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My Secret Italy By Our Favourite Italians

Where do Signori Dolce, Gabbana, Missoni and Piombo go to get away from it all?

  • Sant'Angelo, Ischia. Photograph by Getty Images

With magical scenery and historic monuments, from Capri’s sheer cliffs to Rome’s enchanting Villa Borghese, Italy is arguably better stocked than any other country on the planet. Sure, us foreigners all have our favourites. But ask an Italian to select his preferred place to have an aperitivo, where he could see himself one day winding up, and he would never plump for something so obvious. Ask an Italian, particularly those who have spent decades in fashion and design, who have had exposure to the finer things and finest backdrops the country has to offer, and they will handbrake turn off the beaten path, head for their places of birth, or opt for locations where their motherland is at her most peaceful and authentic.

So rather than offer you our own selection, here some of our favourite Italians serve up their favourite places in Italy.

Palermo, Sicily

Mr Domenico Dolce and Mr Stefano Gabbana

  • Left: Mercato del Capo, Palermo. Photograph by Mr Alex Segre/Alamy. Right: arancini. Photograph by Mr Boaz Rottem/Alamy

“At the Mercato del Capo in Palermo you can eat the best street food, such as the typical arancini. Street food is born in Sicily,” declare Messrs Dominico Dolce and Stefano Gabanna, the former of which hails from Italy’s biggest island, where his father worked as a tailor. Previously, they have said: “The air, light and sun seem different when you land there, and we start feeling relaxed as soon as we step off the plane. The landscape, traditions and values haven’t changed since the 1960s.” The Milan-based pair have been drawing inspiration from the Norman churches, baroque palazzos, market squares and mourning widows ever since they started their brand in the 1980s. Whether they are visiting in spring for the orange blossom or September for the final swims of late summer, they will always pass by the Cappella Palatina within the Palazzo Reale for a hit of neoclassical splendour. For their first alta-moda show (their take on haute couture) in 2013, they chose the iconic black lace of Sicilian women to inspire their hand-stitched garments. They will return there next month to show again.

What to pack

  • Dolce & Gabbana Slim-Fit Padded Nylon Bomber Jacket

  • Dolce & Gabbana Slim-Fit Distressed Denim Jeans

Casina del Bosco, Rimini

Mr Alessandro Squarzi

  • Casina del Bosco, Rimini. Photograph courtesy of Casina del Bosco

“Rimini is famous for its delicious food. You can’t miss a piadina at Casina del Bosco or an exquisite fish dinner at Due Santi da Todro,” says Mr Alessandro Squarzi, a Milan-based fashion entrepreneur. “It’s an internationally renowned summer holiday destination on the Adriatic coast with long, sandy beaches and exclusive clubs.” The historic home of this street-style regular boasts Roman architecture in abundance, in the form of the Arch of Augustus, the Tiberius Bridge and the Amphitheatre. The city formed the backdrop to Federico Fellini’s chefs-d’oeuvre, Amarcord and I Vitelloni. “I may be biased since Rimini is my home town, but it really is my favourite summer place in Italy.”

What to pack

  • Prada Slim-Fit Unstructured Mohair and Virgin Wool-Blend Blazer

  • Gucci Round-Frame Tortoiseshell Acetate and Gold-Tone Sunglasses

Valle d'Itria, Puglia

Mr Ottavio Missoni Jr

  • Tenuta del Lauro Resort. Photographs by Mr Dario Fusaro. Courtesy of Tenuta del Lauro Resort

“My place to be for a great summer vacation is the Valle d’Itria, in Puglia, a region famous for the typical trulli houses,” says the heir to the Missoni fashion house, whose grandfather started the brand in 1953. His mother Angela serves as creative director. “In just a few kilometres, you move from the charming Ostuni – the ‘white city’, in the backcountry hills – to the beautiful seaside with great fish, restaurants and beach clubs. The Resort Tenuta del Lauro is the place to stay. It’s a high-end property of refurbished trulli cones surrounded by laurel bushes. Waking up in this hushed place, having breakfast in a beautiful greenhouse, chilling by the pool or picking your own lunch in the organic vegetable garden, are just few of the things that make the difference between a good and an amazing vacation.”

