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If anyone knows Italy it’s Gigi Griffis. A world traveling entrepreneur and writer with a special love for inspiring stories, Gigi has been traveling full time with her pint-sized pooch in tow since 2012.  For over two years now she has been snuggling her puppy against a backdrop of sandy Mexican beaches, cobbled Italian squares, pretty French bistros, and jagged, breathtaking Swiss Alps.

She was recently granted a residence permit in Switzerland, and uses her new home as a base for a continual string of epic European adventures – the most recent of which resulted in a fantastic new unconventional travel guide: ITALY: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, and How to Fit In.

The book is a collection of interviews with 100 people—locals and long-time expats—who live and work in Italy and will tell you how to find that underground jazz club, the best pizzeria in town, the most authentic little neighborhoods, the cutest wineries, etc.

So, want to know where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in Italy? I’ve interviewed Gigi to find out!

What do you love the most about travelling?

Newness and change. I love meeting new people, hearing new stories, trying new things, exploring new landscapes. I feel most vibrantly alive when I’m in a new place, trying to map it in my mind, understand it, become part of it.

What inspired you to start travelling?

When I was 12 years old, I saw a video by a company that took teenagers on volunteer trips around the world. It was breathtaking. The scenery. The animals. The people. The laughter. The idea that you could change your life and maybe change other people’s lives.

So, for the next two years, I bugged my parents mercilessly about letting me go. And finally, when I was 14, they said I could go if I raised the money (about $4,000 – a fortune for a 14-year-old!). I raised $5,000 and went to Australia for a month.

You’ve just released a new book – tell us about it!

Yes! The book is called Italy: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, and How to Fit In.

The idea is that the best travel experiences always come from the recommendations of people who live there. So I interviewed 100 people who live all over Italy, asking them about the most colorful neighborhoods, the best pizzerias, the must-try dishes, etc.

Think of the book as your new Italian best friend, giving you personal recommendations all over Italy.

So give us the scoop – where should we go in Italy?

I really love so many places and there are still so many that I haven’t been and want to visit (Amalfi Coast, I’m lookin’ at you!). But a few of my favorites are:

The Cinque Terre: They’re very busy in the summer with tourists, but still absolutely worth a visit. The path along the cliffs (which winds through all five towns) has some really stunning views and the towns themselves are all charm.

If you’re not into crowds, stay in the hostel in Biassa (about a 10-minute bus ride from the first Cinque Terre town). If you want to truly experience something different, rent a kayak and check out the cliffs from below.

Cinque Terre. Photo by Daniel Stockman.

Cinque Terre. Photo by Daniel Stockman.

Modena: A food-lover’s paradise in northern central Italy. I recommend taking a balsamic vinegar tour, visiting the famous covered market and attempting to order pastries and fruit in Italian, and, if you’re into fancy food and have a big food budget, trying Osteria Francescana, which is ranked as the #1 restaurant in all of Italy.

Verona: It’s known for being the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (and, indeed, even though they weren’t real people, you can visit Juliet’s house in town), but I just love it because it’s beautiful. The bridges are breathtaking.

The walled city is so photogenic. And I fell desperately in love with how pretty their big Christmas market was in December.

Assisi: Go in the off-season if you can. There will still be tourists, but it won’t be crowded, and you can see the famous basilica in peace. My favourite thing to do?  Take a walk down the hill (there’s a hiking path, which costs a couple euro, just outside the front of the basilica) and take photos of the town from below.

What should we eat?

Italian food is extremely regional, so the best plan is to know what the region’s specialities are and eat those! This means lasagne in Bologna, pizza in Naples, fish along the coast, Parma ham in Parma, etc.

What kind of pizza is the best in Italy?

Authentic margherita (the traditional, simple tomato sauce + basil pizza) from Naples!

Pizza comes from Naples and tastes very different in other parts of Italy. So if you want to taste the best, you’ll have to head into the city.

What are the best tips for fitting in?!

When I asked locals about fitting in, the most common tip was to never ever drink a cappuccino with a pizza or after 11 a.m. Italians think that milky coffee harms your digestion and should only be a morning beverage.

Also: dress nice. Italians take pride in their appearance and tend to dress nice (dresses, skirts, nice pants, no flip-flops unless at the beach). So if you want to get mistaken for an Italian, this is the first step.

