If there is a pizzeria on every corner in every town in Italy — and it seems there is — then there are two gelaterias on the opposite corners.
It’s widely known that Italy has some of the best ice cream in all the world, and even though it’s called gelato, and it’s made differently than the ice cream in the States, Italian gelato really is something special.
But unlike the pizzerias, where nearly every pie is perfection, not all gelaterias in Italy are turning out the same quality of frozen fare.
If you pass by a gelato shop that displays gelato flavors in Marge Simpson styled coifs, keep walking.
Because odds are that the next shop won’t be about the window dressing. It’ll be about the flavor and texture, looks be damned.
Here’s a look at those kinds of gelaterias in Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Manarola and Bologna:
FLORENCE: Vivoli Il Gelato isn’t easy to find, tucked on a back street near the Piazza Santa Croce. But it should be on any serious gelato-lover’s radar.
Vivoli can’t keep their bins full, and although most of the flavors are traditional — cream, vanilla, hazelnut, chocolate, stracciatella — they’re all sublime, rich and creamy.
Not all gelaterias have rich and creamy gelatos.
Some focus on the Sicilian style of gelato, which doesn’t contain eggs.
Places like Florence’s Gelateria Carabe’, just a short walk from the Galleria dell’Accademia and Michelangelo’s David, which of course you will go see.
And you should go taste Carabe’s Sicilian style gelato, because what it lacks in richness from the absence of eggs, it makes up for in the fresh fruit flavors and sweet cream.
SIENA: You’ll find plenty of Marge Simpson coifs in Siena, but you’ll also find a serious gelateria (below) on the Piazza Il Campo, which has one of the deepest, darkest chocolate gelatos I found.
Every shop offers a wide variety of cones, some made on premise, or maybe you’ll expend all your carb calories on the gelato itself by choosing a cup instead of a cone.
Whichever delivery vehicle you choose, don’t choose just one flavor. Even in a small cup, three flavors can happily co-exist and you’ll get to experience a wider variety of flavors.
SAN GIMIGNANO: One of the most quaint, hilltop Tuscan towns northwest of Siena, San Gimignano, is home to a Gelato World Champion gelateria, called Gelateria di Piazza. (Pluripremiata means winning.)
No matter what time of day, there is a line out the door at Gelateria di Piazza, even though there are a handful of other gelaterias within eyesight.
Gelateria di Piazza makes plenty of traditional flavors, but you’ll also be tempted by more unusual flavors like rosemary scented raspberry and Gorgonzola with walnuts.
MANAROLA: Among the five seaside towns that comprise Cinque Terre on the western coast of Italy, the town of Manarola has the best gelateria, a tiny shop called Gelateria 5 Terre.
Traditional hazelnut and pistachio are the best selling flavors at 5 Terre, but my absolute favorite was a caramelized fig and shortbread studded gelato, made with mascarpone. (pictured below, top middle).
BOLOGNA: As much as I adored the Manarola gelateria, my absolute favorite shop was in Bologna, called Il Gelatauro.
It wasn’t just the charming interior, or the Slow Food certificate hanging on the wall, or the fact that this gelateria also makes amazing chocolates and cookies.
It was the gelato. The silkiest, creamiest, most delicious gelato in all of Italy — or at least among the 15 to 20 shops I visited.
It was the roasted pistachio gelato, made from pistachios from Bronte in Sicily.
Or maybe it was the delicately flavored gelato made with bergamot and jasmine.
Yes, Italian gelato really is special.
Maybe it’s because of the slightly lower fat content, a result of a higher ratio of whole milk to cream.
Maybe it’s because of the melt-on-your-tongue texture, a result of a slower churning method, reducing the amount of air whipped into the gelato vs. American ice cream.
Maybe it’s because Italian gelato is served a few degrees warmer than ice cream, which makes the flavors burst through easier.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the experience of being in Italy, swirling a spoonful of silky gelato on your tongue, soaking up la bella vita.
Vivoli Il Gelato
Via dell’Isola delle Stinche, 7
Via Ricasoli, 60
Bar Il Camerlengo
Piazza Il Campo, 6
5 Terre Gelateria e Creperia
Via Antonio Discovolo, 248
Gelateria di Piazza
Piazza della Cisterna, 4
Via San Vitale, 98/B
(If I’ve left off your favorite gelateria in Italy, please share it with us, and tell us why you love it.)