Like sexy men with penetrating eyes and perfectly coiffed bed head, gelato shops appear at every turn in Italian cities. On crystal blue spring days it seems that everyone is lingering in the streets, licking sensually at the creamy cold confection – the Italians seem to have the market on lingering sensually over any number of yummy street foods! But how do you spot the best gelato in Italy?
The tradition of gelato in Italy
Gelato making is an art form in Italy and gelaterias often resemble galleries in homage to the frozen fantasy. Even a humble neighborhood shop makes a great effort to elaborately garnish the sculpted colorful mounds with fruits, nuts, and candies.
The serious artisanal shops are softly lit rich wood-paneled rooms with marble floors and elaborate display cases of polished brass manned by charming Italians ready to satisfy your every need.
How to spot the best gelato shops
With Italian roots, I’ve been fortunate to take many trips to this boot-shaped nation under the guise of visiting family. But of course, I’m really there for the food. I’ve developed techniques of spotting good gelato shops, which you can apply in any Italian city. Here’s how I do it.
I avoid the chain shops and disappointing gelato experiences by watching for Armani-clad businessmen with fresh cones and choosing places where Italian was still the language of choice.
This is easier done in Rome than in smaller cities like Florence – something to do with the Italian-to-tourist ratio, perhaps?
Here is my picks to go on the list of the best gelato in Italy
These are not the only great gelato shops in Italy but they are three that need to go on your list if you’re in search of Italian gelato. Of the seven gelaterias I visited on my last trip, two of the top three were in Rome, including the one place that I became so enamored with that I returned at least three times. (In fact, I went twice in one day!)
Gelato in Florence
- Gelateria Santa Trinita at Lungarno Guicciardini and Piazza Frescobaldi
The gelateria in Florence that was so highly recommended was a disappointment and many others were the Italian equivalent of Baskin-Robbins.
So I wandered slightly off the beaten path on the “other side” of the Arno and found this chic little boutique serving hand-crafted silky accessories of the sweet frozen variety to ultra-fashionable locals.
I tried a Sicilian cassata gelato that was bejeweled with perfectly cut brunoise (for non-chefs, that’s very small cubes) of seemingly homemade candied fruits in the softest pastel colors embedded in velvety smooth ricotta-scented gelato.
A scoop of that and one of pear gelato with a sexy swirl of grappa-soaked pear gelée made for a perfect early evening diversion.
Gelato in Rome
- Della Palma Gelato di Roma Via della Maddalena 20, Rome, Italy 00186 near the Pantheon
I’m not the only person who thinks this is the best gelato in Rome, possibly the best gelato in Italy. But their success has not gone to their heads – though some of it has gone to my thighs!
The selection and the quality are extraordinary. Aphrodisiac flavors abound here, which may explain the near-pornographic gelato-induced audio/visuals along the narrow streets surrounding the place!
In the corner of the display case you will find about a dozen deep, dark chocolate flavors including my favorite one with pepperoncini (spicy red chiles). For those who prefer sorbetto, try fichi (figs with or without ricotta) or fruta di bosca (wild berries).
- Name Unknown at via Serpenti near Panisperna
This place is a small neighborhood joint that serves a lot more locals than tourists. It’s off the beaten path in the ancient neighborhood that has been known for thousands of years as the Subura.
It’s on one of the oldest streets in all of Rome and just a couple of blocks from the perfect little hotel I stayed in called Hotel Artorius.
I don’t know if this place is worth a detour, but I can say that if you are in the neighborhood, the gelato is wonderful and the staff is friendly. (Yes, it definitely makes the list of the best ice cream in Rome.)
And there is a small piazza nearby with a fountain and some benches where you can admire the trendy Roman ragazzi (translation: young, Italian hotties!) while practicing licking and lingering like an Italian.
This article was written in 2008 and most recently updated in 2021.
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