I will never be grateful enough for Instagram and all the beautiful people I have met on that platform.
You know, we always hear many complaints about social media but so far I only have positive things to say about them – and about Instagram in particular. Social media are made by people and being able to connect to people who share your passions, your interests, your way of thinking, no matter where they live, is truly awesome.
Every single person I have met via Instagram is a gift, some of them have become students, some others are friends, some just inspire me daily with their lives – and they all make my life richer. One of the very special people I have met on Instagram is Kathy McCabe of Dream of Italy, whom I have the great pleasure of interviewing today.
Kathy is a Tv host (she has a travel series about Italy named Dream of Italy), a podcaster and a travel expert, since she has been running Dream of Italy, a magazine and travel website, for seventeen years now. She is of Italian origins and has that pure love and passion for Italy many Italians lack – plus she knows the country way better than many of us do!
She is a fan of my 100 Days of Italian Adjectives project on Instagram and one day she reached out to me saying that she really enjoyed my daily pills of Italian. We started chatting and then I asked her if she was interested in being interviewed: I thought she was going to say she was too busy, given the fact that she has a lot of projects going on, but she said yes and I was over the moon with joy!
She is not an expat but I was sure that her huge experience about Italy – she has visited at least 50 times! – and her sheer passion for the country and our culture would make the chat really interesting and I was right: the interview is full of tips about visiting Italy and enjoying the country at its best plus full of love for Italian culture, which is something I always find very moving.
But now it’s time to let her speak. Thanks Kathy for taking the time to do this!
Hello Kathy! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. First of all, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your life and work?
Hi there! I’m the host of the TV travel series Dream of Italy – on PBS stations in the U.S. and available for the international viewer on YouTube.com. We have two seasons currently airing and the Dream of Italy: Tuscan Sun Special with Under the Tuscan Sun author Frances Mayes premiering at the end of August.
The TV series is inspired by the award-winning travel publication and membership website Dream of Italy that I founded in 2002. We’ve published 170 editions on where to go, what to eat, where to stay, what to do and who to meet all over Italy. Plus I’ve just launched the Dream of Italy Podcast and match travelers with the best Italy travel planners. Basically, I help make Italian dreams come true!
The work you do promoting Italy is awesome. One could really feel the sincere love and genuine passion you have for Italy. How and when has your love for Italy started?
I spent every day of my childhood with my maternal grandparents. They were my daycare. My grandparents were both the children of Italian immigrants. My grandfather especially was a larger than life character, a retired railroad engineer who was a great dancer, an excellent cook and had a huge and amazing garden in the backyard. Southern Italians are amazing at growing fruits and vegetables.
My grandmother was the sweetest person I’ve ever met. Their home was filled with the smell of food cooking, love, and some occasional arguments – I mean come on, they were Italian (Using some Italian words when they didn’t want me to know what they were saying!) Every single time I have visited Italy, I feel like I’m back in my grandparents’ home and it gives me great comfort.
When was your first time in Italy? What was your first impression? Has it somehow changed after visiting it so many times?
Officially my first time was in college when I took the train over the French border for a few hours in the seaside town of Santa Margherita Ligure. It was a summer night and everything about those few hours – the cadence of hearing Italian spoken, watching the passeggiata, the colors of the buildings, the gelato – all felt like I was starring in classic Italian film.
The next summer I returned to Italy with my mother to discover her ancestral hometown of Castelvetere sul Calore in Campania. Years later, I ended up producing a PBS episode on Castelvetere which also recounts this magical first trip to the land of my ancestors.
How many times have you been to Italy now? Can you tell us more about your trips?
I’ve actually stopped counting but I guess it is at about 50. In the beginning, I was taking my own vacations but then starting 17 years ago I started traveling specifically to cover destinations for Dream of Italy. So I’m always planning visits based on what might be interesting to my audience who are looking for unique and authentic experiences. And beginning 5 years ago, some of my trips were to film for the TV series. We usually shoot for four to five days per half-hour episode.
Definitely, when we are filming, the work requires a grueling pace. I’m always trying to fit more in and have realized that if I want to go on a real vacation (which I almost never do), I probably need to go somewhere other than Italy – it is just too tempting to mix in work! I recently brought my dad on a trip and that reminded me to stop and smell the roses when in Italy!
What is your most memorable trip to Italy and why?
That first trip with my mom to find her ancestral hometown of Castelvetere. It changed my life and directly lead to the work I do now. Hard to explain the whole story but if you watch our Castelvetere episode, I promise the twists and turns in the story will make an impression. And then my second favorite trip, was when I brought my parents to Castelvetere to film that episode. It felt like it was centuries in the making!
