In this debut post for my blog, I want to explain how I got to Italy in the first place, and why I’ve continued to go back again. And again. And, unapologetically, some more.
DATELINE: Dallas, Texas. 1996.
Searching for a way to escape a miserably steamy summer day, a friend and I decided to take advantage of the ice-cold A/C of a movie theater. The film was Stealing Beauty, starring Jeremy Irons and Liv Tyler, and featured several people vacationing in a farmhouse in Chianti.
Beyond that I can’t tell you what the movie was about, because my brain came to a full stop at “People can vacation in a farmhouse in Chianti?!”
I went back home to my Apple Macintosh LC Series 500 (yes, I’m ancient), logged onto the Internet — which in those days was barely a thing — and found a guy in Seattle who could mail me a printed catalog of farmhouses and villas for rent in Italy.
After spending hours with said catalog, drooling over all the photos, I found a farmhouse that would be available for a week the following Spring. It slept 10 people and was only going to cost $2,500. So I called nine friends and asked, “How would you like to spend a week in a Tuscan farmhouse for $250?”
They did, and we did, and it was easily the best vacation EVER. The farmhouse (pictured here) was stupid charming, with a table out under the trees and a private pool (also pictured here) that looked out across gorgeous green valleys. The house was on a 15th century estate that produced its own wine and olive oil. Each day, we’d head out to a different destination — Lucca, Pisa, Florence — and each evening come “home” — with several bottles of regional wine — to talk about where we’d go the next day.
That was the beginning of what has been a 20-year adventure of taking small groups of friends, friends of friends and, eventually, complete strangers to Italy. On every trip, I’d revisit some of the places I’d been before, then get “lost on purpose” so I could discover new towns, meet new people, eat more food, and make lists of where I still wanted to go.
So far, I’ve been north to Milan, Lake Como and Venice, down the western Ligurian Coast and east to Tuscany, into Chianti and south to Siena. I’ve been to Rome several times, and from there down to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. This past summer, we spent several days on Elba, a ferry-ride away off the western coast, and in the summer of 2017 I debuted my first “Retreats in Tuscany” trip, Book Club in Tuscany, which will again be offered in 2019.
So yeah, “addicted” is a good way to describe how I feel about Italy. In this blog, I want to share not only my recommendations for visiting the larger cities — Venice, Florence and Rome — but bring you “down deep” into the smaller towns, the best trattorias, my favorite sights, and tell you about all the scrumptious surprises I’ve found along the way.
In the process, I’ll weave in advice about what to pack (and not pack), how much money to bring, what documents are needed, the benefits of renting a car, tricks for riding the trains, and how to plan your trip to get the best airfare along the most convenient routes.
I welcome any questions or comments, and grazie tanto for reading along!