This is Vitalia Tours and Celebrations’ invitation to each of its guests. Anyone that joins the Vitalia adventure signs on for an “experiential tour” of beautiful Italy, the opportunity to be fully immersed in Italian culture for the duration of their stay, to walk, eat, and live like a local.
The heart, inspiration and creator behind Vitalia Tours and Celebrations is Catherine Bruno. A U.S. native with years of experience in the event planning industry, Catherine relocated her family to Tuscany and now marries her professional background with her deep love and appreciation for Italy to produce handcrafted, breathtaking tours for each of her guests.
We talked to Catherine to learn more about her own personal experience of Italy, as well as how she shares that experience with others, especially in light of her upcoming fall tours: Watercolor Workshop, Chianti Classico, and Food, Feste and Funghi.
What inspired you to move your family to Italy, and to Tuscany in particular?
Ah, tough question. Many reasons. My husband and I loved Italy, having traveled there many, many times, and were considering moving there upon retirement (still many years off). So this was to be a short trial run. Just a year. The second reason was that we wanted our children to learn a second language. Their school offered mandatory Spanish, however, by the time my oldest son was in 4th grade, he still knew no more than his colors, the names of the items in the classroom, and a few animals... We knew that the only way for my boys to learn a language was immersion. Why not move to a country and attend school there?
Why Tuscany? My criteria was that it had to be in the country; I wanted my boys to have their outdoor freedom. But it also had to be away from where we could easily fall back on English as a crutch. After looking at several areas, we finally settled on a small village in the Valtiberina area of Tuscany. This gave me a lot of insight to local Italian life.
You mentioned that after the move, you immersed yourself in the food, culture and traditions of your surroundings. What were some of your most memorable moments of your first experience of Italy?
Our first "Festa.” We were swept up in it. It was to celebrate the town's patron saint Michele. After a very short ceremony in the town church, the entire town walked together over to the hall. It was just such a festive and lively atmosphere. My boys had their first tasting of Prosecco as the whole group raised their glass in a toast to San Michele. After that, the food just started coming and coming. Antipasti platters of sliced meats and pecorino with honey, crostini, and everything porcini. Then came pastas, then the meats, and potatoes and vegetables...it just kept coming! During all the eating and drinking, what felt like the entire town, came up to meet "La straniera" - the foreigner. I smiled so much that night, my face hurt and my brain hurt trying to formulate words and sentences in a new language.
At Vitalia Tours and Celebrations, you design individualized travel packages and itineraries for each guest. How do you go about creating the perfect package for each person?
I ask a lot of specific questions as to what THEY envision their perfect dream trip to Italy to be like. When they close their eyes, what do they see themselves doing? I ask them to give me a scenario of one perfect day. What does it entail? Do they prefer luxury accommodations or budget? Do they want more city or country time? Do they want to visit farms or wineries? Do they even like wine? Do they want to visit churches, museums, or see art? I don't want to create cookie-cutter itineraries - I don't believe it is a one-size fits all. Everything I do is one-on-one for my clients.
Watercolor workshop is quintessential Italy: the beautiful Tuscan countryside, art, wine and food. From morning to evening, what does a typical day at this tour look like?
The morning begins with a traditional Italian buffet breakfast in the villa dining room. The group then assembles in the studio (a lovely light-filled building) for a morning lecture by the art instructor. The workshop attendees are then free to practice and paint on their own with the art instructor on hand to give advice. After the half-day workshop, our driver will whisk us off to the countryside, or perhaps a small village for an afternoon adventure; we may visit a winery and have a wine-pairing luncheon, or visit a farm and learn all about cheese or prosciutto-making, followed by a lunch utilizing those products. Then it is a group dinner in the dining room again, featuring local Tuscan specialties. Wine is flowing and we are all having a good time…sometimes late into the night!
Of the many popular Chianti wines, which is usually the fan favorite?
One person's favorite is not necessarily another's. We visit small boutique wineries: of which, many of them utilize organic practices. I like the wineries where we can meet and interact with the owners. I want my clients to have a chance to tussle with the farm dogs, or pet the horses, or get the recipe for the ribolitta that they just had for lunch from the wife who made it. I want my clients to feel special; as if they are close friends with these small producers. This only comes from visiting small producers.
Truffles, mushrooms (Porcini!), chestnuts, olives and grapes are just some of the flavors we will find in Tuscany's autumn harvest for the Food, Feste and Funghi tour. What other mouth-watering treats or dishes are typical of the season?
Stews and grilled wild boar, or capriolo (a small type of deer), pastas or other dishes made with truffles such as eggs, or meats with truffle shaved on top. With the earthy, pungent Porcini mushrooms you will find pasta with porcini mushrooms or fried porcini. Or perhaps thinly sliced porcini carpaccio as a salad with equally thin shavings of Parmesan. There is also always crostini with some form of truffles or porcini mushrooms.
Everything is fresh. Everything is seasonal.
Whether it’s the gentle, rolling green or golden hills, mouthwatering, local cuisine, quiet painting sessions on the patio, or wild, energetic Sagre in the town piazza, Vitalia Tours and Celebrations has something to offer for everyone, with Catherine designing the perfect tours.