The host of 'Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy' on the destinations, hotels, and restaurants that keep him coming back for more.
Watching Stanley Tucci navigate and narrate his journeys through Italy is one of the purest forms of travel porn. The shots are majestic, his dulcet tones are soothing, and the wanderlust takes over with every seductive shot of the Italian coastline or the sizzling strands of perfectly cooked pasta.
This summer, Tucci wants you to experience Italy just like he does (well, almost, he is rich and famous, after all), and he has teamed up with S.Pellegrino to encourage travelers to summer like an Italian. Tucci and the S.Pellegrino team are giving away $10,000 along with a summer supply of the fizzy beverage in hopes that you’ll take the money and run to Italy for a month or more.
We talked with Tucci to get some of his insights into traveling in Italy, his favorite places to stay and eat, and tips on how to enjoy the perfect Italian vacation.
INSIDER TIPFans can enter for a chance to win a “S.Pellegrino Summer” and live like an Italian by visiting here between now and June 22, 2022.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Fodor’s: When you were filming your show Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, you traversed so much of the country. Did you come across anything that was unexpected?
Stanley Tucci: Well, it was [something] expected, but not as expected as I thought, and that is its [regional and cultural] diversity. It really is amazing. [As are] the reasons for that diversity. And when you’re on the ground, and you really see them, it’s very exciting. It’s exactly what I’d hoped we’d see, and we saw it. It’s pretty cool. To learn about the profound history, you know, sort of from the horse’s mouths, it’s really, really quite interesting.
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Do you have any specific examples that really stood out to you?
I think looking, in particular, at people who have chosen to go back and either work the land again or open their own restaurant. And they were [formerly] lawyers, or they were whatever, to go back and really throw themselves into an old family business or [they are] creating a new family business on a small scale. Keeping a small restaurant going, things like that. That’s kind of the most amazing thing to me. But also, I think the experience we had when we filmed in Sicily, and we went to the island of Lampedusa, and we saw what they called the boat graveyard of all the immigrants who had come through and the boats that were left–that was probably the most devastating.
What do you think are some misconceptions that people have about Italy and traveling within the country?
That it’s always sunny and everybody’s always happy and everyone’s eating pasta all the time. Yeah, there’s a fair amount of pasta, but then you get to a point up north and there’s really not that much pasta. As you travel through Italy, you see the change in topography. Everything changes from Puglia to Calabria. I mean, they look like completely different countries when you’re going through them. Puglia is dry and arid and sort of rocky and a lot of it is not very pretty really. And then you have Calabria, which is mountainous and lush, and it’s just astounding. The farther north you go, [it] just keeps changing and changing and changing until you get up into the Alps. I mean, [it’s] staggering.
Did you learn any travel lessons along the way that you can impart to others? Should you rent a car? Should you rent a villa? Access to public transit? What is some advice that you would give people on traveling within the country?
Well, I think it’s up to you, the way people want to travel. Sometimes having a car is a great thing, except when you’re going to visit Florence, you don’t want to have a car. You can’t drive anywhere. I mean, which is good. It didn’t use to be that way. It’s much better now, actually. But it’s really nice to be able to drive and just stop off at little towns or little rest stops along the way, or take a circuitous route somewhere, go to a little hilltop town, that’s great. But also equally, the trains are really wonderful because it’s very relaxing. The countryside is gorgeous. And you take a train to Rome, you’re in Florence in no time and then from Florence to Milan, in no time and it’s easy. Grab a taxi and you’re in your hotel. I think the one thing I’d say is don’t try to do too much in one trip.
Do you prefer staying in hotels or villas? Do you have preferences?
Well, I stay in hotels a lot because of my work. So, it just depends. If I’m in a hotel for more than a few days, I don’t want to be in the hotel anymore. Because I miss cooking and I want to have a normal sort of life. I don’t want to be beholden to eating out all the time. So, when my family and I go we usually rent a house.
Do you have favorite hotels that you have stayed at in Italy?
Yeah, I love the Mandarin hotels. I mean I love them. I stayed in the Mandarin in Milan, and it was gorgeous. And the Gritti [Palace] and the Danieli in Venice are really quite lovely. Another hotel is the Ferragamo Hotel Lungarno in Florence. I dream about it all the time. I’ve stayed there a couple of times and I literally never wanted to leave. It’s just unbelievable and so tastefully done.
And what about restaurants? Do you have some standout dishes that you discovered from places that completely blew your mind? Anything in particular that stood out in your travels through Italy?
Dishes in Rome, carbonara without question. In Florence, Bistecca Fiorentina. In Bologna, lasagna Bolognese. In Milan, risotto and ossobuco Milanese. Down in Sicily, pasta a la Norma. And then in Naples in that area, Amalfi Coast, seafood, pasta with zucchini, stuff like that.
Any particular restaurants that you’d want to give some love to?
We featured Lo Scoglio in one part of one episode and it was a really wonderful restaurant in the Amalfi Coast. And you can access it by boat and by car. And they’re just the loveliest, loveliest people ever. They said they were busy anyway, they were a very popular spot, now they said they’re so busy because everybody watched the show and wants to go there.
What is your carbonara spot in Rome?
You know, as far as I know, it’s not there anymore. The man who owned it passed away. It was called Trattoria Pommidoro and I had heard that he had passed away so I don’t know if it’s gonna be revived.
What would you recommend for people not to do when traveling through Italy?
Don’t ask for cheese on your own spaghetti alle vongole. Let the cheese thing go. I think that’s key. And I think, most Italians will speak English, but it’s always nice to make a vague attempt at least a few words of the language of the country that you’re in.
Tell us about this S.Pellegrino summer contest and this partnership that you’re doing with them?
It’s great. They came to me about a year ago and they were like, do you want to partner with us? And I [said], yes, of course. San Pellegrino is one of the greatest things ever. So, I did, and it’s been great so far. I went to the Terme where they are, up in northern Italy. It’s beautiful. The people are really nice to work with. And as we know, the product is great. And then they said we have this idea for this summery thing, and I thought it was wonderful because we know that everybody’s ideal–we learned this also through the show–is that people just want to travel. And then during the pandemic, people couldn’t travel. The show helped people travel vicariously. But also, if you can’t travel, I love the idea that we’re doing this contest, and if you can travel with the money you win, great. If you can’t, then you can create the Italian style at home for yourself. And because unfortunately, we Americans don’t take the vacation time that Italy does and most of Europe, including England, does. And I think it’s really crucial to a healthy lifestyle.
Last thing. What is your next Italy trip?
I’m going to Sardinia and then to Liguria. And then we finished Puglia and Calabria–we just finished those.