What to pack

  • Missoni Cotton-Blend Blouson Jacket

  • Barena Cotton-Jersey T-Shirt

Orta San Giulio, Lake Orta

Mr Alberto Alessi

  • San Giulio, Lake Orta. Photograph by Mr Frank Bach/Alamy

“In the summer, I like to eat at Hostaria La Funicolare, 10 minutes from where I live in Piedmont,” says Mr Alberto Alessi, the president of the third-generation design company he shares his name with. “It is a very typical mountain restaurant – family run, and they do one of the best pizzas in the area, and exquisite homemade desserts. In the summer, you can eat outside and enjoy the fresh air of the mountain, a respite from the heat down at Lake Orta.” After lunch, Mr Alessi likes to visit the Sacro Monte in Orta San Giulio, a hillock of 20 chapels with frescoes depicting the life of St Francis of Assisi. “Facing directly on the lake, it’s the perfect place to escape, rest and think in quiet and serene surroundings while feeling rejuvenated by the summer warmth.”

What to pack

  • Massimo Alba Kos Grandad-Collar Striped Linen and Cotton-Blend Shirt

  • Illesteva Leonard Round-Frame Two-Tone Acetate Sunglasses

Soragna, near Parma

Mr Umberto Angeloni

  • Photographs by Mr Luca Martini. Courtesy of Antica Corte Pallavicina

“Soragna is a little town of 4,000 people, located in the Bassa Padana: a flat, idyllic area along the Po river, right in the middle of Italy’s fabled ‘Food Valley’,” says Caruso’s owner of the cultural melting pot near Parma, which he likes to visit in summer. “It is here that the most famous Italian pig delicacies originated – from culatello and prosciutto, to salami, coppa, spalla, mortadella… as well as parmigiano, in its many varieties and ageings, and various kinds of pastas, such as tortellini and lasagna.” Mr Angeloni, the former CEO of Brioni, has run Caruso – which makes smart and sprezzatura-friendly Italian menswear – since 2012. He recommends a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the area, from Antica Corte Pallavicina, with its “incredible culatello caves”, to Stella D’Oro, and the typical countryside trattoria Colombo. Composer Mr Giuseppe Verdi was born here. There are year-round classical music concerts and it is the site of the Rocca di Soragna castle, “with some of Italy’s best baroque frescoes, and where you can meet the ruling prince”, Mr Angeloni adds.

What to pack

  • Caruso Off-White Slim-Fit Wing-Collar Double-Cuff Cotton-Poplin Shirt

  • Caruso Blue Slim-Fit Mélange Wool Trousers

Portofino and surroundings

Mr Massimo Piombo

  • Dö Spadin, Camogli. Photographs by The Chic Fish

“Once Friday night arrives in summer, an aperitivo at resort San Rocco in Camogli is very much appreciated. I love to have it at Bar Dai Muagetti, which has an incredible view across the gulf,” says the designer, who founded his eponymous menswear brand in the 1980s and creates some of the world’s most sumptuous sweaterscardigans and unstructured blazers, each with a natty twist. “On Saturday, I will have breakfast on the terrace of Hotel Splendido, and go to San Fruttuoso for a beautiful walk in the woods that descend from the hills to the rocks by the sea. I like to visit the abbey of San Fruttuoso on the beach and have lunch at Giorgio. Once the evening arrives I head to the Trattoria Concordia on Via del Fondaco, where the locals love to eat and talk, away from the harbour. On Sunday I rent a gozzo (a small boat) and go swimming in Punta Chiappa, stopping to eat on the terrace at Dö Spadin.”

What to pack

  • MP Massimo Piombo Grandad-Collar Striped Linen and Cotton-Blend Shirt

  • MP Massimo Piombo Cotton-Twill Bermuda Shorts

Ischia, Campania

Mr Massimo Alba

  • Sant'Angelo, Ischia. Photograph by Ms Sara White/Alamy

“Ischia is a special place for me,” says Mr Massimo Alba, who was the creative director of Malo for 11 years. He started his own eponymous label in 2006 and makes some of summer’s finest polos, cardigans and linen- and silk-blend sweaters. “It’s where my wife was born, and also my son. For us, it is the point where we start our holidays every year.” The islanders’ passion and warmth, says Mr Alba, is reflected in the surrounding landscape: “Ischia is volcanic, and there are many natural springs. Right next to the sea, there is Sorgeto, where the volcano creates a stream of warm water year-round – it is magical. At my favourite beach club, the Nicola Alle Fumarole, there’s a sauna where you can see natural steam rising from the wooden planks.” And, while beautiful restaurants abound, “a simple tomato, aubergine and mozzarella sandwich made with bread from Boccia, Ischia’s best bakery”, makes a heavenly lunch of fresh local ingredients.

What to pack

  • Massimo Alba Wembley Striped Linen Polo Shirt

  • Massimo Alba Vela Slim-Fit Watercolour-Dyed Linen and Cotton-Blend Shorts