What are the biggest rip offs/tourist scams in the country?

Hmm, I’m not sure I can answer this one. The best way to avoid rip offs and scams in general, though, is to do as the locals do.

Dress nice. Walk with purpose. And do a little research ahead of time (e.g. ask a local) to find out what is and isn’t worth seeing/doing/spending money on in the city you’re headed to.

Three things you shouldn’t travel to Italy without?

A good sense of humour, comfortable yet nice shoes, and my book, of course!

Why should people travel to Italy?

Personally, I go to Italy for a few reasons:

1)     It has, hands-down, my favourite food in the world (and so I often go stuff myself silly).

2)     I find it really, really beautiful. Especially hill towns like Assisi, coastal towns like the Cinque Terre, and countryside full of sunflower fields and vineyards (like Tuscany).

3)     I find the people open, warm, and fun.

4)     Did I mention the food?

Why is it so important to “travel like a local”?

Well, maybe traveling like a local isn’t for everyone, but I love it because it means really getting into the heart of a place.

It means spending more time there, getting to know people, seeing things that most tourists simply don’t see, and feeling like, for a short time, you are a part of a whole other community and culture.

Street markets in Italy

Street markets in Italy – travel like a local. Photo CC by Dennis Jarvis.

I find that feeling breathtaking and I find that I learn so much more and feel such a deeper connection when I live like a local wherever I’m traveling.

You’ve travelled throughout a lot of Europe. Which European destinations rank highly with you?

Well, obviously Italy is one of my favourites. The other one that tops my list is Switzerland. In particular: the Bernese Oberland. I have been all over the world (to every habitable continent) and I have never seen anything that takes my breath away quite like the peaks and valleys here (which is why back in October, I applied to live here for a year).

A few other favourites around Europe: Ghent, Belgium (which wins my “nicest people anywhere” award), Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast (particularly outside the main cities), Freiburg, Germany (gateway to the mystical Black Forest), and Paris (I’m not a city person, but I can’t help but love Paris, which feels like a thousand tiny neighbourhoods cobbled together).

You travel the world full time with your dog. Is it difficult travelling with a pet?

Yes and no. There’s definitely more paperwork to do, there are a few countries you can’t go to, and having a dog with you will slow you down. But it was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. I was anticipating tons of hassles, but have run into very few.

Does travelling full time get exhausting?

I travelled full-time very differently than most people do (which is part of my whole “travel like a local” thing). Instead of spending a few days in a place, I spent a month or two. I rented apartments. And the whole time I was running my business and, as you mentioned above, I had my dog with me. So mostly I felt very grounded in each new place and the only time I felt really exhausted was when I (against my better judgement) tried to travel too fast and do too much.

That said, back in September, I decided that I wanted to make a home base here in the Alps (in part because I’m just so in love with this area and in small part because I did like the idea of being a tiny bit more settled).

Gigi and Luna.

Gigi and Luna.

Where can people find your book?

On my website! You can order in paperback, PDF, Kindle, or Nook and pay by credit card or via PayPal.

The book is also available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but I like to let people know that both those sites take more than half an independent author’s profits, so if you want to support indie authors, it’s always nice if you can buy through the website. (Though if you have an Amazon gift card or need to buy through them for some other reason, I—and I’m sure other indie authors—totally understand.)

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To promote exploring, traveling, and eating like a local, we are giving away a 30% discount code to 10 lucky readers – enter the sweepstakes below for you chance to win!

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Gigi Griffis is a world-traveling entrepreneur and writer with a special love for inspiring stories, new places, and living in the moment. In May 2012, she sold her stuff and took to the road with a growing business and a pint-sized pooch.

These days, she’s hanging out in Switzerland, planning epic European adventures, and promoting her newly launched unconventional travel guide, ITALY: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, and How to Fit In.

Find her at gigigriffis.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

    24 Comments

  1. Great interview with Gigi. She interviewed me as one of the locals in her book. What a great idea for a terrific guide to Italy!

    • After interviewing her, I have her book lined up on my kindle ready to dig my teeth into; can’t wait! Looking forward to your interview!

