July 24, 2023
The Aperitivo / The Aperitif
Summer is officially here which means longer days, out of office emails, and plane rides to new adventures. It also means embracing the rituals of the Mediterranean art of living. The French and Italians lead by example when it comes to filling the late afternoon and early evening with the most productive of plans. Like clockwork, every day the bars will open up and the people will be sitting down for an Aperitif or an Aperitivo.
Stemming from the Latin ‘Aperire’ (to open), the aperitivo (Italian) or aperitif (French) refers to the concept of opening the stomach and stimulating the appetite ahead of a meal. The idea comes from antiquity – most likely from Hippocrates – who would prescribe vinum hippocraticum to patients who suffered from a lack of appetite. This was a concoction of wine mixed with sugar and herbs or spices not unlike Vermouth which is a common alcohol consumed at aperitivo (either neat or mixologised into martinis, negronis or americanos).
Whilst Italy and France famously differ vastly in many of their cultural tendencies, their traditions of cocktail hour are very similar. These are the two standard-bearing nations of pre dinner drinking although many countries in Europe and beyond have now adapted comparable customs. Beyond the physiological benefits of opening the stomach for delicacies at dinner, the aperitivo also shares the social aspect of friends gathering after work or play to enjoy time together. From around 6pm onwards, bars fill up with people and glasses fill up with their drinks. Whilst the aperitif is an evergreen custom – it endures every season - there seems to be no greater luxury than a balmy summer evening spent in a piazza or a boulevarde, in a via or a rue, at the spiaggia or the plage, sipping, laughing, glowing. The sun blazes with its final golden hues, the people chatter late into the evening, and the drinks flow until dinner beckons.
There are traditional drinks for aperitif namely champagne, Pastis, Kir, Lillet and for aperitivo, there is prosecco, Aperol Spritz, Campari or Negroni. However, the rules are entirely fluid and it is not about what you drink so much as when, where, and with whom. You now know when and you should know with whom. Here is where you will find some of the best or most iconic drinking spots across Italy and France.
Senequier, St Tropez
Immediately recognisable from the bold red tables, chairs and awnings, Senequier’s unmissable colour palette and prime location on St. Tropez’s promenade, has drawn in crowds of the chicest punters since the 1950s (although it has been around since the late 19th century). As this corner of France boomed in popularity among the rich and famous in the mid-twentieth century, Senequier became the place to see and be seen. It was the favourite aperitif spot for the likes of Giorgio Armani, Coco Chanel, Elton John, Bono and more. Whilst the drinks don’t come cheap, you are also paying for the real estate. Nowhere in town is a better spot for people and boat watching which happens to pair perfectly with a St Tropez spritz.
Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence
There is no specific place to drink here rather, the entire square in Florence’s city centre is a drinking haven. As golden hour approaches, flocks of locals and tourists will congregate to the Piazza Santo Spirito. If they’re lucky, they’ll find a table at one of the many bars that buzz with happy customers and frantic waiters. Otherwise, the crowds spill onto the cobbled pavements, church steps, or the benches by the fountain. It would make the most sense to order a Negroni which was invented in Florence in 1919 by Count Camillo Negroni and his obliging bartender. The Count asked his pal to strengthen his usual aperitivo order, the Americano, by replacing the soda water with gin. Thus, the Negroni was born.
Hotel Grand Amour, Paris
Walking the line of glamour and cosiness which only the Parisians know how make chic, Hotel Grand Amour is the perfect spot in town for a pre-dinner tipple. Both their indoor library-bar with its atmospheric lighting and their external veranda with pops of pastel, are impeccably designed down to the final detail. Even their glasses are engraved with the word ‘Amour.’ This hotel bar is quirky and modern in all the best ways whilst retaining that classic, old-world romance which pulls everyone to Paris and makes them fall in love with it.
Cortile Verga, Ortigia
Since Sicily is on everybody’s summer hit-list, a favourite bar which is nestled into the prettiest nook of the South-east must be mentioned. In the tiny town of Ortigia, lies Cortile Verga a small but splendid little courtyard covered in white marble which gleams in the day and glows at night. The space is intimate and quiet, and the cocktail choices range from contemporary to classic. An even better idea is to order a glass (or bottle) of crisp Etna Bianco wine which is grown on Sicily’s volcano north of Ortigia. The dry, mineral notes are the perfect way to whet the appetite before a seafood dinner in the town’s famous fish market.
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Words and Photographs by Antonia Fest