Departures is published by Meredith Corp. and owned by American Express. While American Express Card Member benefits are highlighted in this publication, including through the links indicated below, the content of this article was independently written by the editorial staff at Meredith. Other Departures content paid for by American Express is explicitly marked as such.
Timeless cathedrals and world-class museums aside, the most important attractions in Italy are the restaurants. From the hole-in-the-wall trattorias to the impossible-to-get reservations at Michelin-starred institutions, Italy is home to some of the best food in the world. On your next trip, whether you’re heading to the rolling hills of Tuscany, to the ever-bustling Roman streets, or to unwind on the Amalfi Coast, these are the most essential restaurants in Italy:
Osteria Francescana, Modena
Arguably the most famous restaurant in Italy, Osteria Francescana is Massimo Bottura’s three Michelin-starred Modena masterpiece. Serving 12 courses for €290 (with the option to add a €190 wine pairing), Osteria Francescana says their food is a “narration of the Italian landscapes and our passions.” Celebrated Global Dining Collection chef Massimo Bottura opened Osteria Francescana in 1995, and the menu is as surprising and spectacular today as it was 25 years ago. In May 2019, Bottura opened his new hospitality venture, Casa Maria Luigia, a spectacular Emilian country house-turned hotel. Casa Maria Luigia is now home to the second Osteria Francescana, offering a similar intimate multi-course dining experience.
La Pergola, Rome
Within Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel and an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner, lies one of the most coveted dining rooms in Rome: La Pergola. With a curated wine list by award-winning sommelier Marco Reitano and a menu put together by executive chef Heinz Beck, La Pergola harnesses the best Mediterranean ingredients and Italian flavors to serve emotive, passionate cuisine. La Pergola is the only restaurant in Rome with three Michelin stars. On the ninth floor of the hotel, the restaurant offers sweeping views of the Eternal City as diners enjoy the 10-course Gourmet Menu.
Le Calandre, Rubano
Considered the “culinary playground” of Max Alajmo, Le Calandre has held on to three Michelin stars since 2003. An Alajmo family venture through and through, guests can choose from three tasting menus: The Max, Raf, or Classico menu. The tasting menus are simultaneously extravagant and playful, deliberately melding high-end flavors—but without the chefs taking themselves too seriously. The restaurant, originally founded by Erminio Alajmo in 1981, is in Rubano, just west of Padua.
Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, Milan
Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia is one of the most celebrated culinary institutions in Milan. It was founded more than 50 years ago by—you guessed it—Aimo e Nadia, and is now run by their daughter, Stefania, who shares responsibilities with her two executive chefs. Il Luogo received two Michelin stars in 2019 for their modern take on traditional Italian fare. Their tasting menus are seasonal; the summer 2020 journey currently features Sardinian mussels and panna cotta with fresh blueberries and apricots.
La Sponda, Positano
Le Sirenuse Hotel, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner in Positano, is synonymous with romance and luxury. Their restaurant, La Sponda, has a similar reputation, sourcing the freshest ingredients and drawing inspiration from the lavish Mediterranean surroundings. The menu focuses on lighter fare, which pairs perfectly with the warm weather and coastal atmosphere. The dining room is illuminated by 400 candles by which guests enjoy the creations of Gennaro Russo, who was only 29 when he became executive chef of La Sponda in 2016.
Enoteca Pinchiorri, Florence
For travelers spending the weekend in Firenze, a reservation at Enoteca Pinchiorri is essential. The team behind Pinchiorri characterizes their kitchen as “a laboratory where ideas take shape, where the best ingredients are blended in the quest for innovation, with respect for local and regional traditions.” Guests intrigued by the tasting menu can choose from the €150, seven-course Discovery menu or the €250 10-course Contemporary menu, both of which promise to be an unforgettable experience for your tastebuds.
Fiola at Dopolavoro Venezia
Within the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner nestled on the private Isola delle Rose, foodies will find a newly reimagined version of the Michelin-starred restaurant Fiola. The restaurant, conceived by Fabio Trabocchi, now exists at Dopolavoro Venezia within JW Marriott Venice. Guests of Fiola at Dopolavoro Venezia can arrive at the private dock to a high-concept “linear chic” space. The menu changes daily in response to what’s available at local Venetian markets. The “twist of traditional Venetian cuisine” features “standout dishes such as Fiola lobster ravioli, Bassano white asparagus and caviar, foie gras alla Veneziana, soft-shell crabs from the Venetian lagoon, and vanilla fried pastry cream with corbezzolo honey.”
Most of the restaurants on this list are institutions—SantoPalato is the opposite. It’s the It-restaurant in Rome, and has been since opening in April 2017. Three years later, the modern trattoria’s kitchen is still helmed by 32-year-old chef Sarah Ciolini. SantoPalato, in Rome’s San Giovanni neighborhood is a triumph of bold flavors and bolder design, with vibrant decor and local ingredients used to their fullest potential to create exceptionally flavorful Italian classics.
Da Vittorio, Bergamo
A Relais & Chateaux villa hotel with a revelatory restaurant, Da Vittorio is just outside Bergamo in the hills of Lombardy. Da Vittorio is the brainchild of the Cerea brothers and the cuisine focuses primarily on fish and seafood. Earning three Michelin stars in 2020, Da Vittorio takes pride in sourcing ingredients from all over the country. It’s a family-run establishment in every sense; Enrico Cerea specializes in pastry, and the Da Vittorio wine is made from the grapes of “the family’s historic vineyard, lovingly cared for by Francesco Cerea.” Luxury travelers can helicopter to the property, arriving in style on Da Vittorio’s helipad before checking in for the evening and enjoying an award-winning culinary experience in the tasteful dining room or open-air patio.
Don Alfonso 1890, Amalfi
Famed Amalfi coast restaurant Don Alfonso 1890 received two Michelin stars in 2019 and has an upscale but familial atmosphere. Their commitment to diners is simple: to use as many homegrown ingredients as possible. Much of the fruit, vegetable, and even poultry served at Don Alfonso 1890 was grown or reared on their own organic farm. The Mediterranean-inspired menu seeks to reduce environmental impact and promote healthy eating in sumptuous, revelatory cuisine. In classic Amalfi fashion, the restaurant is only open during high season—grab a table here between the beginning of July and the beginning of November.