “You can tell the pizza is good when it’s light. It means the dough grew well. That’s why, even though Neapolitan pizzas look huge, you can eat one all by yourself without feeling full. And the ingredients of course: san marzano makes all the difference.”

“Italians care a lot about provenance. The quality of the ingredients is fundamental”


Stock up on tinned fish

“Regardless of whether one lives inland or by the coast, all Italian regional cuisines harness the strong flavours of tinned fish,” says Ms Marina Cacciapuoti, founder of the cult Instagram account and lifestyle brand Italy Segreta. “It’s typically conserved in oil or salt, and occasionally air-dried or packed in water. They can be the main ingredient of a dish, a bold topping for a salad or the star of a pasta sauce. It’s the secret weapon that’s responsible for the umami flavours present in many of our dishes.”


Learn about where your food comes from

“I think there’s a lot to be gleaned from the Mediterranean diet,” says fashion designer Mr Massimo Alba. “In particular, our interest in and respect for ingredients. Italians care a lot about provenance. The quality of the ingredients is fundamental, especially when you’re making the most simple and authentic dishes.”


Eat local

“In Italy, every region, town and village celebrates their own special seasonal dishes based on what ingredients flourish in their area,” says Emily FitzRoy. “Be it the bitter chicory leaf, the puntarella, in Rome, the cedro, which is a vast citrus fruit (not a lemon) in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, or the humble eel on the island of Burano in the Venetian lagoon. Nearly always, the simplest, most uncomplicated dishes are the best.”


Eat seasonally

“Italian eating habits are the best in the world,” Caponnetto says. “From a young age, Italians are taught to have well-rounded meals, eat vegetables and follow the seasonality of produce. Tomatoes in summer have a totally differently flavour – the same with green beans and courgettes.”


Cherish mealtimes

“Food isn’t just about the food,” Aponte says. “It’s about the art of eating. Take your time. Eat slowly. Enjoy the conversation as much as you savour the food and drinks. And do have a little digestif at the end as a treat.”


Mix old and new

How to decorate your home all’italiana, according to hotelier Mr Antonio Sersale of Le Sirenuse? “A good friend of mine once told me: ‘The wonderful thing about Italian households is the ability the owners have to decorate them with both contemporary art as well as antiques, some of which might have been handed down from generation to generation.”


Skip the wet look

The wet look is unlikely to ever catch on in Italy, FitzRoy says. “If you leave the house with wet hair, you may be struck down by the infamous colpa d’aria, a blast of fresh air to the back of the neck, which to certain Sicilian friends of mine could potentially cause major illness – or death.”


Walk everywhere

Ever wondered how Italians keep fit and healthy with all that pasta, pizza and risotto? “We love our walks – even when aimless,” Cacciapuoti says. “Ci piace passegiare!” It’s customary to take a leisurely stroll (la passegiata) with friends and family in the evening, and even Loro Piana has named its iconic line of suede loafers after this national pastime.


Don’t stress about wellness

The secret to long life won’t be found at the bottom of a celery juice, according to Italians. Their approach to wellness? “We walk, we laugh – a lot – we drink wine and we sit in the sunshine to watch the world go by and discuss what we are going to eat for lunch and supper,” FitzRoy says. “It’s not the most orthodox approach to a clean lifestyle, but it’s worked for well over a millennium in Italy and they have some of the oldest people on the planet.”


Don’t overcomplicate your coffee

Order an oat-milk flat white in a traditional Italian café and you’ll be met with a mix of judgement and utter bafflement. “In Italy, you only really have cappuccino, espresso and espresso macchiato,” Pradella says. Cappuccino is your morning coffee. “You don’t drink it after 10.00am and never after a meal,” FitzRoy says. Espresso is usually taken at the bar. “You can order your coffee al vetro, in a glass cup,” Pradella says. “To me, it tastes nicer.”


Slow down

“One of the main issues we are confronted with when planning holidays for clients is how often they want to cram too much into each day,” FitzRoy says. “Our approach is always: ‘Listen, Italy is unlikely to change and you can always return, but you need to slow down, explore beautiful places in the morning but have a long lazy lunch and then at least a couple of hours for the all-important siesta.’ And they always thank us in the end.”

“Italians never underdress. Regardless of where we are going, looking ‘decent’ is a priority”


Take pride in your dress

No need to reiterate the importance of dressing well, but it’s a matter Italians take especially seriously. “Italians never underdress,” Aponte says. “There is no way someone would casually show up to an event in some old jeans and sneakers, unless they’re a calculated statement piece, of course.” Cacciapuoti agrees. “Regardless of our age, or where we are going, for a walk, a coffee, or to the office, looking ‘decent’ for us Italians is a priority.”


