Ciao bella! With the dollar doing well against the euro, now is the time to get your travel on and head to Italy. But first, indulge yourself in Dream of Italy, the new travel series coming to public television stations across the US.
Who doesn’t dream of Italy? With its mesmerizing landscapes, rich artistic treasures, deep ties to the past, and warm people, it is utterly spectacular. So it’s no wonder that la bella Italia is a top destination for travelers year after year, and not just for fans of Detective Montalbano.
Until your bags are packed and flight tickets are in hand, take a special guided tour of Italy with Kathy McCabe, noted Italy travel expert and editor of the award-winning travel newsletter, Dream of Italy, in her new public television series, Dream of Italy.
Over six episodes, McCabe takes us along as she explores diverse areas of Italy and meets colorful locals — chefs, artisans, historians, and vintners, to name just a few — who are deeply connected to their land and carry on and preserve the traditions of their ancestors, and who give us an insider’s perspective on the people and culture that make Italy such a unique and special place in the world.
Our travels begin in Chianti, where Kathy visits Castello di Ama. Here she learns how true Chianti wine is made, and shows us some of the estate’s collection of classic and modern art. As vintner Lorenza Sebasti Pallanti effuses, “Contemporary art, wine, music. You need something that opens your eyes, opens your heart. And when it happens, oh my god, it’s such an amazing moment. You will remember [it] forever.”
The Chianti area is also famous for its “green gold,” better known as Tuscan olive oil, and we get to be a part of the olive harvest at Pornanino (without having to lift a finger!). Nearby, Kathy and Nora Kravis of the Chianti Cashmere Farm introduce us to the very special cashmere goats that Nora raises for their luxurious cashmere wool. Then it’s off to Panzano to hunt wild boar (cinghiale) with La Squadra Chiantigiana and to visit the colorful, world-famous “king of meat” butcher, Dario Cecchini, who shows Kathy his version of the “legendary” (and humongous) bistecca alla fiorentina.
In Anghiari, we visit Busatti, makers of sumptuous textiles in linen, cotton, and wool since 1842, and whose customers prefer their fabrics to be made the old-fashioned way. As per eighth-generation proprietor, Giovanni Sassolini Busatti, “Most of the production requested is the old one. […] We see that the future is in the past.” And lastly, we travel with Kathy to the coastal area of Maremma, home of the last remaining butteri, “the cowboys of the Maremma.” (Italian cowboys. Mamma mia!)
Romans have been making mosaics for thousands of years, and Kathy learns the ancient craft from artisan Nadia Ridolfini. We then get a tour from Alessandro Volpetti of the new Testaccio market, one of the food markets that are a vital part of daily life in Italy, as well as his family deli, Volpetti.
Foodies will love the next two segments, in which the di Felice brothers, owners of Da Enzo, teach Kathy to make Rome’s famous dish Cacio e Pepe, and we get the scoop on gelato making at Gelateria del Teatro ai Coronari. Then street artist Alice Pasquini shows us her work, a modern contrast to ancient frescoes. Our final destimation in Rome is Palazzo Brancaccio, where an historic ball is performed by Campagna Nazionale di Danza Storica.
Long in the shadow of neighboring Tuscany, Umbria boasts rich treasures unknown to most travelers on a grand tour of Italy, but with Kathy we get to experience the people and traditions of Assisi and Perugia. In Perugia, we meet two women carrying on their family traditions: Maddalena Forenza, who creates stained glass, and Marta Cucchia, who produces handmade textiles. Just outside Perugia is the Perugina Chocolate School, where chocolate maestro Massimiliano Guidubaldi teaches Kathy to make the famous Baci candy.
In the countryside around Montefalco, we visit the ultra-modern winery Tenuta Castelbuono and learn about the local Sagrantino grape with Marco Caprai at the Arnaldo Caprai vineyard. Later Kathy gets a cooking lesson from Chef Salvatore Denaro, and meets Diego Calcabrina and his goats at his goat cheese farm. And then it’s time to harvest precious saffron and forage for greens with Marta Giampiccolo.
Naples and the Amalfi Coast
If you think you’re a coffee fiend, you got nothin’ on Neapolitans, who are molto serio about their coffee, especially at the historic Gran Caffe Gambrinus, home of the best espresso in the city, according to those in the know. Naples is also famous for its tailoring tradition, and at Rubinacci we get an inside look at the making of bespoke suits. Kathy then attends pizza school with Master Enzo Coccia and learns it isn’t easy to make a perfect pizza, and visits Via San Gregorio Armeno, a street full of Christmas creches and caricatures
We then tour the areas around Mount Vesuvius, where we learn about how the volcano has actually given life to certain wine grapes, venture into the crater with guide Roberto Addeo, and enjoy a local folk music performance. On the Amalfi Coast, we visit some very special vines at Tenuta San Francesco, learn how to make paper at Amatruda in the town of Amalfi, get a lesson in making limoncello with a local, watch a cooking demonstration with Chef Christoph Bob at Monastero Santa Rosa, and go fishing with local Costabile Laudano.
(As an aside, I had my own limoncella experience à la Francesca in Under the Tuscan Sun, only his name was Simone, not Marcello, and it happened in London, not on the Amalfi Coast. Sigh.)
Piedmont and Lake Iseo
In the land of truffles and wine known as Piedmont, Kathy tries to persuade truffle hunters Natale and Giorgio Romagnolo to reveal their secret hunting grounds, and tastes the precious white truffles, those rare tubers for which the bidding is frenzied at the World Truffle Auction. We then visit the Cascina Bruciata vineyard to learn about the hearty Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera wines produced in Piedmont.
Kathy then discovers the unique medicinal qualities of the Piedmontese hot springs baths at Lago delle Sorgenti, before visiting Lake Iseo in the Lombardy region to see Italian boat-making masters at Riva yachts and on Monte Isola.
And in Puglia, local Tonino Benincasa introduces Kathy, by way of a classic car ride, to the Baroque city of Lecce, a place renowned for its paper maché and the home of Cartapesta Claudio Riso, where we see how nativity scene figures are crafted. With pasticiotto being the favorite local pastry, pastry chef Luca Capilungo gives Kathy a lesson in pastry making.
Outside Lecce, in the town of Squinzano, Kathy meets the locals and gets a ride in a tiny Ape car to an olive mill, where locals dance the pizzico in celebration of the harvest. She then learns to make orecchiette (pasta) and taralli (biscuits) from a local mamma, before heading off to Alberobello, where we learn about the area’s classic cone-shaped houses known as trulli. Then in seaside Monopoli, Kathy’s friend Antonello Losito introduces her to an old man who makes beautiful model boats.
Dream of Italy — presented by PBS member station WTTW Chicago, distributed by American Public Television, and directed by Dakkan Abbe, who created the public television series Inside the Tuscan Hills — begins airing tomorrow, 16 May 2015. Schedules vary by station, so check your local listings or contact the station that serves your area for broadcast dates and times. The complete list of stations is as follows (includes newly-added ones as of 20 May):