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.
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.
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).
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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