Quite rightly travellers to foreign countries worry about illness ruining their holiday. Drinking water is at the centre of many of their fears. Let me reassure you that tap water in Italy is safe to drink.
Standards are set by national and regional laws and municipal water is checked continuously by health and safety authorities. By contrast, springs exploited for bottled water are checked only monthly. By law, if water from a tap or spring is not safe to drink, it must bear a sign saying ‘non potabile’.
A few years ago I decided never to drink bottled water except in circumstances where tap water is unavailable (long-haul flights) or has such a disgusting flavour (way too much chlorine) that it would ruin the food you’re eating.
Here are the reasons for my decision:
1 Production of bottles (both glass and plastic) requires energy and produces emissions.
2 Transport of bottles (both glass and plastic) requires energy and produces emissions.
3 Water stored in plastic bottles on shelves in markets deteriorates.
4 Many bottles are thrown away part full of water which locks up the precious resource forever, or at least for many decades.
5 Recycling bottles (both glass and plastic) requires energy and produces emissions.
6 Many bottles do not get recycled and end up in lakes and the sea harming wildlife.
7 Bottles discarded in the natural environment are ugly.
8 Not drinking bottled water is one of the easiest ways to contribute to improving the environment. (Yes, I like fizzy water too, but if it’s a choice between fizzy water and the survival of sea turtles, seals, sea lions, sea birds, fish, whales and dolphins, I can do without it.)
9 The supply of spring water to cities sometimes produces architectural wonders.
10 Bottled water costs more than tap water.
11 Getting water from springs is fun.
I’m not a fanatic. I drink bottled wine, although I mainly choose local wine, which is possible if you live in Italy.
Italy is a nation of bottled-water drinkers. When I ask individuals why, the usual reply is that they have delicate livers which will become encrusted with calcium if they drink tap water.
This widespread habit of drinking bottled water presents problems when I dine in restaurants. My guests are often embarrassed by my insistence on sticking to my principles. I apologise, but it’s important to me, and I hope also to raise awareness of the harm resulting from drinking bottled water.
The reactions of staff when I tell them I don’t drink bottled water take the form of: disbelief evidenced by a wrinkled up nose suggesting that tap water stinks; citing that it’s against the law for a restaurant to serve tap water; and stating that they don’t have a carafe in which to bring the water to the table. At first I take a joking tone: ‘I’ll pay double to have tap water’, or, ‘I’ll take full responsibility for whatever happens to me and my guests’. I then move on to helpful suggestions: ‘No carafe? Bring us glasses of water’, escalating to threats: ‘If we can’t have tap water, we won’t buy wine either.’ My final line of defence: ‘I’ll take my glass to the loo and fill it up there’. This usually produces a carafe full of delicious, cold tap water, occasionally accompanied by the admission on the part of the wait-staff: ‘I always drink tap water at home’.
I never return to restaurants that refuse to give me tap water. I love restaurants that respond ‘subito’ (right away).
If a restaurant is truly worried about its water supply, it can install a water purifier. Many of the restaurants I frequent have them. They produce both still and sparkling water. If you love sparkling water, order it at these restaurants.
There’s a little evidence that the tide is turning even in Italy.
At the beginning of each tour and course, I explain why I don’t drink bottled water. Everyone who joins me in the vow of abstinence gets a present of a bright and cheerful water bottle.
|Erica Jarman invites you on inspiring culinary tours of life behind the scenes that you won't find in any guidebook — get to know the food artisans and craftspeople of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont and Liguria. Come join me and my Italian friends and dip into a lifestyle where lunch is more important than business. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Erica’s own adventures on her blog.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.