Gelato: one of Italy’s most beloved exports. As opposed to ice cream, Italian gelato normally has no air pumped into it so not only do you get more per scoop, but the flavor is denser, creamier, and more intense.
How serious are Italians about gelato? Well, it’s the only country where handmade gelato exceeds the industrial version. And near Bologna (the gastronomic center of Italy), there is a gelato university, Carpigiani.
Luckily, even if you visit Tuscany in the winter, gelato shops are everywhere in the major cities and towns. Many bars serve them; many make their own, adding their own twists to old or completely new flavors, like chestnut or mango slices. Fresh ingredients (from the fruit and nuts for flavors and milk for the base) are staples for Tuscan cooking and their gelato carries the same stamp of quality. Some shops offer limited seating, so be prepared to walk and eat. Do stop by at least one of these shops, however, if you’re in the region. Your taste buds will thank you.
Marco Ottaviano Gelato Gourmet (Florence)
Marco and his wife Cinzia treat gelato as any chef would his favorite masterpiece. Using only fruits in season and limiting the sugar so as not to mask natural flavors, their gelato is authentically gourmet and revered by the locals. From fresh fruit and milk, to high-quality nuts, to organically grown flowers, all of these ingredients create delicious (as-healthy-as-it’s-going-to-get) gelato. Flavors? How about strawberry and Prosecco, or Arabian coffee, or ricotta and figs? Drooling yet? On a cozy street near the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria, this spot is a must-try.
Gelateria Kopakabana (Siena)
Nothing tastes better on a hot Siennese afternoon then a delicious gelato. A bit off the path from the touristy haunts (but near the Bascilica di San Francesco), this gelato shop is worth the effort to find. They offer a wide, delicious selection (they have created over 200 flavors in their 10 years of existence) at affordable prices.
Gelateria Toscana (Pienza)
Pienza, a small hill-town of 2,000 and counting, holds more than just amazing views. It holds one fantastic gelato shop. Off one of the main roads, Gelateria Toscana is the place to go for flavors like hazelnut, lemon, unique liquor-based flavors like beer, or even cheese flavors. Indulge, and go back for more.
Le Bontà (Lucca)
Never ever go anywhere near Le Bontà when you’re hungry. It is a dessert lover’s dream and a calorie counter’s nightmare. Not only does it sell excellent gelato, but this shop is wall-to-wall with other treats (tiramisu, chocolate, mille-feuille cake, tarts, mousse, and cream puffs). Le Bontà is just outside the city walls. Full of flavor and tasty, the gelato here is not to be missed if you’re visiting Lucca.
Gelateria di Piazza (San Gimignano)
Centrally located in San Gimignano’s Piazza della Cisterna, Gelateria di Piazza has won awards for its owner’s (Sergio) creations. Taste unique flavors like blackberries and lavender and gorgonzola cheese and walnuts or stick with your tried and true favorites. You can’t go too wrong—it’s all produced daily with the freshest ingredients.