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Inspired by her unrelenting love for Italy, 12 years ago, Kathy McCabe started a newsletter devoted to travel in the Bel Paese, ‘Dream of Italy’, to provide fellow Italy lovers with information and advice on how to experience the country in an authentic way. As of May this year, Dream of Italy is also a six-part travel series broadcast on PBS (check your local listings for the schedule), hosted and produced by Kathy herself. On the show, Kathy meets locals who hold a deep connection to their land and are keen on preserving their ancestors’ traditions. In this interview, Kathy talks to L’Italo-Americano about her inspiration for the newsletter and TV series and provides valuable insider’s tips on travel to Italy.
Why did you decide to start the Dream of Italy newsletter?
I was already working in travel journalism 13 years ago when I started Dream of Italy. I took nearly all of my vacations in Italy after visiting my ancestral village in 1995. I knew there were a lot of people like me who fall in love with Italy and keep returning again and again. I wanted to provide a source for information on authentic Italy and how travelers could interact with locals to truly experience Italian life and culture.
What is your Italian heritage, your connection to Italy?
My mother’s family is from the Avellino province near Naples. They were among the first wave of Italians in the late 1800s who left for America. One side of the family is from Ariano Irpino. The other side is from Castelvetere sul Calore. It was my trip to Castelvetere in 1995 that solidified my love for Italy.
What did you like the most about filming the Dream of Italy series for PBS? Of all the stories you discovered while filming, which is the one that surprised you the most?
I liked the diversity of regions we visited for the series - from Piedmont to Puglia. We experience the unique cultural offerings of each place, while realizing that common threads tie Italy together. The one thing that surprised me? Well, I didn’t think I could love Italy any more than I did before and I fell in love with it all over again.
In your opinion, what Italian region is set to become the next “it” destination and why?
I think the next “it” region is Basilicata. I just adore the Italian South. It is filled with treasures. Several times, I’ve rented a car and driven around Basilicata. It is perfect for a road trip, driving along hills of olive trees and not seeing another car for miles. Matera - the cave city - is one of the most fascinating places in all of Italy. It will be the European Capital of Culture in 2019. They have an amazing balloon festival every October. I also love Basilicata’s seaside resort of Maratea. I think it is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.
What are three off-the-beaten-track places in Italy everyone should see and why?
We covered three places in the TV series that I highly recommend. One is the region of Piedmont. If you’re a foodie or a wine lover, you simply can’t miss Piedmont and the fall is the perfect time to go: the celebrated grapes (which go into the famous Barbera, Barolo and Barbaresco wines) are being harvested and white truffles are hiding in secret locations.
One of the best-kept secrets in Tuscany is the Maremma on the coast - where natural beauty abounds. It is where we filmed the butteri, or cowboys, who are keeping alive an old tradition.
We devoted an entire episode to the region of Puglia - another one of my favorites.
What is the one essential tip you have for travelers to Italy?
Don’t try to do too much. Ha! I should take my own advice. We offer all of our members a free e-book called “31 Mistakes Not to Make When You Travel to Italy” and this is probably the biggest mistake travelers make. It is simply impossible to see everything on one trip or even 10 trips! Pick a few places you want to concentrate on and stay longer in each place.
What types of travel trends do you foresee for Italy (e.g. experiential travel, cooking vacations, cycling/walking vacations, etc.)?
I think all of the trends you mention are big ones. I think family travel to Italy is a huge trend and we are devoting an entire issue of Dream of Italy to the topic in 2016. Parents are taking their young children to Italy; multiple generations are experiencing Italy together.
Why is Italy “a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life,” as the quote by Anna Akhmatova on the Dream of Italy website says?
I think Italy is like an old lost love you just can’t shake. It might be years since you have seen him or her, but they often pop up in your mind.