  2. Great interview. We love Italy and are heading back in just over a week for yet another trip to a country that one day I would love to call home. I might just have to get hold of a copy of Gigi’s book for a read whilst we travel!

    • Glad you enjoyed the interview – Gigi is so great! Super jealous that you get to head back to Italy! Probably one of my all time favorite countries – I roo could easily live there!!

      Definitely get a copy of Gigi’s book – and have a great time in Italy. Safe and happy travels! Can’t wait to read all about your trip 🙂

  3. Wait. So, she’s based in Switzerland… And she gets to travel with her dog? Gigi has got the coolest deal going!

    I’ve wanted to check out the Cinque Terre for a while – I love those colourful buildings growing up the sides of the cliffs! The views of the ocean! DREAMY SIGH!

    Also, margherita pizza is the GREATEST. So many people I know here in Canada won’t give it a chance because it sounds “boring” but they just don’t know what they’re missing!

    • It’s not a bad gig to have right!! I can personally attest to the magic of the Cinque Terre – definitely a must for any Italian vacation. Views are spectacular and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before!

      Get someone to try Italian pizza and they’ll never think it’s boring again!!

  4. These are awesome tips! I’ll have to use them for if/when I go to Italy. I recently did an interview for Gigi like Jennifer, only for Barcelona. 🙂 Dressing like a local applies in Spain as well – it goes a long way in helping you avoid scams and pickpockets.

    • I hope you get the chance to visit Italy and put these tips to good use! It’s a truly wonderful country! I’ll have to keep an eye out for Gigi’s guide to Barcelona – I haven’t hit Spain yet but am absolutely dying to go!

  5. Really interesting post! I love Italy – it’s one of my favourite 2 European countries – love their food and desserts 🙂 Cinque Terre is one place in particular that I want to see, as it just looks stunning!

    • You can’t go past the Italian food and deserts – people always ask me why it’s my favorite country and my response is always “where else can you eat pizza and gelato everyday??!”

      We walked all of the extra weight off by hiking through the Cinque Terre – it really is stunning!

  6. What a lovely interview! Been to some cities in Italy and yet I still haven’t touched the ones mentioned hete except Naples! Italy is such a gorgeous country with amazing scenery and oh the food – will definitely be back for more 🙂

    • Thanks Aggy – so glad you enjoyed it! Sounds like you’ve got a pretty good excuse for a return trip to Italy! And totally agree re the food – I’m not a foodie per say but OMG Italy turns you into one for sure!

  7. Gigi sounds a right character. We’ve already been to a few places she recommends. Can’t wait to visit the others.

    • Sounds like you’ve got some exciting travel ahead of you then!

  8. After working in mostly Italian Luxury fashion houses, we’re very familiar with Italy and this post warms my heart. We always dress well, its a big part of the culture. This past summer, we went to 2 destinations Gigi recommended: Modena and Cinque Terre! Modena, is rarely mentioned but it is so great with fantastic food and wine.

    Great interview!

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Brenda – and wow what an amazing time it must have been working in luxury fashion houses! So glad you had the opportunity to explore Italy and it’s fabulous food and wine!

  9. I love Italy and yes Assisi and Verona, So close to going to Modena but I ran out of time, will have many opportunities to visit again, I’m sure. Fantastic interview.

    • Sounds like the perfect excuse to plan another trip back :D! There’s so much to see and do in Italy, I completely understand running short on time!

  10. I love food tours and cooking classes in Italy, and take some each trip!!

    • Excellent way to spend your time in Italy! Recipes are something you can always take home with you at the end of the trip!

  11. BonAppetour is such a cool idea. Eating like a local is one of the best ways to experience the country you’re visiting. Personally I’d love to get to Italy and do a balsamic vinegar tour… but that may be a little way into the future, think we’re in SE Asia for the foreseeable future!

    • Yes, it definitely is! Oooh a balsamic vingear tour would be an amazing way to experience Italy – I may just meet you there! Enjoy SE Asia though, there are some equally as amazing cuisines throughout the continent as well!

  12. This book sounds really good! It’s an entirely different matter from a local’s angle. Well done…

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Susan, and totally agree – guidebooks are one thing, but to really truly immerse yourself in a new destination the tips and advice from a local are invaluable. Happy reading!

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