How going ‘hyperlocal’ can help you discover Italy’s hidden treasures

While the coronavirus pandemic has strongly impacted our ability to travel, modern technology means we can travel 'virtually' even when we can't visit physically.

How going 'hyperlocal' can help you discover Italy's hidden treasures
Photo: Getty

Now, more than ever, it’s important to go ‘off the beaten path’ when travelling, in order to support the many small businesses that have struggled over the last year or more. This is particularly relevant in Italy, where small businesses account for a larger proportion of both GDP and jobs than in the European Union as a whole.

Those who look beyond the most obvious options will be well-rewarded, as Italy is a country brimming with products and experiences that are unique and utterly memorable. Together with the app for discovering hyperlocal products and experiences, Shoppi, we show you how to discover the country in a whole new way. 

Wondering what you’re missing when travelling through Italy? Download Shoppi today 

Living la dolce vita 

It’s a very common desire to want to ‘live like the locals’ and see through their eyes. One fantastic way to do this is through tours and experiences that bring aspects of Italian culture and society into focus. 

Joining a tour is generally a fantastic way to experience a city like Rome or Florence in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible as a ‘regular’ tourist. Whether you’re following in the footsteps of Dante in Florence, or cruising through the streets of Rome on a bicycle in a group, specialist knowledge gives you a wealth of sights, sounds and tastes to follow up on at your own pace. Most big cities have a wealth of small tour operators run by passionate locals for you to discover. 

Another way to place yourself in a local’s shoes is to take part in experiences. You could be cooking with locals in Tuscany, picking fruit or grapes on the slopes of Vesuvius, or learning to paddleboard off Capri. These experiences are more than just memorable, they give you the opportunity to make friends with the locals and forge bonds that will have you coming back again and again. As the world looks to recover from the pandemic, more and more experiences are available to travellers wanting to enjoy the outdoors. 

Buon appetito!

One of the very foundational ways we engage with a culture is through food. Food speaks to the very heart of what a society values, and nowhere is this more evident than in Italian cooking. Italians value the good life, taking the time to enjoy a meal with friends, they share love through food. 

We often think of pasta and pizza when we think of Italian food, but this does it a massive disservice. Each region of Italy has its own distinct cuisine, using fresh, local ingredients to create flavourful, delicious creations. Moving north up the Italian peninsula from Sicily, you encounter a transition from spicy, zesty dishes that are cooked in olive oil, to hearty, warming dishes that are cooked in butter as you arrive in regions such as Lombardy. 

If you’re living or holidaying in Italy, learning to cook regional dishes means that you relive some wonderful experiences over and over again. Worried about getting the right ingredients? Don’t be – the internet and smartphones have enabled small businesses to sell and send ingredients almost anywhere in the world. 

Craving the tastes of Italy? Discover what you can find on Shoppi, and have it sent to you

Photo: Getty

Bringing a little piece of Italia home  

Italy is one of the world’s largest tourist destinations, so of course there’s a lot of really terrible souvenirs on sale. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to take your mother a Colosseum fridge magnet, or a keyring of Michelangelo’s ‘David’. 

Italy is home to some of the world’s finest fashion, homewares and crafts. International brands that we wear and buy for our home the world over were once small businesses that served their regions to local acclaim. Visit any of Italy’s major cities and you’re likely to find small galleries and ateliers full of handmade goods that use local materials – think of the many leather workshops in Siena, or the wealth of fashion houses being established in Capri. 

Bringing home Italian homewares and fashion not only supports businesses that sorely need it, but also gives you a one of a kind look that your friends and family will be entranced by.

The new way to discover the best of Italy 

It’s clear that shifting to supporting small businesses across Italy can be incredibly rewarding. You get fantastic experiences and memories that will last for years, and they are assisted in recovering from their recent economic challenges. You’re ensuring that local handicrafts and traditions will endure for years to come. 

However, seeking such opportunities can be difficult if you’re not sure how to go about it. This is where Shoppi becomes such a valuable tool. Shoppi is an app for Android and iOS that not only allows you to find local products and travel experiences across Italy, but allows you to keep supporting those businesses from home wherever you are in the world. 

As Salvatore Vacante, CEO of Shoppi, tells us: “Going ‘hyperlocal’ is important to not only spot places out of town but also to discover street food and hidden places. It also helps keep Italian culture alive, since every product represents Italy, its past, future and present.”

Shoppi is easy to use, and not only covers Italy, but is rapidly growing to cover cities across Europe and the US. Wherever you go, you’ll constantly discover new offers and goods to keep your Italian experience going. 

Shoppi is available for download on both Apple’s App Store and Google Play

Begin your Italian experience today or keep it going once you’re home with Shoppi

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IN IMAGES: Spain’s ‘scrap cathedral’ lives on after creator’s death

For over 60 years, former monk Justo Gallego almost single-handedly built a cathedral out of scrap materials on the outskirts of Madrid. Here is a picture-based ode to his remarkable labour of love.

IN IMAGES: Spain's 'scrap cathedral' lives on after creator's death
File photo taken on August 3, 1999 shows Justo Gallego Martinez, then 73, posing in front of his cathedral. Photo: ERIC CABANIS / AFP

The 96-year-old died over the weekend, but left the unfinished complex in Mejorada del Campo to a charity run by a priest that has vowed to complete his labour of love.

Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.

Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” features a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square metres (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still does not have a cover.

He used bricks, wood and other material scavenged from old building sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became better known.

A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil drums while windows have been cobbled and glued together from shards of coloured glass.

“Recycling is fashionable now, but he used it 60 years ago when nobody talked about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, an engineer and architect with engineering firm Calter.

Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid.
Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid. Photo: (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the firm to assess the structural soundness of the building, which lacks a permit.

No blueprint

“The structure has withstood significant weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo told AFP, predicting it will only need some “small surgical interventions”.

Renowned British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 — when he came to Spain to collect a prize — telling Gallego that he should be the one getting the award, Arroyo added.

Religious murals on a walls of Justo's cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Religious murals on a walls of Justo’s cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The sturdiness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder, and he worked without a blueprint.

In interviews, he repeatedly said that the details for the cathedral were “in his head” and “it all comes from above”.

Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The complex stands in a street called Avenida Antoni Gaudi, named after the architect behind Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica which has been under construction since 1883.

But unlike the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral of Justo Gallego as it is known is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship.

Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral's completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral’s completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

‘Worth visiting’

Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads Messengers of Peace, wants to turn Gallego’s building into an inclusive space for all faiths and one that is used to help the poor.

“There are already too many cathedrals and too many churches, that sometimes lack people,” he said.

“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social centre where people can come to pray or if they are facing difficulties,” he added.

A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

Father Angel is famous in Spain for running a restaurant offering meals to the homeless and for running a church in central Madrid where pets are welcome and the faithful can confess via iPad.

Inside the Cathedral of Justo, volunteers continued working on the structure while a steady stream of visitors walked around the grounds admiring the building in the nondescript suburb.

“If the means are put in, especially materials and money, to finish it, then it will be a very beautiful place of worship,” said Ramon Calvo, 74, who was visiting the grounds with friends.

FIND OUT MORE: How to get to Justo’s Cathedral and more amazing images