What’s your favorite place in Italy and why? Is there still one on your wishlist, instead?
It is definitely impossible to pick a favorite but there are few places that rank very high for me. I recently edited a Sweet 16 issue to mark Dream of Italy’s 16th anniversary and it forced me to look back at all the places I’ve been. I would spend weeks at Saturnia – the hot springs in Maremma Tuscany, beloved by the ancient Romans if I could. I love the entire Maremma and we filmed with the butteri (cowboys) there.
One of my favorite cities is Torino – the architecture, the food, the incredible museums. I think everyone needs to get there. And of course, I just love all of southern Italy. The cave city of Matera is a must-see and I think all of Basilicata (we filmed an episode here with Francis Ford Coppola) is just beginning to really be known internationally – so get there soon!
Still on my bucket list is the region of Friuli and its jewel of a city Trieste. While we’ve had other writers report on Friuli for the publication, I haven’t yet personally been. I think I’ve been saving Trieste as the icing on the cake. Nearly 20 years ago, I attended a travel writing course and Jan Morris was teaching a class. I read her book Trieste and The Meaning of Nowhere and have been dreaming of Trieste ever since. Maybe this is the year I will finally get there.
Dream of Italy helps independent travelers plan their trip of a lifetime to Italy. Do you have tips for tourists coming to Italy for the first time?
Well, the biggest tip is to not over plan, leave time for serendipity! In fact, we just did a podcast episode on this top of “planning for serendipity in Italy.” So much in Italy can and does happen on the spur of the moment. You might discover that there’s a festival going on in the town you are visiting, spot a vineyard you want to visit while traveling on down a road somewhere else or meet an Italian who will invite you home for dinner – it happens!
I work with a team of travel planners to help the Dream of Italy audience plan their trips and we are always encouraging travelers to yes, plan out and book the most important things but just experiencing everyday Italian life is an important part of travel as well.
Based on your great experience about the country, it would be great if you could name three experiences people must not miss to enjoy their Italian stay at its best.
Only three! Oh my, that is very hard. I’m going to state three that are a little beyond the obvious, beyond wine tasting, cooking class or museum visit. One of my all-time favorite experiences is to go truffle hunting with a man (usually, though, I know there are a handful of females now) and his dog. We filmed this for our Piedmont episode but I’ve also had the truffle hunting experience in Tuscany and Umbria.
I also think seeing an opera is a way to experience Italian culture at its best – I am so very lucky that the first opera I ever saw in my life was at La Scala in Milan. Italians invented opera and it is a great window onto the emotional and musical life of this country – the audience will boo if something is not up to snuff. Another memorable night at the opera was at the Arena di Verona – I think the best outdoor venue in the world for such a performance.
And third, as I mentioned above, I have a great love for hot springs. You can find them all over the country (again, we filmed one in Piedmont) and I think it is another cultural experience and certainly promotes wellness and relaxation – and isn’t that why you are in Italy after all?!?
Instantly Italy’s readers are big fans of books about Italy. I see that you have recently started a book club at Dream of Italy. Do you have recommendations for books that could help people traveling to Italy? Or maybe some novels that could help them just dream a little?
Italy and books/literature go hand in hand. One of the very best at explaining this culture is the classic The Italians by Luigi Barzini. I also love anything by Beppe Severigni especially La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind. One of my favorite novels is one that isn’t well known but one that has stayed with me some 15 years after reading it. House of Scorta explores the deep secrets, disappointments, crimes, and loves of five generations of the Scorta family in southern Italy.
Recently I started a Dream of Italy Book Club (we have a brand new Facebook Group too) and we have book club meetings with the authors via Facebook Live. Our next book is The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli. All Instantly Italy readers are invited to join us for the August book club meeting.
You are learning Italian. How is your experience so far? Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Oh dear, I’ve been learning Italian bit by bit for more than 20 years but I don’t have a lot to show for it! Haha! I can get by but my Italian should be much better than it is. I learned by traveling and absorbing and mimicking the locals. I’ve had a few one-on-one lessons here and there over the years. I understand more than I can speak and my grammar is atrocious.
I’m now consciously trying to spend some time each day on improving my language skills – your Instagram stories are my absolute favorite way! That’s how we met, I reached out to tell you how much I love them. I’m also using the Babbel app and I try to watch or listen to some videos on YouTube.
Thank you so much Kathy for sharing your expertise in Italy with us!
If you are interested in more tips about visiting Italy, you can check my interview with Ishita Sood, an Indian lady with a great love for Italy.