There are two things I love about traveling Italy: the Aperol Spritz and aperitivo.
It All Started With Campari
I started drinking Aperol before I knew what Aperol was. The path to Aperol started with it’s grandfather, Campari. During one of our early trips to Rome, we thought we would try a Campari cocktail. I had no idea what was in a Campari Cocktail, but as we sat at a cafe on the edge of the Campo di Fiori in Rome, I thought it seemed appropriate. I felt like Audrey Hepburn with my bright red Italian cocktail.
I didn’t like it one bit. Despite it’s deceptively bright red color, it is hardly sweet. It packs a bitter punch, even when matched with mixers. I think the version we ordered in Rome was merely Campari and soda water, maybe with a little Prosecco. But, there was not enough sweetness to offset the bitterness. It made us stay away from Campari, and anything in that family, for a really long time.
What is Aperol?
Aperol bears some similarities to it’s partner in crime Campari. The biggest difference is the color. It’s bright orange, and brilliant looking. Our friend in Slovenia introduced us to Aperol, and Aperol Spritz, during a day trip to Piran, Slovenia a few years ago. It was a warm fall day on the Adriatic coast. Irena ordered an Aperol Spritz and when it arrived, I just found it gorgeous.
Aperol is an Italian aperitif made of bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona among other ingredients. No, I did not know all of these ingredients when I typed them. When I searched for term gentian, I found it is a blue flowering plant. Cinchona is another flowering plant native to Andean forests in South America. If you look on Aperol’s website, it claims Aperol is made from oranges and “secret ingredients.” Despite all of this is sure is tasty.
An Aperol Spritz includes the Aperol liquor, ice, soda water, and sparkling wine with a slice of lemon for garnish. It’s usually served in a large wine glass, making it a stunning cocktail. It practically glows. I tried Irena’s that day in Slovenia. I enjoyed it.
The Best Way to Enjoy Aperol Spritz
Over the years, during our numerous trips to Italy, we’ve become, well, a little addicted to the Aperol Spritz. It forms part of our nightly ritual. We walk around the town that we are staying in, and stop for a little aperitivo on the way to dinner.
The aperitivo is a ritual in much of Italy, but is managed differently across the country. In the north, including Milan, Turin, and the Lombardy region, aperitivo can be a meal in itself. When we traveled through the region a few years ago, we ate a big lunch most days, so an aperitivo was sufficient for dinner.
Generally, in and around Milan, you purchase a cocktail, beer, or wine and you have access to an aperitivo buffet. This is nothing like a happy hour buffet in the US, that might involve a chaffing dish of soggy wings. In Italy, aperitivo may include cured meats, cheeses, grilled vegetables, sandwiches, and even warm pasta.
Although the buffet style aperitivo is not as popular in Emilia Romagna, minimally a drink will come with some chips or other salty snacks. It’s a way to tie you over until dinner. Bologna, however, is a student city. Students love the concept of aperitivo, because it can be a cheap way to have dinner with friends.
For us, it can be an alternative to dinner on days where we’ve had big lunches. More often than not, it’s a pit stop on the way to dinner. And, for us, aperitivo always involves an Aperol Spritz.
Aperol Spritz Recipe
If you can’t make your way to Italy for an Aperol Spritz aperitivo, although you should try, it’s possible to make one easily at home.
3 parts Prosecco, or a dry sparkling wine
2 parts Aperol
1 splash of club soda
Pour it all over ice
The important thing is to pour the Prosecco in first, to avoid the Aperol settling to the bottom. Give the drink a good stir with a long cocktail spoon, and enjoy. Well, maybe hold it up to the light and take a little Aperol selfie for Instagram. Because the Aperol Spritz is one fine looking cocktail.
Planning a Trip to Emilia Romagna?
Looking for more travel tips on Emilia Romagna, and how to eat the best food in Italy? My book The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, is available on Amazon now.
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