The mainstay of Italian colazione (breakfast) is scalding hot espresso, cappuccino (espresso with a goodly dollop of foamed milk) or caffè latte – the hot, milky espresso beverage Starbucks mistakenly calls a latte, which will get you a glass of milk in Italy. An alternative beverage is orzo, a slightly nutty, non-caffeinated roasted-barley beverage that looks like cocoa.

The ideal accompaniment to your coffee is pastry, usually without adornments such as butter and jam; some especially promising options are below:

Cornetto: The Italian take on the French croissant is usually smaller, lighter, less buttery and slightly sweet, with an orange-rind glaze brushed on top.

Crostata: The Italian breakfast tart with a dense, buttery crust is filled with your choice of fruit jam, such as amarena (sour cherry), albicocca (apricot) or frutti di bosco (wild berry). You may have to buy an entire tart instead of a single slice, but you won’t be sorry.

Doughnuts: Homer Simpson would approve of the ciambella (also called by its German name, krapfen), the classic fried-dough treat rolled in granulated sugar, sometimes filled with jam or custard. Join the line at kiosks and street fairs for fritole, fried dough studded with golden raisins and sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar, and zeppole (also called bigné San Giuseppe), chewy doughnuts enriched with ricotta or zucca (pumpkin), rolled in confectioners’ sugar, and handed over in a paper cone to be devoured dangerously hot.

Viennoiserie: Italy’s colonisation by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century had its upside: a vast selection of sweet buns and other rich baked goods. Standouts include cream-filled brioches and strudel di mele, an Italian adaptation of the traditional Viennese apfelstrudel.

Something to be aware of if you're planning an Italian holiday is that some B&Bs are restricted by licence to provide only packaged foods, so if breakfast is the most important meal of your day, ask what it entails. In general, think Continental - not eggs, pancakes, ham, sausage, toast and orange juice. Those menu offerings are only likely to appear at weekend brrrunch (pronounced with the rolled Italian r), an American import now appearing at upmarket eateries in Italy. Expect to pay upwards of €20 to graze a buffet of hot dishes, cold cuts, pastries and fresh fruit, usually including your choice of coffee, juice or cocktail.

Explore related stories