Lemon trees and luxury: China’s new obsession with Southern Italy

    Boosted by social media influencers, Chinese luxury shoppers are being charmed by Southern Italy’s landscape, fashion, and chillax lifestyle.
    Image: Xiaohongshu @F鱼鱼
      Published   in Travel

    As well as its rich cultural heritage, delectable cuisine, and luxury shopping, a new draw is enticing Chinese tourists to Italy: the country’s southern regions.

    Known for their stunning natural landscapes, luxurious boutiques, and chillax lifestyle, areas like Capri, an island in the Bay of Naples, and Positano cliffside village are attracting Chinese travelers seeking tranquility away from city life.

    With its dramatic cliffs, lush greenery, and the mesmerizing Blue Grotto sea cave, Capri offers a scenic retreat that feels almost otherworldly.

    The island’s high-end boutiques, exclusive hotels, and upscale restaurants provide a sophisticated atmosphere that resonates with affluent travelers. And Positano’s colorful buildings, winding streets adorned with bougainvillea and lemon trees create an enchanting, fairy-tale setting.

    Pictures taken at Positano and Capri. Image: Xiaohongshu
    Pictures taken at Positano and Capri. Image: Xiaohongshu

    The influence of social media and KOLs has significantly amplified the visibility of the Amalfi Coast among Chinese tourists.

    Jacquemus’ 15th anniversary show held in Capri on June 10, featuring Jennie from Blackpink on the runway, has further heightened the island’s appeal. The hashtag “Capri island” on Xiaohongshu has amassed nearly 3 million views, while Positano has 1.7 million views and more than 4,000 instances of user-generated content.

    JJjiujiu, a Shanghai-based KOL 102,600 followers on Xiaohongshu, recently took a trip to the Amalfi Coast at the end of April and was amazed by the beauty of the region.

    “I went to Menton in southern France two years ago. But compared to Amalfi, Menton is really ‘weak,’” she posted online. “Before, the transportation to southern Italy was not very convenient, I always hesitated. This time, I finally made up my mind and went straight ahead. It’s really worth crossing mountains and rivers to get here.”

    Bringing Southern Italy to China#

    For those unable to travel, the Southern Italy experience is being recreated in China.

    Restaurants like OTF Sicilia and Piccola Nostalgia in Shanghai are transforming their spaces to mimic the serene lemon gardens of Capri and Sicily. These establishments offer not just a culinary escape but also picturesque settings for the social media content generation.

    Xiaohongshu user Fantasticalboy posted about OTF Sicilia: “Are you really not going there for your dates in Shanghai?”

    Lemon-tree-themed restaurants like OTF Sicilia and Piccola Nostalgia opened in Shanghai. KOLs offer Southern Italian style outfit recommendations. Image: Xiaohongshu
    Lemon-tree-themed restaurants like OTF Sicilia and Piccola Nostalgia opened in Shanghai. KOLs offer Southern Italian style outfit recommendations. Image: Xiaohongshu

    Fashion bloggers are also riding the wave, offering guides on holiday outfits for Southern Italy. These styles often feature breathable linen and cotton dresses, perfect for Italy’s hot summer. The outfits’ hues comprise bright pastels and whites, and they frequently feature floral prints, or polka dots. Paired with wide-brimmed hats and oversized sunglasses, the looks evoke the vibrant colors and effortless elegance of South Italy.

    The fascination with Southern Italy extends beyond dining and fashion. Couples in China are increasingly opting for Southern Italy-themed weddings, complete with lemon trees and traditional white and blue ceramic pottery. This trend reflects a deeper yearning for the romantic and leisurely lifestyle characterized by the dolce vita, or sweet life.

    Luxury’s opportunity#

    The rising popularity of South Italian aesthetics offers a source of inspiration for luxury brands taking over resorts, beaches, and other hotspots in China to launch pop-up stores and installations.

    For instance, Jo Malone painted Shanghai Zhangyuan a neighborhood of shikumen, buildings featuring Western and Chinese architectural elements, in shades of mint, yellow, and orange, and decorated it with palm and lemon trees, and gigantic Jo Malone perfume bottles to encourage young consumers to take pictures with and receive free samples of its latest products. The brand went further: it co-created an exclusive ice-cream flavor with Venchi to offer to people who purchased its new scents.

    KOLs and consumers taking pictures with Jo Malone's temporary pop up store in Shanghai Zhangyuan. Image: Xiaohongshu @vv薇薇胖
    KOLs and consumers taking pictures with Jo Malone's temporary pop up store in Shanghai Zhangyuan. Image: Xiaohongshu @vv薇薇胖

    Vice versa, as luxury boutiques in Capri can expect a higher number of Chinese visitors – the country received two million Chinese tourists in 2023, making it the top European destination for outbound travelers – having Mandarin-speaking sales assistants on hand and tailored merchandising would create frictionless retail experiences. Additionally, campaigns interpreting South Italian elements are likely to resonate with Chinese shoppers.

    Whether through actual travel or domestic recreations, the Southern Italy trend provides a refreshing escape from the urban grind, reflecting Chinese urbanites’ increasing thirst for a laid-back lifestyle and their desire to take care of their body and mental wellness.

    • Italy was the top European destination for Chinese tourists last year, welcoming 2 million visitors, surpassing Switzerland and France.
    • Regions like Capri and Positano are emerging as new favorite destinations for Chinese tourists, drawn by their natural beauty, luxury boutiques, and relaxed lifestyle.
    • The visibility of the Amalfi Coast has been significantly boosted by social media and key opinion leaders (KOLs), with places like Capri and Positano generating millions of views and user-generated content on platforms like Xiaohongshu.
    • The Southern Italy trend presents opportunities for luxury brands, both in China and Italy, to cater to this growing market by setting up themed pop-ups, offering tailored products, and employing Mandarin-speaking staff in Italian boutiques.
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