Not so long along, a client, trying to select whom to use among the agents listed in the Travel and Leisure “A” List for Travel Agents for Italy, asked me bluntly : “What is it you love about Italy ?”
This question is one I ask myself often, and I kept my client on the telephone for some time, as I explained why our travelers keep returning to Italy — and why I have chosen to make my life here.
Wild flowers in winter. Nearly all low-lying uncultivated, non urban areas of central and southern Italy now display a blanket of wild flowers. These are daisies and dandolions, flowering wild mint and spring cyclamen, flowering arugola, malva, chamomile and many others indigenous to the place.
Artisans. From paper makers to ceramicists to cheese makers..
to toy makers to jewelers to sculptors to mask makers to wine makers to leather makers…
Up and down the peninsula, and across its several islands, the list goes on and on and on !
We introduce you to as many artisans as you would like. Some hold private workshops just for children. Many of the artisans are our friends. Every single one of them we admire. With his or her hands and passion, each of them ensures the continuity of a traditional Italian art that — with some variations — is still produced in an ancient way.
The Bar. Every Travel Plan we write includes information on the Italian Cafe Bar — the ins-and-out of ordering, the regional specialties, and why the Italian café is so consequential in the fabric of day-to-day Italian life.
I start every morning in one (“un veneziano e un cappuccino, per piacere.“) So do most people I know. When I am away from Italy I miss intensely the smells, the familiar banter, the delicious and invigorating flavors, the sweet conviviality of the Bar. If the Bar is combined with a good pastry store, all the better. We note favorites in all the locations you will be visiting.
Experiences only Italy can provide. Walking with sheep following a trail and a tradition that are over one thousand years old.
Running through a plateau of flowering lentils and poppies.
Meandering under the boughs of a grape-vine that has produced wines for more than a century.
We will lead you to each if you wish. Just let us know what interests you.
Gardens. Italy has continental Europe’s most beautiful gardens. These range from city gardens (like Rome’s Municipal rose garden below)…
to formal Renaissance parks like Villa Lante…
to the gardens of Villa Melzi on Como…
To my desert island garden, Ninfa…
There are also spontaneous gardens, like the natural rock garden you will see if you join us on the Transumanza…
Style. Italians care how they look, are interested in how you look, and put effort into dressing. Some of the best dressed women I know are over 80, and gather in the sun in our local park every morning, drink cappuccino and chat. Their shoes are polished, their hair in order, their skirts and coats becoming and elegant. They care.
And apparently always have.
Ice cream. We’ve written about this before. We will write about it again. The world’s best artisanal gelato (and granita and semifreddi) is made and sold here. We will tell you where to find it.
Paestum. To me the single most magical archeological site in Italy. It moves me to tears each time I visit.
And when I have soaked up the spirit and beauty of the place and feel that I can store it within me until the next visit, I find another sort of magic at Tenuta Vannullo, Campania’s only organic dairy, and with mozzarella that will make you vow never to eat buffalo mozzarella anywhere else. Below is one of the lovely bufale whose milk makes the splendid cheese.
Swallows and swifts. One of the distinct, evocative sounds of Italy, heard in every region and nearly every place, is the morning and evening call of the swallows. These graceful birds dart in and out of bell towers, swoop over tiled roofs, and fill the skies twice a day with their magical call. No other sound — except the clink of spoons against espresso cups as you walk past a cafe’ bar in the morning — is to me more evocative of Italy.
Cool. The cool air that greets you as on hot summer days, most of all in Rome, as you walk past an ancient palazzo whose great portal is open and the damp shadowed cool of the marble interior oozes out onto the street providing an intense shot of refreshment.
Regional differences. When Italy was unified in 1861, it was likely that two Italians living 200 miles apart would be unable to understand much of what the other said. To take the train from Bolzano to Sicily (an absolutely extraordinary 14-18 hour train trip through ten regions) means hearing a dizzying number of accents as passengers get on and off — but more amazing still (and without leaving your train window) experiencing an ever changing tableau of architecture, station styles, trees, agriculture, vineyard trellising techniques, colors of shutters, ways of hanging laundry…
Imagine a country that is the slightly smaller than the New Mexico. That can bring you the diversity represented by these three pictures :
Please mix your regions, and bring as much diversity into your trips as you can. This is one of the great joys of traveling in Italy.
Communication. We tried out last week a hotel in Paestum. My Italophilic mother in law remarked : “This is the first hotel in Italy I have ever been where the staff at the desk did not smile.” Italians do smile. Luigi Barzini and so many others can describe much better than can, without falling into cliche or generalizaitons one of the national qualities of Italians that I love is a willingness to communicate through word, smile, song, gesture…
Delicious water. We’ve written about Italian water before. With very few exceptions (Florence), it is simply delicious, and the waters that runs through Venetians’ and some Romans’ taps are the same ones that, bottled, retail for $6 and up in American gourmet stores.
Olive oil. Our clients have picked olives, made olive oil, brought it home. They have learned how to cook with it, how to differentiate between oils, and how to store it. This autumn in Tuscany we should be offering seminars (two to three days) for olive oil enthusiasts (we hope to join in ourselves.) Isabel here samples oil in the Sabine hills, made just two hours before.
Insider’s Italy is a company run by a family that loves Italy. I’ve lived here for more than 30 years, but my family has been here since the 1920s. To share my love for this, my birthplace, is the whole reason I run Insider’s Italy.