Negroni Negroni Harry's bar, Florence

Top 5 Italian cocktails and where to drink them

Memoirs from an endless quest for the perfect cocktail.

Corrado Beldì, Italian cocktail lover and traveller, shares his favourite five drinks and tips for finding them in the land of la dolce vita...

1) Negroni

“Camillo! Do not drink more than 20 Negronis per day!”

A series of letters written between two friends in 1921 conveys more than any book about why Italy is a very special place for cocktails. Cliff McGovern was a Scottish adventurer and entrepreneur who explored the American outback, financed new railways and built a magnificent manor in Montana. Camillo, an aristocrat of the Negroni dynasty, was his friend. They travelled the world together, but visits to Florence were the peak of their friendship: leisure, hunting, music and cocktails.

There’s nothing cooler than handing down a surname in a drink: Camillo Negroni was a passionate drinker, and the Americano (Campari, Martini, soda water) wasn’t strong enough. When Fosco Scarselli, the legendary bartender of Caffè Casoni, added a third of gin, the Negroni  cocktail was born.

I always dreamt of having the same privilege, but the Niceday (a sour cherry Martini I invented some years ago) will never be as popular as Negroni. I like to follow Camillo’s steps, and hang out at Florence's Caffè Giacosa, in Via della Spada, in the late morning catching up on the latest news while young girls are chatting, having coffee and a cigarette.

2) Sbagliato

The Negroni is a strong drink and to be honest usually I like it lighter so I opt for the Sbagliato, where prosecco replaces gin. This erroneous variant (sbagliato means 'mistaken') was invented at Bar Basso in Milan, a firm favourite of mine and many other Milanese. It's poured into giant glasses, just like when it was launched in the late 60s. A drink at Bar Basso offers an opportunity to glimpse into the past as this famous location, former drinking den of many famous Italian musicians and artists. 

bar basso milan exterior

3) Bellini

If there's a season for cocktails then summer is the perfect time for a Bellini. All this drink needs is a ripe white peach, whose perfume reminds me of a Nabokov sentence I won’t tell you about. Have it at six, on the terrace of Hotel Gritti Palace in Venice. If you've spent all day at the Biennale, there’s nothing more rewarding than sipping a Bellini overlooking the Grand Canal. Pure, heavenly joy.

4) Martini

The Martini summons up a glamour of a bygone age. My friend Mauro Lotti, who’s been behind the bar at the Grand Hotel in Rome for 30 years, served Martinis to Liz Taylor and Richard Burton in the late years of la dolce vita. Spend a whole evening there with this classic drink and I promise you won't be disappointed.

5) Orange Blossom

I've travelled the world for many years now and had many great experiences. The more experiences I have the more I realise that the simple pleasures are truly life's best moments. And one of those is drinking a fine glass of mixed spirits, on a terrace looking the sea.

At the Grand Hotel Villa Igiea in Sicily you can look out to the gulf of Parlermo and admire the Aeolian islands, whilst sipping on an Orange Blossom. Sicily is the land of oranges and myths, and it is only here that you can experience the 200 year old pleasure that inspired Goethe...

“Italy without Sicily leaves no image in spirit: here, only here, is the key to everything”.

Grand Hotel Villa Igiea

Caffè Giacosa: Via della Spada, 10/r, 50123 Florence, Italy, Tel: +39 055 277 6328, www.caffegiacosa.it

Bar Basso: Via Plinio, 39, 20129 Milan, Italy, Tel: +39 02 2940 0580, www.barbasso.com

Gritti Palace: Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, 2467, 30124 Venice, Italy, Tel: +39 041 794611, www.thegrittipalace.com

St Regis Grand Hotel:  Via Vittoria Emanuele Orlando, 3, 00185, Rome, Italy, Tel: +39 06 47091, www.stregisrome.com

Grand Hotel Igiea: Salita Belmonte, 43, 90142 Palermo, Italy, Tel: +39 091 631 2111, www.villa-igiea.com