How to Live Like an Italian This Fall

Milan's foremost baker, Rocco Princi, shows you how to live la dolce vita

For cultures that celebrate food and drink, the start of fall is a special time of year. Harvest season is at its peak, friends and family are reunited after a summer of traveling, and it's a last hurrah before winter arrives. So it's no surprise that Italians embrace this time of year—and can teach Americans a thing or two.

Rocco Princi, the master Italian baker behind Milan's Princi bakery and café, sums up this approach as La Bella Figura. This translates to "the beautiful figure" but isn't necessarily meant to be taken literally. Instead, this phrase informs the spirit of the Italian way of life, one that emphasizes quality over convenience, enjoying the company of friends and family, taking time to appreciate traditions, and doing things with style. The Princi concept is rooted in La Bella Figura, which is evident in the dedication to craft and quality of food, the detail of decor, and the way you're greeted like family when you enter.

This fall, you can experience Princi's spirit of La Bella Figura firsthand at one of their new locations in Seattle, Chicago or New York City. But if you can't get there yet—or end up inspired by this way of life—here's how you can still enjoy this season like an Italian.

Shop the farmers' market.

Rocco likes to remind everyone he works with of the importance of ingredients: "Ingredienti importanti," he says. So he gets up early, is one of the first people at the markets in and around Milan, and gets to know the vendors—all in search of those quality ingredients. Luckily, you can do the same at your local farmers' market in the U.S.

Fill up your social calendar.

In Italy, tables are always full with family or friends, or a mix of both. Meals are enjoyed at a leisurely pace; you can actually let a conversation unspool and savor a glass (or two) of wine. So, make this the year that you stop endlessly rescheduling catch-ups with friends or loved ones and make them a priority.

Simplify your menu with fresh bread.

You won't find sad sandwiches on presliced bread or rock-hard rolls at the dinner table in Italy. Freshly baked bread (made at home or picked up from the local bakery) is a staple of daily life. Get into the habit of picking up a small loaf and you'll be surprised at how it can streamline a menu. You can serve a slice topped with salad for a light lunch, offer up slices with good butter for a quick appetizer, or in the case of focaccia, make it your dinner.

Update your playlist.

Expand your cultural horizons by scoring your dinner with the sounds of classic Italian opera. Or, go one step further do as Rocco does: See an opera in person (after a delicious dinner, of course). You might find a new appreciation for the timeless art form.

Enjoy aperitivo.

Traditions rule in Italy, especially when it comes to eating and drinking. Aperitivo is one of them. The Italian cousin of happy hour features light alcoholic beverages that usually highlight bitter flavors over sweet ones—spritzes are common—and is regarded as a proper kickoff to the evening.

Stretch out dinner.

In Italy, dinner usually doesn't begin until 8 p.m. and lasts well into the evening. You don't have to start late if you're an early bird, but try slowing dinner down to truly enjoy the flavors of the meal and the company at your table.

Finish with digestivo.

Yes, Italy is equally known for its desserts and its savory meals. But dessert isn't how they signal the end of dinner. Instead, it's with digestivo, the after-dinner take on aperitivo. Like the pre-dinner custom, digestivo features drinks that have a bitter flavor. The liqueurs used aren't the same, though. Digestivo centers around amari, which are dark herbal bitters sometimes served chilled and/or over ice. Pick up a few to have on hand.