Make friends with a tailor

“A good seamstress or tailor is your most important fashion ally, even if you’re not getting things custom made,” Rysman says. “If you’re buying off the rack, and you don’t have the exact measurements of a fit model, chances are a slight adjustment can make your clothes look a little more made for you, even if they weren’t. And a talented seamstress or a tailor is the only person who will honestly tell you what looks good on you, and when you’ve been eating too much pizza.”


Find your own sense of style

How do you spot an Italian from a mile away? “From their sense of curation, the way they’re put together, their knack for coordinating colours, and just a sense of style and cohesiveness,” Alba says. “For us, style is personal and introspective. Italians dress for themselves. They strive to be unique. What sets them apart is their desire to develop a style of their own that makes them stand out and feel like they look good.”


Master “i gesti”

By far the most famous – and true – trope about Italians is that they talk with their hands. “You don’t even need to learn Italian, really,” Pradella says. “If you master the important gestures, then you’ll get your point across.”

“Italians dress for themselves. What sets them apart is their desire to develop a style of their own”


Make a mean negroni

“The art of a good negroni is in its simplicity – gin, vermouth, Campari,” FitzRoy says. “Just make sure you stir – never, God forbid, shake – add a good solid ice cube and a peel of orange. If you’re in luck, you’ll hear the negroni roar.”


Be spontaneous

The Italian way of life is “more spontaneous” and “less structured”, Cacciapuoti says. “Unlike some other cultures, we don’t always require extensive planning or advance booking to have a good time. For example, we might decide on the day itself to eat in a certain restaurant, take a train to another city for the day, or go for lunch by the sea. Flexibility is key, and we prefer to keep our options open until the last minute to fully embrace the joys of the present moment.”


Shop thoughtfully

“We’re more scrupulous,” Alba says of the Italian approach to shopping. “We buy individual pieces rather than outfits. And we choose items that contribute to our own individual sense of style.”


Opt for the finest fabrics

It’s no coincidence that the great fashion houses around the world turn to Italian mills and factories for the most luxurious fabrics – or that the brands known for the best wools and cashmeres (think Loro Piana and Brunello Cucinelli) all hail from Italy. “There is a mutual appreciation for fine garments in Italy,” Aponte says. “Even when you compliment a friend on their outfit, they’ll often invite you to touch the material to confirm the good quality.”


Wear a white shirt

“Less is more” is the essence of Italian style, says Cacciapuoti. “A white button-down is the simplest most common solution. It’s been an undergarment since Roman times, when it used to symbolise wealth and power, and it’s always a fixture in our closets. Sometimes it even takes up a whole section of it.”


Invest in Italian tailoring

“I admire how Italian style has come to be viewed abroad and how other people are curious about the way we dress,” Alba says. “Take Daniel Craig as Bond, for example. I ask myself, ‘How come an English man felt the need to choose an Italian suit?’ I think the answer has something to do with the fact that our tailoring can put you at ease.”

“It’s an insane idea that a G7 country is closed for business for a month. It’s also genius”


Don’t overwork yourself

What’s most misunderstood about Italians? “I think Brits and Americans see Italians as sluggish, but they don’t understand that our lifestyle allows us to work to live, rather than live to work,” Caponnetto says. “Are we lazy? Sometimes – but we’re also some of the hardest workers. If you think about it, kitchens around the world are headed up by Italians.”


Find pleasure in the little things

“La dolce vita is all about taking time to enjoy the little details of life, and enjoying it to its fullest,” says Ms Carla Sersale of Le Sirenuse. “An aperitivo before lunch is a great way to start on days off or holidays. I have in mind a wonderful white tablecloth with a Campari soda in the centre of a lovely piazza”.


Take August off

“If there were an Italian 10 commandments, after injunctions about food, family and style, the stone tablets would decree a month-long sabbath known as August vacation,” Rysman says. “It’s an insane idea that a G7 country is closed for business for a month, and most of its population relocates to the beach. It’s also genius, and the only effective way to get people to take a real break these days.”


Be more human

“One of my all-time favourite quotes is by [American writer] Erica Jong and it perfectly encapsulates the essence of what sets Italy apart from other countries,” Cacciapuoti says. “‘What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that can be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be human, which other places, other countries, lost long ago.’”

La Bella Vita