It's not too late for last minute extra Christmas gifts....so just in case Santa Claus couldn't find what he was looking for, perhaps the Befana will bring it with her in time for January 6th!
Befana falls on 6th January and is what we call Epiphany but ours is not associated with giving or receiving gifts - however, here in Italy, it is a long-standing tradition. Befana is represented as an old crone, usually with a shawl and broomstick. If you have been good, the night of 5th January, she fills your stocking with nice things....if you have been bad she gives you coal (or as that would be too mean...you get candy which is made of sugar that looks like coal).
The child in me loves to check out what's cute...what's fun...and where I might shop if I had a mini-me. I'd absolutely go to Piazza Navona to two of the oldest toys shops in Rome: Bertè and Al Sogno (pictured above and below). They have a mix of old-fashioned toys and modern, as well as some items for us grown-ups who are interested in collectables or souvenirs.
Cute looking clothes shops for toddlers up to early teens check out KidSpace and Monnalisa on via Borgognona, Rome (close to the Spanish Steps), and Nanan on via Tomacelli (between Fendi and the Tiber river).
Other shops I like are the Pesciolino Rosso (the Little Red Fish) in via Bocca di Leone 49 (not far from the Spanish Steps) who stock handmade, non-toxic toys. Tina in via Bocca di Leone 9 - is actually more of a lingerie boutique but also sells the most exquisite baby and toddler pyjamas. Bartolucci, on via dei Pastini 96-99, is all about Pinocchio! Enter into a magical word of wood. For clothes there's Neck & Neck - a good quality Spanish brand of children's wear on via Vittoria 56, La Cicogna on via Frattina for baby clothes.
Okay, you and your partner have decided to holiday in Rome for a romantic Christmas this year and you want to surprise your gal with a sexy or romantic gift. As it's hard to miss with lingerie - the more expensive the better - I have rounded up some great places! And apart from stocking beautiful lingerie, some of the boutiques also carry beachwear, sleepwear and hosiery ranging from demure to exotic!
This first group of lingerie shops don't have websites but are located on or near Via del Corso in the centre of Rome - just to make it a little easier on your feet.
'SIMONA' and 'et moi', (pictured) are both on via del Corso (no.83 & no.96). 'Intimo' is just down the road from La.Vi (picture top with scooter) on via Tomacelli. Another favourite - La Coquetterie has its main shop near Ponte Milvio and has recently opened a second on Via della Croce.
The following shops are between Piazza Spagna and Piazza San Silvestro: 'BRIGHENTI' at No.7 Via Frattina; and on Via del Gambero No.13 there is 'Il Fiocco Must' for sexy lingerie & swimwear (also mens).
In the area around Largo Argentina and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II there are the following excellent choices: Sciunnaache at Via di Torre Argentina, 18; and Pati Jò - a personal favourite - located at Via Paganica 9b, who offer an exclusive and discreet bra-fitting service (appointments preferred - in order to devote to you their time and expertise). They also stock other lovely items which can be purchased "off the peg" which don't require fitting. Ladies can either book an appointment for themselves alone or can be accompanied by their partner who will be able to admire the selections in complete privacy.
'Zou Zou' is very glamorous and describes itself as an 'erotic boutique' tucked away on Vicolo della Cancelleria, 9 just off Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, and 'Alcova' - a wee bit hardcore to link from here - stock some sexy pieces for the less experimental. Easy enough to find them - also just off Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, on Piazza Sforza Cesarini, 27.
Department stores in Rome with good lingerie selections:
If it's bespoke you're after, book an appointment with Lingerie d'Elia at Via Sistina 119, where it is also possible to view some of the garments.
Actually Christmas Eve holds greater importance than Christmas Day for Catholic families and was once characterised by fasting: a centuries old tradition symbolising waiting for the birth of Christ. Gifts are often exchanged at midnight - although many wait until the Befana on Jan 6th to do this - and often there is a toast with spumante or prosecco! The word for Christmas Eve in Italian is 'vigilia' meaning vigil (or staying awake), but it is also a term used for religious observance, such as fasting.
Fasting was eventually replaced by the eating of fish and the reason fish was chosen is simple: meat was something only the wealthy could afford and was perhaps viewed as a sign of indulgence, whereas fish was accessible to everyone - typically eaten by the poor and, in particular, fishermen. Therefore the gesture of giving up something ‘prized’ such as meat and replacing it with the humble fish became a symbolic substitute for fasting.
This tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve has continued to present day in Italy, with possible minor recipe variations from region to region, and dishes usually include: mixed fried vegetables such as broccoli or artichoke, fried salted cod fish 'baccalà fritto', roast eel 'capitone arrostito', smoked salmon and scampi cocktails, artichoke 'alla romana' (baked artichoke hearts with mint and flat-leaf parsley), or 'alla Giudia' (sliced and fried in a frying pan); soups made with chickpeas as the main ingredient flavoured with garlic and rosemary, Pecorino Romano cheese and little anchovies.
For Christmas Day (meat is allowed): oven baked lamb and roast potatoes 'abbacchio al forno con patate' and pasta (similar to tortellini) in broth 'cappelletti in brodo', boiled vegetables and stuffed turkey. For dessert the following are traditional: pampepato and pangiallo (dried fruit, candied peel, with flour, honey and chocolate). Nociata, which is a type of home-made nougat 'torrone' prepared with hazelnuts; and of course Panettone and Pandoro, which didn't originate in or near Rome but are widely available throughout the whole of Italy and have become known as typical Italian Christmas desserts. Nuts, dates, dried figs and clementines are also popular.
New Year's Eve manages to surprise most - lentils (with spiced sausage or stuffed pigs trotter) and spumante or prosecco at the stroke of midnight! The lentils represent coins, which signifies hope of a prosperous new year and the pig signifies richness of life - or something like that; the sparkling wine is just for fun - all celebrations need to go off with a bang!
So now you know what awaits if you are invited into an Italian home over Christmas....and if you're not, there are plenty of excellent delicatessen (look/ask for 'fornaio', 'salumeria' or 'alimentari') around Rome where you can buy cured hams and other cold cuts, cheeses, roast vegetables and pandoro or panettone, if you wish to create your own Italian Christmas picnic! Good spumantes can be found in most supermarkets priced at around €5 - €8. Look for traditional desserts in old family run bakeries such as Valzani in Trastevere on via del Moro - try their Mostaccioli! If you've decided to splash-out choose one of the 5-star hotel restaurants in the centre of Rome and enjoy lunch or dinner with amazing atmosphere and views of the city.
Where I shopped for my lovely place settings...
Well, my aim was to do this on a budget, so the tablecloth is just a few metres of hessian threaded with gold sparkle and cost about €6, the place mats were from Upim (a good value store), the water glasses were from a shop on via del Pellegrino, which sells a whole bunch of unusual glassware (go right to the back of the shop - it's like Aladdin's Cave), the napkin tassels were from a tiny haberdashery shop run by a wonderful old lady (these tassels were handmade and were the most expensive part of the whole ensemble @€12 each), the candles and other table decorations were from Velitti in Vigna Clara, and the rest of the items I already had.